As soon as I booked our plane tickets to HONG KONG (an onwards to the Philippines) it was clear we wanted to see Macau as well. Initially we were thinking about a day trip from HK, but then decided to spent the first 2 nights here – this turned out to be a great idea and gave us the chance to experience the city also in the evening when millions of lights turn it into a real “ASIAN LAS VEGAS”. Macau was not a super beautiful city I would say, but it sure was interesting and this UNIQUE MIX OF PORTUGUESE ARCHITECTURE and CHINESE CULTURE is surely one of a kind. Read more about how we spent our short visit before we continued our trip on to Hong Kong.
We visited: Macau
How: ferry, free hotel shuttle bus, on foot
Stayed at: hotel
WE VISITED MACAU WHEN LU WAS 5 YEARS OLD. THERE IS A SECTION ABOUT MACAU WITH KIDS AT THE END OF THIS POST.
HOW TO GET THERE & AROUND
There are many options how to get to Macau. You can fly in directly, you can come from mainland CHINA, take a ferry from HK KOWLOON, HK ISLAND or as we did, TAKE A FERRY STRAIGHT FROM HK AIRPORT. There is also a new BRIDGE being built to connect HK to Macau in the future. We flew to HK via London and instead of collecting our bags & proceeding through immigration after landing; we bought the ferry tickets at one of the two companies:
COTAI WATER JET (see schedules & fares here)
TURBO JET (see schedules & fares here).
It is very important not to throw away your BOARDING TICKET WITH BAGGAGE TAGS! You will have to hand the baggage tags over at the ferry counter as your bags will be checked onto the ferry automatically. You collect them after you land in Macau. The journey takes about an hour and is very comfortable.
After the ferry landing you go through IMMIGRATION and proceed towards the outside area where all the FREE HOTEL SHUTTLES collect their guests. Because, here is the deal – those are free and even though they are meant to be for hotel guests no one will actually ask you if you are staying at their hotel. So even if you book a hotel which does not offer a free shuttle there is no need taking a taxi. Just check the map and find the nearest hotel with a free shuttle service. We also used these shuttles to get around in the city, the historic city centre is easy to walk around as the distances are not that huge.
I´m sure there are also cheaper rooms to be found in the city but we did not bother too much this time. We stayed in a family room (2 double beds) in bigger hotel (aren´t they all big here!) for around 90€ per night/room. That actually seemed like a good deal, the hotel had an outside (heated!) pool as well but we were too busy discovering the city so we did not use it. Restaurants attached, big rooms and great location quite close to the ferry port.
If you don´t mind spending lots of money for hotels, here are endless options to choose from – the Venetian, the Parisian, MGM, the Sands, Wynn, Mandarin Oriental, the famous hotel Lisboa and many more. I guess I don´t have to point out that each of them has a CASINO, right?
Macau was both the first and the last European colony in China. In 1999 it´s sovereignty was handed over to the People´s Republic of China.
In 2005 THE HISTORIC CENTRE OF MACAU was inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list. It´s a COLLECTION OF OVER 20 LOCATIONS that witness a unique assimilation of Chinese and Portuguese cultures in Macau. It was described by UNESCO as: “with its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West.”
WHAT WE SAW & DID
WE WERE GREETED BY VERY UNPLEASANT 13 C & RAIN WHEN WE LANDED, but before we reached our hotel it was dark and we were off to sleep with the thought the weather will simply improve by the morning. Wrong! The rain was away, but it was still freaking cold, it felt even more so since we were jet legged and really did not have thick jackets with us. Anyhow, the SKIES WERE JUST THE COLOUR I ALWAYS IMAGINED CHINA LOOKS LIKE – GREY. At least it was authentic then. All of this of couse did not stop us from going out, we had a full day ahead of us and were determined to use it in the best possible way!
Our hotel was basically around the corner so we started the day at this square, which main feature is the 6 metres high GILDED BRONZE SCULPTURE – the golden lotus flower, which was presented to mark the Macau sovereignty transfer from Portugal to PRC symbolises prosperity. The base consist of 3 layers of red granite and it represents the 3 parts of Macau territory: MACAU PENINSULA, TAIPA ISLAND and COLOANE ISLAND.
GRAND PRIX MUSEUM
This museum was a must do with our two 5-year olds. Conveniently it is situated in the same building as the WINE MUSEUM, so you can visit that one as well. No admission and I have to say, it was interesting also for me even though I could not be less interested in motor-racing or Formula 1. Between the displays of A.Senna, M. Schumacher and D. Coulthard´s OLD CARS there is also a SIMULATOR you can try (only adults) and lots of other interesting things about the MACAU GRAND PRIX.
GUIA HILL, FORTRESS & LIGHTHOUSE
From the Grand Prix museum we could already see the famous LIGHTHOUSE on the hill, but the way to it was not all that easy as it first looked like. Macau, as also Hong Kong has lots of those pedestrian bridge crossings and once you miss one, there is sometimes no way to go over to the other side of the street. Somehow we found an elevator going up to one of the stations on Guia hill, but it was really badly signposted.
This 17th century COLONIAL MILITARY COMPLEX covers a FORT, CHAPEL and a LIGHTHOUSE and is a popular tourist attraction nowadays. This lighthouse is the first of such kind on the China coast, rising up on a hill at about 90 metres on the highest point of Guia hill. The CHAPEL has nice frescoes, so it´s worth going inside. There is also a shorter TUNNEL you can go through a bit further down.
Besides these historic monuments Guia hill seems also to be a popular spot for JOGGERS. Many nice paths in the shades of old trees contribute to a wonderful nature-like atmosphere in the middle of this busy city. There are PLAYGROUNDS for kids and also those fitness features for grown ups. This was also the first time in Macau we had the chance to see the city from above.
Pretty hungry we walked down the hill with the next station in mind, Monte Fort. On the way we passed some nice squares like this one – VASCO DA GAMA GARDEN on the photo below, discovered more children´s playgrounds and found some 7 Elevens to stock up on snacks. Somehow there was no street food in sight ever since we left the hotel.
On the way to Monte Fort I observed the buildings, as I always do – remember to look up while walking around! Here, we could really see an INTERESTING ARCHITECTURAL MIX – some pretty shabby old buildings and then a beautiful little house looking like someone would photoshop it in the scene.
Made me think about how the relation between rich and poor is in the city – some of these buildings were a total contrast to the posh hotels we´ve seen later on in the evening.
FORTALEZA DO MONTE fort, located on a 52 metres high hill was built in the 17th century for the purpose of protecting the Portuguese residents from the pirates.
Nowadays here is a MUSEUM OF MACAU, a nice tree-covered garden and a huge panoramic viewing platform from where you can observe the city to all directions.
As I already pointed out before, the city is a place of many CONTRASTS. The zoomed in view from the fort towards the city shows the typical Asian neighbourhoods, without any glamour. So very different to the neighbourhoods in Taipa.
The most famous Macau monument is just around the corner and the easiest way to reach it is to take the escalators from the fort. After you stumble upon the first ruins, surrounded by beautiful trees, you can already see the remains of the former church.
RUINS OF ST. PAULS
Just a short walk from the escalators going up to the fort and you can already see the ruins of a 17th CENTURY COMPLEX (COLLEGE and a CHURCH) which are one of Macau´s best known landmarks. Since it was a Saturday this place was literately packed with people and it was even almost impossible to make a photo. ;). Nonetheless, the remaining front facade is really something special and nothing like I´ve seen anywhere else.
From here, you can take a stroll down the busy streets to the SENADO SQUARE – you can get some YUMMY DELICACIES on the way – some typical PORTUGUESE PASTRY as well as some typical ASIAN SPECIALITIES.
This is a very pleasant part of the town which is a PEDESTRIAN ZONE (quite a refreshment in comparison to the usual Asian busy streets elsewhere). It used to be a place where Chinese and Portuguese would meet exchanging or buying goods in markets and taking part in festivals. Around this neterestingly paved sqare (which actually works almost like a street), there are many EUROPEAN STYLED BUILDINGS, most of the buildings are protected as monuments. It appears to be a common point for locals to meet nowadays as well.
GRAND LISBOA HOTEL
We have been watching it basically the whole day, from different corners of the city. Not only is this one of the MOST KNOWN CITY FEATURES, the 47 FLOOR HOTEL is also a great ORIENTATION MARK. We did not go in, but its architecture surely deserves at least a couple of minutes admiration once you stand under the might building.
IT WAS GETING LATE and our feet were getting tired, our stomachs were making hungry noises and the kids were showing signs of sleepy eyes. But on the other hand, the city started to change with its lights being switched on one by one. This somehow gave us new energy and instead of ending the day eating snacks in the hotel we decided it would have been a shame not to see its magin in the NIGHT TIME.
If you zoom in on Google maps you´ll see a part of Macau is actually on an ISLAND, which is connected by a 2,5km long bridge to Macau peninsula. Parts of this partly artificially made up island are known under the names TAIPA, COTAI and COLOANE. Here you´ll also find the INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and another FERRY PORT.
It was a long day already but we were destined to check those glamorous hotels on the island in the evening when all the lights were on. Again, we used the free shuttle which dropped us off at the Sands Cotai Central. We had a bite to eat in the huge SHOPPING CENTRE and made a walk pass the FLASHY HOTELS afterwards.
ORIGINALLY OUR IDEA WAS TO RETURN TO TAIPA THE NEXT DAY early in the morning and explore some more, but we were still sooo jet-lagged we slept almost until it was check-out time. We had to head over to Hong Kong later on so we decided to go there straight away. I guess we would have come to the hotel late in the evening if we chose to walk around Taipa first. Some of the things we could have seen & experience in Taipa on that day include:
four faced Buddha shrine
Taipa houses museum
Giant Panda Pavilion
Instead we decided it would be better to have some more time in HK in the evening to grab a nice dinner somewhere and go for a walk rather than arriving late in the evening. We took the FERRY OVER TO KOWLOON and used the MTR trains to get to our hotel. I wrote more about our stay in HONG KONG in another post.
MACAU WITH KIDS
Visiting MACAU with kids can be a FUN DAYTRIP from HONG KONG, even better if you cna affort to spend a night or two. There are lots of nicer HOTELS WITH POOLS as well. We had NO TROUBLES in the city and it was easy to find out way around. We did a lot of walking though and found a couple of INTERESTING MUSEUMS. There is also a GIANT PANDA PAVILLION, INDOOR PLAYGROUNDS, LIGHT SHOWS and other cool things you can do with the little ones. Definitely worth a visit if you are ever around.
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