Ten Things to do in Macao

Macao evokes a strong sense of connection to a shared colonial heritage because after the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511, they sailed to the China coast in 1513 and it was not until 1553, that they started to trade from Macao.

Even the rain did not stop visitors from going to the
iconic ruins of St Paul cathedral
When the British established themselves in Hong Kong in the 1870s and began to dominate trade along the China coast, Macao became an outpost for gambling and prostitution run by Chinese gangs.  And so it remained Portuguese territory until 1999 when Macao was returned to Chinese sovereignty as a Special Administrative Region.

With a wealth of history as a thriving trading post for centuries, Macao is certainly more than the iconic ruins of St Paul’s, casinos and egg tarts.  

In walking tours dubbed, “Crossroads of China and Portugal,” “Footsteps into the Historic Centre” and “Bygone Days of Taipa Village” I soon discovered Ten Things in Macao that’s not just about culture and heritage but also exciting new attractions for the young and the young-at-heart to enjoy.

·        Ruins of St Paul’s cathedral

Built in the early 1600s, a stone façade is what remains of a complex of buildings including the original St Paul’s college and the Church of St Paul.  Acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005, the ruins are one of the most-photographed sites in Macao and it’s quite impossible to pose for a photo there without being “photo bombed!” 

Quiet sanctuary of a Portuguese garden in the IACM Building
Look closer at the carvings to see Jesuit images designed with Oriental themes that were carved by Japanese Christians in exile and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuits.  I’m not surprised that even pouring rain does not stop visitors who are keen to see the ruins!

      A Portuguese garden

Within the 400-year old IACM Building, an administrative building for senatorial meetings, formerly known as the Leal Senando, I find a courtyard garden.  The walls extending from the building entrance into the garden are decorated with pretty Portuguese tiles, creating the charming ambience of an 18th century Portuguese mansion.  There are two stone spheres, one engraved with the Shield of Portugal while the other symbolises Portuguese discoveries.  After a sudden downpour, the garden is wet but beautifully refreshed.

Boxes of delicious Lord Stow Portuguese egg tarts
Lord Stow Portuguese egg tarts

The original Lord Stow’s bakery in Coloane village, opened in 1989, is jam-packed with customers but it does not stop me from joining the queue to buy a few boxes of freshly-baked Portuguese egg tarts to share.  

Created in 1990 by Andrew Stow, an English pharmacist in Macao, his signature recipe of lip-smacking tarts are baked flaky, puff pastry cups filled with smooth egg custard.  These Portuguese egg tarts are now synonymous with Macao and visitors simply cannot leave without tasting them!
The glittering facades of Macao's popular casinos

A visit to Macao is not complete without a peek into their casinos.  There’s much to marvel at the décor and themes of the casinos situated in the city centre and Cotai Strip, from the iconic Grand Lisboa to the world’s largest casino, The Venetian.  By night the building facades are lit up by dazzling neon lights and where the 24-hour open casino-hotels are not linked by covered walkways, there are free shuttle buses to ferry you to the next.  Macao is the only place in China where casinos are legal and is positioned ahead of Las Vegas as the world’s largest gaming centre.

Iconic buildings at the Street of Happiness
Rua Da Felicidade or Street of Happiness

If these walls could speak, what tales they would tell?  This narrow street was once a red light district with opium and gambling dens, and of course, brothels.  In the 1940s, the street surface was cobblestones but the buildings’ façade with classic doorframes and lattice windows, remain unchanged since the era when this was where joy-seekers came for a taste of happiness!  With its sordid reputation safely in the past, this street continues to be an attraction for its history and nostalgia.

The red-brick facade of the popular wet market

The Red Market

The Taipa Municipal Market, fondly called the Red Market due to its red-brick façade, is a popular wet market at Rua Norte do Mercardo Almirante Lacerda bordered by three other streets.  This is where you can get a glimpse of the local produce from fresh fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, to dried seafood and sundry goods.  In the morning, there is a convivial feel at the stalls set up around the building to sell fruits, flowers and household items and at a street corner, regulars gather to play Chinese chess with a crowd of spectators looking on.

Join the locals for a Cantonese
dim sum breakfast
Traditional dim sum breakfast

Across the road from the Red Market, is Long Wa Tea House, a traditional Cantonese dim sum place.  The tea house, established in 1962, has floors covered in small mosaic tiles, a popular trend back in the 60s and business carries on virtually unchanged today.  You pick from a choice of quality tea leaves to yum cha the leisurely way the locals do.  Here, you help yourself to the selection of dim sum from the steamer while your order for noodles, steamed chicken and freshly sliced char siew or barbecued pork, are served.

·         Pier 16 3-D World

Have fun posing for photos with hand-painted 3-dimensional paintings and exhibits displayed in more than 150 photo spots across 18,000 sq ft of exhibition space.  Here’s where you find the world’s first Michael Jackson exhibition with 3-D artwork to get close to the King of Pop.  

Have fun posing for photos at various scenes in Pier 16
Enjoy illusion technology and have fun capturing shots in various sections of the exhibition like Macao Journey, Jurassic World, Chinese Culture, Touch of French, Romantic Story and Interactive Experience Zone.

     Museum of Taipa & Coloane History

A comprehensive collection of exhibits is found in this well preserved Neo-Classical building that was once used as a public administrative building on Rua Correia da Silva in Taipa.  Look out for the glass floors which gives visitors a view of the stone architectural structures in the basement, discovered from recent archeological excavations.  

Entrance to the Museum of Taipa &
Coloane History
The upper floor has exhibits on the life and industry on the islands, fishing, agriculture, ship-building and the fireworks factories that were once important here.  Closed on Monday and free admission on Sunday while entry fee is MOP5 on other days.

·         House of Dancing Water

The City of Dreams offers a unique and exclusive experience at the world’s largest and most spectacular water-based show, House of Dancing Water.  

It’s a jaw-dropping award-winning, live show presented by a cast of about 80 international performing artists in a purpose-built round theatre around a central stage which converts from an aquatic to solid floor stage in moments!  Get ready to be wowed by live music, high-divers, a contortionist, an amazing giraffe and roaring motorbikes!

A scene from the spectacular House of Dancing Water, performed at a theater in the City of Dreams
A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 21 Jan 2016

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