Friday, February 6, 2015

LET ME BE YOUR GUIDE IN MACAU


When I passed the Bar Examinations, I booked a flight to Macau together with two of my childhood friends and travel buddies.  It was a series of misadventures and unfortunate events caused by the gullible selves we had back then as a traveler.  That was years ago. 

I’ve always wanted to revisit Macau and create new memories.  Fortunately, I am back this time with my entire family. And the best part is – we made it without any tour guide.


Philippine passport holders can enter Macau visa-free up to 30 days.

Macau is officially part of the People’s Republic of China.  However, as a Special Administrative Region, the country operates autonomously including immigration rules and governance.  Note that an entry permit to Hongkong is not valid in Macau and vice versa.

As soon as I queued at the Immigration counter of Macau, I was excited for another stamp in my passport as mine was newly issued.  But I was given only a piece of paper as a form of approval.  No more stamp on the passport.

Other countries enjoying visa-free entry:

For up to 180 days:  United Kingdom

For up to 90 days:  All European Union member states, plus Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cape Verde, Croatia, Dominica, Eqypt, Ecuador, Grenada, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, South Korea, Switzerland and Tanzania

For up to 30 days:  Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, Kiribati, Malaysia, Monacco, Naminia, New Zealand, Russia, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United States and Uruguay

Macau International Airport is a low cost airline hub.

The reason being is that, the airport charges low landing fees.  From Manila, there are direct flights to Macau via the Air Asia, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines.  Travel time is approximately two (2) hours.  There is no time difference between Macau and the Philippines.

Macau has four (4) regions: Macau Peninsula, Taipa, Cotai and Coloane.

We stayed at the Macau Peninsula where tourist landmarks are situated and being the northernmost region is connected to the Chinese mainland.  Taipa is an island south of the Peninsula and is the location of Macau’s International Airport.  This is said to be a residential area as well.  Coloane is the most southern island and the less developed with mountainous terrains.  Between Coloane and Taipa is a reclaimed land which makes the fourth district of Cotai.  Cotai District is known for the aligned casinos including the world’s largest, The Venetian.

bridge connecting Taipa and the Macau Peninsula
In an almost a week stay at Macau, we have visited three of the four districts, Coloane not being in the itinerary due to remoteness.

Casino Hopping for Free Shuttle Ride and Bottled Water

Macau is known for casinos.  With such fact, the notion that going around is expensive as it only caters to gamblers and the wealthy can be subject to rebuttal surprisingly.  For as long as you know where you’re headed to complement by the guts and the wits, budget travel is attainable.

From the Macau International Airport, go straight to where the shuttle buses are lined up and you may choose between the route to the City of Dreams or the Venetian Hotel.  The City of Dreams has the sole shuttle service with route to the city center of Macau Peninsula from Cotai. (service hours 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM)

All casino hotels in the city center provide shuttle buses to the airport and the ferry terminal.  Thus, you should just have to familiarize with your way to where you are staying and know where to take off, and transportation costs would be greatly reduced.

Drinking fountains were nowhere to be found and seldom do restaurants serve cold water.  I am uncertain if it is because it’s the winter season and hot water should be served.  My thirst was never quenched.  We roam around the Venetian Hotel food court and bottled waters are elusive not to mention expensive when we found one.  Fortunately, the casinos provide bottled mineral water.  We took a number and that was for free.

Walk through the landmarks of Macau.

The old historic residential and commercial buildings of Portuguese and Chinese origin constitute the core of Macau Peninsula.  Apart from the world class modern façade and interiors of casinos, the cliché description of “travel back in time” is what you get while walking through the streets. It entails a lot of walking.  This is a mandatory form of exercise with the winter season as my consolation otherwise I would be perspiring the whole time.  Discovering Macau on foot is the best way to explore.


Macau, being one of the earliest European colonies in Asia and the last one to be relinquished, a walk down the streets would give you an introduction of European architecture.  That is, devoid of street signs in Chinese characters and the people.  Macau was an overseas territory of Portugal until 1999, which explains why most signages are written in Portuguese language.

Be prepared to have a map or card where directions to destination as well as the name itself are scribbled in Chinese characters.

street sign in Chinese and Portuguese
Macau’s official languages are Cantonese and Portuguese.  Major roads and street signs are written in Portuguese.  However, a majority of the local residents ironically can’t understand Portuguese.  Taxi drivers for instance should be handed a name of the destination written in Chinese characters for ease of transport and to avoid miscommunication.


The hundred year’s fusion of European and Chinese cultures has created interesting tourist attractions.

Churches, temples, fortresses and other old buildings bearing an interesting mix of Chinese and Portuguese character is a given.  The façade and architectural landscape of the Fisherman’s Wharf exemplifies such.


The Macau Fisherman’s Wharf is the first theme park in Macau, China.  It is centrally located in the outer harbor and provides dining, shopping, entertainment, accommodation, convention and exhibition facilities. 







We walked from the Macau Ferry Terminal to reach the wharf. Across the Fisherman’s Wharf is the Sands Hotel with interesting modern architecture, comprising one of Macau’s skyscrapers.  A free shuttle bus is likewise available at Sands Hotel, where we decided to drop off at the Venetian Hotel.


Cotai District is the “Las Vegas Strip of the East”.

Cotai District is the home of the famed Venetian Hotel and the City of Dreams.


The Venetian Hotel is currently the largest casino in the world, known likewise for its replica of Venice, from which the name originates, surrounding the shopping malls with gondolas and rivers running through inside the mall.  The ceiling is quite interesting with clear blue skies hovering and appearing so real.




Across the Venetian Hotel is our everyday gateway to our transient abode in Macau - the City of Dreams Macau.  The City of Dreams is the sole casino hotel which provides free shuttle service direct to the Macau Peninsula.  Interestingly, City of Dreams is the home of high-end and luxurious fashion brands and venue of the world’s most expensive theatre show.  The House of Dancing Water cost USD250 million and the stage holds five Olympic swimming pools worth of water.  Towels are provided for those on front seats.







Macau has interesting museums.


In any country that I visit, there is always a museum that dots my itinerary, an inevitable part of every sojourn.  But with this visit, I skipped their national museum.  Instead, I together with my parents and youngest sister went to our favorite, museum of wines and motor racing. 

The Grand Prix Museum and Museum of Wine is adjacent to one another, housed in one building actually.  It is situated across the Lotus Square or Golden Lotus Square.  The large sculpture of lotus flower in full bloom has served as our landmark in locating the museums.  Everlasting prosperity in Macau is what this flower symbolizes.


From the Macau Ferry Terminal, we walked towards the Lotus Square with a stopover at one of the eateries serving delectable cuisine for our late lunch.


The Grand Prix Museum and Museum of Wine comes with a free admission. Though adjacent to one another, it was the best strategy that we entered the Grand Prix Museum first before the wines.  Why? I might get out drunk for the variety of wines offered for taste test (though with a minimal price).        

The Museum of the Macau Grand Prix, which opened on the 18th of November 1993 was created by the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix.  The purpose of the museum is to contribute to the awareness of the local population as well as its visitors of what has happened in the long history of the Grand Prix.




As soon as we entered the exhibition hall, a number of automobile and motorbike races take the limelight.  Two years ago I had the opportunity of witnessing the Formula 1 Night Race at Singapore for my birthday and I was fascinated with the way the circuit operates.  It was surreal.  This time has the same feeling and it brings back my memories to that year.




Photographs, literature, trophies and various pieces of memorabilia relating to the Grand Prix and machines which competed at the Guia circuit are likewise on display at the said Museum.  I find it interesting that there is a Philippine entry at the said event and that one has already won and scribbled in the history of the Macau Grand Prix.


Then, we moved on to the adjacent Museum of Wines.  We were greeted by an exhibition hall and a cellar housing wines of over 50 varieties.  In the corner is a man serving wine to guests.  We did not mind him in the first instance.  We took a stroll and gazed at the history and facts posted on the corridors of the museum.


Before we surrender to the spirit of wines, let us first get to know what the Museum of Wines is all about. 

The Wine Museum of Macau, opened on December 15, 1995, is a space of cultural and recreational character, where the visitors has a date with the History of the Wine and the Vineyard, with the world of the utensils connected with the viniculture and the wine production and with a complete exhibition of vintage and new wines, where they can be appreciated in a wine tasting.  The area of the Museum allows different opportunities of viewing exhibition, reading and tasting to the visitor, inviting him to the World of Wine, as a component of social and cultural expression of great significance in the Portuguese tradition, making one appreciate the wine as a way of socializing.


Before, we went out, I found myself together with my parents drinking glasses of red wine, served by a Filipino, a connoisseur of fine wines.

These are just two of the many museums that Macau harbors.  And I say, it’s more than enough to get to know Macau’s interesting features.

Macanese food (comida de Macau) is a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese cuisine complemented by spices brought by Southeast Asian and African traders.  Restaurants advertising that they serve “Portuguese” cuisine actually serve Macanese food.

Chinese cuisine is easy to love.  Restaurants serving Macanese cuisine are aligned at the Macau Peninsula.  The Macanese egg tart for instance has been brought outside of Macau by the famed Lord Stow’s Bakery.  It is known worldwide and has outlets in the Philippines as well.



While in Macau, we were able to try egg tarts of varied stalls as we walk down the streets and it really is worth the gastronomic experience.  Even the casino hotels offer egg tarts to the public.  A standout for me is the Macanese egg tart at the Venetian Hotel.



Eateries offering rice and noodle dishes at a very affordable rate are likewise a must try along the streets and alleys of Macau Peninsula.

A walk to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ruins of St. Paul will offer a free food trip as well.  Vendors aligned would give free samples for taste test of varied cookies and the known beef jerky.  Taste them all and get mineral water from casinos, definitely you’ll have a free meal every day!  Kidding aside, you just have to taste the free samples of beef jerky and select which one suits your taste buds.


A large section of the Macau Peninsula has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 25 buildings and sites within the area have been deemed to have cultural and historic significance.


Everyday we would always walk to the Ruins of Saint Paul, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It has become so familiar that I intend a separate blog post for that. 

Every country has a landmark and that this area is definitely one for Macau.  Cliché as it gets, you have never been to Macau if you have not visited the Ruins of Saint Paul.


Macau is not for backpackers.

The usual route for sojourners is a side trip only in Macau and stays at Hongkong.  There are no hostels in operation in Macau due to government regulations.  I actually attempted to look for one as I was able to read a blog about it but the policemen informed us that the hostels are already closed.

Macau’s skyline is composed mostly of casino hotels.  Majority of these are situated at the Peninsula and the Cotai District.  Note also that hotel rates are most expensive on Friday and Saturday nights.  This is on the assumption that visitors come to Macau to gamble over the weekend.

How to go to Hongkong from Macau and vice versa?  



The most practical and convenient way to visit the two Special Administrative Regions of Macau and Hongkong is through the service of a ferry.  Travel time is approximately an hour and it is a 24-hour service.

The price of ferry tickets varies depending on time and day of travel.  It is more expensive during night time (between 6PM and 6AM) and weekends.  Trips are every thirty minutes during day time and hourly at night.  If you have preferred sailing time and dates, it would be advisable to book online or make a reservation in advance.


And the best part in Macau is the extensive free wifi coverage throughout the city.

Planning to visit Macau? Let me be your guide then.


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