Macau (also spelt:Macao) (澳門, Ou3mun4 in Cantonese, Àomén in Mandarin; ) is a territory located in southeast China, and was until 1999 administered by Portugal as an overseas province. Like its formerly British neighbour Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.
Macau is geographically divided into three main regions: a peninsula and two islands.
Cotai can be considered a fourth region. It is an area of reclaimed land joining Taipa and Coloane, making them essentially into a single island. It is being massively developed, with casinos, sports stadiums, a golf course and other facilities being built. It is being billed as the Las Vegas Strip of the East. There is also a bridge that connects Cotai to the Chinbese mainland.
As the first and last European colony in China, Macau has more visible colonial history than 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.
In the 16th Century China gave Portugal the right to establish a colony on Macau in exchange for clearing the area of pirates, and macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. It was also the last, when 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, ending over 400 years of Portuguese administration.
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.
A few years back, the usual way to get to Macau was to fly into Hong Kong and take the boat (see next section). Today, Macau is becoming a low-cost airline hub, so one might fly to Macau to reach Hong Kong.
Ferries from Hong Kong arrive 24 hours a day. Every half an hour by day and every hour at night. The cheapest one-way ticket from HK is HK$141, and the trip takes one hour.
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 of the building. Buses 10 and 10A are among the most convenient for day tourists because the route passes by Senado Square, which is where most of the major tourist attractions are. Fares on the peninsula are 2.50 patacas. Many hotels offer free shuttles between the ferry terminal and the hotel's door.
Macau International Airport (MFM) is off the shore of Taipa Island.
Other airlines such as Air Macau and Shanghai Air also have flights to Macau.
To reach Taiwan from mainland China, it is usual to fly via either Macau or Hong Kong, since (except for some charters at Spring Festival) there are no direct flights.
To and from the airport: Bus AP1 plies a route between the airport and the Barrier Gate. Its route passes through several points on Taipa Island, then passes Macau Tower, Hotel Lisboa, the Macau Art Museum, the Sands and the Ferry Terminal on the way. It costs 3.30 patacas.
You can enter by road from Gongbei, Zhuhai.
There is a land border with mainland China at Gongbei, Zhuhai.
It is also easy to get across the border into the neighboring city of Zhuhai, though you will need a Chinese visa for this.
With an area of only a few square kilometers, peninsular Macau is navigable by foot. There are of course buses and taxis as well. The street signage is often poor if not lacking all together so you may find yourself walking a few extra blocks in order to figure out the street you're on. Busses are operated by two companies, Transportes Urbanos Macau (Transmac) and Sociedade de Transportes Colectivos de Macau (TCM). Taxis fares start at 10 patacas for the first 200 meters and another one pataca for the next 200 meters.
Speakers of Portuguese 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.
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 being the Casino Lisboa, and the second most famous is Gold Sand Casino which opened in 2004.
There is a go-kart track on the southern end of Cotai (the landfill between Taipa and Coloane islands). You can reach it via buses 21A and 26A.
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 accepted by most businesses on a 1:1 basis, but you may have some trouble with the HK$10 coin, which many businesses do not accept because there have been many forgeries recently. Chinese Yuan (RMB/CNY) are also frequently accepted and can easily be changed for either Hong Kong dollars or patacas.
Getting money is quite easy as there are banks and ATMs on nearly every street. Holders of a debit card on the international networks will have no issues withdrawing money. Holders of Chinese Union Pay cards will not have trouble either withdrawing local currency from their RMB denominated accounts. ATMs usually dispense in MOP (100 and 500 bills) and HKD (100 and 500 as well) and some will also dispense in CNY.
Macau is famous for excellent restaurants, unique cuisine and mellow bars. It is a premier dining and drinking destination in Asia. For five hundred years, Portuguese traders introduced the cuisine of their Brazilian and African colonies to Macau. As a result the city now offers one of the world's most intriguing gastronomic adventures. Look for local specialties such as bacalhau (salted cod) and African chicken.
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. For the budget-minded, wander the back alleys and you'll come across plenty of mom-and-pop Chinese eateries. Note that most of these places have menus on the walls that are hand-written in Chinese only.
According to Macau's special style, various types of drinks have became popluar. Macau residents enjoy having beer as entertainment after work. Therefore, clubs and bars are open more frequently. To best fit the Macau-savvy image, coffee should be the first drink to mention since Macau has a strong mutlicultural sense. Drinks to be enjoyed include vinho verde, a Portuguese white wine that complements salty Macanese food, and caipirinha, a delicious Brazilian cocktail.
Hotel rates are most expensive on Friday and Saturday nights.