Going Beyond the Glamor in Macau

Going Beyond the Glamor in Macau

Macau has more than just glitzy casinos to offer visitors By: Jimmy Im & Veronika Perkowski
Macau’s Science Center was built by Pei Partnerships Architects with world-famous I.M. Pei. // © 2013 mtgo
Macau’s Science Center was built by Pei Partnerships Architects with world-famous I.M. Pei. // © 2013 mtgo

Many travelers already know that Macau is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of China.” Enthusiastic gamblers and curious day-trippers alike arrive by the easy 45-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong to explore the city’s glamorous allure. While Macau sometimes seems to march to the beat of slot machines, popping casino chips and over-the-top, Vegas-style entertainment, this bite-size destination on the western bank of the Pearl River Delta also packs local spirit, charm and history. Visitors to Macau will find classic architecture, authentic cuisine and diverse communities that reflect a fascinating integration of Chinese, Western and Portuguese cultures.

If there’s one attraction that gets as much foot traffic as a casino floor, it’s the historic center of Macau, which was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Strolling through the city center is like being in a time warp, thanks to centuries-old cobblestone streets, well-preserved 18th-century buildings and ubiquitous, traditional azuelos (Portuguese tiles) spanning cultural landscapes. There are more than 20 historic monuments, squares and structures to explore, including temples, churches and even a Protestant cemetery. Many visitors check out the Guia Fortress built in the 17th century (it includes a chapel) and the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast. A more off-the-beaten-path attraction is the Moorish Barracks, a distinctive neoclassical building with Moghul influence built in 1874 that now serves as headquarters of the Maritime Administration.

The Portuguese arrived in Macau in the mid-16th century and, thanks to their influence, Macau is home to some unique culinary flavor with many popular eateries found in Taipa Village. Go local with Macanese cuisine: a blend of southern Chinese and Portuguese cuisines. It’s best served at Michelin-rated Antonio restaurant where owner and chef Antonio Coelho dishes out innovative dishes (with a heavy hand on traditional Portuguese) in an unassuming, no-frills environment. Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown gave foodies a good reason to try the famous egg tart — a pastry filled with egg custard — by visiting Lord Stow’s Bakery, a cafe that seems to have perfected the pastry. The Vida Rica restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Macau (a non-gaming resort) recently brought on a new executive chef, Dominique Bugnand, who worked at flagship Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai. He has given the menu a modern and elegant touch while continuing to celebrate Western and Chinese cuisine with traditional Portuguese and Macanese dishes.

Architecture junkies and science geeks alike will appreciate the Macau Science Center built by Pei Partnerships Architects with world-famous I.M. Pei. The science center, opened in 2009, looks like something from a futuristic movie and the interior is just as visually engaging. The main building is an asymmetrical cone shape with a spiral walkway and an atrium that floods with natural light. Plenty of interactive exhibits — including a planetarium — keep children entertained.

Thrills abound at Macau Tower, which features the world’s highest bungee jump. For those who are not keen to plunge 764 feet, other heart-pounding adventures are offered, including the Skywalk, where visitors can walk along the circular rim of the platform, or climb the world’s only Urban Tower Climb at 1,100 feet high. The adventures are operated by renowned thrill-seeker A.J. Hackett, who pioneered commercial bungee jumping market. If your clients are too faint of heart, visitors can simply ride the elevator to the top for impressive views. Often, spectators gape at bungee jumpers through the glass floor.

The wine scene in Hong Kong has received a lot of buzz as of late, and Macau offers oenophiles a good reason to explore this destination as well. While most top bars are in the casinos, many local lounges and pubs serve quality Portuguese vino and other international wines, including Old Taipa Taverna in Taipa Village. It’s a pub that’s frequented by locals that features occasional live music. The 4,600-square-foot Macau Wine Museum is a comprehensive and educational spot for wine history, wine production and, of course, wine tasting.

If clients find the ferry ride from Hong Kong less than inspiring, suggest a Macau Harbour Cruise. This tour provides a unique way to see the most popular tourist structures in Macau, including A-Ma Temple, Macau Tower, Macau Taipa Bridge and the Maritime Museum. The cruise on a triple-decker ship lasts an hour and a half and is spectacular at sunset.

Once visitors are done exploring the historic, cultural and adventurous offerings of Macau, it might just be time to hit the casino floor.

Destination Resource:

Macau Tourism Office

Local Favorites

A-Ma Temple
Built in the year 1488 during the Ming Dynasty to commemorate Matsu (the sacred sea goddess and patron saint of fishermen), the A-Ma Temple  is the oldest in Macau. The A-Ma Temple offers architectural beauty, spectacular views, peaceful silence and an exemplary representation of Chinese culture inspired by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and folklore. The A-Ma Temple complex consists of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and Zhengjiao, a Buddhist pavilion. www.macautourism.gov.mo

Wine Museum
Housing around 1,143 different wine brands from various regions of Portugal and China, the aim of the Macau Wine Museum is to show the social, economic and cultural importance of wine in Portuguese culture. This museum not only provides information about wine and grapevines, but also recreates the production process by time period, showing the visitor both modern and traditional tools used in wine production, as well as the regional costumes worn in each production region. www.macautourism.gov.mo

Grand Prix Museum
Located in the basement of Macau’s Tourism Activities Centre, The Grand Prix Museum displays the automobiles and race bikes raced in the Guia Circuit or Macau Grand Prix. The museum opened in 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix, an international sporting event that attracts thousands of tourists and racing enthusiasts to Macau every November. www.macautourism.gov.mo

Camoes Garden
Luis de Camoes, one of Portugal’s great poets, is the namesake of Camoes Garden. The public park is a place where visitors can see a slice of life — locals come to Camoes Garden to play Chinese chess, practice morning tai chi exercises, take out their caged birds for a walk (a local custom) or simply meet with friends.

The Camoes Garden is not only a popular hangout spot today, but it also reflects years of Macau’s history. Portugal’s arrival in 1835 is marked with a bust of Camoes, which attracts locals and visitors alike. China’s influence is apparent in the garden’s Chinese pavilion, and its bronze fountain sculpture, entitled “Embrace,” symbolizing the centuries-long friendship between Portugal and China. The Casa Garden grounds house an art gallery and the Old Protestant cemetery. The cemetery contains the headstones of merchants, missionaries and other foreigners that made their home in Macau. www.macautourism.gov.mo

New and Noteworthy

Dragone Returns to the City of Dreams
Franco Dragone, creator of the renowned “House of Dancing Water” show, is once again partnering with City of Dreams on an all-new cabaret experience called “Taboo.” Prices start at $70 for this mesmerizing performance set in the City of Dreams’ Club Cubic. www.cityofdreamsmacau.com

DreamWorks to Open Attraction in Macau
As a result of a new agreement between Sands China Ltd. and DreamWorks Animation SKG, an exclusive DreamWorks Experience will open at Cotai Strip Resorts this summer. The experience will include DreamWorks Experience performances, room packages, a daily DreamWorks parade, character dining experiences, themed areas for character meet-and-greets, DreamWorks in-room activities and amenities, themed meetings and event packages, VIP experiences and photo shoots with DreamWorks characters. In addition, a DreamWorks 3D light and sound spectacular is set to open in late 2013, as well as a DreamWorks-themed Ice World scheduled to open in early 2014. www.sandscotaicentral.com

All-Star Basketball in Macau
The Venetian Macau hosted the 2013 Venetian Macau All-Star Challenge in May. Featuring NBA pros Yao Ming and Gary Payton, the event sold out and made more than $600,000. The Venetian is donating all ticket sales revenue to earthquake disaster relief efforts in China’s Sichuan province. www.venetianmacao.com

Hotel News/Packages

‘House of Dancing Water’ Package
Conrad Macau, Cotai Central is offering a package that combines tickets to Macau’s premier water-based dance and acrobatics show with a stay at the luxury hotel. Bookings must be made seven days in advance and include accommodation for two at Conrad Macau, daily breakfast for two at Grand Orbit buffet and two “House of Dancing Water” C-reserve tickets for the 8 p.m. show on date of arrival. The package costs about $309 per night and is subject to blackout dates. www.conradhotels.hilton.com

DreamWorks Family Suite
The Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central makes summer travel to Macau fun for the whole family with its DreamWorks-themed summer packages. From July 8 to Sept. 30, enjoy accommodations in a DreamWorks-themed family suite, breakfast or lunch at a designated hotel restaurant, a DreamWorks Experience Welcome Kit, your choice of a one-way CotaiJet ferry ticket from Macau to Hong Kong or 100 shopping dollars per person, complimentary in-suite Wi-Fi access, unlimited movies and kids’ club access for two hours per child for about $344 per night. www.sheratonmacao.com


Mid-Autumn Festival
On Sept. 19, Macau is decorated with lanterns and colorful ribbons for one of the city’s biggest festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival is aligned with the autumn equinox, and its activities are themed to celebrate the moon. Locals make special moon cakes for their family and friends. At nighttime, they congregate outside to observe the new moon and worship the gods with colorful and exquisite lanterns. The best places to watch are Praia Grande and Nam Van Lake, and Hac-Sa and Cheoc-Van beaches in Coloane, where people sometimes leave their lanterns afloat on the water. (Sept. 19)

The 27th Macau International Music Festival
This month-long music festival features the some of the world’s best grand operas, choral concerts, musicals and chamber music recitals. This year’s 22 productions, with 32 shows in total, will take place at various venues throughout Macau, from gardens to theaters and auditoriums.  (Oct. 2 – Nov. 3)

Macau Food Festival
Every November, tourists and locals flock to the Macau Food Festival, at the rotunda opposite the Macau Tower, for a taste of delicious Asian, European, Mainland Chinese and local delicacies. The festival’s atmosphere is fun and relaxed, with live music, games and beer competitions. (Nov. 8-24)

60th Macau Grand Prix
This annual street circuit motor-racing event draws thousands of tourists and racing enthusiasts to Macau each year.  With its fast straights, tight corners and uncompromising crash barriers, the Macau Grand Prix is famous for being one of the most demanding circuits in the world. The event takes place over the course of two weekends and consists of several races, including motorbikes and Formula 3 cars. (Nov. 9-10, Nov. 14-17)

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