MACAU: Magical CharmIf you're in the region on a stopover for a few days, check out the 10 best highlights while visiting Macau for a few days. I’ve mixed and matched some old and some new attractions, where a little of the East meets West that is worth considering during a visit to old Portuguese Macau.
AUTHOR and PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
In 1557, the Portuguese created what was to become the oldest permanent European settlement in South East Asia. The name of Macau derives from the Ma Kwok temple, built in the 14th century; it’s a port city located on the western bank at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. During ancient times, the city offered a vital link at the end of the Silk Road where trading ships loaded all manner of goods from China bound for Europe.
Macau comprises the Macau peninsula, Taipa and Coloane islands. The peninsula is the hub of the territory and is connected to Taipa Island by three road bridges. Today, Macao is still a major transitional shipping port with trade between most countries around the world. Unlike its much brasher big brother, Hong Kong, many of Macau’s traditional old-world values, temples, historic streets and Portuguese and Chinese buildings remain, contrasting between traditional and modern.
Here I’ve mixed and matched some old and some new attractions, where a little of the East meets West that is worth considering during a visit to old Portuguese Macau.
The Ruins of St Paul refer to what was once the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640. It, and the ruins of St. Paul’s College that stood adjacent to the church, were destroyed by fire in 1835. As a whole, the old church of St. Mater Dei, St. Paul’s College and Mount Fortress were all Jesuit constructions and formed what can be perceived as the ‘Acropolis of Macau.’ Close by, the archaeological ruins of the old College of St. Paul stand witness to what was the first western-style university in the Far East that included an elaborate academic programme. The façade of the Ruins of St. Paul nowadays functions symbolically as an altar to the city – a significant tourist hotspot.
Macau International Dragon Boat Festival is an old Chinese festival commemorating the heroic poet Wat Yuen who protested against corruption by drowning himself. The festival takes place in early June and all the celebrations are concentrated on the famous dragon boat races, which in Macau are held on the Nam Van Lake. This is a truly international event with many teams competing from overseas countries.
Partaking of local cuisine should not be missed when visiting Macau and there are numerous restaurants to choose from. My favourite place to dine out is in Coloane Village. This is out in Macau’s countryside with verdant hillsides and valleys, serene villages and lovely sandy beaches. Set in a modest two-storey, tiny Macanese village house is the Restaurante Espaco Lisboa where authentic home-style, rustic Portuguese food is served. The place is warm and cozy with both downstairs and upstairs dining. Our meal consisted of individual dishes including lobster bisque, monkfish and prawns rice served in an earthenware pot, fish of the day stew served in a Portuguese copper pot, prawns with garlic sauce, clams in white wine sauce with herbs and chorizo-style grilled Portuguese sausage.
The Historic Centre of Macau is a collection of over 20 locations in the Macau peninsular that are juxtapose between Chinese and Portuguese cultures. In 2005 the centre was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Walking is the best way to visit many of the city’s famous listed landmarks including the Ruins of St. Paul’s as well as Na Tcha Temple, St. Dominic’s Church, A-Ma Temple, Mandarin’s House, Dom Pedro V Theatre, St Joseph’s Church, Sam Kai Kun Temple, the Moorish Barracks and sections of the old city walls. A further distance away but well-worth visiting is the historical Guia Fortress that was constructed between 1622 and 1638 and the Guia Lighthouse built in 1864/65 – the first western-style lighthouse on the China Coast – you can ride to the top on the world’s shortest cable car in all of 80 seconds.
Mount Fortress and Macau Museum is adjacent to the Ruins of St. Paul’s and as such it is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List but here you get two attractions for the price of one – the Museum and the Fort. Built in the shape of a trapezoid by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1626, the fort was once the city’s principal defense structure with military barracks, cannons and an arsenal that had sufficient ammunition and supplies to last in a siege for up to two years. The museum is compact but a great place to learn about the history of Macau and with some amazing artifacts worth seeing up close and personal.
Race a Grand Prix Go Kart and put the pedal to the metal at the MMC Coloane Go-Kart track. It’s located adjacent to Caesars Golf Macau near Seac Pai Van Park on Coloane Island. This is an international Grade A racetrack which is 1.2 km in length and 10 metres in width. It’s designed so that different turning corners represent different levels of challenge, which allow both the driver and the go-kart to perform to their best ability. Ranked one of the most challenging tracks in Asia, the nine-corner racetrack is the only permanent track available in Macau or Hong Kong and provides spectator stands and a restaurant, as well as a sweeping panorama of the surrounding countryside.
Try Bungy Jumping off the Macau Tower to the street 233 meters below. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the AJ Hackett Bungy Jump from the Macau Tower as the world’s highest. The Macau Tower is 338 meters from ground level to the top of the mast (10 metres higher than the Auckland’s Skytower). Of course if jumping off a tower isn’t on your must-do list there is always the fresh air hike around the Macau Tower Skywalk or go to the dizzying heights on the Macau Tower Mast Climb. Some daredevils have even managed to complete all three ultimate challenges in one adrenalin-fuelled action packed day.
Ride in a Gondola at the Venetian if you can’t make it to Venice anytime soon. At the Venetian Macau Resort gondoliers will softly serenade you as you and your partner take a leisurely ride through the San Luca, Marco Polo or Grand Canals aboard a beautifully crafted Venetian gondola. No trip to the Venetian Macao would be complete without a graceful and romantic glide down the Canal in an authentic Venetian gondola, accompanied by a singing gondolier. It’s not really Venice but it’s the next best thing!
The House of Dancing Water Show is one nightly spectacle you shouldn’t miss if you visit the City of Dreams. This is where the HK$2 billion production of House of Dancing Water show is staged. It’s supposedly a love story set to a watery backdrop – if you can imagine bringing together elements of ballet and ice skating routines, hire-wire trapeze and circus juggling, a Seaworld theme park, Cirque de Soliel, Chinese opera, a clip from the Waterworld movie and some Michael Jackson Thriller zombies – then you’re part way to knowing what to expect! Sit in the front rows if you don’t mind getting wet.
Rent A Scooter and explore local villages and hidden bays or search for traditional Macanese restaurants off the beaten track. If playing the casinos or guided tours aren’t for you then renting a scooter is an inexpensive and economical way to visit Macau’s historical and cultural sites. Most rental companies offer a range of modern 50cc road scooters or 125cc motorbikes for hire. Gloves, helmets or GPS navigation can be ordered online or when you arrive to pick up your scooter.
For over 400 years Macau has acted as a yoke that harnesses the divide between Chinese and Western cultures. So with that amount of history to discover add it to your ‘must visit wish list’ and discover some of Macau’s magical charm.
Sofitel Ponte 16 Hotel
T: +853 8861 0016
AJ Hackett Bungy Jump
T: + 853 8988 8750
W: W: www.ajhacket.com
Mount Fortress and Macau Museum
T: +853 2835 7911
Restaurante Espaco Lisboa
T: +853 2888 2226
Coloane Go-Kart Track
T: +853 2888 2126
Venetian Gondola Ride
T: +853 2882 8888
City of Dreams and House of Dancing Water Show
T: +853 8868 6688
T: + 853) 661 709 81
Shane Boocock travelled to Hong Kong and Macau courtesy of Air New Zealand. W: www.airnewzealand.co.nz
Ground arrangements in Macau were courtesy of Macau Tourism. W: www.macautourism.gov.mo
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