From a time when visiting Macau just meant spending time at its casinos, this former Portuguese colony has come a long way. It is today a stand-alone family destination offering a lot more than its swanky gambling houses. And the cherry on the cake is a free visa for Indians. So, when the next extended weekend comes around, how about packing your bags and heading towards this pretty little peninsula that lies in the south of China. Here’s what the place offers:
The crisp morning air is a welcoming sight from the moment you step off the turbojet that brings you in from the Hong Kong airport. Driving past the Cotai Strip that’s famous for its high-rises, each more opulent and artistic than the other, you also notice the steel tower that’s such an intrinsic part of the Macau skyline. And soon, it’s evident that while Macau may clearly seem like the Las Vegas of the East, it also offers a charming Portuguese heritage that goes back nearly 400 years. In fact, after centuries of being with the Portuguese, it was recovered by China as recently as in 1999.
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A visit to the Coloane village that lies in the southern-most part of Macau unveils quaint pastel Portuguese-style houses and narrow cobblestone lanes. It’s difficult to imagine that this quiet, serene little place was once a pirates’ den. The only evidence to that chapter of history now is a monument that is dedicated to the fight against these sea robbers.
There is a Chapel of St Francis that houses some beautiful sculptures and paintings including one of Jesus and Mary who have been given a Chinese look by its artist.
A not-to-be-missed experience here is the tasting of egg tarts. Called the edible icon of Macau, these were first created by a British pharmacist turned baker named Andrew Stow in the 1980s. The taste of these Macanese avtars of the Portuguese style pasteis de nata draws people from across the world.
Nestled against a hill, the Seac Pai Van Park with its Macau Giant Panda Pavilion offers a date with these furry creatures that were a gift from Mainland China. The giant pandas, Kai Kai and Xin Xin, and their offspring Mano and Irmao are a delight to watch as they eat, play and roam about in their individual enclosures designed to reflect their natural habitat complete with streams, cascades, shrubs, rocks, plants and their favourite bamboo leaves.
Macau is believed to have got its name from the goddess A-Ma worshipped by seafarers and fishermen. Built in 1488 in the Taoist style, the red tiled roof temple always attracts a crowd of believers. You can walk in, light joss sticks and even burst crackers that are believed to scare away evil spirits. Another major attraction for many is the big bronze vessel full of water that has two handles like that of a rolling pin. You are supposed to rub your palms on these to create ripples on the water surface – the more the movement of the water, the more the blessings in your life.
PIECE DE RESISTANCE
One of the most treasured architectural delights here is the Acropolis of Macau- the Ruins of St Paul’s Church. Built in early 17th century, this imposing monument stands in the heart of the old city. But only a fraction of the old edifice remains. The rest of the original wooden structure succumbed to fire in 1835.
FOR ADVENTURE JUNKIES
Since its inauguration in 2001, the Macau Tower has become the go-to place for all those seeking an adrenaline rush. It is fun swishing up to the 61st floor of the tower, 338m (1,109 feet) high, for not just a bird’s-eye view of the city and Pearl River delta but also the gravity defying activities such as bungee jumping and sky walking that it offers.
While the latter lets people (all securely harnessed) enjoy a walk on the glass bottomed, no railing path encircling the outer edge of the tower, the former is a free-fall experience. Within nano seconds you zip down and then just about 30 meters short of the ground, float in mid-air to savour the experience of a bird in flight.
The Senado Square paved with wave-patterned black and white stones is the centre of activity through the day. It’s fun checking out the variety of wares like fridge magnets, coins and postcards. On festival days, you get to see various cultural activities like firework displays, lion and dragon dances.
FUN FOR FOODIES
When the Portuguese landed in Macau all those years ago, they also brought in cooking traditions from other parts of the world, including India. The result was fusion cuisine that Macao is today famous for. What gives Macanese cuisine its distinct taste are flavours of ingredients such as olive oil, coriander and olives, etc. From street food to high-end cuisine that looks like work of art, there’s a lot you can try including homemade sardine sauce with French toast, fruits with pork jerky and Portuguese beer jelly and the shrimp roe noodles in chorizo style. And yes, egg tarts and Serradura.
The Rua da Cunha (Food Street) is another popular destination for Portuguese, Macanese, Chinese and Italian cuisine lovers.
-Macau is best visited via Hong Kong. You can pre-book your ferry ticket or buy one from the ferry terminal at the Hong Kong Airport.
-A tourist visa is not required for Indian citizens for a stay up to 30 days.
-Although Macau has its Pataca currency, Hong Kong dollars can also be used.