A few days after arriving in Guangzhou for the start of our trip, we were headed to Macau, a Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China. Macau is known for it’s casinos and gambling industry. We weren’t there to gamble, just to check it out for the day (half of a day really) before taking a ferry to Hong Kong.
Guangzhou to Macau
Roads trips are a little different in China. People don’t typically drive private vehicles long distances. We were fortunate enough to have Lily’s family friend drive us to Macau. He was familiar with the area and was willing to guide us into the city. It doesn’t look that far on a map, about 100 miles, but it takes about 3 hours to drive from Guangzhou to Macau. Macau is not a separate country, but it has it’s own laws and government similar to Hong Kong: a former British territory (yay colonialism).
Customs is never easy
Things are a little complicated when traveling into Macau from mainland China. You first have to park your car (if you drive) and take a bus into the Chinese immigration area, where you move through security and customs and “exit” China. Then you get on another bus and ride over a bridge into Macau. I called this “no mans land” where it was ambiguous what country we were in, if any. Technically you have exited China, but not formally entered Macau (I suppose you are in Chinese territory the entire time though). Then you go through customs and immigration in Macau, which was much less intimidating. The entire process is a little stressful.
Once you have completed the entire immigration and customs process, and the Macau government allows you into their wonderful city, you are free to explore. The first interesting thing you may notice about Macau, is that they drive on the left side of the road, despite mainland China and Portugal driving on the right side of the road.
The Historic Centre of Macau – Remnants of the colonial period
For our afternoon in Macau, we stuck to the major tourist areas around the Historic Centre of Macau. In particular, we walked the Rua de Sao Paulo, containing a seemingly endless number of street vendors. It’s a really crowded street. Here you can sample some of the local specialties include egg tarts and meat jerky. You could probably get an entire meal with all of the free samples that are handed out.
Ruins of St. Paul’s
Before making it through the street market area, the steps to the Ruins of St. Paul’s become visible. St. Paul’s was the main Catholic Church constructed by the Portuguese in the 17th century. One wall remains mostly intact after the majority of the church was destroyed by a typhoon in 1835. The ruins and the surrounding area can fool you into thinking you are somewhere in Western Europe.
Fortaleza do Monte
Once you get to the top of the stairs to the church, you can continue to the Fortaleza do Monte, a colonial fort also built in the 17th century. There is a museum that you can tour for a small cost, or you can just walk around the outsides and top of the fort. There are plenty of displays along the outside of the fort.
A few attractions from the Historic Centre
After walking around the Historic Centre, we walked to the Cathedral Parish neighborhood. Coincidentally, this is where most of the casinos are located. We just wanted a to check it out and get a picture before we left. We stopped in front of the Grand Lisboa Casino for a picture. It was the obligatory “I can say I’ve been there” picture. If we had more time, maybe I would try my luck at the casino. But we had to get to the ferry terminal to head to Hong Kong, just 45 minutes by “water jet” ferry.
Should you check out Macau?
That’s kind of a loaded question. Do you like to gamble? Then probably yes. Do you like Las Vegas? Then yes again. Do you like shopping? Then certainly yes. There is lot to do in the city. I’m not sure of the “safeness” of Macau, but I felt safe the entire time I was there. The people are generally friendly and helpful and they just want to do business. Macau has one of the highest life-expectancies in the world. You don’t get there with unsafe neighborhoods. Macau is also highly developed and they are not finished building. Most of Macau is reclaimed land, so I think they just keep adding land to build upon.
Overall, I would recommend visiting at least once if you are interested in good food, gambling, shopping, some historical sites, and night life. Other than that, I can’t say I am highly inclined to go back anytime soon. But that’s just me. And I’m not much of a city person.