When Macau is mentioned, the very first thing that may come to your mind is casino. But being one of the earliest and last remaining European colony in Asia, Macau is also rich in attractions with well preserved buildings of different architecture styles and eras.
Then you find yourself spoilt for choices when it comes to food. Despite its tiny size (only one tenth of Penang Island’s land area) Macau has many excellent restaurants, unique Macanese cuisine, street food and bars to cater to suit every taste and budget.
There are four regions to explore in Macau namely the Macau Peninsula, Taipa, Cotai and Coloane. On my last trip to Macau I only got to visit the Cotai district and missed out the rest due to time constraint.
This time, I was able to make amends by visiting all the other districts and sampled some of the best local food there. For me, the Macau Peninsula was the most interesting district among all as it is packed with historical attractions, maze of old streets and eateries. Best of all, you could (and should) explore these places on foot.
“Sa Yung” – a sugary donut with an fluffy egg center
“Dan Zhi” – egg sandwich
Cafe Nam Ping 南屏雅敘
54 Rua de Cinco de Outubro
Assuming you’re indeed staying in the Macau Peninsula, a great way to start the day would be having breakfast at Cafe Nam Ping (南屏雅敘). Nam Ping is one of the oldest cafe in Macau and has been serving various egg related pastries, sandwich and meals to their faithful customers at humble prices for the past four decades. The portion size is quite hearty so it’s a good idea to save some space and go easy on the hotel’s breakfast, OK?
Interestingly, roads and streets in Macau are spelled in Portugese and named after historic figures, places or events that took place in Macau and Portugal. For example, Rua De Cinco De Outurbo is named after the 5th October 1910 revolution that took place in Portugal which resulted in the abolition of the monarchy.
Anyway, although this street is nothing much of an interest for the modern Macanese, tea lovers should find this small detour worthwhile. Va Lun‘s top grade Pu-Erh tea is affordable, even cheap for its quality of having a mellow flavor and sweet, lingering after taste.
Walking along Rua das Estalagens, towards the Carpentry Guildhall and Tung Sin Tong Historical Archive Exhibition Hall.
Tung Shin Tong
Wooden beam ceiling
The Tung Sin Tong Historical Archive Exhibition Hall is a light green, three-storey building that was built in 1924. The groud floor used to be the waiting area of the Chinese Medicine Clinic but has been converted into a Exhibition Hall.
Some of the exhibition features are Tung Sin Tong’s architecture, animation documentary and a multimedia presentation of their contribution to the people’s welfare work. Do keep an eye on the architecture elements from the 1920s, such as the wooden beams, Shanghai plaster columns and the Chinese hexagonal-patterned tiles. Admission is free.
Located a few steps away is “Tak Seng On“, an old pawnshop that was established in 1917. It has been transformed into the first business museum in Macau after a restoration project, and is also part of the local preserved cultural heritage.
Today, you could witness “Tak Seng On” in its initial splendor, represented by the shop and storehouse in their entirety. The architecture design, layout, interior decor and equipment of this establishment are the best example of how pawnshops in the Mainland would look like back in the days.
Visitors could (and I highly encourage you to) ask for a complimentary guided tour, which I thought was detailed, well done and very educational. Admission is MOP$5.00 – worth every cent spent.
Next stop: Senado Square, more fondly referred to as ‘Pan Shui Chi’ (water fountain) by the locals. This has got to be one of the must-go-to-places to appreciate the pastel coloured neo-classical buildings in the heart of Macau City. During the Portugese era these buildings served as administrative offices.
Now, they function as mostly pharmacies, chained cosmetics stores and souvenir shops for tourists to shop. Personally, I feel this place is tad too commercialized for my liking so I’d only stay for the architecture. I also recommend you to visit Senado Square at night when the tourists are less and the warm lightings transform the town square into a more magical space.
Macau’s oldest and still functioning General Post Office, as seen across from Senado Square.
Further down the square is the St Dominic’s Church, the oldest church in Macau.
Macau is hilly, bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes to avoid struggling navigating the steep paths.
One of the most charming parts of Macau for me is Rua da Felicidade (福隆新街), a street lined with shops and restaurants with red facade and shutters. It takes at most 5-10 minutes to walk here from Senado Square. This area used to be the famous red-light district in Macau but now, it is popular for its offerings of authentic snacks, congee and desserts.
There is a good congee restaurant here called called “Sam Un” (三元) which is famous for their handmade pork and beef balls. Sam Un is one of the earlier restaurants to open in the morning and it’s a good alternative to have a cheap and satisfying breakfast.
I have always maintained that exploring the local market is the best way to see and feel the real local life. And Macau is no exception either. The Mercado De S.Domingos Municipa Complex is a multi-storey building that houses a wet market with a food court at the top floor. Each level is serviced by an escalator and sells a different produce such as seafood, poultry, vegetables and pork.
After touring the market it is a good idea to take a break and enjoy a few cuppa of unique drinks brewed using claypot. There are two stalls here that serve claypot brewed coffee and tea, both vouching for the extra aroma that the claypot imparts.
The coffee and yin yong feels very smooth alright but if you ask me, flavor wise, our kopi and teh tarik are still miles better. That being said, it shouldn’t stop you from trying. Just set the expectations straight and you shall do fine.
It should be noon by now and if you have the leisure of time, I suggest you to get to Coloane which should take you about 25 minutes to reach from the peninsula. Why? For Portuguese egg tarts of course.
While Lord Stow‘s famous Portuguese egg tarts could also be bought at other places such as The Venetian, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t visit the original. And of course egg tarts aren’t the only thing this bakery produces. You will also find an array of other delectable treats at reasonable prices.
One bite into Lord Stow’s egg tarts is enough to understand why this is the iconic snack of Macau. The crust is crisply and flaky. The rich and creamy egg custard is amazing. The creme brulee gives a satisfying bite. So what’s not to like? Forget the ones sold by the chained bakeries, this is the real deal and the difference is clear.Lord Stow’s Bakery
1 Rua Da Tassara
Coloane Town Square
After tapao-ing your egg tarts (believe me you will do it) then it’s time to explore the Cotai strip, the latest district in Macau formed by land reclamation between Taipa and Coloane. I was here four years ago for the launch House of Dancing Water and how things have changed.
The strip looks totally unrecognisable to me and is seeing even more developments of new hotels, casino and shopping complexes. One of the latest addition here is City of Dream’s SOHO, a new vibrant and entertainment destination featuring 16 restaurants and bars with daily live performances.
Depending on the time of your visit, the House of Dancing Water could be unavailable. An alternative show to catch would be the Dragon’s Treasure, an entertaining and immersive 360° multimedia show.
The ticket price is quite cheap at MOP$50, a tiny fraction of HoDW’s. Dragon’s Treasure takes place at The Bubble, a dome shaped theater specially built for this show. It is said that watching the show will bring you good luck as the “dragon” touches you. So for you casino goers out there, this could be an extra boost of fortune.
Before you head back to Macau city, you could consider to stop by Taipa where a more laid back of Macau could be seen. Ruo du Cunha is the main attraction here. This colourful pedestrian street is lined with dozen of snack shops, old bakeries, eateries and souvenir shops.
It sounds pretty commercialized again but if you are willing to look past that aspect, you will find yourself charmed by the colorful colonial architecture of the surrounding shops. For cookie lovers you will delighted to know there are alternatives other than Koi Kee and Choi Heong Yuen such as Fong Kei.
Other attractions nearby include the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church. A small hike is required to visit both places but you will also be rewarded with an unobstructed view of the Cotai district from here.
After heading back to the city, it is time for another hike – this time in form of stairs to see the Ruins of St. Paul‘s in its night glory – with much less tourists too.
Senado Square looks more beautiful at night as well.
For dinner, head to Lok Kei (六記粥麵) for their jook-sing noodles, a rare noodle made by pressing the dough using a bamboo log. Lok Kei is only open for dinner onwards and operates through the night until 2am. The wonton noodle here is as good as those you’d find in Hong Kong, but void of any alkaline water taste (the chef lets the noodles rest for a long period to let the alkaline water evaporate naturally)
And if your stomach still accommodate more food, Ming Kei serves delicious beef offal (Ngau Chap) as testified by the never-ending stream of customers. Or for a much milder sweet ending, head to Yee Shun Dairy Company for a comforting bowl of creamy double-layer steamed milk. Guaranteed to make you sleep through the night.
To end this post, here are some interesting facts about Macau:
- The Macanese pataca is the currency here, with an abbreviation of MOP$
- It is the only place where gambling is legal in China
- It has the world’s highest population density of 20,497 persons per square kilometre. Interestingly enough though, the streets don’t feel as crowded compared to Hong Kong
- It is the world’s largest gaming centre, with revenue surpassing Las Vegas’ by 7 times
- The Venetian Macao is the largest casino in the world
- It was ruled by the Portuguese since 1887 for a period of 442 years
- It attracts 30 million visitors annually