I’m perfectly willing to admit that I hadn’t even heard of Macau until my companion said she wanted to take a day trip there from Hong Kong. For those of you as uninformed as me, here’s some background information. Macau was the first European colony in the region, colonized by Portugal, and the last to be returned to China. Designated a Special Administrative Region (“SAR”), a passport is necessary to travel to Macau from both Hong Kong and Mainland China (a fact we discovered at the ferry terminal while our passports were in the room safe). The hour-long ferry ride from Hong Kong was a lot smoother than I was expecting, which was a great relief.
Macau is probably best known for casinos and gambling— with four times the revenue of Las Vegas. Seeing as I have no interest in gambling, I wasn’t sure what there was for me in Macau, but I quickly discovered its colonial and culinary charms.
The ferry terminal is located in the heart of the casino district, and we immediately boarded a bus and headed into town, away from the gaudy, glittering artificiality. Colonial Macau definitely has an older, run-down feel to it, with weather-stained buildings covered in decades of grime; it’s definitely the antithesis of the shiny, modern skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Though, truth be told, Hong Kong has its fair share of grime too, but they do keep the skyscrapers clean.
We made our way to A Lorcha (289A Rua do Almirante Sergio) for a traditional Portuguese lunch. We had read good things about this establishment and it did not disappoint. We started off with some chorizo, and an order of clams cooked with garlic and cilantro. The chorizo was delicious and the clams were fresh and tasty. The highlight of the meal was the seafood and bread stew! I’ve never had stew with bread mixed into it, but it was thick and delicious! Even though we were full, we couldn’t stop eating until there was nothing left. This was one of the culinary highlights of the entire trip!
We picked up a map that happened to have a highlighted walking tour. Since our time in Macau was limited, we decided to follow the guide to maximize what we saw. Macau is very different from Hong Kong in that it has retained its colonial architecture and charm, probably because it’s not a world financial center and doesn’t need huge skyscrapers (just huge casinos). Whatever the reasons, it’s definitely a good thing! We began on the Rua Do Padre Antonio, one block over from A Lorcha, and began walking north. The first sight along this route was the Moorish Barracks, constructed between 1871 and 1874 to house Indian Soldiers brought in to help keep peace in Macau; really spectacular architecture reminiscent of southern Spain.
On our way up to Senando Square, we passed the Church of St. Lawrence, the Chapel and Seminary of St. Joseph, the Don Pedro Theater, and St. Augustine’s Church. All the churches look incredibly similar, right down to the paint, architecture, and décor. They are quaint and beautiful, and being in and around these churches makes it easy to forget you’re in Southeast Asia.
Continuing north from Senando Square, after making your way through a large, pedestrian, shopping street, is St. Dominic’s Cathedral. Though larger than the other churches we saw, it exhibits the same style typical of Portuguese design in Macau.
The Fortaleza do Monte is a highlight of Macau for the view as much as its well-preserved history. This fortress was constructed in the 1600’s on a large hilltop in order to repel Dutch invaders. The walk uphill is daunting, but the fortress is incredibly intact, with many of the original cannons still standing watch on the ramparts. It’s a great spot to sit, relax, and catch your breath.
At the foot of the fortress lie the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral— probably the most depicted image of Macau. Built by Japanese Christians fleeing religious persecution in Japan, the church was destroyed by fire in 1835. All that remains is the haunting façade. Though there’s very little left of the original structure, it’s easy to tell that this church was much larger and more ornate than the others we had seen. The stairway leading to the plaza below, where locals and foreigners alike sit and pass the time, was somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome.
As the time was getting late and some of the main attractions began to close, we decided to catch a ferry back to Hong Kong. The ferries run every fifteen minutes, twenty-four hours a day, but there’s often a wait due the volume of people traveling. Macau is definitely a cool little day trip, but other than gambling, there’s not that much to do on longer stays— I’m sure that’s how they want it.