Macau was a colony of Portugal until it was returned to China in 1999. The architecture, food, and written and spoken language is a wild mix of Portuguese and Chinese culture. With the mega-casinos it’s sometimes easy to think you’re in Las Vegas.
Macau is definitely worth the visit but unless you’re there to gamble, it’s a place that can be covered in a day or two without feeling like you didn’t have enough time. It would make a great day trip if you’re looking for more variety while in Hong Kong.
There are three neighborhoods generally of interest to visitors. Cotai Strip is on Taipa Island and houses most of the the mega-casinos, with little else. A short walk away, still on Taipa Island, Taipa Village is a cute old neighborhood full of shopping and food options. Across the water, a 20 minute cab ride, is the Macau Peninsula (sometimes called Old Town) which holds all the UNESCO World Heritage sites, a few casino hotels, and most of the locals. We stayed there, and would again as it’s central, cultured, and walkable. Gamblers, however, will like Cotai Strip better.
If you’re looking for where the locals eat, this is it. If we stayed in Macau longer we would have come back for seconds, maybe even thirds.
They’re known for their Nam Peng sandwich. For about $3 you get egg and char siu pork in some of the fluffiest white bread I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately we were there too early to try one of their egg tarts so we ordered a sugar egg puff instead. My mistake was comparing it to a malasada (a Portuguese donut that is popular in Hawai’i) because it didn’t compare. It was still a nice, inexpensive, treat to hold us over until our sandwich arrived.
Area: Old Town
Everything about Koi Kei Bakery is a YES. There are a handful of locations but of all that we came across (in casinos, train stations, and the airport), the Koi Kei branch in Taipa Village was the best. They boast selling over 300 products with free samples of their most popular items–cookies and meat jerky. Kyle and I sampled almost every single cookie they had out. His favorite was their famous almond cookie with whole almonds while I circled around for another sample of their walnut cookie.
They sell cute gift sets to take home or to give away. Knowing that there were many other locations selling their cookies, we choose to buy cookies later in the day at a train station. The small shop at the train station sold cookies in smaller quantities (perfect for us since we were traveling with one, full, backpack each). We bought a pack of 16 cookies for us and another for Kyle to share at work for about $2.50 USD each.
We couldn’t resist trying their sheets of meat jerky. Literally sheets of boar, beef, pork fillet seasoned with sesame seeds, abalone sauce, spices, and more. We didn’t quite understand the quantity (could you buy a part of the sheet or did you have to buy the whole sheet?) or the pricing (was the price on the sign a flat price per sheet or a price per weight?). I can tell you this–we bought a sheet of their spicy beef, had them cut it into smaller pieces, and it cost us around $12 USD. They seal it in a ziploc bag and let us know it’s good for about seven days but needs to be refrigerated. It was a delicious, sticky, snack to take along with us as we traveled to Hong Kong.
Area: Multiple Locations (Tapia, Cotai Strip, & Old Town)
In the short time that we’ve lived abroad I’ve learned that most times that I am surprised, or disappointed, by a product it’s because i didn’t I didn’t read what was in plain English in front of me. In my pre-trip research to Macau I kept hearing about pork buns. In my head I imagined delicious char siu in a steam bun. Again, I was falling back on popular foods in Hawai’i and thought of an open faced manapua.
We visited Sei Kee Cafe for their highly rated pork bun. The staff was very friendly, knowing that we did not speak Cantonese, made the ordering and “hearing our number” process very easy. After a 10-15 minute wait, our hot, fresh pork buns were ready. The pork is a pork chop, the bun is a toasted hamburger bun, there was no sauce, and it was huge! I was instantly disappointed that it wasn’t the char siu in a steam bun that I had been craving. I am embarrassed to admit that looking back at our Google Sheets notes for our Macau trip and Googling “pork bun Macau” everything comes up as “pork chop bun,” I had just chosen not to see it clearly.
Kyle enjoyed the pork chop bun, though, and he happily ate it as I popped in and out of shops looking for souvenirs.
Area: Taipa Village
Google “must eats Macau” and Portuguese egg tarts certainly will top the lists, specifically Lord Stow’s version. We got to the Taipa Village location around 1:45PM and there was no line. You may want to sit while you’re eating this because it’s “knock you off your feet” good. Biting into the caramelized burnt sugar topping, the buttery, flakey crust, and the creamy egginess was heaven. I couldn’t stop asking Kyle, after every bite, if he could believe how good it was.
They do not have napkins which has been common for us in Thailand, so you may want to have a tissue on hand. The egg tarts come in little paper bags but the butter does come through.
Around $1.50 USD each
Area: Multiple Locations (Tapia, Cotai Strip)
We stayed at the Hotel Lisboa and wanted to try their buffet (I love Las Vegas buffets) so this was an easy choice. For around $35 USD, we had our fill, and then some. There was a sushi station where you could also order sashimi, a live station in which you check off items you want freshly BBQ for you (i.e. squid, vegetables), tempura, dim sum, a seafood station with whole crab, mussels, sea snails, shrimp cocktail, and much more.
After a few platefuls, we moved on to the dessert station. I always grab a full sized dinner plate for desserts. This isn’t amateur hour. Everything was delicious and sure to put you in a sugar coma.
A drink is included in the price which includes tea, soda, or beer.
Area: Old Town
This was the first of our Macau UNESCO World Heritage stops. Located in the center of Senado Square. St. Domingo’s is a charming Baroque style church, influenced by both Portuguese and Spanish styles, painted in pastel yellow. You can go inside (no charge) and view the religious artwork on the various floors.
For an unobstructed picture, go early as Senado Square fills up!
Area: Old Town
A short walk from the Nam Peng Cafe, the St. Paul Ruins is one of best-known landmarks in Macau and our second UNESCO World Heritage Site attraction of the day. In 1637 it was the largest Catholic Church in East Asia. The church caught fire three times over it’s years and the facade is the only part that survived. Bring a piece of paper–you can get a free stamp at the information booth located “inside” (similar to National Park Passport stamps).
Area: Old Town
Our third UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monte Fort is just a few steps from the St. Paul Ruins. It was built by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1625 to protect them, especially, from pirates. With a 360 view of Macau city and the bay, it’s a great place to get some pictures. The Macau Musuem is located within the Fort but with our limited time, we skipped it.
Area: Old Town
Taipa Village is an island in Macau, formerly home to local fisherman. Wear comfortable shoes as Taipa Village still has cobblestones and a lot of browsing (or shopping) to do! It’s close to the Cotai Strip.
Area: Taipa Island
We took the short taxi ride back to Macau to check out the casinos. Macau is known as the “Gambling capital of the world” with gambling making up 50% of Macau’s economy (Wikipedia). More gambling revenue is made in Macau then in Las Vegas. You can find the Venetian, MGM, Parisian, and Wynn hotels which look very similar to the ones on the Las Vegas strip although, in my opinion, they are not nearly as grand. Las Vegas still offers more glitz, glamour, and perhaps, gaudiness, that has not yet reached Macau.
Kyle and I are not gamblers so we took our time walking through the Venetian. Everything was nicely decorated for Christmas which always lifts my holiday spirits. Just like their sister hotel in Las Vegas, there was a gondola ride and we listened to the gondolier serenade his riders.
The largest and newest casinos are on the Cotai strip, while some are in Old Town.
Area: Multiple Locations (Cotai Strip & Old Town)
After dinner we walked across the street to the Wynn hotel to watch one of the three minute water shows (similar to the Bellagio in Las Vegas). Modern US pop music played outside and the water show, which happens every 15 minutes, danced along.
From there, we walked to the Grand Lisboa Hotel to check out their neon lights and pop into their lobby. We were immediately gobsmacked by a massive Monkey King carving from a mammoth ivory tusk. Similar to our smaller Lisboa hotel, walking into the lobby was like walking into a museum with giant jade carvings and crystal chandeliers. It was a nice way to end our evening.
Area: Multiple Locations (Cotai Strip & Old Town)
There were some families visting Macau while we were there, mostly in the Taipa area. Since gambling is the number one priority for most visitors, there doesn’t seem to be many youth oriented activities available. Or, at least from what we saw.
Our hotel offered a free shuttle to the Ferry Terminal. We purchased Economy Turbo Jet tickets ($175 HK/$22.38 US) which departs every 15 minutes between 7:00-23:59. Board early as assigned seats are given out as first come first served.
The journey from Macau (Outer) to Hong Kong is about 55 minutes. While there isn’t much of a view, our ride was fairly smooth (it can get choppy so it’s required to wear a seat belt) and you can purchase food and beverages on the boat.
Area: Multiple Locations, depending on route (Tapia & Old Town)
Macau International Airport (MFM) is on Taipa Island. Macau is small enough that the airport is central to all neighborhoods.
There is a taxi queue outside of the airport and all taxis are metered–no need for bargaining! We had read that tipping in Macau exists but not to the extent as it does in the US. For our cab drivers, we rounded to the nearest dollar for a tip.
Taxis were not hard to find around Macau, they have specific signed corners they wait in for new fares. Simply walk a few blocks in any direction to find them.
ATMs lets you choose between Macau Pataca or Hong Kong dollars. If you plan on going to Hong Kong like we did, choose Hong Kong dollars. It can be used in both Macau or Hong Kong whereas Pataca can only be used in Macau.
ATMs were plentiful and easy to find.
Credit cards were taken on a limited basis. Like most places in Asia, less so at local spots and more so at tourist shops and casinos.