Hong Kong’s cousin from another ... colonial overlordIt is the age-old story of marauding Europeans looking for more stuff. The Portuguese wanted to trade with the Chinese, and did for a while, but the Chinese remained sceptical. When they got news the Portuguese had been misbehaving elsewhere, both in China and around the region, they became a bit more hostile, torturing and executing a few. After some raiding and pillaging from the naughty Portuguese it was decreed that, just to be safe, all Portuguese should be killed on the spot. Perhaps a touch draconian. A couple of massacres at Ningbo and at Quanzhou sent the Europeans fleeing to Macau. Eventually they made up and in 1557 a permanent Portuguese trade base was established there. The rest, as they say, is history.
Handed back to China in December 1999 Macau, also spelled Macao, is a one hour jet ferry journey from Hong Kong. Sometimes called the Las Vegas of Asia, in terms of gaming revenue perhaps they should call Las Vegas the Macau of America. The 29.5-km2 territory has a population of just 568,700, is just under one-twelfth the size of Las Vegas, and yet it generated seven times Las Vegas's $6 billion last year thanks to the 2.2 billion people live within a five-hour flight.
When it comes to sightseeing how about we start with something to not do. Don’t waste your time going to a casino. They are huge and soulless and offer nothing in the way of the excitement seen on CSI. Instead walk around and absorb the other, much more beautiful and interesting face of Macau. Get a bottle of cheap Portuguese wine and sit in a small square. Largo da Se is as nice as any other, and has the beautiful Igreja da Se. Just off the more commercial Largo Do Senado, the pastel facades of the buildings are a welcome respite from the modern and shimmering waterfront of Hong Kong, which is almost certainly where you came from. The Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral are probably the most well known tourist site in Macau and somewhat understandably. The seemingly fragile facade is all that is left after a fire ripped through it in 1835. It is overlooked by a fort built on top of the interestingly named Mount Hill.
The tiny region has also made an impressive number of appearances on the big screen, most recently in Skyfall. Along with dozens of Hong Kong movie credits and quite a few Portuguese ones, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was filmed partly here as was the Man With the Golden Gun and Macao, the 1952 film noir starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell.
Macau offers plenty in the way of trinkets and touristy knick knacks, but edible gifts are my favourite and bakkwa, a fatty, dried pork treat that will raise your cholesterol level along with your serotonin, is great and it will survive the journey home too. The almond cookies are pretty good too.
With lots of authentic Portuguese and Macanese - an interesting mix of local and colonial - restaurants, there is plenty of food to try. Among the most popular are stir fried curry crab, minchi - a soy and molasses minced beef and / or pork concoction, Galinha à Portuguesa (Portuguese-style chicken) and Galinha à Africana (you can work that translation out) are among the most popular. Egg tarts are also a must.
Lots of high-end hotels on the reclaimed Cotai Strip house the gamblers, including the very plush and very nice Holiday Inn, the largest in the world, from around 220 GBP a night (look out for seasonal differences and special offers). A cheaper, much cheaper, option would be to camp at Hac Sa Beach. There are plenty of options in between too.
Getting to Macau is almost exclusively easier by taking a ferry from Hong Kong. A one-hour trip each way the cheapest weekend ticket is £12 with Cotai Water Jet and TurboJet (£13.75). However, if you are travelling anytime during your birthday month (until the end of 2013) it is your birthday month you and a friend can get a return ticket for £19.50. Air Macau connects Macau to mainland China, SE Asia and even as far as Seoul and Tokyo. BA fly to Hong Kong for £569 return.
Originally published in the Buzz magazine @Buzz_Magazine