Macau, just like Hong Kong is a "Special Administrative Region" (SAR) of the People's Republic of China, but it is also a quite separate Region to Hong Kong too with separate laws and administration.
One particular law that stands out – is that in Hong Kong gambling Casinos are illegal, whereas in Macau Casinos are not only legal, but also form the basis of Macau's economy.
Macau is located about 60 Kilometres (37 miles) across the other side of the Pearl River Delta to the south-west of Hong Kong and it is made up of Macau City on a peninsula of land on the China mainland and two islands – Taipa Island where the Macau International Airport is located and Coloane island. There are bridges that connect the islands to Macau City.
Macau's total land mass is just 21 square kilometres (8.3 square miles) and it has a resident population of around 500,000 people, crammed into this small area, so like Hong Kong, most people live in High Rise apartments.
Much of Macau's National Income is derived from the Casinos, food, entertainment and the hospitality industries, but also from retailing, manufacture of textiles, clothing, toys, optics, electronics as well as finance and property.
People coming to Macau come here for the casinos and entertainment, but also to take in the sights too. One Hong Kong Dollar is approximately equal to a Macau Pataca (MOP) with about 8 MOP = US$ 1.
The Macau Region has a long history of Chinese settlement dating back to the times of the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) but also a more recent European history too, with the Portuguese first establishing a trading Port here from the time when the first Portuguese ship anchored off-shore here in 1513, and then with the agreement of Chinese, Macau officially became a Portuguese Colony in 1557 paying China an annual lease payment. It was only in 1999 that Portugal finalised an Agreement whereby Macau came became a 'Special Administrative Region (SAR) under Chinese Sovereignty.
When you consider that the British and British East India Company only established their presence in late 1700's and early 1800's, about 300 years after the Portuguese had first traded with the Chinese in Macau, you start to see how much older Macau is as a city.
The Portuguese had already established trading ports in Goa in India in 1510 and Malacca on the Malay Peninsula in 1511 and Macau enabled the Portuguese to establish a trade relationship with China, the first European Empire power to do so.
From Macau, the Portuguese traders during the 1500's and 1600's could take Chinese porcelain, silk and other prized goods back to Europe, but also trade with Japan, during a period when Japan was open to some foreigners trading and also with Spain.
When the Spanish established their colonies in the Americas, they also established Manila in the Philippines as their main port in the Far East, the city of Manila being founded in 1571. The Portuguese were then able to bring goods from Macau to Manila, where these goods would then be traded for gold and silver brought by the Spanish on the Manila trade Galleons from Acapulco in Mexico.
Macau was the most important port for the China trade right up to the time when the British and British East India Company came to China in the 1800's with Hong Kong ceded by China to Britain in 1842 after the first Opium War. After this time Hong Kong grew to become the bigger port city than Macau.
The British East India Company had however by this time also established trading offices in Macau and even purchased land in 1821 in order to bury their dead too. There are around 160 headstones in the Old Protestant Cemetery near Casa Garden – the garden and Villa there dating back to 1770 with most of the headstones and inscriptions dating back to the early 1800's. At the time no Protestants were allowed to be buried in either Chinese or Catholic Cemeteries, hence the reason for the Company buying the land area. If you visit the Cemetery, also next door is the Morrison Chapel, named after the Scottish Missionary, Robert Morrison (1782-1834) who is buried in the Cemetery.
The main historic Catholic Cemetery and Chapel is Cemitério São Miguel Arcanjo ( St Michael the Archangel) built in the mid to late 1800's. If you are interested in the early history of Macau, it is worth seeing and reading some of the inscriptions here.
Today some 95% of Macau's population is Chinese but there are also Macanese people of Chinese and Portuguese descent and many other foreigners too, with large investments in hotels and casinos.
Macau Today –
Most people coming to Macau will come from Hong Kong or mainland China, and it is possible to do a day trip from Hong Kong travelling to here via Fast 'Turbojet' ferry for the hour plus crossing from the Tsim Sha Tsui China Ferry Terminal located at 33 Canton Road in Hong Kong near Harbour City Mall. It is better if you can stay over and see some of the night life here too.
Other places to catch a ferry are from the Sky Pier Terminal at Hong International Airport or from the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal near the MTR station Shueng Wan and IFC Tower building.
In Macau you will arrive at the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal or the Cotai Terminal nearer the International Airport. Free shuttle buses run from both Terminals to the casinos and you will most likely have 'promotors' at the terminals too, pushing the virtues of their hotel, entertainment and special events. Check this website to see the different hotels, prices and facilities.
You may, depending on your passport be able to get a short term Visa, but it is best to double check, particularly if you intend to stay longer than a day or two. Definitely as a foreigner you need a Passport to enter Macau.
The Hotel/ Casino complexes have many of the familiar used in Las Vegas, Nevada – the Wynn, Sands, the Venetian complete with its gondolas and canals, MGM Grand, Galaxy Rio and names like Conrad, Grand Hyatt, Crown Towers and its 'City of Dreams', Hard Rock, Sheraton and Sofitel as well as others including the Grand Lisboa casino with its Portuguese name. All of the big name casino/hotels have the glitz, glamour and the light shows at night, shows, entertainment and shopping that you would expect and you will find free Shuttle buses that will take you to these casinos too. One of the big spectacular shows is "The House of the Dancing water" – in the City of Dreams. See www.thehouseofdancingwater.com
Note that the casinos also have dress codes – so make sure that you are dressed well if you want to enter them.
There is also the Exhibition and Entertainment Centre below the 338 metre high Macau Tower with its viewing tower, skywalk, bungy jump and revolving restaurant on top.
Historic Portuguese Macau –
The Historic Portuguese section of Macau is on the Peninsula and the area has been given UNESCO World Heritage Status, due to the number of historic buildings, squares and streetscape that date back to the early days of Portuguese settlement.
When the Portuguese came to trade with China, they were followed by Jesuits and Dominican Catholic Orders and in 1576 the first Catholic Bishop was appointed to provide for the religious needs of the Portuguese Catholics in Macau.
If you head to Senado Square in Macau you will be able to see classic Portuguese buildings around the square with St Dominic's Church at one end. The church was first constructed in 1587 and later enlarged in the 1800's. It is worth seeing inside if you can.
Macau Cathedral with its bell tower (the Catedral Igreja da Sé) was built first in 1576 and it is also located on a square in Macau called Cathedral Square. The cathedral also has UNESCO World Heritage Status as part of the overall historic centre of the city.
The Church that most people want to see is the Ruins of St Paul's Church, first built in 1580, but then destroyed by fires before being rebuilt in 1637. It was again destroyed by a Typhoon in 1845 and today all that remains of the church is the façade that stands at the top of a wide stairway, with 66 steps to the top. It creates a great spectacle and is next to the Monte Fortress and Museum of Sacred Art (Museu de Arte Sacra e Cripta) on Rua de São Paulo. As an interesting fact, when the Portuguese managed to establish trade between Macau and Nagasaki in Japan, the Jesuits also took Christianity there too, converting a number of Japanese to Catholicism. In 1597 some 26 Japanese converts were crucified in Nagasaki, and some of the remains of these Christian Martyrs are entombed here in a crypt beside the Museum.
Monte Fortress (Fortaleza do Monte) was built between 1616 and 1626 by the Portuguese in a strategic position overlooking the harbour. The Portuguese garrison and Fort saw action in 1622 when the Dutch sailing from Batavia (today's Jakarta) sent a fleet of ships to attack Macau.
In attacking Macau, the Dutch hoped to take over the Macau Port town and its trade with China, and the Portuguese trade routes to Nagasaki, Japan and to Manila. The Portuguese managed to triumph in the battle of Macau. Today you can see the Fort and the 9 metre high stone walls and battlements that form its protection, along with the cannons and the Macau Museum that is here.
In Macau there are three main Chinese Buddhist Temples – the Kun Iam Temple (built 1627), Lin Fung Temple (built 1592) and A-Ma Temple (built 1488).
The Kun Iam Temple is located on Avenida do Coronel Mesquita.
Lin Fong Temple (Temple of Lotus) is located at Avenida do Almirante Lacerda.
A-Ma Temple is located on Barra Square
A-Ma is the goddess of seafarers and fishermen and on Coloane Island there is a statue of the Goddess atop a hill in the A-Ma Cultural Village and parkland. The Village is located on Estrada do Alto de Coloane and there is also a Arboretum and hiking trail here too.
Pou Tai Un Temple is located in Taipa, at 5-5B Estrada Lou Lim Leok.
There are also other temples too.
The Monte Fortress detailed above is the main fort built by the Portuguese to protect the city but there is also a second fort, the Fortress of Guia on Estrada do Engenheiro Trigo built between 1622 and 1638. Here you will find the Guia Chapel and also next to it the Guia Lighthouse, built in 1865. There is a small cable car that can take you to the top of the hill to see the lighthouse and see the views or you can walk and climb the hill itself.
Macau Fisherman's Wharf -
This is a little like the famous Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Here you will find an open air area with buildings depicting the Giza Pyramid, Rome's Colosseum, a Tibetan Monastery, Chinese towers and other such places, along with shopping and restaurants. It is located on Freguesia da San Sé.
Macau Grand Prix Museum - Rua de Luis Gonzales Gomes.
The Formula One Grand Prix has been held every year here in Macau since 1954 and here at the Circuit there is a museum with interesting memorabilia to do with the race, its drivers and cars. There is also a race car simulator so you can test your skills as a race car driver. The Macau Tourism Activities Centre is located here too, along with the Museum of Wine – which has wine information, bottles of wine and a tasting room too. The Race is run in November each year, but each year the dates change – and it is best to check early to secure accommodation and tickets to the race.
Lou Kau Mansion – located at 7 Travessa Da Sé. This is a two storey house museum with the home built by Lou Huashao about 1889. There are halls, living rooms, bedrooms and a courtyard furnished as they would have been at the time it was built.
Mandarin's House – 10 Travessa de Antonio de Silva. This 60 room house museum dates back to 1869 or thereabouts giving you a glimpse into the life at that time.
Dr Sun Yat Sen Park - Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) is considered the 'father or modern China' and this park has a statue of him in the Park. Here in the Park there is a classical Chinese garden with Lotus ponds, arched bridges, pavilions and towers, and also a European styled garden with
Green houses, flowers, lawns and pathways.
Luís Vaz de Camões Garden and Grotto – This home and garden is dedicated to Portugal's most famous poet, Luís Vaz de Camões (c.1524-1580) who spent time here in Macau. The park has a bust statue of him with the garden having pathways, trees, flowers and other features and early morning you may witness the birdmen holding the birds aloft to listen to their song. The park is located on Praca de Luís de Camões, close to the Ruins of St Paul and it is worth walking the streets here in the St Lazarus neighbourhood to find small shop houses and cobbled streets like Rua de São Roque, Calcada da Igreja de São Lazaro and Rua de São Miguel.
Lou Lim Lok Garden - this is another beautiful merchant's old garden constructed between 1904 and 1925 and it has all the classic features of Chinese Pavilions, bamboo, flowers, water and rocks, ponds and golden carp fish. It is located at 10 Estrado de Adolfo Loureiro.
Macau Maritime Museum – 1 Largo do Pagode da Barra Square. This Maritime museum with its dramatic building of sails, celebrates Macau's maritime history. It is built where they believe that the first Portuguese landed on the shores. There is also an Aquarium here too.
Macau Museum of Art- is located on Xian Xinghai Avenue and has a number of galleries and showrooms for exhibitions. There is both Chinese and also European Art along with photography, modern poster designs and other works from Macau itself. There is also a coffee house and restaurants here too, making it a good place to take in some art and also relax.
SHOPPING in Macau –
Macau is a Duty Free port and as you would expect there are lots of shops selling goods produced in China and Macau too as well as International Luxury brands too – watches, perfumes, cosmetics and the usual array of goods that you find at airport Duty Free Stores. In Macau some of the luxury clothing brands are located on or near Central Square and Avenida Almerida Riberio.
If you are looking to buy gold or jewellery, the best street to find jewellers is Avenida de Horta e Costa and near the Hotel Lisboa Casino. You need to know what you are buying and the more established and official shops will provide a 'Guarantee Card' and written receipt that describes what you have purchased.
For Chinese antiques and souvenirs – porcelain, paintings, rosewood furniture, brassware, statues and ornaments check the area around Rua de São Paulo and the markets here. Also be aware that there are many reproduction antiques sold too.
Another shopping area to shop or just wander is in the 'Red Market' at the corner of Avenida Almeida Ribeiro (New Road) and Avenida de Horta e Costa. Here you will find the square and shops along the street in some of the old grand Portuguese buildings.
All of the casinos have shops too, probably the most notable one being the Grand Canal Plaza shopping centre in the Venetian Resort Hotel. Even if you don't buy something here, it is worth visiting anyway, just to see the architecture and this recreation of Venice.
For a more local experience, where there is a food court, supermarket and other shops, look for the New Yaohan Department Store on Avenida Comercial de Macau, near the Macau Ferry Terminal.
Macau is best known for its casinos but its mix of Chinese and Portuguese heritage also makes it an interesting city to see and spend time seeing.
Hopefully the information we have provided here will help you find your way and see the places that you find the most interesting.
I hope you have a great time in Macau, and if you do gamble in one of the Casinos, that your luck will travel with you.