China’s Las Vegas
Sometimes known as China’s Vegas, Macau is a tiny peninsula and former Portuguese colony that today brings in more than seven times what Las Vegas does.
With gambling illegal in mainland China, the autonomous territory of Macau is where China’s gambling hungry masses go when they want to bet it all on black, roll the dice, or otherwise risk it all.
The demand for Macau hotels became so great that at one point, the city was building them at a rate of more than 16 rooms per day to accommodate the demand!
Macau’s casinos are undoubtedly the largest drawcard of the region, with popular temples to excess including City of Dreams and the world’s largest casino, the Venetian Macao. Between the restaurants, games of chance, and shows – there’s no shortage of things to do in Macau.
But if the glitz and glamour of casinos aren’t for you, is there any reason to visit Macau?
Five Things to do in Macau (Besides Casinos)
Macau’s history as a former Portuguese trade and slaving colony mean that it offers something different to anything you’ll find elsewhere in China.
The first and last European colony in China, Macau’s blend of different architectural styles and cultures make for a charming change of pace even if you don’t venture to the crowded Cotai Strip.
While there are other cities with European influence scattered across China due to the aftermath of the infamous Opium Wars, only in Macau can you see this mix of Portuguese colonial ambition and modern Chinese progress.
Without further ado, here are five things to do in Macau that don’t involve its signature casinos.
#5 – Eat all of the things
The fusion of Portuguese and Chinese culinary styles has led to Macanese cuisine being something totally unique to Macau.
When the wives of Portuguese sailors tried to recreate their favourite flavours from home using local ingredients, local delights such as African chicken, pork chop buns, egg tarts, and almond cake came into being.
Macau’s status as a trade port gave the locals access to exotic spices such as turmeric from India, Piri Piri chilli from Africa, and local flavours such as coconut milk and duck.
It all combines to make Macau something of a foodie destination, and no visit to the tiny pseudo-nation would be complete without devouring some of its signature dishes.
Arguably Macau’s most famous culinary export, egg tarts have become so popular on the mainland that KFC restaurants sell them alongside their usual offerings of fried chicken and burgers.
While both Portugal and China can lay claim to having invented the dish, the Macanese interpretation is a scintillating mix of sweet and savoury that practically melts in your mouth.
Egg tarts are available virtually everywhere in Macau, but for a real treat, head to Lord Stow’s Bakery for the city’s most famous example of the dessert.
Using spices imported from African colonies such as Angola, African chicken is a spicy dish that is hugely popular with locals and visitors alike. Made with Piri Piri chilli poured over butterflied chicken, the dish’s history only stretches back to the 1940s but it has become a staple in Macanese restaurants.
Tender and flavourful, it can be eaten 大盘鸡 (big plate chicken) style or, in more modern establishments, served in wraps or on sandwiches.
Pork Chop Bun
Lying somewhere between a hamburger and a greasy Chinese bao (bun), pork chop bun is a popular snack that serves up a boneless chunk of pork inside a soft white bun that soaks up all of the flavours that fairly oozes from the meat.
There are many contenders for the best pork chop bun in Macau, but the lines outside Tai Lei Loi Kei give some indication as to how popular its buns are.
An example of Macanese home cooking, Minchi is a delicious mess of leftover meat, sauce (usually soy sauce, but sometimes Worcestershire sauce or molasses), rice, and fried egg.
It’s a simple and flavourful dish that is considered by many to be Macau’s national dish.
More appetising than it sounds, sawdust pudding (serradura pudding) is part pudding, part parfait, part tiramisu, and part trifle.
A layered dessert made with crushed biscuit, cream, and condensed milk served in parfait dishes or tumblers, sawdust pudding is a cheap and easy to make dessert with many fans around the world.
The go to souvenir for visitors to Macau, these tiny dry biscuits are made in the Chinese style and flavoured with almond. While they’re not nearly as sweet as traditional cookies or cakes, almond cookies are cheap and easy to transport – making them the perfect ‘I totally didn’t forget about you while I was away’ gift for friends and family.
While they’re not nearly as sweet as traditional cookies or cakes, almond cookies are cheap and easy to transport – making them the perfect ‘I totally didn’t forget about you while I was away’ gift for friends and family.
More Macanese food!
There’s far more to Macanese cuisine than just the dishes listed above, so why not read a hunger inducing Guide to Macanese Food?
#4 – Wander Senado Square
Once the beating heart of Portuguese rule in Macau, Senado Square is today one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions due to the many examples of colonial architecture that line the cobblestone square.
Like so much of Macau, Senado Square is a blurring of the line between Portuguese and Chinese traditions, and it’s an enchanting site to see a bustling Chinese marketplace against the facade of stern colonial buildings.
The nearby St. Dominic’s Church is a great example of Baroque architecture, and for a great view of the street, you might want to consider heading up to the second floor of the Leal Senado Building.
For those looking to haggle for a bargain away from the crowds, the nearby Rua da Tercena is a popular place to hunt for antiques and art.
#3 – Bungee Jump from Macau Tower
From old Macau to new Macau, Macau Tower is a 338m tall tower that defines the Macau skyline and is home to the world’s tallest commercial bungee jump – the AJ Hackett Macau Tower Bungee Jump.
Those brave enough to plunge headfirst off the towering pinnacle plummet from 233 metres and slow down just 30 metres from the ground. You can tackle the bungee jump after dark or even go crazy and bungee jump backwards.
#2 – Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral
The ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral are arguably Macau’s most popular tourist destination. Constructed in 1580, the ill-fated cathedral caught fire in 1592, 1601, and 1835 before it was finally abandoned.
Once the largest Catholic church in all of East Asia, St. Paul’s facade today stands as a haunting testament to the fall of colonial rule in the East.
The nearby Macau Museum and Macau Fortress offer further insights into the peninsula’s fascinating history, and no trip to Macau can be considered complete without having seen it for yourself.
Read more about attractions near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
#1 – Explore Taipa and Coloane
We’ve covered modern Macau’s casinos and old Macau’s colonial sites, but what about everyday life in Macau? Surely it’s not all egg tarts, roulette wheels, and old buildings?
Visitors to Macau wanting a more in-depth look into modern life can visit spots such as Taipa Village and the Coloane district for a window into the real Macau.
Located just south of the Macau peninsula, the rapidly urbanising island of Taipa was once little more than fishing shacks, duck farms, and fireworks factories. These days, Taipa labels itself as ‘authentic Macau’ and is a popular spot for foodies and for those wanting to get a little off the beaten path.
While it’s not without its casinos and its own colonial buildings, Taipa is a little less crowded and over the top than the rest of Macau.
For a real glimpse into Macau’s less glamorous side, sleepy Coloane is where you’ll want to head.
A mixture of gracefully ageing Portuguese buildings and cheerfully coloured laneways, Coloane is a bit of a time capsule valiantly standing against the rapid development that has consumed the sea that once separated it from the mainland.
For those wanting a dip in the South China Sea, Coloane is home to the black sand of Hac Sa Beach as well as the picturesque Cheoc Van Beach.
Intrigued? Things Asian has a great piece of narrative on visiting Taipa and Coloane that’s worth a read.
Have you ever made it to China’s Las Vegas? What were your favourite things to do in Macau?
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