A Day Trip to Macau
Macau is the other Special Administrative Region of PR China, located to the west of Hong Kong. Known as the Las Vegas of Asia, Macau is a gambling destination for many Asians looking for a quick weekend trip.
Macau is easily accessible via ferry from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the Hong Kong airport, and in most cases, you should be able to just purchase a ticket to the next ferry at the terminal (they run frequently throughout the day). Two transit companies operate ferries to Macau from Hong Kong—TurboJet and Cotai Water Jet. They run at about the same price and timelines; the only difference between the two is the port in which they arrive. TurboJet docks in downtown Macau, while Cotai Water Jet docks in the south part of the country in Cotai. There are free shuttles that run from the harbor to the casinos, so it’s fairly easy to get to where you want to be.
Much like Las Vegas, though, travelers experience a Friday afternoon rush, which is what I found out when I showed up at the Hong Kong Island terminal at 11am and was told the next available ferry wasn’t until 3:40pm.
After killing time in the Sheung Wan shopping center, I was Macau-bound by late afternoon.
Trip Duration: 1 day that actually turned into 1 day/1 night
Accommodations: Hou Kong Hotel, Downtown Macau
Goals: Visit the historical areas of the city and the Taipa Village
History: Macau was colonized by Portugal in the 1600s and remained in Portuguese control until 1999, when it was established as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. It served as a trading port for Portugal, India, China, and Japan. By the 1840s, the Macanese were granted self-administration. Macau served as a safe haven for Chinese refugees during the Chinese Civil War. Portuguese influence still perpetuates across the city, particularly in its architecture.
Macau is regarded as the gambling mecca of Asia and makes most of its profits from gaming and tourism.
1. Arriving in Macau
Initially, I wasn’t super excited about Macau. Once you’ve been to one casino, you’ve been to all casinos, in my opinion. However, I was interested in seeing the Taipa Village and the ruins of St. Paul, so I figured a short day trip would be perfect to accomplish all of that.
Upon arriving to the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal via TurboJet, I hopped on the Venetian bus to the Venetian in Taipa. The trip took about half an hour, and the walk down to Taipa Village was another 2o minutes.
2. Taipa Village and the Taipa Houses Museum
Macau is a country of beautiful parks. Parks by the water, parks on rooftops, parks on hills. For such a densely populated city, I was surprised at the number of parks and green space they managed to carve out between the skyscrapers and casinos.
You can tour a historical Taipa house for free at the Taipa Houses Museum. The tours are pretty short—the houses are small 2-bedroom homes—but it’s definitely worth the visit.
Because I got in so late (it was after 6pm by the time the shuttle arrived at the Venetian), most businesses had closed for the evening, but typically you’d be able to grab food at several street vendors, coffee shops, and other restaurants around this area.
3. Wandering Around Taipa
Taipa is one of three areas in Macau (downtown Macau to the north and Cotai to the south are the other two). As the sun began to set, I started wandering around Taipa without a set plan. Portuguese architecture bled into more modern highrises, and at some point I found myself on a rooftop park. The streets of Macau are quite windy, and oftentimes go up different hills and levels. Sidewalks tended to disappear, making the city a bit challenging to walk around if you’re not sure where you’re going.
I ended up following a few locals who were heading home through alleys and smaller houses hidden below and in between the towering buildings.
Macau isn’t the most beautiful city, but there was something I liked about it. With its Portuguese and Chinese influences, the vibes it gave off were gritty and artistic, and it gave off a good energy, so much so that I decided to scrap my plans to head back to Hong Kong that night and grabbed a hotel downtown after eating a delicious ramen dinner.
3. Macau is not a backpacker’s destination
I learned very quickly that Macau had not hopped on the backpacker train, and so the number of available hostels were far few and in between. With the exception of the casinos in the Cotai area, most of the hotels were located downtown. I ended grabbing the last room at Hou Kong Hotel, which was more money than I wanted to spend, with more mosquitoes than I preferred.
4. Downtown Macau and the Ruins of St. Paul
There really isn’t a “historical” district in the city, as much as there are remnants of history scattered between industrial areas. The next morning, I spent several hours just wandering around the downtown area. Many of the markets were just starting to open, with fishermen bringing back their catches from early that morning.
I eventually stumbled upon the Ruins of St. Paul. Adjacent to that was Mount Fortress, which was constructed in the early 1600s to protect the Portuguese Jesuits from pirates. Both the ruins and the fortress are UNESCO World Heritage sites and are free to visit.
5. Taking care of residents
Free; That’s one thing I noticed about everything in Macau. Free museums. No entrance fees to historical attractions. Open spaces for people to wander and hold fitness classes in a 400-year old fortress.
In every park, you could find simple strength building and cardio machines, which people took full advantage of.
I ended my visit to Macau at the Guia Fortress and Flora Gardens, a 17th century military installation and lighthouse built to protect the Portuguese from Dutch conquest. The fortress is the highest point in Macau and today has an expansive and free recreation area with jogging trails, meditation space, a soccer field, badminton courts, exercise machines, and a teeny tiny zoo.
It’s no surprise that Macau has the fourth highest life expectancy in the world. Wellness is definitely a priority for the Macanese, and while it may not be considered a worldwide tourist destination, it certainly seems like a great place to live.
Oh, and there are casinos.