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Vacation in Macau - How to Go from Hong Kong to Macau and What to See in Macau Peninsula

During the Easter holidays I went with two friends of mine to Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. Macau is known for its mix of Eastern and Western culture, and as a gambling and tourist destination. In recent years Macau's gambling revenue has surpassed that of Las Vegas, making it the world's top casino market (note).

But if you expect a vibrant, glistening city you might be disappointed. Macau is a quiet place, with huge modern casino and hotel buildings that, in a clumsy attempt to appear luxurious and elegant, actually look ostentatious and colossal, giving the impression of a surreal capitalist version of former Soviet-style cities.

That is not meant to suggest that Macau is charmless, on the contrary. The most gracious, appealing and interesting part of Macau are the numerous historic areas, with Portuguese buildings that make it look like a European enclave in the middle of Asia, as well as Chinese temples, parks and houses. 

More than in Hong Kong or Singapore, the old colonial heritage has been preserved in Macau to be admired and enjoyed by the visitor. In apparent harmony, the heritage of the West lives together with the culture of the East.

Chinese architecture ...

... Portuguese architecture ... 
... and huge casinos. this is Macau

Where Is Macau?

Macau SAR is a self-administering region within the People's Republic of China. It consists of a peninsula and two major islands, Taipa Island and Coloane Island, which are connected to and easily accessible from the peninsula via modern bridges, the Macau-Taipa Bridge, the Friendship Bridge and the Sai Van Bridge. It borders on Guangdong Province, and it is 60 km away from Hong Kong and 145 km away from Guangzhou (Moby Lau: Macau - Crossroads of East and West, Old and New. Hong Kong 2008, p. 5). In one of my next posts I will write about the history of Macau: the Portuguese rule, the relationship between Portuguese and Chinese, and the Macanese minority.

How To Get To Macau?

The best way to get to Macau is the ferry, which takes around one hour. We departed from the China Ferry Terminal on Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It is very easy to reach, it's only 5 minutes on foot from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station (see map). There is also another ferry terminal, the Macau Ferry Terminal in the Shun Tak Centre, Central (see map). 

Another, more adventurous, but also quite expensive way to reach Macau from Hong Kong is a helicopter service (for example: Single tickets cost HK$ 3,900 (390 Euros), but they're more expensive on designated holidays. The departure is from the helipad at Hong Kong's Macau Ferry Terminal. 

Those who don't live close to Macau can take a plane to Macau International Airport ( 

How to Move Around in Macau

There is a bus service covering the entire island. You can just pay by inserting coins into a box inside the buses. However, there is a shuttle service offered by various hotels and casinos which take you to several central spots - free of charge!

Macau Currency

The official currency of Macau is the pataca (MOP$), which is obviously a name derived from the Portuguese word for peso. Shops usually accept Hong Kong dollars and Renminbi, though. 

What To See And Do In Macau

Macau is a place with two faces: on the one hand there are the old colourful streets with European-style buildings, churches and temples, and restaurants that blend Mediterranean and Oriental cuisine (for instance, Chinese-Macanese cuisine makes use of typical Mediterranean ingredients like olives). In these areas, the pace of life seems slow and relaxed, most especially if compared to the hectic life and the crowded streets of Hong Kong. 

On the other hand, there is the Macau of gambling, the 'Las Vegas of the East'. Other than Hong Kong, which developed as an industrial, financial and service centre, also thanks to the economic strategy of the British and the networks offered by the British Empire and, after its dismantling, the English-speaking world at large, Macau's economy heavily relies on tourism and gambling. 

Gambling concessions amount to 75% of government revenue, and tourism generates around half of Macau's GDP. About one third of the labour force work in services or industries related to tourism (Stone / Chen / Chow 2010, pp. 311-312). In 2008 alone, the exceptional growth of Macau's tourism, mostly boosted by visitors from mainland China, led to a staggering 13.2% growth (ibid., p. 312).  

I will first show you some pictures I took in Macau peninsula, which is the heart of Macau. In another post I will upload pictures of Taipa (where I and my friends stayed) and of the gambling areas with the gigantic hotels and gambling resorts.

Macau Peninsula

Leal Senado and Largo Do Senado

This was the heart of colonial Macau and has remained the city centre until today. It is located on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, and it was the seat of the government of Macau. The 'Senado' was and still is the municipal chamber of the city. The name 'Leal Senado' literally means 'loyal Senate'. 

After the Portuguese King Sebastiao died without a successor, the throne was claimed by the Spanish King Philip II, who at that time ruled an empire that stretched from Latin America to the Netherlands, Italy and Asia. However, during the Spanish rule in Portugal (1580-1640), the Portuguese administration in Macau refused to acknowledge the Spanish domination and remained faithful to the Portuguese royal house. So although there was no Kingdom of Portugal any more, this small Portuguese enclave remained loyal to its kings.

Sixty years later, when Portuguese independence from Spain was restored under King Joao IV., he bestowed upon Macau the title of the 'most loyal', which was included in an inscription at the senate entrance hall that can still be seen today (Cheng 1999, pp. 48-49; Stone/Chen/Chow 2010, pp. 317-319). 

The Leal Senado was the seat of the Macau government in the colonial era

Senate Square

Lou Kau Mansion

In Travessa da Se you will find the so called Lou Kau Mansion, a house built in traditional Chinese style by the wealthy merchant Lou Wah Shiu, also known as Lou Kau. Completed in 1889, it is a two-storey building with large, cool rooms. The ceiling is very high and has openings to let the air and light in. This protects the interior from the heat (Brown/Leffman 2009, p. 267; Lau 2008, p. 28). The 'openness' of Chinese houses is very different from Western-style residential architecture, which always gives the possibility to isolate the interior from the outside.  

Lou Kau Mansion (courtesy of Whhalbert, via Wikipedia)

Largo Do Se and Macau Cathedral

East of Largo do Senado is the Largo do Se (Se Square), with the Macau Cathedral. Originally from the 16th century, it was completely rebuilt in 1937 (Lau 2008, p. 27). The service in the churches that we visited was always held in Portuguese. 

Macau Cathedral (Igreja da Se) (courtesy of Jssrfk via Wikimedia Commons)

Ruins of St. Paul's Church (Sao Paulo) and Around

If you look at the facade of St. Paul's Church you may think that there is nothing unusual about it; a beautiful Catholic church that stands on a hill, commanding a view of the city. But when you get closer, you notice that the facade is the only thing that remains of the church, as though it were the stage of a film soon to be dismantled. 

As if to emphasize the cosmopolitan nature of Macau, the church was designed by an Italian architect and constructed by Japanese workers. 

First built in 1580, this symbol of Macau seems an eternal reminder of the fragility and ephemerality of the empire and religious ideology of Portuguese rule on Chinese soil. The church suffered three fires, in 1595, 1601 and a last one in 1835, which destroyed almost the entire building, leaving but this monumental ruin. 

The church as seen from behind. You can also see the horrible silhouette of the Grand Lisboa Hotel in the background

Guia Fortress and Lighthouse

The Guia Fortress is a great spot from where to enjoy an amazing view of Macau, and it's also a good place to go hiking or jogging, because it is located on a steep hill. The fortress was completed in 1638, and inside the fortress, symbolizing the sword-and-cross ideology of the Portuguese  overseas expansion, there is a chapel, guarded by cannons and protected by walls. The lighthouse next to the chapel was built in 1865, has a height of 13 metres and its light covers up to 25 sea miles (Lau 2008, pp. 40-41).

Again, the bombastic Grand Lisboa Hotel towering over Macau peninsula

View of the Fishermen's Wharves and the Macau-Taipa bridge (unfortunately it was a foggy day)

Red Market and Kun Iam Temple

In the Northern part of Macau Peninsula there are many old buildings from the colonial era. One of them is the Red Market, an art deco edifice designed in 1936 by local architect Jio Alberto Basto (Brown/Leffman 2009, p. 280). Inside you will find a vegetables and meat market, which is definitely not the cleanest I've ever seen. Many butcher shops have cages with animals still alive. You can either buy the living animal, or the dead one. After seeing that, I really wanted to have some vegetarian food. 

Old streets with crumbling buildings. One could think no one lived there were it not for the scooters parked outside.

Apparently, someone likes the Portuguese team Benfica. A Macanese?

Kun Iam Temple is a temple devoted to the Buddhist goddess of Mercy (also known as Guan Yin). Built in 1627, this temple was chosen in 1844 to sign the first Sino-American treaty or trade and friendship (Stone/Chen/Chow 2010, p. 325).

Kun Iam Temple

Street, as seen from the temple


  1. Would like to see the pictures of the 3 bridges that connected to other islands(Taipa, Sai Van & friendship)


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