Macau is a peninsular off the Chinese mainland and includes 2 islands, Taipa and Coloane, that are connected to the peninsular by bridges.
The image above shows the Friendship Bridge, the Eastern-most bridge linking Taipa to the Macau peninsular.
Currently a Special Administrative Region in China, the same status as Hong Kong, Macau had a 400-year history of Portuguese administration prior to becoming an SAR in 1999.
During the 1500s and through until the 19th Century, it was a trading port and the main trans-shipment centre for goods being traded into and out of China and Japan.
It lost this status to Hong Kong during the late 1800s and, with the exodus of traders to Hong Kong, Macau settled into a mostly uneventful existence, notable for gambling and, from 1954, the Macau Grand Prix.
When I came to live in Hong Kong in 1995, Macau was a gambling venue for Hong Kong Chinese (gambling was, and still is, illegal in Hong Kong).
There was little other industry and even the gambling was very small scale by today’s standards.
A Little bit of Europe in the East
Instead, the Portuguese influence meant that there were numerous small seafood restaurants serving Portuguese style food and wine.
Further, Portuguese architecture and street signage made it feel as if a chunk of Europe had been transported to the East.
It was a laid-back respite from the hustle of Hong Kong life.
The evidence of its Portuguese past is still visible in parts:
The design and laying of the tiles gives the impression of an uneven surface, but it is completely level and smooth:
Perhaps one of the more famous images of Macau is the ruin of St Paul’s church. It was a Catholic church, built in 1602 but destroyed by fire in 1835, leaving only the Façade and the steps leading up to it:
Gambling turnover beats Las Vegas
Soon after the territory became a Special Administrative Region, the Las Vegas casino industry moved in to capitalise on the Chinese love of gambling.
As I said earlier, Macau had been a gambling venue for Hong Kong Chinese for decades, so the regulatory environment was already receptive. Today it is still the only region within greater China where gambling is legal.
The promise of huge investments was welcomed by the new administration, and the investment was repaid in spades: by 2010 revenue from gambling in Macau casinos surpassed that of Las Vegas and it hasn’t looked back.
Macau, today, is the undisputed casino gambling capital of the world.
Companies like Sands, Wynn and Venetian developed venues in Macau that mirrored their Las Vegas developments.
Here’s the inside of the Venetian, complete with the false sky ceiling:
And here’s the Sands:
. . . with its false volcano:
The rest of Macau, meanwhile, has lost its original charm with the mushrooming of soulless high-rise buildings over the past 20 years or so:
Nearly all the small Portuguese restaurants in the city have gone. If you want to see something of the old Macau you will need to cross over to Taipa and Coloane.
Those, remarkably, have been little affected by the frantic pace of Casino development – much of which has been done on reclaimed land.
Macau used to be a great day out from Hong Kong – a relief from the constant pressure and noise, with great food to be had in a wide choice of restaurants.
Still, if you cross to Coloane you can still have a gentle walk and make your way down to Fernando’s for a lazy seafood and wine lunch.
You have a few options, depending on where you’re coming from and your budget:
- By air to Macau International Airport
- By ferry from Hong Kong (Macau ferry terminal in Sheung Wan)
- By ferry from Kowloon (China ferry terminal)
- By ferry from Hong Kong International airport
- By helicopter from Hong Kong (Macau ferry terminal, Sheung Wan)
- By bus via the Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macau bridge from Pitt street in Tsim Sha Tsui
- By taxi from Kowloon via the Kong Kong-Zuhai-Macau bridge
Depending on which method you use, the trip is between an hour, and an hour and a half.
The most frequently used service from Hong Kong is the ferry service from the Macau ferry terminal in Sheung Wan – services run every 15 minutes and take about an hour.
Have you visited Macau? Tell us about your trip in the comments!
The Expat Traveller