Macau

It’s only an hour's ferry ride away but Macau is a world apart, making it the most popular excursion from Hong Kong. A Portuguese colony for 400 years till it was returned to the Chinese in 1999, Macau is a heady fusion of European and Chinese cultures, much more than even Hong Kong is. The heart of the old city is still very Portuguese, at least in architecture and ambience. Strip the streets of people and signage and you could easily pretend you’re in a Mediterranean city!

Before we discuss sightseeing, we must mention the other feature Macau is most noted for – casinos. It is said that Macau generates seven times the revenue than does Las Vegas from gambling. Busloads of Chinese pour in daily from across the border while many arrive from Hong Kong on weekends, to tempt Lady Luck. Macau’s casinos are grand and flashy and are located along the waterfront on the south side of the peninsula. Some, like the Venetian, Sands, Lisboa and Wynn, even rival those on the glitzy Las Vegas Strip. Considering the volume of money the casinos bring in, the Macau administration has reclaimed land along the coast, called the Cotai Strip, and is turning it into the ‘Las Vegas Strip of the East’.

But not everyone is a high roller. Most visitors from Hong Kong, with only a few hours to spend in this former Portuguese colony, prefer to take a walking tour to soak in the wonderful ambience. Old Catholic churches, ancient Chinese temples, fortresses and barracks, and even just ordinary, old buildings exude colonial flavour and charm, and merely ambling along the streets is an experience to cherish. In some sections of Macau, especially the old quarters, a giant lattice of narrow alleys entices you to sample the local culture by observing the business of daily living. Densely populated, very colourful and throbbing with life, visiting the older neighbourhoods should be top of your agenda.

There are walking tours you can book but if you can’t catch one, visit the iconic Ruins of St Paul, and the Sao Paulo Cathedral, the Fort and the Macau Museum, each one a short distance from the others. If you stay overnight in Macau, spend a couple of hours at Taipa and Coloane villages. These former fishing villages are splendid weekend getaways, a blend of colonial-era shops and houses along narrow lanes.

Getting There:
Travelling to Macau from Hong Kong is very easy. There are ferry terminals at Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and even one at the Hong Kong International Airport, where you can bypass Hong Kong Immigration and transfer directly into a ferry to Macau. Many tour operators in Hong Kong will happily organise a Macau tour for you but it’s just as easy to plan your visit yourself. Macau is small and easy to navigate, unless you intend to get happily lost in its atmospheric heritage lanes and alleyways!