This was the battlecry for my sister and I since the day it was confirmed that we were jetting off to 4 days of Macau bliss. Not being the most well-worn traveler, having gone only to Hong Kong twice due to restraints on time, money and fun low-to-mid-maintenance companions, I was ready to fly screw all else to visit another gem of the (legitimate) China border.
It was the middle of May 2012. The sun was baking in the tropics while Macau is promising a more tolerant weather, cobbled post-colonial streets, lights and the majestic view of Las Vegas-class hotels and casinos, and the sweet sweet taste of a freshly baked egg tart. So, where to begin?
Important things to know when going to Macau
1. The weather forecast is always right. Of course I Googled the weather forecast because I am OC that way and I wanted to know what to pack. It was a clear forecast of rain, and by gosh it was right! Ahh that awkward moment when you meant to traverse the Venetian to get to the City of Dreams and you see a blanket of rain outside. Good times, good times. It wasn’t always raining during our stay though, thank God. But it was mighty useful we brought umbrellas.
2. Do not wear new shoes. They will betray you even if they are your trustworthy Chuck Taylors. The requirement for comfort is for sneakers to be a bit dirty and a lot broken in, which my shiny black high cuts were not. A city tourist must always ALWAYS be ready for walking miles. Must save money for more important tourist things and not be the wuss who takes the cab. Also it’s best to take in all the sights on foot. My sister and I were close to crawling back to our hotel after a full day of hotel hopping and roaming Senado Square in our new Chucks. By the time we reached the hotel room, it was blister city. I know, ew.
3. Do not be constrained by food-squeamish companions. Really, you want to look for a McDonald’s or a Starbucks in Macau? I’m turning my back on you now. My one requirement for a companion (anywhere actually) is a food tripper. I want to leave Macau and tell the next stranger who didn’t ask what awesome unique food I’ve tasted. It’s the one way I’m sure the flight was worth it. When else will I be able to eat that authentic milk tea, pork chop bun and street-food-in-a-cup (city of multitaskers, I know)? So yeah, no, I’m not curious if a Big Mac does really taste the same across the globe. The little side street restaurants serve cheap, delicious local fare that it’s worth the gamble to point from the no-subtitle menu.
4. It can be fun to forget a few essential items from your skincare. We packed half a suitcase of skin care and make up only to forget–what else–the most essential thing: facial wash. Upside: made the perfect excuse to run to Sasa, the mecca of all wonderful Asian cosmetics (international brands not snubbed at all) and the doom of my credit limit. Everything is cheaper here than buying the same things from your local or online mall. We got the Kose liquid cleanser just because Aya Ueto‘s face was on it.
Important things to see and do in Macau
1. The ruins of St. Paul. Only this facade remains of the historic cathedral that burned to the ground during a typhoon in 1835. You can go down the lower levels for the creepier sights of crypts and preserved relics of Japanese martyrs, probably the same ones who performed the intricate carvings on this facade. The ruins sit atop a hill that stretch on several directions, one leading to a Catholic church that holds service in English, and then to Senado Square and the glorious streets of cheap food and good finds.
2. Macau Tower. Did you ever wonder how it would feel to be 1,109 feet up in the air and then look down and jump? No? Me neither. But come to the Macau Tower anyway and watch other people do it. The elevator takes you up to the viewing deck at the 58th floor in less than 60 seconds. There you can stand on the clear glass floors to get nauseated at the heady sight below. Or you can take a more enjoyable look at the islands of Taipa, Coloagne, and a little bit of Hong Kong. Thrill-seekers though will want to shell out MOP10,000 to do the bungee. The Macau Tower is, after all, the highest jump in the world.
3. Hotels and Casinos. Light shows, lobbies as large and as equipped as museums, casinos packed with people losing to the house–it is all in the name of merriment and happy chaos. The camera whore will have loads to shoot, from the winding staircases, the gold and jade statues at the Grand Lisboa Hotel, to the lobby exhibits like the Butterfly Sanctuary inside MGM Grand Hotel. But I strongly suggest keeping the lenses still for the light and fountain shows. WATCH THEM. Do note they always start on time.
For K-fan girls, be sure to visit the Venetian Hotel not only for its expansive architecture of high-end brands, massive food court and walking entertainment, i.e. clowns and princesses on pianos. Cross the same bridge where Goo JunPyo so harshly broke up with Geum Jandi. Ride the gondola as if you were escorted by Jihoo. It’s a vacation so it’s okay to go crazy.
4. A-Ma temple. Older than the colony itself, the temple was built in 1488 for the goddess A Ma (aka Matsu or Tin Hau), patroness of seafarers. Tip for the wise: stock up on pork buns and stop for pastries (free samples of everything except the egg tart) at Choi Heong Yuen Bakery before you enter the temple. It’s a long climb up. I am embarrassed to say we only made it halfway up the staircase boulders before we said “give”. You can buy incense to light and charms to write prayers on. A Catholic like me will not pretend to fully understand the rituals, but remembering to respect the sanctity of the place ought to be enough.
5. Senado Square. Pinoys flood malls, but the citizens of Macau seem to flock the Senado. Senado Square once housed the Leal Senado building during the time of the Portuguese. Now it houses retail stores from the ubiquitous Giordano, Bossini, Sasa, Watsons shops to the equally fashionable local names. Pasalubong places are tucked in the corners here too, somewhere next to the street food and milk tea stalls. Keep your eyes peeled for signs announcing a sale. Look for the little malls that go up 5 floors housing various stalls of cheap yet unique finds. I could have stayed here for literal days and not get enough.
6. Wine and Grand Prix Museum. The Macau Tourism Center houses these two fun museums with one great feature museum junkies would love: admission is free. Grand Prix and car fanatics can take a stroll and gawk at the shiny cars parked as if poised to race, housed with photos, trophies and installations recording 50 years of the Macau Grand Prix. For real and budding connoisseurs, the Wine Museum show off the history of wine-making, and a wine collection and display. Bonus feature: you can do wine-tasting for only MOP10. My sister and I bought tickets and got to taste all 6 offerings. The wine was awesome. Sister was a wuss so she got tipsy. Made for a fun first night.
7. Authentic Portuguese food. I thought the food will only be an extension of Hong Kong cuisine, but having a different foreign conqueror changes everything apparently. Macanese fare is full of Portuguese influences, one of which is the baked chicken pictured above. Alas, time constraints only allowed me to feast on this in the Venetian food court. Surely, this cannot be as good as the real thing.
8. Cross over to Hong Kong. Usually it’s the other way around. Travelers book 4 days to Hong Kong with half a day bookmarked for a ferry there and back again to Macau. If you’ve gone this far down my post, I hope you’ve been convinced that Macau deserves more days than that. But then again, since the distance is only a stretch of ocean, why not drop by Hong Kong and check out how the clean busy metropolitan is doing. That city is always worth a visit anyway. If you itch to extend your trip after that, I won’t judge you.
It’s been nearly a year since this battle cry was last sounded, but pictures don’t expire and neither do memories of a good city adventure. Asia still has a lot of other tempting cities for me to wander and get lost in, but I do intend to fly back to Macau. The city owes me a taste of the undisputed beef brisket noodles and Macau’s best roast duck, among other things.