Difference between revisions of "Macau"
Revision as of 03:28, 23 March 2007
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 (路氹 - Lotam in Cantonese, the name being a somewhat unimaginative contraction of Coloane and Taipa) can be considered a fourth region. It is an area of reclaimed land joining Taipa and Coloane, making them essentially into a single island. A large sports dome and several sports facilities were erected here for the 2005 East Asian Games. Massive development of casinos, a golf course and other facilities is continuing. This area is being billed as the Las Vegas Strip of the East, and is locally referred to as the Cotai Strip. The Lotus Bridge connects Cotai to the Chinese island of Hengqin, however this bridge is currently only open for goods vehicles.
The mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai borders Macau to the North, and the border crossing carries heavy two-way vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The Zhuhai Special Economic Zone extends south to the island of Hengqin, an area west of Taipa, Cotai and Coloane; the Lotus Bridge from Cotai connects to that area. There is significant movement by the local population of both Zhuhai and Macau across the border, making the two feel like twin cities.
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 small 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. 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 in 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.
Like the Hong Kong SAR, Macau has its own government, passports, visas, postal system and currency.
A Macao Narrative  by Austin Coates. Great introduction to Macau's colourful history. You can buy this book at the museum in the Fortaleza do Monte which overlooks the Ruins of St. Paul.
A few years back, the usual way to get to Macau was to fly into Hong Kong and take the ferry across to Macau (see next section). Today, Macau is becoming a low-cost airline hub, so one might fly to Macau to reach Hong Kong.
For most passports, you do not need to get a Macau visa in advance. 30-day tourist visas are routinely issued at all border crossing points.
Ferries from Hong Kong arrive 24 hours a day (every 15-30 minutes by day and every hour at night) at Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal on the Outer Harbour beside the Sands Casino. The cheapest one-way ticket from Hong Kong is HK$141, and the trip takes one hour.
If you arrive at that terminal, pick up a free bus schedule in the tourist information centre in the 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 MOP2.50. Many hotels offer free shuttles between the ferry terminal and the hotel.
The other less known ferry terminal is located at Pier No. 14 on the Inner Harbour and it is nearer to central Macau. From that terminal, cross the main road and turn left. Take the first right turn on a major road, after about 5 minutes walk. Walk uphill along this road to reach Largo do Senado. The whole walk is under 20 minutes.
Macau International Airport (MFM) is off the shore of Taipa Island. Because of its low fees, it has been able to attract several low-cost airlines to serve Macau (whereas not a single one flies to neighbouring Hong Kong). Currently available are:
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 Chinese holidays) 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 MOP3.30.
If you are bound for Zhuhai, there is a special bus you can take from Macau airport direct to the border, without going through Macau Customs or Immigration. See the Zhuhai article for details.
See also Discount airlines in Asia.
You can enter by road from Gongbei, Zhuhai if your vehicle (cars only, no motorcycles) has both Macau and China number plates and the driver carries both Macau and China driver's licenses. Note that you have to switch sides of the road; China drives on the right, Macau on the left.
There is a land border with mainland China, between the Barrier Gate (Portas do Cerco) on Macau peninsula and Gongbei, Zhuhai.
From downtown Macau, the border is about 10 minutes and MOP30 away by taxi. There are also buses. On the Zhuhai side, the border post is in the Gongbei district, and there are many local buses serving the border crossing station.
You will need a Chinese visa to go to Zhuhai.
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 altogether 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 11 patacas. Largo Do Senado to the border is about 30. The longest possible taxi ride (from the border post at the extreme north of Macau to Coloane in the south) would be well under 200.
English is spoken, especially by people in the tourism business. Nearly all museums and casinos have some staff with excellent English. So do many hotels, shops and restaurants, especially the up-market ones. However, English is not as widespread as in Hong Kong, and you will encounter plenty of people with little or no English (in fact, according to the 2001 census about half the population don't speak anything but Cantonese). This includes many taxi drivers, so be sure to have your hotel name in Chinese with you if you travel on your own.
Speakers of Portuguese won't find it very useful when talking to local residents (in the 2001 census, less than 1% of the population indicated it as their "usual language"), but it helps a lot in understanding place names and signs. Knowing any Romance language (French, Spanish or Italian) helps some.
Gambling is Macau's biggest industry, and busloads arrive daily from mainland China to try their luck. In addition, many Hong Kongers arrive on weekends with the same aim. Most casinos are along the waterfront on the southern side of Macau peninsula. For many years, the Casino Lisboa was the most famous and a landmark well known to people outside Macau, but it is being eclipsed by Sands Casino which opened in 2004.
There are ATM machines available at either casino as well as forex facilities to change your money. Gamblers are required to be at least 18 years of age to be allowed to play. Interestingly, local civil servants are not allowed to enter the casinos with the exception of the first three days of the Chinese new year.
North of the Lisboa is a strip with many smaller casinos, a number of hotels and bars, and quite a few restaurants. This can be one of the more interesting areas of Macau; among other things it has quite a good Indian restaurant and several Portuguese ones. However, parts of it are also fairly sleazy, with lots of hookers and touts, so some caution is in order.
There is a go-kart track on the southern end of Cotai (the reclaimed area between Taipa and Coloane islands). You can reach it by bus from Macau and Taipa on route 21, 21A, 25, 26 and 26A, and from Taipa on route 15. Casual rates (as of Jan 2007) 100/180MOP for 10/20 min. You can also book the track for a private event but they require 7 days notice. The track itself is quite good taking about a minute to navigate, at a leisurely pace.
At the Macau Tower, a 338.8m tall structure (3 and 8 are Cantonese lucky numbers!) with a revolving restaurant at its top and a convention and shopping centre at its base, the visitor to Macau can savour a different kind of excitement: New Zealander AJ Hackett's company  offers a set of adventure activities. There's a mast climb that takes you to the very top of the tower; a jump off the side of the tower from 233m above ground with a rope attached to your back; a walk around the handrail-less rim of the tower; as well as bouldering and sport climbing at the tower's base.
Macau has two beaches on the southern side of Coloane island that are frequented by locals and visitors, especially at the weekend:
Hac Sa (黑沙 - black sand) beach, the larger of the two, in a bay with the Westin resort on its eastern end. The water is of mediocre quality but brave swimmers can enter the water here. Those less brave choose the swimming pool just opposite the beach.
Cheoc Van (竹灣 - bamboo bay) beach, a smaller and more beautiful beach. The sand here is golden and more inviting to sunbathe or play on. There is a nice curved swimming pool just by the beach (as opposed to the traditional rectangular one at Hac Sa). A cordoned-off area of the bay is set aside for swimmers, and members of the Winter Swimmers Association go swimming here daily (yes, even in the coldest of winter!).
Besides, there are several public swimming pools all over Macau.
The two Taipa Hills are suitable for hiking and cycling. The larger hill, on the east side of the island right next to the airport, has several unpaved hiking trails that can also be used for mountain-biking. The smaller hill, on the west side of the island, has a low-traffic paved road circling it which is suitable for cycling and running.
On Coloane the large hill area in the centre of the island is criss-crossed by several unpaved hiking trails of various length and difficulty. These are also suitable for mountain-biking. It is advisable to cycle there early in the mornings or on weekdays to avoid the crowds of hikers that can sometimes be found here on weekends.
For those without their own bicycles, there are (very mediocre, at best) bicycles for rent in Rua Governador Tamagnini Barbosa in Taipa village, just behind the bus stop of bus routes 11, 15, 22, 28A, 30, 33, and 34.
At the Macau Dome (澳門蛋) in Cotai area is a bowling centre of international standard (constructed in 2005 for the East Asian Games). There are 24 lanes, the first four of which may be used by children as these lanes are equipped with raisable borders. A lane costs MOP20 per person and game during the day, MOP30 in the evening. The Macau Dome can be reached from Macau and Taipa by bus 21, 21A, 25, 26, or 26A, or from Taipa by bus 15 (get off at Rotunda Flor de Lotus).
The currency of Macau is the pataca, which is divided into 100 avos. There are about 8 patacas to the US dollar.
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.
Try not to leave Macau with a lot of Patacas. Unlike the Hong Kong dollar, they are quite hard to exchange in Western countries.
Macau is famous for excellent restaurants, unique cuisine and mellow bars. It is a premier dining and drinking destination in Asia. The Portuguese brought not only European cuisine, but also influences from their other colonies (Brazil, Goa and Angola) 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.
As you exit Largo do Senado onto the main street, cross the road and turn right. A few meters along is a restaurant with excellent Portguese food on one floor and Thai food above that.
According to Macau's special style, various types of drinks have became popular. 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 multicultural 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. Try to make a booking through a travel agent, even if for the same day, as the rates can be substantially lower than walk-in rates.
If you are coming from Hong Kong, book through an agent at the Shun Tak ferry pier for the best deals. Getting a package deal including return ferry tickets gives you the best price.
The budget tourist should be aware that in the Inner Harbour area many of the pensions and two star hotels are also the place of business for many of the mainland PRC prostitutes that work in Macau. For example, entry into the London Hotel in the evening will be an eye opening experience for the unsuspecting tourist.
In the following, budget accommodation is one that carries a 2-star rating or below, a mid-range place has a 3-star rating, and a splurge place has a 4-star rating or above.
66645026 or 28713242, One of the few hostels in Macau.
Macau has 12 tertiary education institutions. Besides some smaller and more specialized schools (Security Forces School, Tourism School, European Studies Institute, etc), the ones of importance are:
Non-residents who wish to take up employment in Macau need to obtain a valid work permit and are then issued the so-called Blue Card (officially called Non-Resident Worker's Permit). The process takes approximately a month to receive a work permit, at which time employment may begin, and another 1-2 months to receive the Blue Card.
As illegal employment has over the past decades been a problem plagueing Macau, the authorities do crack down severely on any offenders (both worker and employer) caught. Visitors are therefore advised not to engage in illegal employment.
There is a risk of typhoons, mainly between July and September. A system of typhoon warnings is in place that are issued by the Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau  and are broadcast widely on television and radio:
During a number 8, 9 or 10 typhoon most everything in Macau shuts down (all schools, all government departments, and the large majority of work places and shops). People stay home and it is not advisable to venture outside as there is the risk of injury or worse from flying debris.
One unexpected cause of sickness in Macau is the extreme temperature change between 35°C (95°F) humid summer weather outdoors and 18°C (65°F) air-conditioned buildings. Some people experience cold symptoms after moving between the two extremes often; it is not unusual to wear a sweater or covering to stay warm indoors, and it is therefore usually good advice to carry a long-sleeve item of clothing when expecting to visit air-conditioned places for extended periods of time.
Whilst tap water is technically safe to drink (taste aside), most locals boil or filter their water or buy inexpensive bottled water.
Because of recent concerns about SARS and the threat of Avian Flu, good personal hygiene is strongly advisable. Wash hands before eating and after returning from public areas to your place of accommodation.
There have been some cases of Dengue fever in recent years. The government has pro-actively sprayed insecticide in areas where there is the potential of mosquito breeding, so this risk is largely contained. However it is best to avoid being bitten by using mosquito repellent and/or wearing long clothing, especially at dusk.
When eating sea-food make sure the food is properly cooked as you may otherwise end up with an upset stomach or worse.
Most Macau people are quite friendly but may be shy when approached by foreigners as only a small minority of locals speak English well enough to communicate.
When visiting Chinese temples basic respect should be shown, but taking photos is usually allowed and you don't need to ask for permission as long as there isn't a no-photography sign posted.
The tourist information offices on Largo do Senado and at the jetfoil terminal have maps, information on museums and events, helpful English-speaking staff, and at the Largo do Senado office free Internet access. You may have to queue for the Internet, since there are only a few machines.