Traveling through China: the city of Macau.

Going to Macau

Our regular contributor Maria Mikhaleva recently moved to China, and in addition to her work, has been actively exploring the region. A couple of weeks ago, Masha was in Macau and did a detailed manual on a short trip to the casino and Portuguese heritage area.

To be honest, before I moved to China, I knew next to nothing about Macau – except that I could roughly show it on a map. But after a couple of months in the Celestial Empire, it was time to think about a visa. Those who live in the Guangzhou area have two main options: Macau and Hong Kong. There is a bus to the Macau border from the town where I work – so I decided to opt for it.

Macau is a bizarre mix of cultures, a former Portuguese colony that came under Chinese rule for fifty years at the end of the last century. Signs on the streets and bus stops are bilingual, the Catholic cemetery has high-rise man towers protruding from behind the folded wings of languid angels, and an Asian market stands beside a European-looking courtyard. Although the Chinese population dominates, and characters are crowding the Latin alphabet, for me Macau was a breath of Europe: street names can be read, supermarkets sell delicious cheese and unsweetened sausage (expensive, though!), Instagram is not blocked, and the cafes give a fork to the order. Many people speak English: even grannies on the bus were able to maintain a dialogue.

In Macau you can legally play in the casino, jump from the highest bungee jumping point in the world and look at the pandas. I don’t think anyone will fly to Macau just for that, but it’s still worth including the country in your trip to Asia.

In the modest territory of Macau there is an international airport, opened during the Portuguese rule (in fact, it was recently – in 1995). However, it is unreasonably expensive to fly there from Russia or Belarus: a round trip ticket from Moscow costs from € 480. It is much more reasonable and economical to visit Macao from China or Hong Kong.

The border crossing between China and Macau is located in Zhuhai, which can be reached from Guangzhou by train from Guangzhou South Station. Trains run very frequently (more than 60 options per day), the ticket costs around €9.2, travel time is just over an hour, and the end station is right at the border. You can check the schedule on the CTrip website.

From Hong Kong you can take a ferry to Macau. It runs every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. to midnight, and there are some night flights – they are more expensive, just like on weekends. A weekday day ticket to Macau costs €19.2. The detailed schedule and rates are published on the website of the carrier. I was told that near the ticket offices and just inside the ferry terminals you can find locals reselling tickets at lower prices. Where they get them from is a mystery to the narrator.

Another option of transport from Hong Kong is a bus which takes you by the longest (55 km) bridge over the sea in the world, opened a couple of years ago. Such a ride is much cheaper – €7.3 during the day and €7.9 at night.

“For me Macau was a breath of Europe.

Macao is a special administrative region of the PRC. This means that the Chinese government deals with defense and diplomacy, while the local government controls the police, customs and determines the legislation, including the rules of entry into the country. There is a 30-day visa-free period for Russians and Belarusians. When I crossed the border by land, I was not given a stamp, instead I was given a form with the date of entry, which I had to keep until the end of the visit. Keep in mind that if you have a single entry Chinese visa and you went to Macau, you won’t be able to go back.

Macau has its own currency – pataca. One Pataca is equal to approximately €0.1. Also in the country in use Hong Kong dollars, which in addition are the official currency of the casino, the rate – 1:1.

Macau is an expensive country. On Booking the cheapest hotel room for two people booking a month costs € 50. Cheaper options can be found on AirBnB – from €40 per night for two (service charge included).

I found a couchsurfing accommodation with an Indonesian, Eli, who works as a chef in a casino restaurant. He pays about €500 a month for his small apartment with one room that only holds a bed and a closet, a hallway that is impossible for two people to turn around, and a tiny kitchen, not including utilities.

The reason for the high price is the highest population density in the world: more than 21 thousand people per square kilometer. Oddly enough, it does not catch the eye: the streets of Macau, especially during the day, seem more deserted than the Chinese. At the same time, by Chinese standards, the population of Macau is like a provincial town: “only” a little more than 620,000 people (2017 data). But they nestle in an area of about 31 km². By comparison, the area of Minsk is more than ten times larger – 348 km². Eli told me that his local colleagues, in order to save money, rent accommodation in neighboring Juhai and commute across the border to work every day.

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Macau is divided into two bridge-connected areas: the Macau Peninsula and the islands of Coloan and Taipa, merged together after a massive sea drainage in the 90s. It is quite comfortable to walk through each of these parts on foot, but the distance between them is better to overcome by bus.

Ticket costs € 0.66 (6 patacas). Fare is cheaper with a transport card, but I did not have time to figure out how to buy it. Moreover, there are two other ways to save money. You have to put cash when you pay in the box at the entrance, and if you want and have the nerve, it’s realistic to drop a couple of coins less. Or you can move around the city for free on branded casino buses. Large gambling establishments have organized shuttles to and from key points in Macau: the main hotels, the ferry crossing and the border control point. For example, Galaxy Casino has as many as ten routes, and some of them run buses until midnight. To get a ride, you don’t have to spend a single pata in the establishment: you just get on and go.

Compact Macau can be explored in a couple of days if you want to – in a day and a half I managed to accomplish almost all my plans. I took the free shuttle from the border to the Grand Lisboa Casino, spent the bright part of the day exploring the Macau Peninsula, and by evening I moved to Taipa to admire the nightly casino lights. The next day I went to Coloan, took another stroll through the Taipa casino, and was back in China by 4 p.m.

The first gambling house opened in Macao back in 1847, and gambling has played an important role in the colony ever since. When it came under Chinese control in 1999, the Chinese government prudently did not want to lose the source of solid budget revenues, although in other regions of the country such entertainment is prohibited by law. The Chinese did not go wrong: Macau is ranked first in the world by revenues from the gambling industry, ahead of Las Vegas.

Casinos in Macau are not just halls with slot machines and card tables, but grandiose complexes, including hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and other establishments, aimed at vacationers with fat wallets. This business generates a major part of the area’s income, and two-thirds of the population is directly or indirectly involved in it, so to come to Macau and not go to a casino is like being in Moscow and not seeing Red Square.

Inside the casino anyone from 21 years old can get in, young-looking visitors are asked to show their passport. There are metal detectors in front of the entrances: in the past there were cases when players who had squandered a fortune put a bullet in their foreheads. Photography and videotaping inside is prohibited. I read in the reviews of other travelers, as if the guards ask to leave camera equipment in the lockers, but I was not searched, and I easily got in with a camera. I never dared to take it out, only once I secretly tried to take a few photos on the phone, and then I hardly escaped from the security guard who noticed it.

The main contingent of casinos in Macau are residents of neighboring China and Hong Kong. I only saw foreigners a couple of times, and only as observers. I quickly got bored watching the players: they did not show much excitement, and I did not know the rules. I was much more interested in the luxurious interiors and decorations of the gambling houses.

Of the 41 casinos operating in Macau today, I would note the following:

Grand Lisboa, the tallest building in Macau in the shape of a bouquet of flowers, which to me looks more like a huge golden spike. The architectural dominant feature of the city, part of one of the oldest casinos in Macau, the Lisboa, opened in the 1970s.

Wynn is worth a visit for the shows: at XX:00, a dragon surrounded by clouds of steam emerges from under a huge dome in the main lobby, and at XX:30, a golden tree of prosperity blossoms. I enjoyed both shows, so after one ends I recommend waiting a half hour for the next.

The Venetian is the largest casino in the world: an area of almost 3.5 hectares, 3 thousand hotel rooms, 640 gaming tables and more than 1700 slot machines. Already after my visit to Macau I learned that it is an enlarged copy of the casino of the same name in Las Vegas: in the pictures it is almost impossible to distinguish the American original from the Chinese version.

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Outside the complex looks luxurious, especially in the evening: illuminated houses, gondolas “parked” by the pier, a copy of the Campanile, the St. Mark’s Cathedral… The interior decoration is also impressive, especially through the network of channels through which you can take a gondola ride, decorated like the Venetian shopping streets. This pleasure is not cheap – € 14.5 per trip, but is in high demand among the Chinese.

The Parisian is the neighbor of The Venetian, decorated in the French style. In front of the entrance is a replica of the Eiffel Tower, which is colorfully illuminated in the evenings.

Galaxy is a golden giant complex with impressive night illumination and a fountain show in the lobby.

“Macau ranks first in the world, ahead of Las Vegas, in terms of gaming revenues.

The years of Portuguese rule have left an indelible mark on Macau’s architecture. Sometimes, wandering through the central streets, I forgot that I was not in Europe, and the crowds of locals seemed to me like travelers, just like me. It’s worth noting that there really are a lot of tourists around the ruins of St. Paul – the facade of the UNESCO-protected XVII century church. On the steps leading up to the site I saw perhaps the largest number of photographers in my life.

After pushing down the stairs, you find yourself on a pedestrian street filled with a variety of cafes and street-food outlets. Here you can try the most famous dessert in Macao – pastel de nata – Portuguese puff pastry tartlets with a sweet creamy yolk filling, one piece costs € 0.9-1.1. Another local delicacy is the plate of juganja cured meat. They are quite expensive – from €6.5 to €16.3 for half a kilo. Luckily, there are bidders on the street offering free tastings of this and other local delicacies.

After grabbing a bite to eat, I made my way to Largo de Senado (Senate Square), also a UNESCO site. On the way, you can check out St. Dominic’s Church with its free museum.

Nearby is another religious building with a rich history – dedicated to the goddess of the sea Mazzu (A-Ma) temple A-Ma, which predates Macau itself and even gave the country its name. The main part of the structure was built in the late fifteenth century, and it is still in operation. Worshippers pray, leave fruit in the temple and light aromatic sticks, spirals and candles, bought in the temple shop. The largest of the lotus-shaped candles is the circumference of a basketball and costs €151.

The religiosity of the people of Macau is literally felt: “Vases” with fragrance sticks can be found all over the city: in the streets, inside entrances and stores. A small portion (about 7%) of the country’s population is still Christian. A reminder of the Catholic past is provided by the cemetery of St. Michael the Archangel (15-19 Beco do Almirante Costa Cabral) with tombstones in Portuguese and exquisite sculptures. Nearby is Guia Hill, the highest natural point on the Macau Peninsula. On it in the XVII century was built Portuguese fortress, and in the XIX – the first modern lighthouse in the Far East. From the top of the hill offers an excellent view of the entire city.

Macau is made up of densely packed Chinese high-rise buildings, like the one my host lived in. Trying to add some space to their tiny apartments, people put cages on the windows, which are used as storage rooms or drying areas, making the houses look dreary. Also the laundry is dried on the roofs, so it’s not uncommon to have the entrance closed with just a pawl. It’s enough to slip into an entranceway with someone and take the elevator up to the top floor, and you can admire the city from above and take some cool shots.

“Venice and Paris aren’t the only cities that Macau has copied: they’ve also borrowed a piece of Rome.”

From above you can see in all its glory the two highest points – the already mentioned Grand Lisboa Casino and the Macao Tower. It is a television and radio tower 338 meters high with an observation deck, which can be accessed for €18. The tower was entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest point (233 meters) from which bungee jumps can be made. I was excited about the idea of tickling my nerves, but the price of € 390 cooled my ardor.

Venice and Paris are not the only cities that were copied in Macau: a piece of Rome was also borrowed here. In the entertainment complex Fisherman’s Wharf erected its own mini-Coliseum surrounded by buildings in the ancient style. It’s a popular place for walks and photo shoots: wandering here even on a weekday, I constantly risked to spoil someone’s picture.

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Macau: not just casinos

Whether it’s your first time on Chinese soil or you’ve lived in the country for several years, traveling in China is a great way to learn more about the culture, history and life of our Chinese contemporaries. With our new “China Travel Guide” project, you can not only expand the geography of tourist spots in the country, but also learn local tips. Let’s go?

Macau (澳门, Aomen)

PRC special administrative region former Portuguese colony Population: 597,126 Languages: Cantonese, English, Portuguese

Keywords: casino, Christianity, port, colony, visa-free entry, architecture, St. Paul’s Cathedral


Why Macau?

If you want to learn more about the shores of eastern China, get on a plane that will take you to Macau on a direct flight. Here you have the chance not only to try and win at the many casinos, but also to hear the haunting sounds of Portuguese ships docking on its shores. Many articles will tell you how to find the Grand Lisboa Casino on a map, but we’d like to show you another side of this old postcolonial port.

How to get there?

You can get to Macau by direct flight from Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and other cities in China. You can get by land from Zhuhai, located on the border with Macau SAR, it takes about an hour to cross the border crossing. It is convenient to get here by train (70 yuan, travel time: 1 hour) or by bus (60 yuan, travel time: about 3 hours) from Guangzhou. From Hong Kong, there is a regular TurboJET, a hovercraft, starting at 135 yuan.

Remember that Macau and China are different countries in terms of visas, with different visa rules. So, citizens of certain states can visit Macau as tourists or on a business trip for 180, 90, 30 or 7 days without needing a visa. For Russians it is 30 days by default and up to 90 days if they apply to the competent authorities for an extension of their visa-free stay in Macau.

Where to Live?

Macau is a small tourist city with many hotels for all tastes. Of course, those who go here to bet on the red or black prefer to stay in rooms of luxury hotels pr and Venetian Macau Casino, Wynn, MGM Grand Hotel and others. The usual tourist opts for a cozy paradise, such as on Taipa Island, away from the center. The cost of hotels in Macau is quite high, you need to prepare your wallet for it.

What do you need to know about the history of the city?

Today Macau is a special administrative region of China. It was colonized by the Portuguese in 1557 and became an important transshipment point for goods from all over the world. In the early 17th century, during the War of Independence from Spain (1637-1668), the Portuguese had a turbulent time, and the Dutch made no fewer than four attempts to capture the peninsula. All of their attacks were repulsed.

In 1640 Macau received official status as Cidade do Nome de Deus de Macau (City of God’s Name Macau). In the early 19th century, when the British began developing the region’s islands and founded Hong Kong, Macau began to be sidelined as an important trading center. In the early 20th century, Macau was already a quiet summer home to traders from Canton, and after the military coup in Portugal (1974) it gained a markedly greater administrative and economic independence from the metropolis.

According to the agreement signed between China and Portugal on April 13, 1987 (ratified in January 1988), Macau received the status of a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC, which was officially adopted on December 20, 1999. China guaranteed the free economic status of the territory of Macao by declaring the slogan “One Country, Two Systems,” which allowed the citizens of Macao to maintain a high degree of autonomy in all matters except international relations and defense for the next 50 years.

What to do.

Leaving only one day to explore Macau is a big mistake. The old streets are appealing with their atmosphere. Don’t wait, put on your comfortable shoes and go for a walk and check out the old cathedrals. The walks will be up and down the hills, so be prepared for the ups and downs. The stone-paved streets still hold echoes of the culture of old Europe. It is best to spend 3 to 4 hours a day hiking.


Touch history

Imagine yourself as a Portuguese sailor who built his life on trading in the port or even as a priest bringing the Christian faith to Chinese hearts. Climb to the top of the fort and imagine yourself at night watching for approaching enemy ships or relentlessly watching for an approaching storm. Here you can feel the history of the colonial past.

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The ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral (Ruínas de São Paulo) are the main architectural legacy of European architecture in Asia. It was situated in the center of the peninsula of Macau, but was destroyed in a fire in 1835. Today only the main facade with window apertures and the main entrance as well as a fragment of the grand staircase remain of the magnificent temple. Despite the fact that in fact all that remains of the cathedral are ruins, it makes a strong impression, contrasting with the rest of the traditionally Chinese architecture of the city. It only takes about half an hour to see it.

Fortaleza do Monte or Fortress of Our Lady is situated in the center of the city. It was the most important strategic fortress and was the main point of entry for the Dutch invasion of Macau in 1622. Moreover, built by the Jesuits, it was supposed to protect the nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral from pirate raids. The fortress walls today offer a view of the ruins of the cathedral.

Guia Hill is a historic military fortress located at the monastery of St. Lazarus. It, like many other fortifications in the city built in the early 17th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort was built around the monastery in 1622 as a defense against Dutch invaders. The defensive complex is located at the highest point in Macau, so it was decided to build a beacon here. It was the first European-style lighthouse built on the coast of China.

The Church of Saint Joseph (Igreja e Seminário de São José) was built in 1728. It, along with St. Paul’s College and Seminary, was the place from which missionary activities were conducted in all regions of China. In 1800, the church and the scholarly institutions attached to it were awarded the royal title of “House of Divine Assemblies” by Queen Donna Maria I of Portugal. It is the only temple in China built in the traditional Portuguese Baroque style. St. Joseph’s Church holds one of the most precious relics of the city of Macao – one of the side altars holds a bone fragment from the hand of St. Francis Xavier. The relic was formerly kept in St. Paul’s Cathedral but was moved to the church after it was destroyed.

The historic center of Macau is Senado Square, which takes its name from the City Senate building located in the central part of the square. The building itself was built in the early 17th century in the European architectural tradition and is one of the most beautiful in the city. Previously it was the gathering place for the entire population of the Portuguese colony to discuss social affairs. Today it is home to the city’s museum and library.

Macau Museum is located in the center of the city. It is located in the Mountain Fortress, which was erected by the Jesuits in the 17th century. Later, on April 18, 1998 the Macao Museum was opened here with a vast collection of exhibits. Each of the three floors of the museum is allocated for a separate exhibition of cultural and historical heritage of the region. Thus, the first floor is dedicated to the history of Macao, religion and culture of the two civilizations. The second floor is dedicated to traditions and folk art. The third floor of the museum is dedicated to contemporary art. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on the 15th of each month the Macau Museum is completely free to visit.


Test your sense of fear

Climbing the Torre de Macau Tower and jumping down with insurance will give you a dose of adrenaline and an unforgettable experience. If you are not planning to make the jump, just climb to a height of 233 meters and walk along the tower ledge. For those who don’t want to experience their senses too much, there is an observation deck with a transparent floor. New Zealand architect Gordon Moller, known for his high-rise buildings, was invited to design the tower. Upon completion in 2001, the Macau Tower became an honorary member of the World Federation of Skyscrapers.

Listen to the sound of the sea

You can’t come to the seaport and not be alone with the sea. Don’t take care of your feet, walk to the cozy promenade of Macau Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you’ll find the visitor center, an area of nightclubs, bars, and restaurants that’s been open to vacationers since late 2006. Fisherman’s Wharf has three main areas: Dynasty Wharf, East Meets West and Legend Wharf. Those who like to take in the atmosphere of a cozy place will need 2 to 3 hours to walk. Buses: 1A, 3, 3A, 8, 10, 10A, 10B, 12, 28B, 28BX, 28C, 32, AP1.

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Bet on the best dog.

In Macau, you can visit the dog races. There are about 730 dogs in total at the Macau Canidrome. The complex has a 400-meter dog run, two grandstands, several private boxes and a VIP box. Hound dogs (English greyhounds) come to Macau mainly from Australia, where dog racing and dog breeding have a long tradition. Decommissioned dogs are usually destroyed; according to 2010 figures, 383 were killed. For this reason, the canidrome in Macau has faced criticism from animal advocates in recent years. Dog races at the Macau Canidrome are usually held in the evenings from 6 p.m. to midnight. Bus routes nearby are 1, 1A, 5X, 23, 25X, 33, E03, E03, N1B.

Experience the tranquility of a Portuguese village

The small, picturesque island of Taipa (凼仔岛, Taipa) is in the Macau administrative district, 2.5 km south of the Macau Peninsula, connected to it by a bridge. It has a very different atmosphere, designer stores and souvenir shops. You can see not only historical monuments on the island but also simple buildings with interesting architecture. If you want to explore the island on your own, it won’t take much time – it’s very small.

It became popular because of the colonial building of the historic center, as well as several interesting temples that are located near the central quiet square. The most famous is the Church of Our Lady of Carmel (Freguesia de Nossa Senhora do Carmo) which stands on the slope of a small hill. From the church there is a narrow walkway with stairs leading to the shoreline. Surrounded by green parks and Mediterranean-style colonial mansions.

Of considerable interest is also the house museum, which exhibits various architectural styles and interiors from the European and Chinese period. Entrance to the museum is free, but he works not every day, but from Thursday to Sunday. Tourists often stop by the Pak Tai Temple and stroll through the cozy alleys.


Wine Museum and Macau Grand Prix Museum

At the Wine Museum you can explore the process of making this ancient beverage, as well as take part in a wine tasting. Opening hours: 10:00 – 20:00. Tuesday off, admission is free. Tasting: 45 MOP (three types of wine). Buses: 1A, 3, 10, 10B, 10X, 23, 28A.

Visitors to the Macau Grand Prix Museum will see more than twenty cars and motorcycles that took part in Formula One races, piloted by Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard and Eduardo de Carvalho. Special attention is given to the racing car in the center of the room because it was driven at one time by Ayrton Senna, the famous driver who died in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Museum opening hours: 10 am – 8 pm, Tuesdays off, admission free. Buses: 1A, 3, 10, 10B, 10X, 23, 28A.

See the pandas

At the southernmost part of the island, Seak Pai Van Park is home to the Panda Pavilion. You can get to the park by cab or bus number 25 or 26. The best time to visit is before 2pm, otherwise you will find the pandas sleeping and inactive. In addition to pandas, you can also see monkeys, lemurs, parrots, and flamingos in this park.

Explore the world at the Macau Science Center and Planetarium

There are 12 galleries in the Macau Science Center exhibit hall where you can explore all branches of science: planet Earth, lifestyle, technology and science for children. All of the galleries are arranged in a spiral, so it is advisable to take the elevator to the top and explore the departments as you descend down the floors. Inside the science center, there are many interactive exhibits as well as multimedia presentations, making it easy for children to absorb the information they receive. The planetarium is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with Tuesdays off.

Hide in the tree branches of Luis de Camões Park

Luis de Camões was a famous 16th century Portuguese poet. He lived several years in Macao as an official of the colonial administration. The museum is located in a beautiful villa known as Fundachao Oriente, which is located within the Luis De Camoes Garden. The mansion was built in the 18th century, then leased to the East India Company, and in 1885 was purchased by the Macao government. Later, in the 20th century, the Camões Museum was established here. A monument to Count Bernardino de Senna Fernández is placed in front of the museum as a token of gratitude from the Chinese merchants to whom he provided protection and assistance.

Sources used

MO Destinations: Asia-Pacific photo was used for the title illustration. Macau.

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