Macao is a Special Administrative Region, that was returned to China in 1999. Before this time, Macao was a Portuguese region, granted a sect in 1557. Macao was a major trading port before the existence of Hong Kong, but once the establishment was made, Macao did not have much of a name for itself. During the cultural revolution in the 60’s, there was discussion of removing Portugal from the region, but worry of losing trade money squashed this idea.
Gambling has been legal in Macao since the 1850’s, but the first major casino, the Casino Lisboa, was built in the 1970’s. It wasn’t until 2006 that most major foreign casinos were built in Macao. Macao now has greatly surpassed the revenue of Las Vegas, but still does not have the flair or entertainment that Vegas does. One major difference I noticed was the drinking rate. Where Vegas remains a large drinking and partying culture, alcohol consumption in Macao Casinos remains virtually non existent.
My trip to Macao was the first time I ever slept late for a trip and woke up when the bus was leaving. Of course Liz and Kendra had made it just fine and were anxiously awaiting my arrival to the bus station. Luckily, the tickets were 65RMB, the buses left every 20 minutes and for a holiday, there were almost no crowds. Next challenge, the border. I had heard that the border crossing can take up to 4 hours during holidays, so I was hoping my hour behind wouldn’t leave me to far from my friends.
Our first day mostly included rest from the long week and the last Panda Band show the previous night. Luckily, our hotel had a pool so we could rest and refresh while getting our bearings. The bloody Mary didn’t hurt either, but we were deceived by the bar leading to the pool considering the pool didn’t allow beverages. So after watching the bar tender count out grains of salt, we were forced to drink our beverages in the hallway leading to the pool.
After our short rest we decided to head out toward the center of Taipa. Taipa lies to the South of the main Macao island, and north of Coloane. There is an old town in Taipa, many historical sights and also now hosts some of the major casino’s like the Venetian and Hard Rock. We began our search for a mexican joint that Liz had previously frequented. With only her lousy sense of direction and some chinese characters, we ended up circling the island and wandering the streets of old Portuguese street and buildings. We soon came to the lotus bridge and artificial wetlands, where the growth of Lotus’ was taking place in preparation for the Lotus festival in the next week.
Almost giving up and deciding to retrace our steps through the village we found the restaurant along a street we had already passed. I had to say I was impressed with the food. We went big, pitchers of Margarita’s and I ate a large chimichanga smothered in enchilada sauce.
The rest of the night was spent walking through old town, viewing shops, waiting in line for famous cookies, tasting various street snacks and having drinks in taverns. The end of the night landed us at the Venetian where we took Kendra for her first attempt at gambling. This lasted about 5 minutes and we decided to cross the casino by foot and just get a view of the area.
Early to rise the next morning, after some delicious coffee from McDonalds, we headed to old town to rent some bikes for the day. Greeted by a very tiny older women, we got bikes for 20 quay an hour. We headed south along the main road toward Coloane island, the most farthest south area o Macao. A beautiful ride and a beautiful island, this is a dramatic difference from the main island of Macao, we were surrounded by greenery and tropics.
After arriving into the main part of the village, we decided to hit up the southern beaches.
The first beach, Cheoc Van Beach, contains a swimming pool on the beach which is used more than the ocean. The pool is barren of any trees, wrapped in a high fence and costs some money to get in. The beach itself was empty, a bit rough with large stones for a beach and protected by a life guard. The water on the other hand was very dirty and trash hit the rocks when the tide came in. We decided against the swim and settled for a short rest before heading to the northern beach, the home of the Westin resort, and hoping for cleaner waters.
The Northern beach, Hac Sa Beach, was cleaner, larger and more populated with joyous BBQer’s and playful children. Pulling into the beach was a bit more like pulling into a campground. Tents lined the foot path and at the far end the smells wafted from the grills that were filled to the gills with people and food.
This is also the home of the famous Fernando’s restaurant, portuguese food that has made a name for itself. Te line was wrapped around the block awaiting the lunch opening. While all the crowds sat in the shade and ate meat, we took advantage of the empty beach and waters to take a dip in the ocean.
A friend of mine had told me about another quaint portuguese restaurant that he believed was better than Fernando’s, called Cafe Lisboa, which was located back the main village next to Lord Stowe’s bakery. A perfect place for lunch, we took the hot ride back up the hill and put in our names for lunch. Due to the hour wait, I get the feeling this place is also catching on in popularity. We had a sausage plate, green salad, creamed salmon, African chicken cooked with coconut milk and two pitchers of sangria.
Of course, rigorous exercise after two pitchers of sangria probably isn’t the best idea, Liz and I were determined to ride to the top of the highest point in Macao which is located on Coloane Island, Alto de Coloane. Atop this peak lies a large white statue made of white jade, the goddess A-Ma who gave Macao its name and is protector of the fishermen.
So we rode, straight up in the heat. A steep ride and very difficult to grasp the sweaty handles of the bicycle. Straight up, the road was probably only 1 – 2 miles and many cars passed us the opposite direction cheering us on. The best part of reaching the top was seeing the clear blue sky in contrast to the white statue, I don’t remember the last time i saw such a deep blue sky. The descent down the hill lasted seconds and we were eager to find Kendra who we had lost along the way.
The night brought us to the main strip where we tried out some casino sights. Mostly out to have some drinks rather than gamble, we were disappointed when we realized no one drinks in the casino’s and the only thing offered for free is water. Of course there is one bar located in every casino which is where the entertainment is located. Mostly dancing and some singing. Hitting up the Sands, Casino Lisboa and Grand Lisboa, the latter was the best entertainment. Tall russian beauties dancing the pole half dressed.
Our last day, before arriving at the border was spent visiting sights on the main island and catching some dragon boat races on Lago Sai Van. The main square made of black and white striped tile is lined with traditional portuguese architecture and filled with many modern day shops and american chain stores. The streets were packed and most people line up for the amazing street food before heading to the ruins of the church of St. Paul, which now is only a staircase and front wall. This remains a relic of christianity in Asia and was destroyed in the 1830’s.
Right next to the church also lies the Monte fort which was built during the 1600’s and still remains intact today, cannons and all.
Unless you are gambler I recommend getting a room on Taipa or Coloane island to get a well rounded experience in Macao. Hotels can be pricey, but at least one trip to this peaceful laid back region is definitely worth the time and money.