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December 19, 2012

Macau Travel Guide

Macau Travel Guide

When Macau's historic centre was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 2005, it underlined the strategic and cultural importance which the territory has had over the centuries.

Although the area had been settled for a long time before they arrived, it was Portuguese colonists who (from the mid-16th century onwards) developed Macau into a major regional trading post. They held on to it long after it had been eclipsed by Hong Kong as a magnet for merchants, and longer than they held on to Goa or Brazil. The UNESCO award serves as a reminder that the brash casino resorts which draw crowds today, are only a small part of the appeal of an island with such a fascinating history.

Today Macau consists of a peninsula, plus two small islands (Taipa and Coloane) which have been artificially joined by land reclamation. This reclaimed area has been branded as the Cotai Strip, and is home to the new casinos. On the peninsula you’ll find – as well as the older casinos – Macau’s historic centre, where colonial Portuguese architecture sits beautifully amid the bustle of a modern Asian city.

The peninsula is most people’s introduction to Macau, since the ferries from Hong Kong stop there, but much more of the atmosphere of 'old' Macau is preserved on its islands. The northernmost, Taipa, is reached by bridge, while to get from there to Coloane you must pass through an area of reclaimed land. The islands have yards where fishing boats are built, colonial-era mansions, Chinese temples and floating fisherfolk communities, as well as (in places) serenely traditional countryside, ancestral Chinese villages and pine-forested hills. There are even some decent beaches in Coloane, if you’re more interested in getting a tan than having a flutter.

It was the arrival of the Portuguese in 1557 – who already had colonial bases in Goa (India) and Melaka (Malaysia) – which put the peninsula on the map as a trading port in its own right. The territory soon became the major entrepôt between the Far East and Europe and as a result, several other colonial powers, notably the Dutch, made repeated attempts to conquer Macau. During the early 17th century, whilst the Portuguese were fighting a protracted war of independence against the Spanish (who at that time ruled Portugal), the Dutch tried on no less than four occasions to gain control of Macau, but were repulsed each time. After the House of Braganza regained control of Portugal from the Spanish Habsburgs in 1640, Macau was granted the official title of Cidade do Nome de Deus, de Macau, Não há outra mais Leal (City of the Name of God, Macau, There is None More Loyal).

By this point, however, Portuguese power in Southeast Asia was in decline. The British rise to prominence in regional trade began once they were allowed to open a trading post on the mainland in 1750, although it took gunboat diplomacy (in essence, forcing the Chinese government to allow them to import opium from India) for the British to truly establish themselves. Hong Kong soon became the most important port in the region.

The governor of Macau annexed Taipa island in 1847, and the territory remained under Portuguese control until the leftist military coup in 1974 which overthrew the Caetano dictatorship back in Europe. The new Portuguese regime immediately determined that all remaining territories would undergo a rapid transition to full independence. In 1976, the Lisbon government redefined Macau as a 'Special Territory' and granted it a large measure of administrative and economic independence.

In 1985, following the Hong Kong example, the Portuguese announced the opening of negotiations with Beijing on the transfer of sovereignty to the People's Republic. The final settlement, which was ratified in January 1988, provided for a handover in 1999, after which Macau would, like Hong Kong, become a 'Special Administrative Region' within China.

Following the handover, the local casino monopoly was ended. Foreign companies spotted the opportunity to profit from the taste for gambling within China – and the fact that Macau is the only place in the country where casinos are legal – and overseas investment began to flow in. The result has been ostentatious development, particularly on the Cotai Strip where modern casinos challenge their established rivals (such as the famous Lisboa) on the peninsula.

Today Macau is the most profitable gambling destination in the world. China has promised that, under the notion of ‘one country, two systems’, the territory will have a high degree of autonomy – in all matters except foreign affairs and defence – until at least 2049.

Macau culture

Religion: The main religions are Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism. The majority are Buddhists.

Social conventions: Entertaining generally takes place in restaurants and public places. It's rare to be invited to a private home, unless the person is wealthy. Spirits are standard gifts in return for hospitality. Apart from the most formal occasions in restaurants and nightclubs, casual wear is acceptable.

The official languages are Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese. English is widely spoken by those engaged in trade, tourism and commerce. Hokkien and Mandarin are also spoken.

Weather & climate

Best time to visit: Macau has a subtropical climate, with temperatures regulated by its coastal location. Seasonal changes are heavily influenced by monsoons: it is warm and humid when southeast and southwest winds come in from the Pacific, drier and colder when the north winds come from Siberia and northern China.

Winter for Macau runs from November to February, which is when the northeast monsoon prevails, and is generally cold and dry. Spring comes in March and April, in the transition between the two monsoons, and brings with it wet and foggy weather. From May to September, during the southern monsoon, it is hot and rainy (with most rain occurring in the afternoon). Autumn, from the late September through October, is sunny and comfortably warm.

The average temperature for the year is around 23°C. In winter it can get as low as 10°C, while in summer it can reach the low 30s. Winds can reach gale force and typhoons, coming in from the Pacific Ocean, are not unknown. They tend to hit between May and October, bringing with them rain and lower temperatures. Overall the best time to visit is autumn (October to December), when days are sunny and warm and the humidity low.

Required clothing: Wear light cotton clothes in summer, take a sweater for cooler nights from September to November and a jacket for winter. Be prepared for rain at any time, but particularly from May to September.

Things to see and do in Macau

A-Ma Temple
Dedicated to the same goddess of the sea known as Tin Hau in Hong Kong, this temple is the oldest place of worship in Macau. Founded before the arrival of the Portuguese, it inadvertently gave its name to the colony – Macau is a corruption of A-Ma Kok (the Bay of A-Ma) – but the current complex dates from the 17th century.

Camões Garden
The pleasant Jardim Luís de Camões (Camões Garden) is named after Portugal's favourite poet, active in the 16th century and said to have visited Macau (although this has been disputed). It is, nevertheless, a popular place to exercise or relax.

Macau Travel Guide
Image credit: historylines.net

Cotai Strip
The epicentre for recent development in Macau, the Cotai Strip is reclaimed land which has joined together the islands of Colôane and Taipa (hence the name Cotai). It’s where you will find many of the biggest and most opulent new casinos – including the Venetian, the Wynn and the Sands. These mega-complexes have helped Macau to race ahead of Las Vegas when it comes to gambling income .

Lou Lim Ioc Garden
A good place to get away from the busy streets of Macau, this Chinese-style includes lotus ponds and bamboo groves. It was once a private garden but fell into ruin before it was bought by the government in 1974, and restored for public use. Today it’s a popular spot to practice t’ai chi. The many turns in the park’s bridge are supposed to confuse evil spirits trying to cross.

Church of St Paul's
The ruins of the Church of St Paul's (São Paulo), which was built in 1602, are probably the most famous sight in Macau. Although on the approach it looks like the building is intact, actually only the façade survived a fire in 1835. It is, nevertheless, an almost-compulsory photo stop on any visit to Macau.

Colôane Island
The larger of Macau's two connected islands, Colôane is perfect for a day trip. Nature trails thread among the hills in Seac Pai Van Park, which also has a walk-in aviary and spectacular views from the A-Ma Statue at the highest point on the island. The best of the beaches is the black-sand Hác Sá, while Colôane village is an atmospheric place with cobbled streets.

Guia Hill Fortress and Lighthouse
Built at the highest point in Macau, the Guia Hill Fortress dates back to the 17th century and can be reached by cable car or along a walking path which encircles the hill offering views over the city and its bays. Nearby is a fascinating series of wartime bunkers cut into the hill and a small museum telling the stories of those who served here; also note the faded frescoes inside the chapel building, which were uncovered during renovations. The Guia Lighthouse, standing since 1865, is still functional. As well as guiding ships through Macanese waters, its high vantage point is also used to warn the city of impending typhoons.

Macau Travel Guide
Image credit: travel-travelword.blogspot.com

Historic Old City
Given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005, the old city has eight squares and 22 historic buildings. The narrow lanes, markets and sloping cobbles combine the architectural drama of backstreet Porto and the bustling energy, cooking smells and Cantonese dialect of southern China. The focal point is the Largo do Senado, or Senate Square, which holds the Santa Casa de Misericórdia (a charitable institution) as well as the grand Senate House. Numerous other attractions are found within the old city, including the ruined façade of St Paul’s church.

Kun Iam Tong
Explore the complex of temples known as Kun Iam Tong, the biggest and wealthiest of Macau's temples. It dates from the time of the Ming Dynasty, about 400 years ago, and contains, amongst other works of art, a small statue of Marco Polo. In the garden you can see the granite temple where, in 1844, the first trade treaty between the United States and China was signed.

Macau Museum
The Macau Museum covers the life of Macau and its people from the first settlement to the present day. Set over three floors, it contains a vast collection of historic and social memorabilia (www.macaumuseum.gov.mo). The location, in the Fortaleza do Monte (Mount Fortress), means that the museum also boasts great views.

Macau Tower
Enjoy panoramic views - or bungee jump - from the Macau Tower (www.macautower.com.mo), an entertainment and convention centre situated on the waterfront on the Nam Van Lakes. The 338m (1,109ft) tower is one of the tallest freestanding towers in the world, and on a clear day you can see for 55km (34 miles) from the observation deck. Intrepid souls can take a walk around the outer rim while safely clipped to an overhead rail.

The Canidrome is Asia's only greyhound racing stadium (www.casinocity.com/mo/macau/canidro). The Macau Jockey Club organises flat horse races on the island of Taipa (www.macauhorse.com). The Far East's gala motorcycle and Formula III car racing event, the Macau Grand Prix, is held in November (www.macau.grandprix.gov.mo).

St Domingo's Church
St Dominic’s Church (Igreja de São Domingos), built in the 17th century and renovated in 2002, is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Macau. A Museum of Sacred Art, on three floors of the renovated belfry, is home to 300 works which together illustrate the history of the Catholic church in Asia.

The smaller of Macau’s two islands, Taipa is the location of Macau’s international airport. The main point of interest is Taipa Village, a busy place with Chinese shophouses, colonial Portuguese offices and plenty of places to eat (particularly on the Rua da Cunha). Many traditional crafts are still followed in the narrow streets and alleys, and there’s a craft fair on Sundays. Also seek out Pou Tai Un Temple, one of the most appealing in Macau.

Shopping and nightlife in Macau

Macau is a popular shopping destination due to its free port status: there is no sales tax. Common buys include jewellery (particularly gold), Chinese antiques, porcelain, pottery, electronic gadgets, cameras, watches and beading work. For foodie treats, try dried seafood, abalone (which is something of an acquired taste), pastries or Portuguese wine – in particular vinho verde, literally ‘green wine’ and drunk while it’s very young. Chinese herbs and medicines are also widely available, although it’s important to be aware of what you are buying – some traditional remedies are made from endangered animals, and quite apart from any moral objections, it may be illegal to import them into another country.

Macau Travel Guide
Image credit: en.wikipedia.org

There’s plenty of variety when it comes to places to shop. Several glitzy luxury goods malls have sprung up around several of the new casino resorts, including Wynn Macau and The Venetian. A rather more down-to-earth shopping experience can be had at the Red Market on the corner of Avenida Horta e Costa and Avenida Almirante Lacerda. It’s a three-storey building selling mostly food but also some clothing. There’s also a street market running from the Red Market through the Three Lamps District (also known as Sam Jan Dang). The stalls sell mostly clothes and fabrics. The best-known gold shops are along Avenida do Infante D Henrique, Avenida Horta e Costa and Avenida Almeida Ribeiro. For porcelain, try Rua de São Paulo.

Macau also has some good street markets. There’s a daily flea market in the lanes around Rua das Estalagens, near the ruins of St Paul's Church, as well as one every Sunday in Taipa Village between Bombeiros Square and Camões Square. These can be good for handicrafts, clothes and souvenirs, but always bargain over prices. There is an Artisan's Fair every Saturday evening in Santo Agostinho Square.

Shopping hours: Generally daily 1000-1900, though some of the new luxury brand malls are open until 2100. Some shops may close on the first day of every month.

Note: Bargaining is expected. For antiques, gold and jewellery, use officially-recommended shops; always ask for a warranty and receipt.

Nightlife in Macau

For many visitors, gambling is the big attraction in Macau. Casinos are open 24 hours, providing baccarat, blackjack, roulette and Chinese games like fantan and dai-siu (big and small) in surroundings ranging from slightly seedy to spectacular. Most nightlife is centred on the main hotels and casino resorts, many of which have nightclubs with cabaret, Portuguese folk dancing, dance bands and discos. Nightclub music often has Asian touches, with international pop sung in Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai and Japanese.

Macau - Local transport

Air: Macau is too small for domestic flights to be useful.

Road: The island is accessible via three bridges running from the peninsula to Taipa Island. Another connects the Cotai Strip (the reclaimed land between Taipa and Coloane) to the Macau-China border at Zhuhai.

Side of road: Left

Road quality: Although generally well surfaced, many roads in Macau are narrow, winding and steep; traffic can be congested throughout the day.

Car hire: Since the territory is small, with good public transport and affordable taxis, it is generally not necessary to hire a car. If it is required, however, car hire is easily available through several agencies including large international companies; drivers must be over 21. Chauffeur-driven limousines are also available.

Taxi: Taxis are either black with a cream-coloured top, or all-yellow (the latter are radio taxis). They generally have a destination guide written in Chinese, English and Portuguese, which is helpful since many drivers speak little English and may know only the Chinese names for key sites. Prices are reasonable and meters are used. There are surcharges for luggage carried in the boot (MOP$3 per piece), for taking a taxi from the airport (MOP$4) or travelling from Macau to Coloane (MOP$2).

Rickshaws and pedicabs (cycle rickshaws): These are available for hire but many of Macau's attractions are located on hilltops, beyond the reach of even the strongest-legged pedicab driver. Prices should always be agreed in advance.

Bike: Bikes can be hired on Taipa and Coloane but cannot be taken to the mainland. Bear in mind that parts of Macau are quite hilly, so cycling can be hard work; generally speaking, Coloane is the most suitable area for cycling.

Coach: Buses run between the peninsula, Taipa and Coloane, as well as to the airport (you can catch bus AP1, MT1, MT2, N2, 26 or 36).

Regulations: The speed limit varies according to the road type. In built-up areas it can be as low as 20kph (12mph) or as high as 60kph (37mph), while on open roads and highways the highest limit is 80kph (50mph).

Breakdown service: Car hire agencies should be able to provide contact details for breakdown services.

Documentation: An International Driving Permit is recommended. Visitors staying for more than 14 days who wish to drive must register with the Public Security Police Force (tel: 2872 5488).

Getting around towns and cities: The main areas of interest to tourists are compact enough to get around on foot, while longer journeys (including those between the peninsula and the islands) are easily made by taxi or bus.

By water: A harbour sightseeing cruise offers the opportunity to sail along the city’s coastline while taking in the views of attractions including the A-Ma Temple and the Macau Tower. Starting at the historical Inner Harbour, the Macau Harbour Cruise runs daily at 1300, 1800 and 2000.

Where to stay in Macau

Hotels: Macau's hotel stock ranges from older colonial properties, inns and economy-class accommodation up to luxury havens from global chains, with the last of these coming into particular prominence now that Macau is successfully selling itself as an international casino destination. Most of Macau's small and mid-sized hotels are located on the peninsula, which has good access to most of the main tourist sights. The new wave of casino resorts on the Cotai Strip, however, have some of the most upmarket accommodation in the territory. A more laid-back alternative is to stay on one of the islands – there are several resort hotels on Colôane, for example.

The lure of the casinos mean that prices rise on Friday and Saturday nights, typically by around 20%. The Grand Prix in November also sees an influx of visitors and a rise in prices. In both cases an advance reservation is advised. All rates are subject to a 10% service charge, plus a 5% government tax. Cheaper places sometimes have different rates for single or double occupancy, while more expensive hotels just quote a price for the room.

If you arrive without a reservation, then try enquiring at the desk at the ferry terminal. They sometimes have good deals on hotels, and don’t charge a fee – although you do have to pay a deposit.

Bed and breakfast: The nearest things to bed and breakfasts in Macau are the pousadas – hotels which are typically small and intimate. These include the Pousada de Coloane, the Pousada de Mong Ha and the Pousada de Sao Tiago. The last of these is perhaps the best known in Macau, an old fortress which is full of character.

Camping: There is a campsite on Hac Sa beach, on Coloane island. The facilities include basketball courts and a barbecue area, and it has good access not only for the beach but also for hiking and biking trails. It’s free to pitch a tent.

Other accommodation:

Youth Hostels: Backpackers wanting to stay overnight in Macau will find very few options unless they are willing to splash out on a hotel. The exceptions are the territory’s two official youth hostels – one in Hac Sa and one in Cheoc Van. They are basic but affordable, although note that priority is given to people participating in events run by the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau or on trips organised by schools or local youth organisations. In July and August, the hostels are completely reserved for summer youth activities. Prices are higher for foreign visitors than for locals, at MOP$100/120 (Sun–Fri/Sat and holidays) for a dorm bed or MOP$120/160 upwards per person for a room.

Budget: Macau has very little in the way of cheap hotels – generally if your budget is really tight then it’s better to stay in Hong Kong (hardly the cheapest of Asian cities, but with a few more low-end options) and visit as a day trip. Alternatively, stay in one of the youth hostels if you can get a reservation.

Macau Travel Advice

There is no formal British Consulate in Macao. If you require assistance when you are in Macao you should contact the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong.
  • There is a low threat from terrorism. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
  • You should take sensible precautions against pick pocketing and other street crime.
  • In 2011, 61,665 British tourists visited Macao (Source: the Macao Tourism Board). Most visits are trouble-free.
  • The typhoon season in Macao normally runs from April to October.
  • You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.
Macau: visa and passport requirements

Passports: Passport valid for at least one month is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.

Passport note: Note that most neighbouring countries require six months validity on passports.

Visas: Not required by nationals referred to in the chart above for the following durations:
1. UK nationals for stays of up to six months;
2. Nationals of all EU countries (other than the UK) for stays of up to 90 days;
3. Nationals of Australia, Canada and the USA for stays of up to 30 days.

Visa note: Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact a Chinese embassy for visa requirements.

Types and cost: If visas are obtained at the border then the costs are: individual MOP$100, children (under 12) MOP$50, family passport MOP$200, group (10 or more people) MOP$50.

The validity of visas (if required) depend upon factors including the nationality of the applicant. See the notes to the table above for the visa-free entry permitted for selected nationalities.

Transit: A visa is not normally required for a transit period of up to 48 hours, although this should be checked with the relevant Chinese embassy.

Application to: If a visa is required then it can in many cases be obtained at the border, but visitors of some nationalities (including Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Nigerian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Vietnamese) need to apply in advance at a Chinese embassy. If there is no embassy in a visitor’s place of residence, then it is possible to apply to the Immigration Service (tel: 2872 5488, www.fsm.gov.mo/psp) for ‘authorisation to enter and stay’. This authorisation, if granted, will usually allow for a stay of up to 30 days.

Temporary residence: Application for a temporary residence permit must be made to the Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (www.ipim.gov.mo). An interview will be carried out, and a variety of documentation will be required. To work in Macau, you will need a work permit (known as a ‘blue card’). The application process can take up to 6 months.

Working days: Most nationalities requiring visas can obtain them quickly at the border. If a visa is required then the normal service in London, for example, takes up to 20 working days; express service is three working days.

Sufficient funds: Visitors may be required to prove that they have sufficient funds for their time in Macau.

Entry documents: In most cases, a passport is required for entry. However, other identification may be accepted in some cases: holders of a Hong Kong Identity Card, Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card or Re-entry Permit, for example.

Extension of stay: Applications to extend a stay for work or study must be made, to the Immigration Department, during the validity of the original visa.

Entry with pets: If coming from a country with low or zero incidence of rabies, pets will not be quarantined as long as the regulations are followed. The pet must be provided with a microchip, after which it must be vaccinated for rabies. This will be followed by a blood test to check for rabies antibodies, after which a Macau veterinary certificate will be issued (this will need to be endorsed by the relevant authority in your country of residence).

Image credit: isopt.net



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