After spending the previous eight months in Latin America, where things usually run at a sedate pace, we were suddenly beamed back to the bustle of Asia. I’d almost forgotten about those massive tour buses full of people that consume places. They were out in full force at Senado Square and St Paul’s Cathedral, but thankfully we found some space to breathe while we explored the rest of Macau’s historic sites. Here’s a quick look at what we got up to during our day trip to Macau from Hong Kong.
The epicentre for tourists wanting to delve into Macau’s past, Senado Square is surrounded by old buildings, a bright yellow church and, since it was close to Christmas, lots of distracting decorations. Senado Square is a nice throwback to Macau’s Portuguese past, and if you can ignore the crowds it’s a great place to stroll around and do some shopping. Don’t forget to try the Portuguese egg tarts; the sweet local specialty.
St Paul’s Cathedral
This should be renamed “The front of the former St Paul’s Cathedral”. It is literally just the front, but it does give it a pretty unique look, and the front part of a church is usually the best anyway. After visiting St Paul’s Cathedral we walked up the hill to Monte Fort for a hazy view over Macau.
St Augustine Square
One of the best things to do in these old European squares is to take a seat and watch life float by. Thankfully St Augustine Square is quiet enough to be able to do that. There are also some grand old buildings nearby, including a theatre and a library. We saw some fascinating old maps of Macau in the library, but the theatre was closed (it shuts on Tuesdays).
Walking the streets of Macau
We decided to follow the signs towards some of Macau’s less popular historic sites, walking through quiet residential streets, past small local shops and restaurants as well as several churches and squares. We ate some delicious crispy roast pork and rice for lunch, rested our wary legs in a shaded square, admired the colourful St Lawrence Church and eventually ended up at Mandarin’s House.
Mandarin’s House is the former residence of famous Chinese literary figure Zheng Guanying (don’t worry; I hadn’t heard of him either). This historic Chinese sanctuary sits quietly below a ring of residential buildings and is a great place for a quiet walk. It was almost deserted when we were there; I guess the majority of tourists on a day trip to Macau are Chinese and have probably seen hundreds of places like this.
A view of the city
After visiting Mandarin’s House, we walked up the hill towards Our Lady of Penha, a small church which overlooks the city. We saw some people in wedding outfits about to get their photos taken, so we knew we were about to see something good. The church, which dates back to the 1600s, wasn’t that special but we did get a nice view of Macau (particularly Macau Tower) from above. After that we headed to Guia Fort for another view of the city. We had to walk uphill in the afternoon heat to get to the fort but it was worth it.
Tai Pa Village
Some of Macau’s most popular casinos are located in Tai Pa. It’s also home to some nice Portuguese architecture and small Chinese temples. It’s a bit more laid-back than the central old town and is a great place to explore just before sunset. We went to the Tai Pa Houses Museum, which is a small collection of old Portuguese houses next to some rural land. Beyond the fields and ponds is the famous Venetian Casino. It’s free to hang around outside the old houses but you’ll have to pay to go inside. Another highlight in Tai Pa was a small Chinese temple. There was only one other person around and she was nice enough to light some incense when she saw that I was taking photos.
Macau has one of the best collections of colonial buildings in Asia, but a lot of people come to see the casinos instead. We had already visited Las Vegas on our round the world trip so we weren’t bothered about seeing them, although we couldn’t resist another stroll along the (fake) canals of Venice. The Grand Lisboa is another casino we planned to visit, but we ran out of time. No day trip to Macau would be complete without visiting one casino; if you haven’t been to the Venetian in Las Vegas (or Venice) you should see the one in Macau.
Tips for a day trip to Macau
We visited Macau as a day trip from Hong Kong; here are some tips if you’re thinking of doing the same.
- Book your return ferry in advance: The ferries back to Hong Kong sell out and a lot of people end up having to wait a long time for a later ferry (or pay extra for a higher class).
- Don’t rush: it’s tempting to try and fit it all in but the old streets and squares are made for slow strolling rather than frantic sightseeing. We wanted to visit Coloane, another historic area, but decided to skip it.
- Bring something warm to wear: The ferries are freezing!
- Take advantage of the free casino shuttles: The bus service is cheap and easy to get your head around, but if you’re near a big casino you might as well take their free shuttle buses. We took the Venetian shuttle back to the ferry terminal at the end of the day.
Macau has some of the best colonial architecture that I’ve seen in Asia; if you’re visiting Hong Kong you should definitely consider planning a day trip there (doubly so if you want to gamble in some world-class casinos).
Have you been to Macau? What is your favourite colonial city? Let me know in the comments below.
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