On 20 December 1999, Macau joined China. Macau or Gambling Hell: this cliche has long been the reputation of this enclave, formerly a den of vice and debauchery. Today, though the frenzy has piped down and excess are clearly more veiled, casinos continue to lure big-time gamblers. But do not ignore the melancholic charm of this old colony, with its splendid glazed-tiled houses (azulejos) and streets in which baroque churches cohabit with Chinese pagodas and temples. Although relatively few tourists travel to Macau, it is a charming destination with a lot to offer.
  • Macau
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Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Macau
Macau: the key figures

Surface area : 23.6 km2

Population : 469903 inhabitants

  • Love to game or watch games. The city is justly nicknamed Asia's "Las Vegas".
  • Portuguese architecture, its splendid colonial buildings decorated with azuleros and its baroque churches.
  • The food, unique in the world, a mixture of Portuguese, Indian, Chinese and Malay cuisine.
  • Apart from the casinos, Macau has very limited tourist sites.
  • Cultural and linguistic barriers with the Chinese population limits exchanges a lot. Relationships, very superficial, are money-linked.

Macau: what to visit?

Macau: what to buy?

Interesting things to return with are gold jewellery and Chinese antiques. You will enjoy the flea market in the streets around Rua das Estalagens. You can get very cheap brand name clothes in the Sao Domingos and Rua Cinco de Otubro markets. Shops open from 10:00 AM to 6:30 PM Monday to Saturday and close on Sunday. Some shops stay open till 9:30 PM on weekdays and Sunday. Casinos are open 24/24, 7/7, 365 days/year, even during a typhoon!

Macau: what to eat?

Macau cuisine subtly blends Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, Malay and African cuisines. Some of the specialties are African chicken from Mozambique - spiced and cooked in coconut cream, fish paté with little transparent shrimps, garlic, onion and coriander; various species of shellfish, pepper and curry large prawns, roast cod-fish, cod fillet, hake or squid served with saffron or tomato sauce; roast pigeon with garlic and Chinese dishes like dim sun and peking duck. There is excellent Portuguese wine, notably Dao and Lagosta, and porto.

Macau: main cities

Macau: what are the cultural particularities?

Feng Shui is very important in Macau. Chinese ancestral geomancy, Feng Shui demands that buildings and lay outs should be designed in harmony with the different forces of nature like water, wind, mountain, fire,...). It also influences daily activities, determining favourable and unfavourable days prior to taking any major decision. As in Hong Kong, superstition and religion get along with the mad rush for material wealth. Casinos are thus filled with lucky figurines and Buddha statues, while in the temples, fictitious banknotes are burnt to symbolise devotions to deities. Divination is practised with bamboo sticks inside the temples. A pot containing numbered sticks is shaken until one of the sticks falls out. Depending on the number, you are given a paper on which the prediction is written in Chinese. Another typical practice of popular Chinese culture is the tai chi chuan. Early in the morning before heading for their offices, young and old people come to the parks and gardens to practise this slow and limber exercise.

Macau: travel tips

Most tourists include, at the end or beginning of their tour in China, a stay in Hong Kong and Macau. The visit often takes a day or half a day and most of it is in the casinos. Macau deserves at least a night spent roaming the streets of the old city and the two islands of Taipa and Coloane. From Macau, you can plan a few days in Canton. Local travel agencies will organise everything.

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