Colonial Portugal Meet Bright Lights and Casinos
Macau is an awesome one day trip from Hong Kong that’s only a 55 minute boat ride away. It’s a completely different vibe from the big city of Hong Kong. Think of Macau as Asia’s version of Vegas but with old town Portuguese flare mixed around it.
Macau is one of the two Special Administrative Regions of China and is bordered on the province of Guangdong. There’s nothing that connects Hong Kong to Macau so a ferry is necessary although all that will change when they complete the bridge that will link the two cities.
What makes Macau unique is that it was former Portuguese colony and administered by Portugal from the mid-16th century until late 1999, similar to how Hong Kong was administered by the United Kingdom.
However what once was a sleepy colonial city has now ballooned to become Asia’s gambling capital. The one thing that stuck out from my visit was just how many casinos there were. Huge themed casinos dominate the skyline now with each newer one outdoing the previous new kid on the block.
What To Do In Macau In One Day Without Staying Overnight
If you’re in Hong Kong for more than 3 days, you probably have time to do a trip to Macau to mix it up so to speak.
For us, we never had a fixed date we wanted to do Macau. At one point we had also considered doing 2 days there but after talking to many locals the feedback we repeatedly got was that it wasn’t worth it. After the Maldives portion of the trip, Hong Kong’s weather was also extremely erratic with rain so we just played it by ear.
There was one day that finally looked good for us so we decided the night before to make the trip to Macau. So yeah, that’s really the extent of the planning we did. You can certainly book ferry tickets online but honestly you’re just as good to show up at the purchase the TurboJet tickets right at the terminal. There are departures every 15 minutes so you really have nothing to worry about.
The way I broke the trip down was by the various areas of Macau. I thought the itinerary made a lot of sense and I’d recommend you following a similar route:
- Start off in Taipa and do the cultural sights first. It’s a lovely little area full of Portuguese architecture, shops and food stalls. I personally loved this area of Macau the most. This area is also great to grab lunch.
- Once you’er done here, cab over to Coloane which honestly doesn’t have too much but the big highlight is Lord Stow’s if you like Portuguese Egg Tarts. Even if you don’t like or know about them, it’s worth a try. There’s the small Chapel of St. Francis and the food vendors in front you can check out.
- Hac Sa Beach is a short little detour after Coloane although to be honest the beach isn’t particularly nice. The food stalls don’t look that appetizing either and if it wasn’t for Fernando’s which Chantelle’s aunt and uncle recommended, I’d say this area is skippable.
- Now it’s finally time to head into the big city so start at the Ruins of St. Paul and snake your way down the shopping streets. Have dinner in this area.
- The night is young right? Casinos always come alive at night so it makes sense to slot this at the very end. Pick one or two you want to check out. The unfortunate thing is that they’re quite spaced out especially between the older ones on the Macau peninsula and the new mega ones out in Taipa.
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|Date||Monday April 27, 2014||Impressions|
|Breakfast||Chinese buns always do the trick when you don't have time to go to a restaurant. Filling and cheap!|
|Morning||We didn't plan on the shuttle ride but when we saw everyone get ushered there, the thought of saving some money on taxi rides came to my head so we went with it. Money I feel like was certainly saved but we did have to wait in the cab line for a good 15-20 minutes at the Venetian.
I loved Taipa Village. It had a real sense of Portuguese culture instilled and was a great place to walk and roam around since they were all small local streets. There were also a ton of snacking opportunities.
|Lunch||The crab congee or porridge is quite tasty although a bit messy since you have to use your hands to get into the legs although to be honest there wasn't too much meat in there.
The milk tarts were extremely fresh and delicious.
Between the pork chop buns at Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei and Fernando's, I did like this one better because the pork was a lot more tender and the bun wasn't as chewy.
Lord Stow's can't be beat. Perfectly burnt and glazed at the top and just so amazing when they come right out of the oven. This is what put the Portuguese egg tarts on the map in Macau.
Cab to Coloane to visit the original Lord Stow’s
|The afternoon was quite packed as we continued to roam around Taipa Village.
Coloane was a small village to the south but really not much to do outside of Lord Stow's and the church. Lord Stow's wasn't very busy though it might've been because it was raining at this point. The church was small but had nice Portuguese accents outdoors and indoors.
Hac Sa Beach was definitely a disappointment as the beach itself wasn't very nice with it's blend of black and brown sand. The moody weather obviously didn't help. The beach front area was also a bit ghetto with the poorly maintained food stands.
That being said, Fernando's was very well decorated with a old-time traditional Portuguese accents and a focus on dark woods. On the way in there was also a neat wall of signed bills from all over the world. Because we weren't eating a full meal, they didn't allow us to dine in the main dining room and were relegated to the bar. I didn't quite understand the point of that since no one was manning the bar but elected to stick around and order another pork chop bun to compare and even got a Super Bock beer straight from Portugal which was a nice touch.
After that we waited awhile to find a cab since Hac Sa Beach was quite dead but once we did we headed straight for the main peninsula and got to explore the famous Ruins of St. Paul. The ruins themselves were quite well maintained and we were able to go down into the museum just before it closed at 6PM. The Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt was built at the bottom of the ruins and houses many religious artifacts which we got to see.
From there, we went across to the fort propped on a hill and I would actually highly recommend doing this as it gave some great vantage points of the old city below.
Once done that, we took a final few photos of the facade from the front and then went down to the shopping streets below. There we sampled more free foods and checked out a few more stores along the way.
|Dinner||Eventually we found our way through a labyrinth of streets to one focused mainly on foods.
The Dragon Portuguese Restaurant wasn't our first choice but we honestly didn't know where else to go. I hadn't picked one out and this one looked a bit touristy but honestly it was the only one that was focused on Portuguese food which we wanted to have. I guess the locals don't really care for it and rather have Chinese food. The restaurant was priced for tourists but was delicious all the same though. Our baked rice dish was very tasty.
|Evening||To end off the night, we wanted to catch one of the water shows just outside the Wynn which kicks off every 15 minutes.
I also wanted to take the opportunity to snap some night shots of the casino lights and the bridge.
Since we had both been to Las Vegas, a lot of what we saw inside the Wynn was nothing that different so we figured we should head straight to the Venetian and do a little gambling.
The Venetian itself is almost identical to the Las Vegas version. From the foyer to the shops and the canals, it felt like an exact replica.
The casino floor was interesting though. Mainland Chinese dominated the floor was one thing. Another was that it was impossible to find any cheap table games. I was looking for a $5 CAD or $10 CAD blackjack table but those didn't exist at all. Everything was min $50 roughly. I guess everyone that rolls into Macau are high rollers. I eventually had to settle on a video blackjack machine where I was able to double up on my 500HKD. The last thing I noticed was that they loved their baccarat. There were 3x as many tables for baccarat than any other table game.
We were on a very tight time table as we knew we had to catch one of the Venetian shuttles back to the ferry terminal so once the time was up, we cashed out and made our way over to the buses.
What We Missed
With only 12 hours to work with, things were of course tight and I definitely had to make a few calls to cut out some non essentials. And then there was all the food we wanted to try. Even with all the snacking we did, we still missed quite a few places!
- Macau Tower – Great panoramic views of the city
- Cheoc Van Beach – Another beach we could’ve checked out but there simply wasn’t enough time to go. I doubt we would’ve been impressed
- The old casinos like Hotel Lisboa and Sands – One of the challenges with Macau’s casinos is that they are not easily walkable from each other. As a result, it becomes really hard to hotel hop like you would in Vegas. It would’ve been neat to check out some of the older casinos but in the end we figured that they’d be about the same
- House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams casino – If you’re into Cirque du Soleil type shows like in Vegas, this one’s for you. We would’ve loved to have done it but we didn’t have time and also didn’t prebook. Prices start at 600HKD
Things To Know Before You Go
- Ferry tickets hacks – This isn’t really advertised but you should know that you have to pick your ferry ticket times beforehand. This may seem limiting but what most people don’t know is that you can always take an earlier ferry from the time you booked but you can’t take a later ferry. What that means in terms of strategy is to book a late ferry coming home (i.e. midnight) so if you want to head back to Hong Kong early, you can have the flexibility to do so. Or if you end up raking it in at the casino and want to stay later, you can do that as well.
- Passports – You’re technically leaving the country when you head to Macau so make sure you have your passport. You will be going through passport control when you arrive in Macau and when you go back to Hong Kong
- Private drivers? – You’ll be hounded by taxi drivers and tour guides when you get out into the main foyer of the Macau ferry terminal. Ignore them. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to run your own program and catch a few cabs you’ll need to get around.
- Casino shuttles – If you want to save a bit of taxi money, why not take one of the several free shuttles to casinos. We saved money at the start by going to one of the closer casinos to Taipa and then cabbed from there
- Currency – Macau (MOP) has its own currency but Hong Kong Dollars (HKD) is accepted everywhere. Just note that some places will give you MOP change. If that’s the case, you can sometimes request to get HKD back instead. If they can’t/won’t, just spend the MOP during the day
- Koi Kei – What’s up with this place? These guys have a stranglehold so large on Macau that even Starbucks would be impressed. So they sell cookies and Macanese snacks that are great for souvenirs if you find anything you like. It seems crazy how many stores they have but they’ve blanketed the city so well that everyone pretty much buys goods from them if you visit Macau. They destroy the competition because they freely hand out or have self-serve boxes of samples so feel free to go nuts. By far the most popular snack to have in Macau is their dried beef slices. They’re quite delicious but the problem was that I knew I couldn’t bring these back to Canada since they are considered as meats.
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- Casa de Pasto Seng Cheong (28-30 Rua do Cunha, Vila de Taipa) – Crab congee/porridge
- 新好利美食餅店 (13-14 R. do Regedor, Vila de Taipa) – Fresh milk tarts
- 大利來 Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei (moved from the original at No.18, Largo Gov. Tamagnini Barbosa to south of the intersection of Rua do Regedor and Rua do Desporto, on the street that Rua do Desporto turns into) – Pork chop buns
- Lord Stow’s (1 Rua do Tassara, Coloane) – Original Portuguese egg tarts. There’s also a store now at the Venetian if you don’t want to venture out to Coloane
- Fernando’s (9 Praia de Hac Sa, Hac Sa Beach) – Portuguese restaurant, also known for their pork chop buns
Thinking About Staying Overnight?
Macau is easy to do in a day but if you feel like you need an extra day to explore, there’s nothing wrong with that. Alternatively, it’s totally plausible that you gambled the night away but I wouldn’t judge ;). There are lots of great places to stay in Macau but here are two of my top picks.
With rates close to $100/night, this is a great hotel near the Macau Ferry Terminal that is perfect for someone looking for a place that’s clean and comfortable.
Photo Gallery Highlights
- Macau 2D1N Food Itinerary – As always, Kampungboycitygal put together an excellent food post that inspired us and literally allowed me to plan our Macau trip in a matter of minutes.
Macau is well worth a day trip from Hong Kong and I feel that a full day is sufficient enough to see almost everything you’d want to see. 2 days is a bit top much considering there are probably other things you probably want to do (and eat) in HK and nearby islands.
It was a fantastic day of food, Portuguese influenced culture and a little bit of gambling.
I was pretty happy with the itinerary I put together. If there was anything I’d change, I’d probably leave out Hac Sa Beach and instead spend a bit more time in the casinos which ended up being a bit too short.