Macau (also spelled Macao, 澳門, Ou3 Mun4 in Cantonese, Àomén in Mandarin) is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. Located across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, until 1999 Macau was an overseas territory of Portugal. The world's most densely populated country, Macau is best known as Asia's largest destination for gambling taking in even more revenue than Las Vegas.
As the first and last European colony in Asia, 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 and Chinese-language signage, that is. The Portuguese population continues to maintain a tiny presence, but almost all of the population is native Chinese.
Besides the city itself, Macau includes the islands of Taipa and Coloane, which are connected to Macau by bridges and to each other by a causeway, now built up into the Cotai Strip. The 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 Hengqin Island, 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.
Macau is subtropical with hot summers and mild winters. Visitors should note that typhoons often strike from mid-summer to Autumn which could stop many activities there. Although winter is generally mild, there are occasional cold fronts which could make temperatures drop 10°C (20°F) in a day.
In the 16th Century, China gave Portugal the right to settle in Macau in exchange for clearing the area of pirates under strict Chinese administration. Macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. It became Portuguese colony effectively after the treaty signed by Qing and Portuguese Government in 1887. 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 for at least fifty years after the transfer of sovereignty and that Macau will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs.
As an SAR, Macau has its own government and police force, passports, visas, postal system and currency.
A Macao Narrative (ISBN 0195920708) 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.
For many years, the usual way to get to Macau was to fly into Hong Kong and take a ferry across to Macau. Today, Macau is becoming a low-cost airline hub, and some are now arriving at Macau to later go to Hong Kong.
Most visitors do not need visas, with many nationalities (most Asians, Europeans, Australians and North/South Americans) being able to obtain visa-free entry (7 days, 30 days, 90 days, 180 days or 1 year depending on nationality); check with the Macau Tourism Office for details. Hong Kong residents may enter using their Identity Card, and may stay continuously for up to a year. For those requiring a visa, it can either be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate or obtained on arrival in Macao (Macao visas are separate from visas valid for travel to Mainland China).
Like Hong Kong, Macau has a separate immigration regime from Mainland China and anyone going to Macau from the mainland is deemed to be leaving China. If you want to re-enter the Mainland from Macau, you'll have to apply for another Chinese visa unless your earlier one is a multiple entry visa.
This is still the main way in which most visitors get to Macau . The main ferry terminal in Macau is the Macau Ferry Terminal (Terminal Maritimo) at the Outer Harbour (Porto Exterior). This is a busy terminal handling most of the sea traffic between Macau and Hong Kong as well as the Chinese ports of Shekou and Shenzhen International Airport. Getting there/away: Buses 1A, 3, 3A, 10, 10A, 10B, 12, 28A, 28B, 28BX, 32 and AP1 run from the ferry terminal. The bus stop is on the main road to the right as you walk out of the building. Pick up a free bus schedule in the tourist information centre in the building. If you are heading straight to a casino or hotel, most of these establishments provide free shuttle buses. They gather to the left of the terminal building; step out of the arrival-level of the building and turn left.
There is a lesser known ferry terminal in Macau, located at Pier No. 11 at the Inner Harbour. This is a new ferry terminal building after its former Pier 14 site was given to developers by the Macau Government. It is very near to the Macau city centre and can be easily reached on foot. This terminal mostly services boats to Shenzhen, Jiangmen and Wanzai across the Inner Harbour in Zhuhai.
A third temporary ferry service serves Taipa, Cotai and Coloane connecting to Hong Kong. The Taipa Temporary Ferry Terminal is adjacent the Ponte da Amizade Friendship Bridge on Estrada de Pac On, and is served by bus AP1 from the city to the airport, but not the other way around (unless you go around the entire loop). There is also a free shuttle bus to the Venetian. A larger permanent ferry terminal is being constructed between the temporary terminal and the Macau International Airport, scheduled for completion in 2010.
Ferries to Macau operate from several points in Hong Kong, including the Hong Kong International Airport where you can bypass Hong Kong Immigration and transfer directly into a ferry to Macau.
The price of ferry tickets differ based on the time and day of the week of the ride. Ferry departures at night (between 6PM and 6AM) and on weekends are more expensive.
Especially at the HK Macau Ferry Terminal, keep an eye out for ticket touts. Some offices here resell legit bulk tickets at a small discount, but an altogether slimier species sells unused tickets for ferries that are about to leave — you may catch them if you run, but will be out of luck (and money) if you don't. A few touts even pose as "inspectors" and, with practiced sleight of hand, swap your ticket. Don't let anybody not in uniform take your ticket!
Several ferry companies run to Macau from mainland ports including, Shekou (in Shenzhen) and Fu Yong Ferry Terminal (next to Shenzhen Airport).
A more frequent and cheaper option is to catch a ferry to/from Zhuhai's Jiuzhou Port, which is only a few kilometers from the Macau-Zhuhai border. Take a short taxi ride (¥10) or a No. 4 bus from the border crossing to the ferry terminal. The bus ride should be included in your ferry ticket. Ferries from Shenzhen Shekou Port to Zhuhai run every 30 minutes. ¥90.
There are two vehicular entry points into Macau from China. They are the Portas do Cerco (關閘 Guan Chap in Cantonese, Guanzha in Mandarin) at the extreme north of Macau Peninsula which connects you to Gongbei in Zhuhai, and the Lotus Bridge (officially the Cotai Frontier Checkpoint) which links the Cotai Strip with the Wanzai district of Zhuhai.
You can only enter if your vehicle (cars only, no motorcycles) has both Macau and mainland China number plates and the driver carries both Macau and China driver's licenses. Note that you have to switch sides of the road; mainland China drives on the right, Macau on the left.
You can take the coach from Guangzhou. The trip takes about 2 hours and costs around ¥70.
There is also a direct coach from Shenzhen airport and also Shenzhen long distance bus station. The trip from Shenzhen is about 3 hours.
There is also a direct coach from Dongguan city (in Guangdong province) to Macau Airport. The trip takes about 3 hours and costs around ¥100.
You can also get a bus from either place to Gongbei bus station in Zhuhai. That puts you right across the street from the border facilities so you can walk to Macau (see next section). This can save you a bit of money; the bus is about the same price either way, but food and hotels are cheaper in Zhuhai.
Macau International Airport (MFM) is off the shore of Taipa Island. It has basic facilities and a couple of aerobridges, but it is possible that you will park on the tarmac and take a bus to the terminal.
Macau's home carriers is Air Macau . While nowhere nearly as well served as Hong Kong, the airport is popular among low-cost airlines thanks to its low landing fees. AirAsia flies to Macau from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Penang and Bangkok while Tiger and Jetstar serve Singapore, Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines serve Manila and Clark, Thai AirAsia flies to Bangkok. Mandala Airlines connects Macau and Jakarta.
Bus AP1 plies a route between the airport and the Barrier Gate. Its route passes through several points on Taipa Island, and it stops at the ferry terminal on the peninsula on the way. It costs $4.20 per passenger, $3 per bag. It has limited provision for baggage, and can be very crowded (you may not even get the first bus to arrive). Change at the ferry terminal for other destinations, the frequent number 3 bus runs from the ferry terminal and passes the Lisboa, Landmark Hotel, and Holiday Inn, or catch one of the hotel/casino shuttles which go the ferry terminal. The buses do not give change, but there is a currency exchange just inside the terminal that will change foreign currency into low denomination MOP.
Alternatively, take a metered taxi straight to your destination, but there's a $5 airport surcharge plus $2 for the bridge and $3 per bag. Fares to the city center are around $40-50, the trip taking 15-20 minutes.
If you are bound for Hong Kong, Zhuhai or Shenzhen, you can use the airport's Express Link special bus service to connect directly to the ferry or the Zhuhai border without passing through Macau immigration. However, the bus schedule is limited (11AM-6PM only), which limits the utility somewhat; depending on your flight, if you don't need a visa for Macau, it may well be faster to go through immigration twice. If you have a same-day ticket, you can also use this service in the return direction to transfer directly to the airport.
Connections to mainland China are limited, with service only to Shanghai and Beijing (as of 2009). It is usually cheaper to fly to Zhuhai and cross the border by land as flights between Macau and the mainland are considered to be international flights.
You can cross from mainland China to Macau on foot at the Portas do Cerco (Barrier Gate) crossings at the extreme north of Macau Peninsula. In fact, thousands of Macau and Chinese citizens do it daily, making it an horrendously busy crossing. Depending on the time and day of the week, expect long waits to get processed. The crossing on the Chinese side is called Gongbei. Getting there/away: The massive underground Portas do Cerco bus terminal is beneath the pretty garden in front of the border checkpoint plaza. You'll be able to find buses to most parts of Macau, including Taipa, Coloane and the Cotai Strip from here. From downtown Macau by taxi, the border is about 10 minutes and $30.
As most people crossing the Barrier Gate are either mainland or Macau residents, foreign passport holders may get a short queue at the Zhuhai immigration clearance as they do not pass through the same counters as Chinese nationals. However, Macau's immigration divides entrants only into Macau residents and visitors, without further differentiation, and foreigners have to queue with an overwhelming number of mainland residents.
There are money changers at the Barrier Gate that give very good rates so you can change your money into Chinese renminbi before crossing the customs.
Although you are not allowed to walk on the Lotus Bridge between Wanzai and Cotai, you can board a bus to cross it.
The Sky Shuttle helicopter service operates every 15-30 minutes between Macau's Terminal Maritimo and the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in Hong Kong, as well as five times a day to/from Shenzhen airport. The trip takes just 16 minutes, but weekday/weekend tickets cost a whopping HK$2200/2400 one-way.
This is arguably the best way to get around the Macau Peninsula, which is small, compact and full of things to discover. Many roads are also one way so there is quite a chance that it won't be slower than to take road transport which may need to make a long loop to reach the destination. Most streets have a pedestrian sidewalk making walking easy, although you will have to fight the crowds going in all directions. Traffic rules are not very well adhered to, so ensure that you look both ways before crossing. In and around the Senado Square, the pavements will be made of hand-laid limestone pieces made into simple designs, something that will surely catch your attention. Macau is also hilly, be prepared to struggle up and down steep lanes and steps.
Especially in the old city, the city streets do not seem to run in any particular pattern and you'll most likely get lost at some stage, which is part of the fun of exploring Macau.
Don't bother trying to get around the Cotai area on foot though, as the huge long streets with nothing much on them except the outside edge of new hotels and giant building sites will eat up time you could better spend elsewhere in Macau.
Macau and its districts are served by two bus companies - Transportes Urbanos Macau (Transmac) and Sociedade de Transportes Colectivos de Macau (TCM) . Both bus systems can be difficult to use. It is often difficult to gauge which direction the bus is heading and the routes through the city center are very curvy, making a long ride out of a short distance. Bus drivers usually only speak Cantonese, very little English or Mandarin and certainly no Portuguese at all. Most bus stops contain no English, although you can sometimes figure out the destination from Portuguese words.
There is a flat fare of $3.20 for rides within the Macau Peninsula, $4.20 between the Peninsular and Taipa, $5 between the Peninsula and Coloane village; and $6.40 between the Peninsula and Hác Sá (Coloane). But like the buses in Hong Kong, your fare goes according to the bus stop you board, not by the length of the journey. Fare are displayed next to the fare box, so get your destinations written in Chinese if you need to tell them where you're going. You need the exact fare as drivers do not give change . Macaupass, a debit card similar to Hong Kong's Octopus Card system, is now widely used by Macau citizens as it provide discounts on paying bus fare. However, it may be hard to purchase one as the distribution points are limited. Buses accept Hong Kong coins (except the $10 Hong Kong coin).
If you've got more time than money on your hands, you can travel around Macau for free simply by hopping on and off the complimentary shuttle buses operated by all major casinos and hotels. Virtually all serve the Terminal Maritimo, with buses every 10 to 30 minutes, while the big boys (Venetian, Wynn, City of Dreams, etc) also shuttle to the Barrier Gate, the Taipa Ferry Terminal and the airport. The buses to Hotel Lisboa, for example, drop you off just a few blocks from Largo do Senado. You generally have to be at least 18 years old to use them, and you may have to get a ticket from the casino itself in order to leave the casino by shuttle.
Taxis are affordable. Starting from September 2008, taxi fares start at $13. Largo do Senado to the border is about $40. 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.
It is a good idea to have your destination written in Chinese as most taxi drivers do not speak anything but Cantonese. Some of them may speak a little Mandarin or English, though it is not wise to count on your luck, and almost none speak Portuguese. Most taxi drivers carry with them a list of casinos and other important places, so in case there's a communication gap, just look for it on the sunguard of the front passenger seat. Should you leave from a casino/hotel, a bilingual English/Cantonese speaking employee will generally be there to tell the cab driver where you want to go.
Like in Hong Kong, every bag placed in the boot of the taxi will have an additional surcharge.
Many taxi drivers are off duty at Sundays and use their cars privately. Those taxis have a red sign in the front window. Expect some waiting for a free taxi on Sundays.
As in Hong Kong, cycle rickshaws (triciclo or riquexó) are a dying breed, although a few still lurk around tourist haunts like the ferry terminal and Hotel Lisboa. Prices are negotiable, but a few hours of city touring by triciclo might cost around $200.
Car rental is not a popular option in Macau given the territory's high population density and small size. Avis provides car rental services in Macau and you have the option of renting the car with or without a driver. Roads are generally well maintained and directional signs are in both Chinese and Portuguese. Unlike in mainland China, international driving permits (IDP's) are accepted in Macau, and traffic moves on the left side of the road with most cars being right-hand drive (largely due to influences from neighbouring Hong Kong).
If you wish to drive a mainland China, your vehicle must have a second set of number plates issued by the Guangdong authorities, and you would need to carry an additional Mainland license, as the Chinese government does not recognise Hong Kong, Macau or foreign licenses. You would also need to change sides of the road at the border.
Although best known for gambling, Macau is extremely rich in attractions and oozing with atmosphere, thanks to hundreds of years of fusion between European and Chinese cultures.
Macau is a fascinating place to just walk around as the place is packed with churches, temples, fortresses and other old buildings bearing an interesting mix of Portuguese and Chinese characteristics. Besides buildings, there are also hundreds of narrow alleyways forming a maze in the old part of Macau where the people of Macau carry out businesses and work. If the sheer density of humans get to you, take a break and enjoy several pretty gardens or head to the island.
One of the interesting things to see in Macau is a statue of the Bodhisatta Avalokitesvara (known as 觀音 kwoon yam in Cantonese) located next to the sea near the Sands Casino and MGM Grand. Despite being a Chinese deity, the statue is distinctly European in design and resembles the statues of the Virgin Mary you can find in Europe.
And if history is not your thing, there is the Macau Tower of awesome views and adventure sports, or Fisherman's Wharf to enjoy some theme-park activities and shopping.
You'll find most of the attractions in Macau Peninsula, but Taipa and Coloane, each with a pretty village, also draw hordes of visitors. Visit the Cotai reclaimed land area to see its transformation into the "Las Vegas Strip of the East". The Venetian is the most famous with its Venice-styled shopping mall with rivers running through, and is also currently the largest casino in the world.
The City of Dreams is a giant casino with high end fashion shops, a free video 'bubble' show, three hotels and the world's most expensive theatre show. The 'House of Dancing Water' cost US$250 million and the stage holds five olympic swimming pools worth of water. Ushers give the front few rows of the audience towels. Free shuttles from the main ferry terminal leave constantly.
A large section of Macau Peninsula has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site and 25 buildings and sites within the area have been deemed to have cultural and historic significance. One of the best ways to cover the sights is to do the Macau Heritage Walk circuit.
Taipa Village and Coloane Village, previously inhabited by fishermen, are also interesting with their colonial-era shops and houses along narrow lanes.
Macau has several museums. The "Macau Museum Pass", which gives discounted entry to most of these, is currently off the market. The main museums, such as the Macau Museum, are in Macau Peninsula although there are two museums on Taipa - the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History and Taipa Houses Museum.
Vong or Wong?
One of the oddities of Macau is that some Cantonese names and words that are pronounced with what in English is a "W" sound, and that in Hong Kong are transliterated with a "W", are transliterated with a "V" instead, such as in Cheoc Van (which in Hong Kong would be Cheok Wan). This can also be seen in the surname Vong (in Hong Kong Wong). No doubt Portuguese pronunciation has had an influence on this choice of transliteration. To complicate things further, this has not been done consistently so there are both Vongs and Wongs in Macau - both written with the same Chinese character.
Cantonese is the most commonly spoken language of Macau (88%, 2001 census). Mandarin is spoken by some of the well-educated upper class as well as staff working at major hotels and tourist attractions. However, don't expect your average local in the street to be able to speak Mandarin, though many are able to comprehend it to some degree.
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 and bus drivers, so be sure to have your hotel name in Chinese with you if you travel on your own, and have a good bus route map.
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 helps some.
All official signs in Macau are bilingual in traditional Chinese and Portuguese. Note that under the "one country two systems" policy, Macau continues to use traditional Chinese characters and not the simplified Chinese characters used in Mainland China.
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. 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. Nevertheless, the original Casino Lisboa is still worth a visit as its halls contain many original antiques on display from the private collection of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho.
Most casinos are located along the waterfront on the southern side of Macau Peninsula. 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. New casinos have also opened in the area called NAPE south of Avenida de Amizade, including Wynn Macau and Sands Macau.
All this is going to be overtaken by the new development on the Cotai Strip, which is being made into "The Las Vegas Strip of the East". The biggest casino in the world, Venetian Macao, opened its doors in August 2007 and the not-much-smaller City of Dreams followed in 2009, with many more still to come. There are also several casinos on Taipa, including the Crown Macau.
There are ATMs 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.
For the full listing of casinos, see the respective district pages.
Another popular form of gambling in Macau is greyhound racing, where people bet on dogs in the same way that many people in other countries bet on horses. The minimum bet is 10 patacas and payouts can be made in both Macanese Patacas and Hong Kong Dollars.
Canidrome is your spot fo great Greyhound racing. It is located on Avenida General Castelo Branco. Greyhound races are held at Canidrome on Monday, Thursday and Friday plus weekends - racing starts at 7:45PM with 16 games each night.
$10 admission fee (redeemable when betting) to get in. Box seats are $80 for non-peak days and $120 for weekends and holidays. There is off-track-betting available for Canidrome at Jai-Alai Palace, Hotel Lisboa and Kam Pek Casino.
KARTODROMO DE COLOANE, MACAU There is a go-kart track on the southern end of Cotai.
At a height of 233m, the bungy jump from Macau tower, maintained and operated by A. J. Hackett is the highest in the world. Along with the bungy, one can also try the Sky jump, that is somewhat like a jump but is more protected and doesn't involve a free fall, and a sky walk, that is a protected on a platform running around the circumference of the floor. Bouldering and sport climbing activities are also conducted at the tower's base. See the Macau Peninsula page for details.
Macau's two beaches - Hac Sa (黑沙 - black sand) and Cheoc Van (竹灣 - bamboo bay) - are located on the southern side of Coloane island. They are very popular and are frequented by locals and visitors, especially at the weekend.
Besides beaches, there are several public swimming pools all over Macau. All high-end hotels also have swimming pools.
There are opportunities for hiking and cycling on the relatively rural islands of Taipa and Coloane.
There is a bowling centre of international standard which was constructed in 2005 for the East Asian Games at the Macau Dome (澳門蛋) in Cotai area. There is also a bowling alley in Macau near the Camoes Garden/Protestant cemetery.
The currency of Macau is the pataca (MOP), which is divided into 100 avos. Prices are shown as $10, for example (10 patacas).
The pataca is pegged to the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD). Hong Kong dollars are accepted by most businesses on a 1:1 basis, but most businesses will endeavour to give you change in HKD if you pay in HKD, if they have them. Occasionally, however, a business might give change in MOP notes and HKD coins or the other way around. The HK$10 coin may not be accepted because of numerous recent forgeries. Chinese renminbi (RMB, less often CNY) are also accepted in some areas and can easily be changed for either patacas or HKD. In casinos, the HKD is the preferred currency, and gamers with patacas may actually be required to exchange to HKD (or HKD-denominated casino chips) before playing. Transactions made at government offices though will require you to pay in 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 accounts. ATMs usually dispense in MOP (100 and 500 bills) and HKD (100 and 500 as well) and some will also dispense in Chinese currency.
Changing your currency into patacas outside of Macau is just about impossible and pointless. Change enough HKD to tide you over, and then change the rest into patacas after arriving. The money changers at the Barrier Gate provide good exchange rates, and you can also change the HKD you are holding into patacas.
On the other hand, try not to leave Macau with a lot of patacas. Unlike the HKD, they are quite hard to exchange in most countries. Even if you try to exchange them in Hong Kong, money changers may charge high commission thus giving you fewer HKDs than for what the MOP is worth.
Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely accepted in major restaurants, stores and the ferry terminal but some merchants may require a token minimum purchase amount, usually $100.
Tipping is generally not practised, though bellhops may expect about $10 or so for carrying your bags. In full service restaurants, a service charge is usually imposed and that is taken to be the tip. However, you should know that the 10% service charge does not go to the actual people who served you, rather it is used by the owners to pay the salaries of said employees. If you wish to give a tip, you should give it in cash directly to the person you wish to reward for their good service. Taxi drivers also do not expect tips, and would return exact change, or round it in your favour if they can't be bothered to dig for change.
Quite frankly, the shopping options in Macau don't hold a candle to Hong Kong. While the newer megacasinos have introduced Macau to the joys of sterile franchise-filled malls, the city center streets around the older casinos are still a bizarre monoculture of ridiculously expensive watch, jewelry and Chinese medicine shops (with an emphasis on herbal Viagra-type cures), all aimed squarely at liberating lucky gamblers from their winnings. Finding tasteful souvenirs can thus be surprisingly challenging, although the touristy streets between Largo do Senado and the ruins of St. Paul's do have a scattering of antique shops.
Bargaining in the small shops can be done, but usually working on the principle of the shopkeeper quoting a price, the buyer making "hmmm" sounds and the shopkeeper lowering the price a bit. A full-fledged haggling match is quite rare, as most antique shops sell precisely the same thing at precisely the same prices.
Macau is famous for excellent restaurants, unique cuisine and mellow bars. Above all, the city is famous for two cuisines: Portuguese and Macanese.
Portuguese food (cozinha portuguesa), brought in by its Portuguese colonizers, is hearty, salty, straighforward fare. While many restaurants claim to serve the stuff, fully authentic fare is mostly limited to a few high-end restaurants, especially the cluster at the southwestern tip of the Peninsula. Typical Portuguese dishes include:
Macanese food (comida de Macau) was created when Portuguese and Chinese influences were mixed together with spices brought from Africa and South-East Asia by traders, and many restaurants advertising "Portuguese" food in fact serve up mostly Macanese dishes. Seafood and barbecue specialist Fernando's on Tapa's Hac Sa Beach is probably the best-known Macanese restaurant.
All that said, the food of choice in Macau is still pure Cantonese, and a few aficionados even claim that the dim sum and seafood here beat Hong Kong. The streets of central Macau are littered with simple eateries offering rice and noodle dishes for under $30 (although menus are often only in Chinese), while every casino hotel worth its salt has a fancy Cantonese seafood restaurant where you can blow away your gambling winnings on abalone and shark's fin soup.
The greatest concentration of restaurants is in the Peninsula, where they are scattered throughout the district. Taipa is now a major destination for those going for Portuguese and Macanese food and there are many famous restaurants on the island. There are several restaurants in Coloane, which is also home to the famous Lord Stow's Bakery, which popularized the Macanese egg tart. Yummy!
Reasonably priced Portuguese wine is widely available. A glass in a restaurant is around $20, while bottles start from under $100, and a crisp glass of vinho verde ("green wine", but actually just a young white) goes very well with salty Macanese food. As elsewhere in China, though, locals tend to prefer cognacs and whisky. Macau Beer is passable and widely available.
Nightlife is not as big as westerners might expect. There are a few clubs with western style. For locals, though, the main form of entertainment is "saunas", which are thinly disguised brothels (prostitution is legal in Macau) and can be found in virtually every hotel, particularly on the Peninsula. Steam baths without such services are called "Spas".
The bulk of Macau's hotels are on the Peninsula although are also many options, including high-end ones, on Taipa and increasingly, the Cotai Strip as that area challenges to become Macau's premier casino area. Coloane, which offers fewer and much quieter options, has accommodation ranging from the famous Pousada de Coloane to Macau's two beach-side youth hostels.
Hotel rates are most expensive on Friday and Saturday nights, because demand is higher with tourists coming to Macau to gamble over the weekend. 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.
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, and most hotel "saunas" are in fact thinly disguised brothels.
Hotel listings are in the individual district pages. 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.
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 plaguing 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:
The typhoon warning system is basically a copy of the system used in Hong Kong.
During a number 8, 9 or 10 typhoon everything in Macau shuts down. 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 which you are also recommended to do so.
Because of the region's history battling SARS (as well as later dealing with avian flu (H5N1)), good personal hygiene is strongly advisable.
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.
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.
Macau's international dialing prefix is 853.
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.
Chinoy Express, Rua De Mercadores. A cheap and fast internet cafe ($5/hr) right near Rua De Felicidade. Serves cheap snacks and right across the road is a Filipino bakery with cheap and tasty breads and very large bottles of San Miguel ($6).
Macau has excellent mobile phone coverage. Macau has both GSM 900/1800 and 3G 2100 networks. Check with your operator. Phone plans stemming from the Mainland require proper set-up for use outside of the Mainland.