A November 2004 trip
to Macau by billmoy
Quote: Macau, a unique blend of the Chinese and Portuguese cultures, is overshadowed by its bigger and flashier neighbor Hong Kong. Try to make a side trip here for an interesting taste of East-meets-West.
The Ruins of the Church of St. Paul are still the most important historical monument in Macau. After years of archeological excavations, the site has been reorganized and spruced up with a small museum and smart displays of old relics. A small portion of the old city wall is located just west of the ruins.
Macau is hilly, like a miniature version of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. Be prepared for a walk along many twisting and steep streets. You can also take the public buses, which provide quite a cheap mode of transportation. Also inexpensive is the cable car up to Guia Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Macau. A walk down this hill will keep you in good company with its population of athletic joggers.
Macau has historically drawn locals from Hong Kong with its collection of casinos. Its flashiest casino and hotel combo has for years been the Lisboa, with its quirky cylindrical tower. Now Macau is trying to lure a larger scope of gambling-mad travelers from the West with an onslaught of bigger and better Vegas-style casinos.
The islands of Taipa and Coloane are part of Macau. While Macau proper has a decidedly urban buzz to it, these two formerly remote dots are like the countryside. Continued development (bridges, landfill, and even the Macau airport on Taipa) connect them more and more with the "mainland".
Ever since the "handover" of Macau from Portugal to China in 1999, it is now officially labeled a Special Administrative Region (SAR), just like Hong Kong. Most visitors will not need a visa to enter Macau, unlike the more restrictive policies for entering China.
Try a nata, a Portuguese-style cream custard tart that has a close culinary cousin in Chinese bakeries, the egg custard tart.
You can use Hong Kong coins on the local buses of Macau, but try to bring small-value coins along, since the bus drivers do not give any change back. No double-deckers here, but the buses are cheap and provide reasonable service throughout Macau. Many of the roads do twist and turn somewhat, so if you are in a hurry go for a taxi rather than a bus.
Macau is fairly compact, but you will do lots of walking if you do not wish to ride any buses or taxis. The walking is fairly pleasant on level ground, but the seven hills of Macau definitely can make your strolls more strenuous.
Restaurant | "Macau Tower (Part 2) - Dining"
Macau Tower is more than observation decks and thrill-seeker activities. As its full name indicates, the Macau Tower Convention and Entertainment Centre include comprehensive facilities for meetings and conventions. Meanwhile, average folks will want to check out its shops and culinary outlets. While touristy places can place secondary concern on the quality of the food served there, Macau Tower features several delicious dining options that are worthwhile destinations in themselves.
Most visitors will probably want to try either the 360º or the 180º. The 360º Cafe (Level 60) is the premier revolving restaurant that features a sumptuous buffet day or night. Stellar selections of Portuguese and Asian specialties are served here, with additional choices for the pricier dinner buffet. As good as the quantity and quality of food is here, do not let it distract you from the magnificent views of Macau (and China) circulating around you. The dining areas are sophisticated without being stuffy, making it fine for either a romantic date or a group student excursion. The 180º Lounge and Grill extends only halfway around the tower and does not revolve as the 360º does, but it is like a skybox looking down towards the Observation Lounge on Level 58. I admit that watching some of the scared sightseers being dragged across the glass floor windows by their devilish companions was rather entertaining. Favorites like steaks, paella, and high tea can be enjoyed at the 180º.
Conventioneers who may not have time for sweeping panoramas may want to eat at Lua Azul. The establishment makes up for the lack of a view by serving delicious food. The interiors are quite elegant, making this one of the finer contemporary Chinese restaurants in Macau. Diners can observe the chefs preparing dishes within its glass-partitioned kitchen. The dim sum selection bowled me over in taste and appearance. The delightful deep-fried mashed taro pastries were cleverly designed to look like little baby chicks. Their "bills" were made of slivered almonds, which added a wonderful flavor enhancement to these crispy egg-shaped items. The steamed shrimp dumplings resembled adorably cute goldfish. My compliments to the chef here, for these dumplings were delicious despite the fact that I usually detest seafood! Almost as challenging for me as walking on the outer rim of the tower, I also tried seafood-laced items like the scallop and seaweed dumplings and the abalone and fungus puff. These morsels were not shaped like precious animals, but to my continued astonishment, they were delectable. I can honestly proclaim that my dim sum here was the best seafood I have ever enjoyed. Main courses at Lua Azul include dishes like the "Thousand Layer Pork".
There are still more restaurants and cafes within the vast complex, but I did not have the chance to try them. Macau Tower should definitely be on your itinerary if you are visiting Macau. Come for the views and the thrills -- stay for the food!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 15, 2004
Largo da Torre de Macau
(853) 933 -339
The way this food court works is that once you know what you want to order, you must mention that item’s designated number to a central cashier. Once you pay (in Macau or Hong Kong currency), you will be given a receipt. This ticket is then presented to the appropriate counter, and then you just wait for your order. If your language skills are not that sharp, or if you just are not sure what to order, this system may be a bit problematic. Fortunately, most of the items have pictures or sculptured renditions on display, with their own magic numbers next to them.
I ordered my dinner from the Atani booth. Its Japanese selections were all beautifully presented with food sculptures, just like the ones in front of every restaurant in Tokyo. You may not be totally sure of what each item is, but they are all clearly tagged with a name, order number, and price in Macau. Better yet, the food is way cheaper that what I have found in Japan. My "Japanese curry noodle set" was a complete meal at well under $5. It included not one, but two appetizer selections, a pair of meaty gyoza, and a breaded vegetable patty with potato, carrots, and peas. There is a pile of white rice drenched with curry sauce and a hint of meat, along with a nice slurpable bowl of noodle soup with bits of meat, egg, and other stuff. All this, plus a small fountain soft drink, and you have a decent fast-food meal Asian-style.
Yes, this is a food court, so the seating area is large and mundane, but nothing too annoying. If you are not overwhelmed with your food, you can always daydream by looking at what others are having or stare longingly at the dessert station in the middle. The staff is fairly efficient in keeping the tables clean and sparkling.
Besides the food court, other options in the vast store are a bakery and a grocery store, where you can stock up on items to take away if you do not trust the outdoor markets of Macau. I would not make an effort to eat at the New Yaohan food court, but if you are in the area and looking for a filling and inexpensive meal in a comfortable environment, why not check it out?
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 15, 2004
New Yaohan Department Store Food Court
Avenida Da Amizade
Attraction | "Macau Tower (Part 1) - Activities"
With Gordon Moller of CCMBECA New Zealand as principal architect, the Macau Tower was completed in December 2001. It tops out at 338m, making it by far the city’s tallest structure and the tenth tallest freestanding tower in the world.
You will need to determine the difficulty level of your lofty excursion here. Stand near the elevator doors for the experience of looking outside while riding up or down the elevator. The indoor Observation Lounge on Level 58 (223m high) may seem tame enough, but this opinion may change as soon as one notices the glass sections built into the floor deck. The thick glass is structurally sound, so you can walk on these windows while staring straight down to the plaza level and the shaft of the tower itself. As fun (or frightening) as this is, do not forget to stare out at the marvelous views of Macau. Enjoy gazing at the Pearl River Delta region of mainland China and the South China Sea from here, although you will need a very clear day to spot any part of Hong Kong. The outer rim of the tower is helpfully marked with the main compass points. Next, go up to the Outdoor Observation Deck at Level 61 (233m high). This platform is open-air, but you are caged in, so there is no possibility of falling off the edge.
For a more challenging visit, try one of the activities established by the bungee-pioneering New Zealand outfit, AJ Hackett Adventure Zone. At Level 57, the Skywalk involves an exciting encircling walk along a see-through metal grated platform 216m above ground. The Skywalk X takes this a step further, as you move atop the outer rim with no handrails or glass partitions to hem you in. At the same elevation as the Outdoor Observation Deck, this rim has a comfortable width of 1.8m, so you will not be too disconcerted unless you wander to the absolute edge. Before stepping onto the rim, your guide will harness you to the overhead rail safety system looping the exterior. You are accompanied along this walk by the guide, who will allow you to pose and perhaps sit on the edge if you are up to it. Skywalk X was a great thrill and not particularly scary for me, as I had full confidence in my guide and the integrity of the safety equipment. I declined to try the Mast Climb, involving a 100m vertical climb to the absolute tip of the tower. Other challenges nearer to terra firma include various versions of walking, climbing, zipping, and jumping.
One admission fee gives you access to the observation levels, but any extracurricular activities do involve additional costs.
(Continued in Part 2)
Largo Da Torre De Macau
This church was constructed under the supervision of Carlo Spinola, a Jesuit from Italy. It basically replaced the Church of the Mater Dei, which was built in 1593 but was destroyed by fires in 1593 and 1602. The construction of St. Paul was completed from 1602 to 1627 by Christians exiled from Japan, along with the assistance of Chinese craftsmen. The Jesuits were booted out in 1762, and later the complex spent time as a military station. A catastrophic fire in 1835 consumed the site except for the facade and the monumental stairs.
After years of extensive restoration, the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul have become the centerpiece of a museum. Most visitors will probably arrive from the south, which will provide a most impressive initial glance at the facade. It is perched atop one of the seven hills of Macau, accessed by a long flight of stairs. One can cheat and walk up the inclined street that parallels the staircase and its adjacent strip of landscaping. After reaching the plaza level, one can admire the numerous details of the elevation. The symbolic stonework features depictions of religious figures, including the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. It is a busy frontage, but it was meant to deliver its unmistakable messages of Christianity to those who could not read.
Once can imagine what the entire church may have looked like in its glory days. Although we are left with only its frontal wall, the site does its best to hint at some of the elements of the former church without building a speculative mockup version of what had been lost. The nave is laid out on the gridded pavement, with glass display cases showing objects excavated from the grounds. A metal catwalk attached to the back of the facade stands in for the choir loft. Climb up the stairs to this level and look through the archways for some interesting views of the immediate surroundings.
Continue walking to what was the rear of the church. The crypt houses the remains of the Martyrs of Japan and Vietnam, who were Christians persecuted in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The other underground room holds the small Museum of Sacred Art, displaying an eclectic selection of paintings, statues and paraphernalia from the churches and monasteries of Macau.
There are usually hordes of tourists here, but its outdoor setting compensates for any potential feel of overcrowding. The dramatic location makes it a desirable backdrop for wedding photos. Pull to the side and relax while watching the maddening crowd take snapshots of this must-see monument of Macau.
Ruins of the Church of St. Paul
Rua De Sao Paulo
Just like its ecclesiastical neighbor, the fort was constructed by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1626. It served as part of the College of the Mother of God, considered the first Western university established in Asia. For a time the residence of the governor of Macau was located here. As with seemingly every major monument in Macau, the Monte Fort also suffered through the disastrous fire of 1835 that wiped out most of its buildings. Between 1965 and 1996 the fortress was utilized as an observatory.
Since this was the main military facility of Macau, the arsenal, barracks, and storehouses were solidly constructed with the ambitious goal of being able to withstand a siege for up to two years. The northwest and southwest walls, which face towards China, do not have any battlements. Historians theorize that the fortress was intended to thwart off only attacks from the sea. The fort faced merely one invasion over the years, by the Dutch in 1622. The cannons, currently all romantically positioned as if to face off the invaders of today, were fired only during this unsuccessful Dutch charge. It is always amusing to see cannons aiming at modern landmarks like the Macau Tower or the casinos.
There is allegedly an escalator to the top of the fort just east of the St. Paul Ruins, but instead I climbed up a moderately steep path to get there. The reward is splendid panoramic views of Macau and neighboring China. Walk around and enjoy its atmospheric aspects from various angles. There is a safety line demarcating the outer walls, so if you step over this or sit perilously close to it, a security officer will blow a shrill cautionary whistle in your direction. It is quite pleasant up here, so falling over the edge will certainly be a detriment to your enjoyment of this urban park.
The Museum of Macau is a large horizontal building that sits atop the plateau. Opened in 1998, its three levels of displays depict the early days of Macau, religious traditions, and popular local arts. Notable exhibits include a colonial Portuguese house and a summarization of the fisherman lifestyle. Contemporary trends are also covered in this museum. Locals may find this to be more of a destination than foreign visitors, but if you have the time and a few patacas this interactive institution may be worth a visit. If nothing else, a rest by the reflecting pool is a cool idea. The Museum of Macau is closed on Mondays.
Off Estrada do Repouso
The hill is rather elongated, so once you get to the top via the cable car you will not see anything too notable yet. One must walk south past the athletics courts, playgrounds and jogging paths to reach the historical highlights of the hill. The trees can be rather dense, although you will catch some nice glimpses of the surrounding town below while you meander along the trails.
The Guia Fort was built in 1638, although it has been open to the public only since 1976. Its lofty elevation made it a natural setting for the Guia Lighthouse, dating from 1865 and therefore the oldest such structure on the China coast. A few years after its construction, the lighthouse was severely damaged by a typhoon. With a 20-mile lighting radius, it has been functioning since its repair in 1910. The lighthouse is also a significant monument because its location is the central reference point for the city coordinates of Macau.
Right next to the lighthouse is the little Chapel of Our Lady of Guia, built in 1622. Both the chapel and the lighthouse share the same minimal style and color scheme of an eggshell white exterior with beige trim. There are some nice frescoes inside the chapel that were rediscovered during a restoration project, but continued construction on the site prevented me from entering the interior. A bell inside the chapel was used to transmit storm warnings across the sometimes turbulent seas. The annual feast day of Our Lady of the Snow is celebrated here on August 5. The overlook adjacent to the chapel affords some splendid views of Macau, and this is a nice place to relax after a brisk hike here, construction notwithstanding. Cannons and an old anchor add ambience to the fortress.
Guia Hill is not far from the Macau Ferry Terminal, but its maze of streets surrounding the foot of the hill may be very confusing.
Attraction | "Landmarks around the Largo do Senado"
The most prominent plaza in Macau is probably the Largo do Senado (Senate Square), a space shaped like an elongated triangle. It is a bustling area frequented by locals scurrying to nearby stores and restaurants, balanced with a less frenetic population intent on relaxing here. The square, with a wavy Portuguese-style stone pattern and a central fountain, is surrounded by several important and picturesque buildings, many with arcaded walkways which draw a variety of vendors and add life and character to the area. If your time is limited in Macau, this is a good spot for a quick taste of its history. Get some free brochures from the Macau Government Tourist Office conveniently located in the Ritz Building.
Across the street from the shortest side of the plaza is the dryly titled Institute for Civic and Municipal Affairs (IACM in Portuguese) building. This simple, vaguely neoclassical whitewashed block was formerly called the Leal Senado ("Loyal Senate"), and old photographs will show its central elevation capped with these bold letters instead of its current name in Portuguese and Chinese. The interesting old name refers to the former senators who refused to recognize the sovereignty of Spain during its sixty-year rule over Portugal. This current structure was built in 1784 and is also the home of the mayor’s office. The attractive wood-paneled Senate Library, the art gallery, and the open central courtyard are worth a look.
Across from the tourist office are the General Post Office of 1931, currently surrounded by a cage of prickly bamboo scaffolding, and the attractive Santa Casa da Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy). This former home of the downtrodden is now a small museum with two exhibit rooms. A landmark of a different nature is Long Kei, a large Cantonese restaurant with an extensive menu and a small neon cow on its main elevation.
The Macau Cathedral is a bit east of the Largo do Senado. Built in 1850, its most colorful features are its stained glass windows. If one walks north to follow the narrowing square, you will first pass a series of glossy storefronts selling Western merchandise. Once you are at the uppermost point of the plaza, you will encounter a couple of palm trees and the Church of St. Dominic (Sao Domingoes in Portuguese). Dating from the early 17th Century, the deep yellow elevations of the structure feature green shutters, creating a tropical "colonial Baroque" appearance. After serving time as military barracks, a stable, and a public works office, the church was renovated in 1997 and currently contains the Treasury of Sacred Art museum.
Avenida De Almeida Ribiero