NAMED AFTER a Chinese goddess and ruled for centuries by Portugal, Macau boasts an intoxicating mix of cultures. Situated on the South-eastern coast of China in the Guangdong Province, around 60 kilometres west of Hong Kong, the territory comprises a peninsula and two islands, Coloane and Taipa.
A historical melting pot
Although it is now ruled by the People’s Republic of China, with a predominantly Chinese population, the area’s former colonial master, Portugal, added a uniquely Mediterranean style to the territory. Explorer Jorge Alvares was the first Portuguese to set foot in Southern China in 1513 and the Portuguese quickly established a number of Portuguese trading centres in the region. When Portuguese sailors landed in Macau and asked where they were, the natives replied A-Ma-Gao (Bay of A-Ma), after the Chinese goddess, A-Ma. In modern times, Amagao was shortened to Macau.
Today it is still this mixture of the Chinese and Portuguese culture – where Asia meets Europe and traditional Mediterranean culture lives alongside modern China – that attracts thousands of visitors to Macau. The territory is dedicated to enjoyment – whether that’s shopping, eating, culture, nature or nightlife.
Shopping in Macau is a real pleasure – whether you enjoy designer outlets or market stalls. Luxury items are cheaper here than in most other cities in the region. Jewellery (particularly gold), Chinese antiques, porcelain, electronic items, mobile phones, watches, cashmere sweaters and silk clothing are available at bargain prices. Be sure to visit Senado Square in the historic heart of Macau for sunglasses, handbags, shoes and souvenirs. On the other side of Avenida Almeida Ribeiro lies a fascinating place to browse among shops selling jewellery, curios, dried beef and even live snakes, while the Porto Interior is lined with old style two story houses that in times gone by held ship’s chandlers shops. Finally, drop into the historic Three Lamps area – a dense and vibrant network of street vendors and tiny shops selling all kinds of goods at bargain prices.
Dining out is a unique experience in Macau – there is an incredible ethnic mix of dishes available. Traditional dishes from Portugal include bacalhau and soups such as caldo verde. But the Macau based Portuguese also learned to use local spices and some of Macau’s most popular dishes include African and Goanese chicken and spicy prawns, This combination of Portuguese, Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisines make up Macanese cuisine.
After dinner entertainment
Macau offers a surprising number of entertainment options. Across the city you’ll also find everything from cabaret style entertainment, Portuguese folk dancing, discotheques and live dance bands, and of course, the casinos, which stay open 24 hours a day. The Docas area has dozens of restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs, which remain open until the early morning hours. For a different type of evening outing, visit the new Lam Gwai Fong area for dinner at the Nam Van Lake waterfront restaurants and watch the Cybernetic Fountain, complete with its 80 metre high geyser!
Must see sights
Once Taipa consisted of two hilly islands. Today it is an international gateway with a bustling newly developed community. The Island’s Weekly Fair offers traditional crafts and souvenirs, food, clothes, toys and other products.
The island of Coloane was once a place for sea robbers, who preyed on rich cargo ships, but the last pirate was vanquished in 1910 and the island now welcomes golfers, hikers and beach lovers. With a unique view over the Pearl River and the Hac Sa Beach, the Macau Golf & Country Club is one of the most beautiful golf courses in Asia, open to locals and foreigners.
Macau Jockey Club
With private boxed and air conditioned grandstand, club members and the public can enjoy watching a cosmopolitan group of trainers and riders coax their horses to provide racing of international standards.
Ruins of St. Paul’s
The great ruined façade and staircase to the church of the Mother of God – now popularly known as St. Paul’s – is the most famous landmark of Macau. It was designed by an Italian Jesuit with the assistance of Japanese Christian artisans who had fled from feudal persecution in Nagasaki.
Built on the highest point of Macau between 1637 and 1638, the fortress contains a chapel and a lighthouse, the oldest on the China coast.
Grand Prix Museum
Inaugurated in 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix, this museum celebrates Macau’s obsession with F1.
Kun Iam Temple
Dating from 1627, the Kun Iam Temple is Macau’s oldest and most interesting temple. The likeness of Kun Iam, goddess of mercy, is in the main hall while the adjacent rooms honour her with a collection of pictures and scrolls.
Lou Lim Ioc Gardens
Among the best of Macau’s gardens, cool and shady Lou Lim Ioc Garden, has huge shade trees, lotus ponds, bamboo groves, grottoes and a bridge with nine turns (to escape from evil spirits who can only move in straight lines).