When in Hong Kong, an easy side trip to Macau takes you a world away to a fascinating mix of Asian boomtown and a centuries old blending of cultures.
Established as a Portuguese colony in 1557, Macau reverted back to China in 1999. Since then, its unique culture and history has taken a backseat to development into the mecca of gambling in Asia. Flamboyant casinos, sparkling in neon, have made the gaming business the largest industry in Macau. But, the old Macau is close at hand and provides a satisfying break from the high-wattage pace found in the new casinos and Hong Kong itself.
Arrive by ferry
Start your adventure with an easy, 1 hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. The city of Macau is a small peninsula, less than 3 miles long by one mile across, joined by bridges and reclaimed land to Taipa and Coloane islands. You could see a bit of historic Macau in a day trip, but staying a night or two will give you a chance to explore the historic areas of the peninsula, poke around the many excellent museums and sample the Macanese cuisine, a mix of Chinese and Portuguese styles evolved over the centuries.
Walking is the best way to see Macau’s historic charm and several walking tours are described on the Macau tourism’s website. Named a Unesco World Heritage site, the beautiful architecture of the city center is well preserved. A good place to start is Senado Square on Avienda de Almeida Ribeiro. Pick up information and maps at the tourist office there as you admire the mosaic paving and St. Dominic’s Church. Founded in 1587, the present church dates from the early 17thcentury. Across the street from the square is Leal Senado, built in 1784 and renovated in 1875. It has always been a municipal building and is worth a look around for its colonial architecture, small museum display and refreshing courtyard garden featuring blue and white tiles so reminiscent of Portugal. Wander around the hilly, winding streets in this area to get a glimpse of local life, with the mixing of Chinese and Portuguese architecture, language and foods.
Just west of Senado Square at 396 Avienda Almeida Ribeiro is the Cultural Club, housed in Tak Seng On, an old restored pawnshop. The architecture incorporates western and Chinese styles, and is a great stop to pick up quality gift items and souvenirs. There is a good collection of bamboo root carvings, jade pendants, art and cultural books as well as many types of teas – samples of which are complimentary.
Museum of Macau and Ruins of St. Paul’s
On Rua de San Paulo above the Senado Square area are the spectacular ruins of St. Paul’s. The broad stairs leading up to the ruins are always teaming with visitors and it’s a great spot for photographs. The church was constructed in 1602, but lost to fire in 1835, leaving the façade. Nearby are sections of the old city walls, and the small Na Tcha Temple, built in 1888. Just above St. Paul’s is The Museum of Macau which has a permanent display of Macau’s history and traditions as well as visiting exhibitions and cultural events. The building is within the remains of the Mount fortress and has a good view of activity on the inner harbor.
Lilau Square and the Mandarin’s House
Heading south out towards the tip of the peninsula, the newly renovated Mandarian’s House is a real treat. Fronted by the shady Lilau Square, this mansion was begun around 1860, and was very large for a single family residence, with more than 60 rooms. When the descendants began to move elsewhere in the 1950’s and 60’s, the complex suffered from overcrowding and disrepair. Now magnificently restored, visitors are limited to 200 at any one time on the grounds, so online reservations are recommended. Guided and nonguided tours are available.
A-Ma Temple and Maritime Museum
At the entrance to the inner harbor is A-Ma temple, the oldest in Macau. It is dedicated to the Chinese goddess of seafaring. Parts of it are over 600 years old, and it was already in existence when the Portuguese arrived. Sprawling over a rocky slope, you explore the temple along winding paths, through moon gates and gardens. Right across the square from the temple is another place dedicated to the seafaring history of Macau, the Maritime Museum. It offers displays of full size and model boats of Chinese and Portugese heritage.
Stroll along the waterfront back to the city center
If you have time, walk back toward the hotels, casinos and ferry dock along the Avenida da Republica. This is a grand residential street with lovely homes and views across the Nam Van and Sai Van lakes.
After this glimpse of a unique colonial era culture, your ferry will transport you back to the 21st century in bustling Hong Kong.
Flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong available on United, Continental, American and others, some direct, some with 1 or more stops.
Hong Kong to Macau ferry: www.turbojet.com.hk
Tourism office: www.macautourism.gov