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Macau: Exploring the old and new on a break from Hong Kong

All we knew about Macau before we went was that it had wonderful historic buildings, Portuguese food and big casinos. The new Cotai Strip area was taking off, and several large chains were opening hotels there, including the magnificent Venetian Macau Resort Hotel. I was thinking “Monte Carlo”…

Macau wasn’t our first choice of destination for my mum’s eightieth birthday, but we discovered it was much cheaper to fly there on the budget airline Jetstar than to Hong Kong direct on a regular carrier. And as you can easily get to Hong Kong from Macau ferry, we thought, “Why not see two cities for the price of one?”

The Venetian is on Taipa Island, the same island as the airport, and is the biggest kid on the block. Twice the size of its sister in Las Vegas, it takes up a whopping 10.5 million square feet – enough space for 90 Jumbo jets. That’s big! There’s lots of gold in the entrance lobby, and the ceilings are filled with copies of Renaissance paintings. Its suites are over-sized, too. The split-level rooms have indulgently grand European-style décor, and the bathrooms are glorious.

It’s all larger than life, but it wasn’t till we started exploring that we realised just how much larger.

The walk from the main lobby to the lifts goes right through the middle of the multi-floor casino, which I found a bit disappointing: it’s definitely more Las Vegas than Monte Carlo. I guess if you went with a large group of friends it could be fun. Large tour-groups predominated – there were no James Bond types to be seen.

There are concert halls and convention centres, and you can even get married at the Venetian. But the most amazing thing about the place – and the reason I recommend that you see it for yourself – is the shopping arcade. It’s really cool. Set within the resort complex is a mini-Venice with a fake sky and fake canals, but with real gondoliers! It’s all lit with pretend gaslight, which gives a warm, yellow hue to everything.

You don’t have to worry about the weather, or about parking. If you buy too much to carry, you can just take the lift to your room, drop your parcels off and start again. Many global retailers are represented, from Calvin Klein and Massimo Dutti to Bata. There’s also a food centre and a Starbucks.

 

Out and About
After we had recovered from shopping, we caught a taxi to the old part of Taipa, determined to try some Portuguese-influenced Macanese cuisine. It wasn’t as easy as we thought, but we did eventually find a quaint little place where we had a delicious meal. We were very excited to find a bottle of Mateus Rosé, a Portuguese wine we had not seen since the eighties in South Africa. It slipped down exceedingly smoothly! Walking back to the hotel took about 20 minutes; the large, lit-up building was hard to miss, and also made a great subject for some night-shots.

The next day, armed with a map and a book on Macau walking tours, we took a taxi over one of the bridges that link Taipa Island to Macau and asked to be dropped at the main square. Walking is definitely the best way to take in Macau. It’s an easy city to walk around, especially if you fortify yourself with a couple of the city’s traditional egg tarts along the way – they’re a must.

Although there is a fair amount of mainland Chinese grey concrete in the urban skyline, the architecture remaining from its colonial days adds an interesting mix of Mediterranean colours. Little cobbled alleyways feature façades painted ochre and deep blue, and everywhere the buildings reflect a variety of ages and styles. There are a number of shrines, temples and Chinese gardens, however, and even the more European buildings tend to have an Oriental influence in their design.

 

The large façade of St Paul’s Cathedral is the focal point of the old part of the city, the rest of the building having been destroyed by fire in the eighteenth century. It was built by the Jesuits; Macau was a stepping-stone in their mission to spread the gospel throughout China and Japan.

Steeped in history and egg-tarts, we returned to the glitz of The Venetian for a long soak in the bath and a meal, and then looked at the ferry times to Hong Kong for the next day. There are two ferry terminals: one in Taipa itself, the other in Macau. We went from Macau and came back to Taipa, as it was more convenient for getting to the airport. I would recommend that you travel from the Taipa terminal: it’s more modern and much nicer. The ferry goes straight to our next destination, West Kowloon and the brand new W Hotel.
Recommendations
• Best times weather-wise are from October to May when it’s cooler and drier.
• Fly to Macau by Jetstar Asia

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