Macau: Is it Just for Gamblers?

I wasn’t sure what I would find in Macau. This former Portuguese colony recently passed Las Vegas as the new gambling capital of the world and I was half expecting to be surrounded by casinos and nothing else. However, while the abundance of casinos may be true of the Cotai Strip, I found that there was still plenty of culture, local cuisine, and attractions to enjoy in the historic centre.

Bright paper lanterns and colonial architecture in Senado Square, Macau.

Though my 3 days in Macau were plagued by rain and heavy gusts of wind, here is what I managed to do during my time there:

Eat some Macanese cuisine

Macau is a foodie paradise and it is fair to say that I spent my entire first day trying every local dish I came across. One of my favourite meals was the Pork Chop Bun, or Piggy Bun. I found a local shop down a quiet back street near Senado Square serving these, and it was perhaps the best thing I ate during my entire time in Macau! The bun was soft and fresh out of the oven, while the pork was juicy, tender, and lightly salted to perfection. I still think of this meal today.

Piggy Buns in Macau.

I also got to try some Macanese egg tarts, which I would later learn vary greatly from those I tasted during my food tour in Hong Kong. Apparently the egg tarts in Macau were inspired by the Portuguese recipe that emerged in Belem, while those found in Hong Kong are an adaptation of the English custard tart. Who knew?

Macanese egg tarts

While wandering around the city, I also tried the beef jerky (which I thought tasted like bacon), the sweet almond cakes (which reminded of something you’d eat around Christmas time), and a lot of bubble tea (which I know is a Taiwanese beverage, but you wouldn’t believe how popular it is in Macau!)

If you are looking for some more ideas of things to eat around Macau, I recommend these two posts by Besudesu Abroad and eTramping who both wrote about their favourite eats in Macau: 5 Must Try Street Eats in Macau and Highlights of Macanese Cuisine. I ate a lot of the things on both of these lists.

Soak up the colonial history

St. Dominic's Church near the Leal Senado Building.

Senado Square was a nice place to start exploring Macau on foot. The bright colonial buildings and black and white mosaic floor tiles had a distinctly Portuguese feeling, while the paper lanterns dangling across buildings were decidedly Chinese. Though I couldn’t find anyone who spoke Portuguese, it was nice to see the mix of culture in the architecture.

The Ruins of St. Paul on a sunny day in Macau. All that remains is the facade.

I also visited the Ruins of St. Paul which are perhaps the best known historic attraction in Macau. All that remains today of what was once St. Paul’s Church, the biggest church in East Asia, is the facade. It was kind of eerie walking ‘into’ the church to find that neither walls nor ceiling remained.

Reaching the fortress, also known as Fortaleza do Monte, in Macau.

After visiting the Ruins of St. Paul, I walked over to Fortaleza do Monte. The fortress was built by the Jesuits and it is strategically located on top of a hill which overlooks all of Macau. The fort played an important role in holding off the Dutch during their attempted invasion of 1622, and today you can still the see the canons lining the fortress’ wall.

An old tree with curving roots located inside Fortaleza do Monte in Macau.

Enjoy a dash of luxury

When it comes to accommodations in Macau, the Cotai Strip is marked by hotels and casinos that ooze luxury. There really isn’t much in terms of budget friendly options, but that being said, it is possible to find reasonably priced rooms for the kind of luxury you will be indulging in at most hotels on the strip.

Room at Sheraton Macau

During my visit I stayed at the Sheraton Macao Hotel courtesy of Asia Rooms. I was immediately blown away by the size of the property the minute I walked through the main doors – the place is massive! This hotel happens to be the largest Sheraton in the world, and it boasts 3,896 guestrooms, as well as 4 different dining venues, 3 outdoor pools, a serene spa, a 24-hour fitness centre, and so much more.

Decor inside Sheraton Macau

The room was very spacious and welcoming in the sense that it had many of the amenities you might find in your own home. There was a tea and coffee making station where you could steep your own cup of English Breakfast or brew a little espresso, there were fuzzy robes and slippers to lounge around in, and there was a large bowl filled with tropical fruits as a nice welcome gesture.

Sheraton Macau Decor

I found the room to be very versatile in terms of the type of traveller it caters to: there was a nice sofa with an ottoman for those who like to read, a large glass desk and excellent Wi-fi for those needing to stay connected for work, and a 42-inch flat screen TV (with English channels!) for those wanting to watch movies after raiding the mini-bar.

Since it rained most of the time I was in Macau, I was a combination of the last two; when I wasn’t out sightseeing in the historic centre or visiting the other hotels on the Cotai Strip, I was in my hotel room enjoying the comfort of my spacious abode.

I also had the opportunity to wander down to Sands Cotai Central, which is attached to the Sheraton Hotel. Sands Cotai Central is a luxury mega-mall were you could easily spend hours staring at everything around you. The complex was a mix of cascading waterfalls and rocky cliffs set amidst high end boutiques selling everything from diamond rings to Prada handbags. And when it came to food, you had a choice between fine dining establishments or a food court type environment where you could have your pick of curries, dim sum, and stir-fry.

Sheraton Macau Decor

Another thing I liked about staying at the Sheraton is that they offered free transportation to all their guests and non-guests. When I first landed at Macau International Airport, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they had a free shuttle bus going directly to my hotel. But not just that, I also learned that they offer free transportation to downtown, the ferry terminal, and a number of other places all over Macau – including the border with mainland China! Not a bad incentive to get more people to visit.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Sheraton in Macau, its size can be a bit intimidating when you first check in. It’s easy to get lost in such a large hotel, so my only suggestion would be to have an attendant walk guests up to the room upon check-in and to perhaps also help with the luggage. Maybe I have just been staying in hotels far too long, but I think small details like these really add to the experience. Aside from that, my stay at this property was wonderful.

Go hotel hopping on the Cotai Strip

A good chunk of my time in Macau was spent exploring all the neighbouring hotels and casinos. That’s right, even if you are not a gambler, these are still worth a visit. Like most hotels in Las Vegas, each of the hotels on the Cotai Strip had a unique angle to draw visitors in.

Venetian-Macau(23)

At The Venetian Macao you could walk around the Piazza San Marco and cruise down their man-made river on a gondola, at the Galaxy Macau you could admire the glittering crystal displays in the lobby, and at City of Dreams you could watch a performance at the Dancing Water Theatre.

Galaxy Hotel and Casino in Macau.

Overall I enjoyed my time in Macau, but I also feel this is the kind of place that can easily be covered in a day or two maximum. The historic centre can be visited in half a day, so your time after that will likely be spent hotel hopping. If you’re thinking of visiting Macau, I’d recommend doing it as a day trip from Hong Kong.

A big thank you to Asia Rooms who arranged my stay as a guest at the Sheraton Macau Hotel. 

Have you been to Macau? What would you recommend doing there?

17 Comments

  • Agness says:

    Thank you Audrey for mentioning us here. That’s so true. Macau is not only about the casinos and gambling. We had a great culinary experience there, met some locals who showed us around the place and we were blown away by the Portuguese influence on architecture and culture of this place. We didn’t even go gambling for the second time as we were too busy exploring the main spots.
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  • Camille says:

    I went on a trip to Macau a few years ago, and was underwhelmed by what I perceived to be a paradise for old Asian men who love to gamble and also love prostitutes (I saw MANY prostitutes, half of which were Russian- which I wouldn’t have expected), BUT since then, one of my very best friends has moved to Macau for work, and from all the things that she has told me of her experience so far, I realize now that I really missed out on all the city has to offer!

    Now I am hoping to go back again someday soon to visit her, and try again to get the REAL Macau experience this time!

    -Camille
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    • Audrey says:

      Maybe they have cleaned Macau up a bit since then, or it could be that I just stuck to the main tourist areas, but I didn’t see much happening in terms of prostitution…although this being Asia’s version of ‘Sin City’, I’m sure it’s still rampant…

  • Sam says:

    I too was surprised by Macau. I just stayed there one night to catch a flight to the Philippines (it was cheaper than from Hong Kong) and that felt like the right amount of time. I’m not a gambler either, but I did manage to get drawn in to playing a few coins on a slot machine, and it was intoxicating with the free drinks…and I’m sure they were pumping extra oxygen into the casino to get you high!
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    • Audrey says:

      Haha, they know how to lure people in! Free booze, bright flashing lights, the sound of a winning slot machine in the background… 😉

  • Claire says:

    I love this! I was recently talking about Macau with my sister and mother; I wanted to go and they both mentioned the gambling as a deterrent. I’m going to have to show them this!
    Claire recently posted..A Short History of the Places I Have Been: Munich, GermanyMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      It’s worth the day trip. Maybe you can try selling them on Hong Kong and then you can just take the ferry from there. 😉

  • I have yet to visit Macau, but I’ve always been curious about it. I wonder if The Venetian Macau is related to The Venetian in Vegas. The Venetian is my dream hotel, and if the one in Macau is connected, then I hope to have the chance to stay at either of these hotels in my future travels!
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    • Audrey says:

      They are related – I have now been to both. 😉 The one in Macau is a lot bigger in comparison to what I remember from my visit to Vegas, but you can ride the gondola in both.

  • Beth says:

    I completely agree that taking a day trip from Hong Kong is more than enough time in Macau.
    Not sure what I would do there if I stayed any longer since the place is so small anyhow!
    Beth recently posted..Travel Tuesdays: Top 5 Things to do in SloveniaMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      After about a day or two you do start running out of things to do; that’s why I spent most of my time hotel hopping. Although I suppose you could always go to the shows.

  • Christie says:

    My husband wants to go to Macau. If he had his way we would probably go for weeks at a time every year. He plays poker professionally and is dying to do a “best poker cities of the world” tour. A friend told me it can be a little sketch in places. As in, keep your wallet close and your guard on. From you description and pictures it doesn’t look threatening.

    Christie

    • Audrey says:

      If he is a professional poker player, then a trip to Macau is definitely in order. 😉 I didn’t find the city to be sketchy or intimidating, but I guess I spent most of my time on the Cotai Strip and in the historic centre. Those two places are very tourist friendly.

  • apol | WanderfulTogether.com says:

    I agree about a day trip in Macau… or maybe overnight just to see the lights at night.
    I haven’t seen how colorful it is at night so I’m looking forward to staying overnight on the next trip and also walking around to see the back streets and alleys.

    I loved the egg tarts and beef jerky and the Portuguese feel of the Senado Square. 😀
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  • Lunaguava says:

    Lovely sum up of what Macau has to offer. I agree it can be easily visited in a day or two. We spent an afternoon there, coming from Hong Kong, and basically hit all the sights you mention above, minus the Sheraton experience 🙂 Our aim was to only explore a bit of the historic center, since we were curious to see how the Portuguese influence was holding up. We did manage to catch a glimpse of the Cotai Strip, but only because I screwed up the directions. Personally, not a fan of casinos: there’s something about them which makes me despair of the human condition. However, Macau is an historically fascinating place, and we enjoyed the bizarre mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture. Oh, and I much prefer the Macanese egg tarts to the Hong Kong ones. I’m biased though (grew up in Portugal). Thank you and safe travels!
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  • Purva says:

    We had such a similar experience in Macau! We also stayed at Sheraton. Sadly, we didn’t enjoy the food very much. We wrote about our experience here: http://www.blueskydreamers.com/holiday-in-macau-whats-hot-whats-not/

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