Why should you visit Macau? well, why shouldn’t you? Macau has been considered the Asian “Las Vegas”; it is the new epicenter of bets, amazing hotels and the best casinos’ brands of the world competing with each other for the title of the most lavish construction. Having been to Vegas, I can say that Macau has nothing to envy Vegas. Since Macau is so close to Hong Kong it is easy to tick both places during the same journey, in fact, even though the Macanese Pataca is their own currency the Hong Kong dollar is widely accepted.
Macau is a densely populated region, about 600K living in an area of 30 km2 (To give you a rough idea, Luxembourg has a similar population but the area is 2500 Km2). It is located about 60 km across from Hong Kong, it is bordered by Guangdong province of Mainland China to the north, and the China Sea to the east and south.
Macau was a Portuguese Port until 1999, these days it is a special administrative region of China which means it can have different economic and political systems, language, traditions, and passport, this is due to the one country two systems agreement, but the transition to completely be merged to PR China will take 50 years, so you will still have some time to visit this special region and see the contrast between the European colonial port and the Asian counterpart traditions. This contrast can also be seen in the food, with the Portuguese influence on their cuisine. Something I really enjoyed there; the beef jerky!
Macau’s architecture is quite particular combining some beautiful old colonial areas where history speaks of old times, the great casinos from the past, and the new spectacular casinos that rule with new designs and free shows to attract visitors and gamblers.
Visa to Macau
Obtaining a tourist visa to Macau is quite simple and for most nationalities, it can be done on arrival. Australian passport holders, as well as EU and the US, will have a “no fee” visa. Other passports might have to pay a fee to obtain the visa on arrival (which is the case of the Colombian passport).
Depending on how you get there, customs will be done either on the ferry port, the airport or on the border with China. I was coming from Hong Kong, so I did it in the ferry port, it just took a couple of minutes.
Getting to Macau
There are a few ways to get to Macau, in general, they are:
- By ferry from Hong Kong, it is a 45 minutes ride, you don’t need to book in advance, just show up, buy your ticket which depending on your negotiation skills should be ~150 HKd (20 Usd). An advice before you buy your ticket; make sure that the ferry arrives at the nearest terminal to your hotel, there is a ferry terminal in the northern territory of Macau and the second one in Taipa, the island in the south near the airport.
- By train from mainland China, crossing the Chinese/Macau immigration control on the north of Macau.
- By plane: Macau has an international airport and planes arrive from most of the important cities in Asia, including China, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Philippines, and from a few cities of the US. Macau is not one of the main hubs.
From the ferry port
Most of the visitors will come from Hong Kong, hence why I make emphasis on moving to the city from the port. Once in the ferry port in Macau, there are some options to get to your hotel, (unless you are staying in a 5-star hotel, in which case you shouldn’t worry much about saving on transport :P):
- Public buses: It might be the cheapest way, with fares starting from 3 MOP (~0.35 USD), but it also requires you to have some knowledge on the local transport, which is hard when you just arrive, besides, carrying big bags in the bus is not the greatest idea.
- Taxis: This might be the easiest option, and in reality taxis in Macau are not extremely expensive, so for a cab to somewhere near to Senado square it shouldn’t charge more than 8 USD.
- Hotel shuttles: this is where things get interesting, at the beginning I thought that the shuttles were only for people staying at the hotels, but anyone can take them. From both ferry ports there are shuttles to the big casino Hotels, so if you find the closest hotel to your accommodation, you can take the free shuttle, and walk to your destination. The hostel where I stayed (near museum of Macau) was a 20 mins walk from Grand Lisboa.
As you may start to see as a reader of the blog is that I am a big fan of public transport, and I consider it is the best way to get to know a city, I usually try to avoid the two deck hop-on-hop-off buses, there’s nothing wrong with them, but I hate the “theme park” feeling they give.
Back to the point, I realized that even when the public transport seemed to be chaotic, Macau possesses a very useful public transport mobile app called “Macau easy go”, which also happens to be designed for offline use. If you are planning to use public transport, I cannot recommend it more, this extremely handy app allowed me to know the routes of the buses that I needed to take, where the bus stations were, and the fares. Something else to know, carry enough change, and keep your coins because the bus driver won’t give you any change, exact payment is expected.
Visiting Macau in two days
Macau is divided into two areas, the old city at the north, with the colonial buildings and older casinos, and historical areas, and Taipa, the southern island where the new urbanism and lavish casinos grow raising the bar even higher with every new construction.
I would recommend to allow one day for each of the sides, if your schedule allows it. On a first day visit things that can be included (as we did in our visit) is going to see the historical places in order to find out more about this former Portuguese Port, this included Monte Fort “or La Fortaleza do Monte”, San Francisco Ruins (see the image), Macau Museum, and A-ma Temple. It is interesting to see the delightful uncommon contrasts, coming across Chinese temples close to Catholic Churches, or fascinating decoration of the celebration of the Chinese year at Largo do Senado -a square full of iconic Portuguese architecture, and all this just a few blocks away from the Grand Lisboa, the most iconic casino of this city.
On the same day tour, it is also easy to include the Fisherman’s Wharf, this zone of the city displays in about 4 blocks, architectural features from various places of the world such as Rome, New Zealand, Miami, Japan, Portugal, France, and even Babilon. Strategically distributed alongside the wharf there are retail shops, fancy restaurants, bars, and of course casinos. This has a feeling of a theme park, which is not a bad thing, it’s just how the city wants to make a statement! This places not only offer all the possible gambling entertainment that you can be after, luxurious bedrooms in beautiful buildings, or the most elegant and exotic gastronomy, but also a range of shows and exhibitions that amazes people of all ages (Below: The aquarium at the Galaxy, and the Dancing water fountain of Wynn casino.
This places not only offer all the possible gambling entertainment that you can be after, luxurious bedrooms in beautiful buildings, or the most elegant and exotic gastronomy, but also a range of shows and exhibitions that amazes people of all ages (Below: The aquarium at the Galaxy, and the Dancing water fountain of Wynn casino.
Taipa, the southern island
For a second day, tour hit Taipa straight away. Taipa is the southern island of Macau, north and south are joined only by long bridges. Getting there is easy and it can be done either by taking a cab or a shuttle bus from one of the big hotels (which offer the service for free to take customers from one side to the other). In Taipa there are also local markets to buy local produce and to try egg tarts and the delicious beef jerky, but in reality, the main reason to go there is to get the full Asian Vegas experience, which is a very big reason, Macau has most of the biggest casinos in the world, they even beat Vegas on that.
Some of the most famous casinos over there are the Venetian (as the one in Las Vegas, but bigger!) , the Galaxy, which at the moment I went, the last tower was still under construction, but what I could see was just mindblowing, The Sheraton, and Crown, with many more coming. All the hotels offer free entertainment (and of course not so free for gamblers) and they all challenge each other to attract more and more people. So a great plan to do here is a Casino crawl (if you want to include drinks it can be a Casino pub crawl) and get to see live spectacles, huge aquariums, water and light displays, and even Venice inside of a casino.