Macau, China was nowhere near even the last place on my list. Not even close. Now Beijing, absolutely! But when I think of Macau, my mind conjures up images of casinos and the grand prix and little else. I had no idea just how much this city had to offer.
When my friends mentioned that Tiger Airways had a special offer ($69 return fare inclusive of taxes!) , I did some research online and I thought why not!? I knew it would be fun, how could it not be? There were 9 of us going! Through a travel agent, we found a great hotel package for Casa Real Hotel & Casino which included a continental and oriental breakfast buffet.
Rosa and I left a day earlier than everyone else. We didn't waste any time. We arrived at our hotel around 7 pm, and after checking in and freshening up took a taxi to the city center. We toured the colorful Largo do Senado by night and had dinner at Restaurante Platao to sample some authentic Portuguese food. We had some yummy bacalhau and Portuguese rice and lamb.
Largo de Senado Plaza
Early the next day we took the 1 hour ferry to Hongkong. It was the "end-of-the-chinese-new-year" sale and everything was 70% off. We didn't buy much though because most of the items on sale were winter clothes.
Now we both had been to HK many times before so we didn't do any sightseeing, it was pure retail therapy! Hours and hours of walking in and out of malls and shops, stopping only to have a quick noodle and dimsum lunch.
the hazy Hongkong harbor, as seen from Harbour City on the Kowloon side
In the afternoon, we picked up one of our friends at The Peninsula over at the Kowloon side. She had gone straight to HK from Manila for a meeting but was coming back to Macau with us to join the rest of the group. When we got back to our hotel in Macau, the rest of the gang was checking in.
First on the list of things to do after they settled in was an authentic Chinese dinner, specifically Peking duck! We asked the concierge to recommend a restaurant which wasn't too far, and off we went in 3 taxis. Everything was delicious. We had spicy shrimp, goose, roasted duck (no Peking duck!), beef with mushrooms, hot & sour soup, bok choy and yang chow fried rice, it was perfect.
Sunday was Macau-sightseeing-day. Macau was quite a nice surprise. With it's Chinese and Portuguese heritage, the east-meets-west quality is present in almost everything: from the food to it's architecture.
Our first stop was the very charming Guia Chapel & Lighthouse. We had a nice view of the lighthouse from our hotel room. It was completed in 1865, making it the oldest lighthouse on the coast of China. It was only fitting that this was our first stop as I adore lighthouses!
Guia Chapel & Lighthouse
The St. Augustine Church (below) is part of a monastery founded in 1586. Pictured below it is the St. Augustine church plaza.
Sunday (Feb. 12) was the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Chinese New Year so we were treated to a typical dragon dance in Senado Square:
Also in the same area is the beautiful Santo Domingo Church. Interestingly enough, it is described as "a baroque Filipino style church built by the Spanish Dominican friars in the mid 16th century. "
Sto. Domingo Church
From the church, you can walk up the hill and through a narrow pedestrain side street of antique stores (I got to buy some lovely antique pieces - YAY!) and bakeries up to the famous Ruins of St. Paul. This is Macau's most famous attraction. The stone facade is all that is left after a fire ruined the whole complex back in 1835.
Ruins of St. Paul
After we did some antique shopping and street-food-eating along Rua de S. Paolo, we headed for the A-Ma Temple. Macau owes its name to this temple. The name Macau was derived from the Chinese "A-Ma-Gau" which means Bay of A-Ma.
Yummy Macanese treats
Discovering local food is always one of the best things about travelling. In Macau, we had lots of it. Clockwise from upper left: the absolutely YUMMY Portuguese Egg Tart, slices of dried beef, pork, etc. - their version of beef jerky; gelato - ok so it's not typical Macanese but if you are ever in Senado Square you have to have some Limoncello Gelato; the last picture was taken inside one of the bakeries - the man is making those powdery cakes out of crushed nuts. It is similar to our local polvoron.
A gov't building
After visiting the A-Ma temple, we took a much needed break and sipped some cocktails as we watched the sunset on the bay from the terrace of the Pousada do Sao Tiago Hotel, a 17th century fort transformed into a Portuguese inn with period furniture.
And of course there are the casinos. It is said that in 30 years, Macau will be bigger than Vegas in terms of number of casinos and gamblers. Not very surprising cosidering 85% of all the high rollers in Vegas are Chinese and Japanese.
Lisboa is Macau's oldest and most famous, while the Sands Casino (2 bottom pictures) is the newest and grandest. The first picture of the Sands Casino also shows the Lotus Flower in Full Bloom, one of Macau's landmarks. The other picture was taken from the bridge which connects Macau to Taipa Island.
On the morning of our last day, a couple of us toured the Grand Prix Museum and Macau's Wine Museum which was a 2 minute walk around the corner from out hotel and right across that Lotus Flower picture above. The Grand Prix Museum was alright, unless you are a die-hard Formula 1 fan, then you'd probably think it was awesome.