Macau (also spelt:Macao) (Chinese: 澳門, Aomen) is a city located in southeast China, and was until 1999 administered by Portugal as an overseas province. Like its formerly British neighbor Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.
Being the first and last European colony in China, more visible colonial history has survived in Macau than in Hong Kong. Walking through the old city you could convince yourself you were in Europe -- if the streets were devoid of people, that is. The Portuguese population continues to maintain a presence, but most of the population is native Chinese.
Besides the city itself, Macau includes the islands of Taipa and Coloane, which are connected by bridges and a causeway.
Colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. Pursuant to an agreement signed by China and Portugal on 13 April 1987, Macau became the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on 20 December 1999. China has promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's socialist economic system will not be practiced in Macau and that Macau will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs.
Macau has an international airport off the shore of Taipa Island, but it's probably easier to just fly into Hong Kong and take the boat (takes one hour from Hong Kong to Macau by jetfoil from Shun Tak Terminal, Hong Kong. Return jetfoil ticket around US$38 and it operates 24 hours a day. You can get a jetfoil every half an hour in day time and one hour in night time).
That said, there are ambitions to turn Macau into a low-cost airline hub, and with cheap carriers like Air Asia now flying there from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, some people do the reverse and fly to Macau to get to Hong Kong.
From Hong Kong's ferry terminal in Victoria (address: Shun Tak Terminal, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong), it's about an hour by high-speed ferry (TurboJet).
The Ferry Terminal building connects to the Sheung Wan MTR station. Ferry tickes are sold on the 3rd floor of the building. Ticket prices start at HK$141 one-way (no discount for round trip). Don't forget your passport.
WARNING: A CHINESE VISA IS REQUIRED, YOU SHOULDN'T TAKE BUS TO ENTER OR LEAVE MACAO WITHOUT YOUR VISA
With an area of only a few square kilometers, peninsular Macau is navigable by foot. There are of course buses, taxis and pedicabs as well.
It is also easy to get across the border into the neighboring city of Zhuhai, though you will need a Chinese visa for this.
After arriving in Macau from Hong Kong via ferry, pick up a free bus schedule in the tourist information centre in the Ferry Terminal building. There is a bus stop on the main road to the right as you walk out the building. Bus 10 and 10A are among the buses that will bring you downtown to where many of the tourist attractions are. Fares on the peninsula are 2.50 patacas.
Speakers of Portuguese probably won't find it very useful when talking to local residents, but it can help in understanding place names and signs. Many local people do understand simple English.
Cantonese is arguably the most commonly spoken language of Macao. The Mandarin dialect is also widely spoken, especially by the educated.
Gambling is Macau's biggest industry, and boatloads arrive from Hong Kong on weekends to try their luck. Most casinos are along the waterfront, the most famous probably being the Casino Lisboa, and the second most famous is Gold Sand Casino which was newly opened in 2004.
The currency of Macau is the pataca, which is divided into 100 avos. There are 7.99 patacas to one US dollar (as of 20 Jan 2006).
Hong Kong dollars, which are almost equal to the pataca in value, are generally readily accepted by most businesses on a 1:1 basis, but you may have some trouble with the HK$10 coin, which many businesses seem not to accept.
As an idea of what costs are in Macau, a Big Mac costs 12 patacas, or 21 patacas for a Big Mac Meal.
There are a few interesting departures from standard Cantonese fare that you can try in Macau. Portuguese cuisine is available at a number of restaurants, and for a snack, try the milk pudding at the cafes in Largo do Senado. Street stalls sell tasty strips of barbecued pork as well.
Recommended Portuguese restaurants: