Like Hong Kong, Macau is developed, although it is not quite as expensive to visit. It is famous (notorious) for legalized gambling (so it has the potential to be very expensive to visit, if you gamble and are unlucky), but there is more to it than that (as a professional investor, I never gamble). The Portuguese came there in the 1500's, and it was a Portuguese Colony until the handover to China, like with Hong Kong, in 1999; it's new name, which is only used by mainland Chinese, is Aomen. The flavor is the city is a mixture of Portuguese and Cantonese: most of the Chinese locals speak only Cantonese, not Mandarin, and some of the Portuguese locals speak Portuguese, not English. It is a thoroughly delightful place.
Even though Macau is a so-called Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, now, its currency is still the Macau dollar, not the Yuan, so you will have to exchange money, if you come across the border from China, just like you must when you go to Hong Kong. Right outside the customs area at the border, across the street there are a number of currency exchange shops. We found that some had better rates than others, so after checking the markets for a few minutes, we settled on the one that offered the best rates. You can also use your bank card at a cash machine to convert directly through withdrawal, but we found that most banks closed early, and their automatic tellers were empty.
We stayed at the Victoria Hotel, which is quite near the border crossing, downtown. It was not too bad, but we have stayed in better hotels, in China. It was, however, a nice alternative to staying in an overpriced resort or casino hotel, and it is convenient, especially, if you want to experience Zhuhai, right across the border on the mainland, while visiting Macau.
We don't know what it is like coming into Macau from Hong Kong or by air, but, if you come in by bus from Guangzhou (or other parts of China), the main bus terminal is underground right before the border, in Zhuhai. Right by the bus station, there are two travel agencies who can fix you up with accommodations, in both Macau and Zhuhai, and we have used them for hotels in each city with good results. There are probably similar agencies at other entry points. Of course, as always, when they saw that one of us was a foreigner, the price went up at the first one, so we just walked next door to the second one and booked the same hotel at a cheaper price (as we said in the intro to the travelogue, travel agents can always get you a discount off of the price that you will be charged if you call the hotel or airline, directly, but they have some leeway in the prices they can offer you, so don't let yourself be abused).
We chose our hotel based on advice from our friend Benny whose family lives in Macau, and its location was not inconvenient. There are plenty of other place to stay of all price ranges, including the Westin Resort on the outer island, near the black sand beach (near where Hu Jin Tao is rumored to have a residence) and with its own golf course, if you want to pay several thousand per night, golf, and be away from the more populated areas. After we walked across the border, we just walked up Guan Zha Ma Lu (Istmo Ferreira do Amaral) to Hei Sha Huan Ma Lu (Estrada da Areia Preta), and the hotel was right there, overlooking a square with several places to shop or eat small meals (the hotl also had a restaurant).
Everyday, we started off by taking a taxi ride to Da San Ba Pai Fang (every taxi driver will know it), the ruins of St. Paul's church, which was built in 1602 and is the symbol of Macau: now, only the facade remains (and a little bit more). It is a very popular tourist spot, and right next door is Mount Fortress, a several hundred year-old fort, which now houses the Museum of Macau. From there, you can walk down to little back streets with shops of all kinds, cafes, and restaurants ,and, eventually, you will come out on Senado Square an Avenida Almeida Ribeiro (Xing Ma Lu).
Macau is famous for its smoked meat that you can buy at the shops, beginning at the bottom of the huge stairs coming down from the front of the church. Ju Ji Shou Xin Dian is the most famous and has one shop right at the bottom of the stairs. As you walk down the street, hawkers from all such shops will cut off pieces with scissors for you to sample, and you can also buy the little homemade biscuits made by those shops. It was my favorite way to start the day, buying some smoked meat and biscuits to chomp on, while strolling through the little streets, and Ayu also had egg-creams, another specialty of the area; we both got fresh squeezed fruit juices from other stands in the area to complete our Macau walking breakfasts.
Actually, the shops and cafes are just icing on the cake because the whole section is made up of old buildings in the style of Portuguese architecture, dating back as much as over 400 years, including the Holy House of Mercy, on the square, which was established in 1568. Even the paving, alternating wavy black and white stone paving, is beautiful by the time you get to the square.
From that area, one day, we walked east on Avenida Almeida Ribeiro, past the ultra modern MGM Grand Hotel, the Lisboa, and the new Wynn Casino Hotel to a walk along the sea between Macau and its outer island, Taipa, on Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen. We actually stopped in to gawk at the much heralded Wynn Casino Resort Hotel (again, I say that professional investors never gamble), and we were surprised by how empty the casino was; fortunately there was a Starbucks, inside. Around that area, besides the walk by the sea and the Statue of Kun Iam that you can visit, there are a lot of restaurants within this gridded area of several square blocks, and at night, it is the bar street of Macau with some nice bars with live entertainment and outdoor seating: not too big or crowded, and some discos on the side streets, and even a pizzeria. We had a really fun time, but then I felt like a piece of meat with all of the hookers strolling the area and sitting at the bars and staring at me. One nigth we ate at a Chinese-Portuguese restaurant in that area, too.
Another area for dinner is on the Taipa area of the outer island around the area of Rua de Cunha (Guan Ye Jie), commonly called the food street. There are little back alleyways in the area with a lot of restaurants of every variety. We picked out an Italian restaurant that turned out to be really disappointing and overpriced, but there were many others. We also noticed some open-air bars with many foreigners on those back streets, but Ayu was already feeling a bit tipsy from the Campari and wine at the restaurant, so we did not try them, but they looked like fun.
The final area that you should be sure not to miss is the black sand beach at the south of the outer island, in the Coloane district. It is another famous feature of Macau. There are buses to the area, but it was not all that expensive o take a taxi from where we were staying in the north of Macau to the southern tip of Taipa. The Chinese like the barbeque in the area, and there were also so cute little restaurants. It was very pleasant to walk along the beach, there.
Of course, there are other attractions of Macau, beyond what we have talked about. There are other forts, like the Fortress of Mong Ha, in a park behind th Victoria Hotel, and the Guia Fortress, in Guia Hill park, a little farther south and east, near the reservoir. There are also other old churches from the Portuguese era, including some near the area of St. Paul's, and Santa Sancha, near Barra Hill, at the southwest corner of Macau by Lake Sai Vann, which you can see from the casino area where the Wynn Casino is located. There are also a few other museums and some temples, and, of course, for those of you who care, there are more large casinos on Taipa, in the northeast section. We found Macau's website very useful for further information, so you can try it, too: Macau's Tourism Website
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