During my 5 day trip to Hong Kong I used one day for a short trip to Macau. Having been fascinated by the British influence in Hong Kong, I was very curious to see how the Portuguese have left their footprints in this part of the world. And having been equally fascinated and horrified by Las Vegas while in the States a couple of years ago, I was ready to go explore the Asian version of it.
How to get there
There are several ways how to reach Macau. Depending on your time, budget and preferences you can reach Macau by ferry, bus or by helicopter. The speed ferry traveling between Hong Kong and Macau is the most traditional way and has already been around for decades. The bus route is fairly new since the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in September 2018. If you take the ferry, it’s only a 50 minute ride away from the Kowloon ferry docks in Hong Kong. Whichever way works best for you, don’t forget to bring your passport.
Taking ferry between Hong Kong and Macau is one of the most convenient way for those stay on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Going to Macau by ferry is pretty easy. It works similar to the airport. All you need to do is to choose a ferry route and -operator, purchase a ticket and pass immigration (hence, bring your passport). Once in Macau, you’ll need to pass immigration again.
Ferry Terminals: The China Ferry Terminal is in Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal is near the IFC Towers on Hong Kong Island. Price: 132 to 172 HKD (single trip, economy class). Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal is the main northern terminal closest to old town while Cotai Terminal is to the south, closest to the Cotai Strip area with the biggest casinos.
Personal experience: When I was there in January I just showed up at the Terminal in the morning of the day I wanted to go. There weren’t any economy tickets available anymore and I didn’t want to pay for 1st class, so I just asked around at the ticket booths and scored some economy standby tickets to go there and back. The standby tickets aren’t cheaper as normal tickets and it’s not guaranteed you get a seat. I was just too late figuring everything out. I’d recommend booking a ticket online on KLOOK beforehand if you know which ferry you want to take to go there and back. Note that ferry prices are higher for return trips in the evening and highest late at night. With your pre-purchased ticket you can always return earlier than the time indicated on the ticket, but not later. In retrospect, I’d recommend booking a ticket from any port nearest to you in Hong Kong to the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal to go there and from Cotai Terminal to a Hong Kong terminal to go back. This way you will have time during the day to explore all the UNESCO sites around Macau and you can make your way to the glitzy casinos at night and you don’t have to go all the way back to the northern terminal again.
What to see and do
Macau might seem like a giant Disneyland for adults at first sight, especially during weekends (try to avoid them, as well as big events like the Macau Grand Prix). Thanks to my excellent planning skills, I was there during the weekend. Sometimes I just tend to forget that there are actual weekdays and weekends while traveling, go figure! So it seemed like half of the population of China was there that day as well. I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people in the streets at first, but managed to find quiet streets off the main drag and enjoy my time there anyway. Here’s what you can see and do:
Senado Square (Lago do Senado): This is the public square of Macau and a great introduction to the area. It is located in the central area of the Macau Peninsula. Within walking distance from the Senado Square you will also find St. Dominic’s Church, the ruins of St. Paul’s and Mount Fortress. The Macau Tourism Board has compiled some helpful walking tours you can download from their website. They have also launched an iPhone and Android App, which is called “Experience Macau” and might be worth checking out. I have just found this out while writing this post, so please share your experience if you have tried this app and/or walking tours.
St. Dominic’s Church: You can’t miss this beautiful European-style church when walking from Senado Square towards the ruins of St. Paul’s. It was founded in 1587 by three Spanish Dominican priests, who originally came from Acapulco in Mexico. Seeing as it’s on the way to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, practically every tourist passes by here, too.
Ruins of St. Paul’s: This was originally the Church of Mater Dei, but got destroyed by a fire. Adjacent to the church there used to be the St. Paul’s college. Together with Mount Fortress, the whole complex can be perceived as the Macao’s «acropolis». Unfortunately, this place can get very crowded. If you leave the stairs leading up to the church behind and walk around a little, it gets less crowded and more enjoyable.
Mount Fortress: This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built on top of Mount Hill by the Jesuits and was the city’s principle military defense structure. This means that you’ll have a superb sunset and casino view from the top and is well worth a visit.
Side Streets: If you don’t give much for sights, I’d recommend taking a stroll around old town Macau. There’s so much to see in the little alleys and side streets and some pretty good street art as well. To start, take a stroll down Portuguese Street and then randomly walk left and right as you please. The pictures above are some of my finds along the alleys of Macau.
Guia Fortress: Be warned that although you can see Guia Fortress from afar, getting there can be quite a streneous (but worthwhile) trek. Guia Fortress sits on top of Guia Hill and along with the chapel and lighthouse, they are symbols of Macao’s maritime, military and missionary past. Since the hill is standing at the highest point, you will have one of the most panoramic views of Macau, once you’ve made your steep way up there.
St. Lazarus Quarter: St. Lazarus Quarter is a tiny enclave that is reminiscent of a Portuguese village set back in the 16th century. The area is lined with cobblestone roads and brightly painted European edifies and makes for an excellent place for a stroll.
Macau Fisherman’s Wharf: The only advice I can give you here is: Don’t bother going. What I thought was an old harbor with cute shops turned out to be an artificial theme park (I have no clue where I got my original idea from, to be honest). The complex includes over 70 stores and restaurants in buildings built in the style of different world seaports, a convention and exhibition center, a marina, two hotels and, of course, a casino.
Casinos: As largest gambling hub in the world, it would be a shame to miss out on visiting some of the undoubtedly impressive casinos in Macau. While Las Vegas’ Gross Gambling Revenue (yes, there’s such a thing as Gross Gambling Revenue) is lurking around $7 billion, Macau’s GGR is soaring at over $33 billion, while Las Vegas get approximately 10 million more visitors than Macau. While Las Vegas is home to over 100 casinos, there are around 50 casinos in Macau (and zero gambling taxes in the latter).
Some of the most impressive casinos around Cotai are for sure The Venetian (world’s biggest casino), City of Dreams (one of the biggest and best designed gambling floors), Wynn Palace (they’ve built a free cable car to take you up to the hotel/casino) and then there’s Grand Lisboa in downtown Macau.
Egg Tarts: Okay, so this is not a sight, but egg tarts are a big thing in Macau. If you have ever been to Portugal, you’ll recognize them as Pastéis de Nata, which is basically the same and came to Macau with the Portuguese settlers. In Macau and also in Hong Kong, there are three types of egg tarts: the Portuguese egg tart, the short crust egg tart, and the puff pastry egg tart. They’re all good, but I’ve got my heart set on the Portuguese egg tart. When researching for the best egg tart in Macau, you can’t get around Lord Stow’s Bakery, which is actually located in Taipa, but you can get their tarts at the Venetian in Macau or at the Cafe EXpresso at the Hotel The Excelsior in Hong Kong. They are quite pricey and you will most probably have to wait in line there. Since I’ve probably had the best and most original ones in Belém, Portugal, I was happy to settle for the ones at Koi Kei, which were pretty delicious as well and can be found all over Macau and Hong Kong.
How to get around Macau for free
Depending on where you arrive, you can be quite far off the main drag of casinos and old town. And walking is usually not a great option, depending on the heat. But there’s a fantastic solution to this problem: The casinos in Macau will want you to visit them as conveniently as possible, so they offer free shuttle buses. All you have to do is figure out which casino is close to where you want to go and where those shuttles leave. If you arrive at the ferry terminal on Macau Island and want to get close to the old town, you can catch the shuttle to the Grand Lisbon Casino and from there you can just walk down to Senado Square, St. Dominic’s Square, the Ruins of St. Paul’s and Mount Fortress. Or you can first catch a shuttle to the Venetian in Cotai and visit some casinos there before you head back to the Macau part of town. There are also public buses operating there, but since I didn’t exchange any Macau Pataca I didn’t use those.
Have you visited Macau? Feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.