Travel dates: 1 – 4 Feb 2010
Watching the dazzling neon signboards and the sweeping strobe lights from the Macau Tower illuminating the night sky in a silver glow, it is not hard to imagine that Macau, as one of the richest cities in the world, attracts its fair share of tourists by the truckloads to witness its post-colonial beauty, savour its wide array of Eastern and Western cuisine, and of course, try their hand at the jackpot and poker tables in the countless casinos dotting the landscape.
When my sister Amie and I received the notification that we won the Jetsaver Light Challenge that would bring us to Macau, we were both really excited to start exploring the city together. We were supposed to plan an itinerary such that we had to maximise a SGD30 allowance and have an enjoyable holiday in Macau.
Seeing Macau is famed for its nickname as Asia’s Las Vegas, gambling in the casinos seemed like a tourist staple. Yet, Amie wasn’t quite of age to enter the casinos, so we would then have to find another, perhaps not the most typical, way of enjoying Macau?
So, you would ask, how to enjoy Macau without gambling??!
Well, Amie and I seemed to have perfected how to do exactly that, by focusing our itinerary on exploring the beautiful, and sadly overlooked, colonial monuments and buildings around Macau island, the great outdoors in Coloane, the quaint countryside vibe of Coloane Village and the mouth-watering cuisine that awaits us in little nooks and crannies.
First stop: Exploring Mount Fortress (Fortaleza do Monte) and a History Lesson at Museu de Macau
In order to better appreciate the history of the city that was under Portuguese rule for 442 years (!), we trekked up a steep slope from our hotel to Mount Fortress, one of the must-go places in Macau.
Wandering around the fortress, we took in the view of the city around us and the many cannons that used to protect the city.
The museum was conveniently situated on the hill as well, so for a fairly decent admission price of MOP 15, we ducked into the well-designed and interactive Museu de Macau for a little history lesson for the day. What caught my eye the most was the miniature dioramas that depict life in Macau decades and centuries ago. There was also a special temporary photography exhibition by Zheng Jingkang, a propaganda photographer during Mao’s rule of China, which enlightens visitors on communist life and Mao’s political campaign.
Time’s a-wasting…next stop, Ruins of St. Paul!
Second stop: Be wowed by the Ruins of St. Paul, Senado Square (Largo do Senado), Leal Senado
Ta-da! Presenting to you…the famous Ruins of St. Paul!
Treading carefully down the stone steps from Mount Fortress to Ruins of St. Paul, we joined scores of mainland Chinese and Japanese tour groups, as well as locals out for a day of fun, on the steps leading up to the façade of what was originally the Church of Mater Dei. Destroyed by fire in 1835, what remained eventually became the touristic icon of the city, one that speaks of her rich history and represents modern-day Macau.
The sheer size of the façade and the intricate architecture was a sight to behold! Flash bulbs from countless cameras fired away as everyone jostled for a good spot to capture a photo of themselves with the old church facade. A must-do in Macau, akin to not leaving Paris without a picture with the Eiffel Tower.
We climbed up the rickety steel staircase erected for tourists to get up close and personal with the wall, and peered out of the opening (that presumably used to contain a stained glass window) and were greeted by an interesting scene — the many people dotting the wide steps juxtaposing against the crowds pouring out from the narrow street of Rua Do Santo Antonio.
By then, all the ooh-ing and aah-ing had our stomachs growling…I guess it’s time to battle the crowds for some food!
Third stop: Egg tarts and cookie tasting at Rua do Santo Antonio -> St. Dominic’s Square
Famed for the countless confectionaries (or pastaleria) and food stalls packed tightly side by side and flanking it, this pedestrianized street is a stop on every tourist’s itinerary if they want to get a juicy piece of Macau’s cuisine.
Moving down this bustling street where everyone was packed shoulder to shoulder and towards St. Dominic’s Square, we could see there’s something for everyone around here, beyond the local stores boasting its tasty wares of almond cookies, barbecued pork and various pastries. The bright yellow facade and its dark green windows make St. Dominic’s Church an unmistakable landmark in the bustling square. Here, Asian tourists would see familiar clothing and beauty product stores like Bossini, Giordano, SaSa and Bauhaus, while most would recognize Starbucks and McDonalds instantly.
We paused for a pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶) for MOP 10 and an egg tart for MOP 7 by Koi Kei Confectionery, a pastry chain enterprise specialising in all sorts of delicious Chinese pastries from peanut and cashew nut cookies to fragrant egg rolls. See Amie’s post about our yummy Koi Kei egg tart here!
We spied a massive Chinese New Year display was placed in the middle of Senado Square, much to the delight of tourists and locals alike. The vibrant colours of the golden ingots and the cheery-looking tigers welcoming the incoming Year of the Tiger brightened up the streets considerably, injecting a merry festive atmosphere to Senado Square. :)
Fourth stop: Witness local culture at Luis de Camoes Garden & Grotto (Jardim e Gruta de Luis de Camoes)
After a few hours of jostling with frantic tourists around Leal Senado, we put our navigation skills to the test and took Bus 26 to Luis de Camoes Garden & Grotto, or in short Camoes Garden. One of the biggest public parks in Macau, the garden was originally owned by British India Company’s chairman, came under ownership by a Portuguese merchant and eventually was presented to the state in memory of a Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes.
Under the shading canopy of banyan trees, we took a breather from the hustle and bustle of city life to bask ourselves in the lush serenity of the sprawling park. Here, you could almost forget about the post-colonial vibe that the city channels all the time… We witnessed the local Chinese senior citizens playing Chinese chess in the pavillions, sitting on benches having a chat with their old friends, and performing Cantonese songs complete with a singer and a quartet playing live music from their traditional Chinese musical instruments (i.e er hu, pi pa, Chinese flute).
Later on, we also popped into the nearby St. Anthony’s Church and the Old Protestant Cemetery for a short visit.
Fifth stop: Diving deeper into the heartlands in Three Lamps District + Burmese cuisine for dinner
A 20-minute walk and intense map navigation brought us to Three Lamps District (Rotunda de Carlos da Maia), a neighbourhood characterized by an extremely dense network of small hawkers, street vendors, affordable places to eat and stalls offering clothing and knick-knacks at bargain prices.
Dinner time was approaching, so we headed to Restaurante Birmanes Aromatico for some Burmese cuisine!
Hop over to Amie’s blog to read all about the yummilicious coconut chicken noodles in soup and cold stirred noodles in Burmese style now!
Sixth stop: A quick snapshot outside Casino Lisboa
Amie was a little bummed that she couldn’t get into the Grand Lisboa casino…but a picture outside with the humongous chandelier and the opulent-looking pillars with the golden dragons emblazoned on them would suffice for now…
The casinos definitely looked way better with its colourful striking neon lights shining against the dark night skies. After an eventful day of exploring around the Macau island, we headed back to our hotel in anticipation of next day’s adventures…