Where old meets new, Macau is a mix of old China, and the opulence brought about by the flourishing casino life that this part of the world is known for. There's plenty to see, and much to eat. But a day trip should be enough to satiate your wanderlust for this city. A perfect time to go would be, during the winter which is between November to February. It doesn't snow, and the weather around 10 to 20 degrees C. Also a good time to go is when you've already got a planned trip to any of the neighboring China territories (HK, Taiwan etc). Of course, it's an entirely different story if you're into casinos, and intend to plunge headfirst into the high-roller life. But if your purpose of travelling to Macau is just to see the sights, have your fill of the food, or just another place to tick off your country list, a side trip should suffice. I won't go into detail about what happened during our trip in HK (up on this space soon). This post will be all about Macau, and some tips to help you plan your upcoming visit.
How To Get There
First off, let's talk about how to get there. You have many options. Including of course, booking a flight that goes straight into Macau from your city. If you come from anywhere around Asia, it won't be a long trip, so flying via budget airline should do the job just fine. Use the extra cash you would've spent on an expensive flight to explore more, or to shop more. Airlines to check for cheap flights include Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia, Tiger Air, and JetStar (if flying in through HK).
Another option is to take a ferry from Hong Kong, which is what we did for our visit. We had 4 days for the whole vacation trip; and Since, it was not our first time in HK, and it being a pretty small city and all, exploring the neighboring territories made perfect sense for us. We decided to visit Macau on the third day of via ferry. We bought our tickets at the terminal on the day from Turbo JET. Since departures are every 15 minutes, it wasn't very difficult to get a seat on one of the boats. If you're the type that plans way ahead, and are really set on buying tickets in advance, you can purchase online via the TurboJET website. You can also scout for tickets at a voucher website called Klook. Tickets come out cheaper there sometimes. Travel Tip: If you get motion sickness, you'd want to have meds on you for this trip. The boat is pretty small, and the waves are choppy, so make sure you're prepared for 55min of rough-ish waters.
The Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal can be found at the 3/F of Shun Tak Centre, 200 Connaught Road Central, Sheung Wan. Take the train to the Sheung Wan stop, and then walk from there. It will be just a few blocks away from the station.
Another thing to note is that there will be A LOT of barkers selling tickets when you reach the terminal. Most of them are legit, but since everyone will be fighting to get your attention, it can get overwhelming. So expect this! You already know what you're looking for, so just go for the cheapest and earliest option when buying on the day. For the trip back, you can get round trip tickets at the terminal. But this only works if you have a set itinerary for your day trip. You wouldn't want the extra cost of buying a new ticket in case you miss your schedule. Your other option will be to purchase a return ticket in Macau, when you're ready to head back. Either option works, it just depends on how much time you have, and how much you have already planned out.
Macau has a visa free policy for most countries. Make sure to check if your passport is powerful enough to get you through without any additional requirements. For Philippine passport holders, you can stay for 30 days visa free if you're travelling as a tourist.
How To Get Around
Tour guides here are really cheap. There will be a lot of freelance locals who will be more than willing to take you around for a minimal fee. This will save you a lot of time figuring out where to go. Also, a local's insight on the best place to get authentic egg tarts are always a good thing (but of course, make sure you've done your own research too). Aside from insider knowledge, these guides know how to score free rides via the shuttle buses that go around the city. They seem to have formed some sort of network linking all their freelance work together. If you only have a limited time in Macau, it would be a good idea to have the insider track on everything. It would definitely save you time.
Another option is to take public transport, and go around on your own. There are buses and cabs available from the terminal. You can also take the train. For cabs, make sure to agree on the price before getting in. You can also arrange for them to take you around the whole day for a flat fee. Again, just make sure that you agree on a set price before anything else.
If you're carrying HKD going into Macau, there will be no need to exchange currency. Most places here will accept payment in HKD, even the hawker food stalls. However, some establishments might give you change in Patacas even if you pay in HKD. Pro Tip: Budget your money to use up all your Patacas while you're in Macau. It will be harder to exchange this back to HKD or to your local currency once you've left. So do the math, and use it up before you head out!
What To Eat
Of course, you cannot miss the famous Portuguese Egg Tart. There are lots of bakeries that offer this sweet and flaky pastry, so keep your eyes open for shops that have long lines outside -- a strong indicator of how good their version of this local delicacy is. Seeing a lot of locals in line is also a giveaway sign if it's good or not.
If you're going on a food trip, the Plaza Senado area would be a good place to kick-start it. There's a wide selection of almond cookies, pork jerky, peanut candies, bbq meats, sesame seed delicacies, and even durian ice cream. You name it, they have it.
But for all of us on that trip, the best thing we had was undoubtedly the Black Pepper Duck. One of the specialties of Chan Kong Kei, a 20 year old roast restaurant with a flock of regular patrons that cue in everyday. Lucky that we came by a little after lunch and didn't have trouble being accommodated. There was still quite a line, but not as long as it was famed to be. Truly I say, the best duck I've had so far. Chan Kong Kei can be found at 19 Rua Do Dr. Pedro Jose Lobo Street in Macau.
What To See
All the famous tourist spots in Macau are always flocked with people. No matter what time of the year you visit. In this city you would see, the remnants of Portugal's colonial history in the Asian region. This part of Chinese territory served as a port for traders during the height of the occupation, dating back to year 1557.
Pro Tip: Brush up a bit on your history before you visit a new city. This gives you a deeper appreciation of the historical ruins you'll see, as well as the stories you'll hear from your tour guides and locals. Coming from a country that was a colony of the Spanish for 400 years, seeing how the neighboring countries who went through a similar colonial history gives me an interesting insight on how different we've come out years after liberation. It's been years, but the effects of it are very much alive until now.
Some famous tourist spots include:
St. Lawrence's Church, the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral, The Old City Walls, Senado Square, The Venetian, and the Macau Tower, Kun Iam Statue.
So, there you have it! Here's Macau in a nutshell. Some last minute notes: make sure to bring a camera with you, something that's light and easy to use. A good point and shoot camera will do, or even your phone. This city is very touristy, so photos will need to be done quick. Also, bring a bottle of water with you. It is not advisable that you drink from the tap in Macau, so it's better that you bring your own. Lastly, wear comfortable footwear. There's a lot of walking that will be done during this day trip. Be fully prepared to take on this city on foot, which if you ask me, is always the best way to explore. That's it! Time to pack your bags and head out!
Happy travels! :)