Bright lights, poker chips, and gondoliers are all part of the reason most people come to Macau. It’s a city that has become famous for its casinos. But there is life beyond the slot machines.
Macau has a rich Portuguese past, its very own blend of Macanese culture and can claim to be the original city in Asia where East meets West. Below we’ve picked some of the more offbeat things to do in Macau – from a hidden museum commemorating the not so swinging sixties in Macau to the lesser known Bamboo Bay beach.
Explore at an Iberian Pace in the St Lazarus District
Yes, there are the big hitters like the Ruins of St Paul’s and Senado Square to tick off your list, but the best place to get a sense of Portuguese Macau is in the St Lazarus District. The cobblestoned streets, pastel-painted houses, and quiet courtyards give these dozen alleys their very own colonial atmosphere. The centerpiece is the wonderfully preserved St Lazarus church, while cafes and restaurants use the cobblestones to good effect for al fresco dining.
Where: Start at St Lazarus Church, Rua de Joao de Almeida.
Sit at the Table Where the First China-america Trade Pact Was Signed
That’s right, hidden away in the back garden of the Kun Iam Temple is where the first trade deal between the two soon to be superpowers was inked in 1844. Today, you can still see the stone table and chairs where the plenipotentiaries sat to start a relationship that is now shaping the world.
Where: Avendia do Coronel Mesquita
Step Inside an Imperial Mandarin's House
Portuguese architecture tends to steal the show in Macau, but there are some fantastic examples of Chinese architecture as well. The Mandarin's House is probably the most impressive. Built in the late 19th century in imperial style, the Mandarin’s House is a mini estate of buildings set out along several courtyards. The wooden lattice windows, timbered ceilings, and mother of pearl screens look like they are straight from the set of your favorite kung-fu movie.
Where: No.10 Travessa de Antonio da Silva
Load up on Local Gifts at the Macau Design Centre
Unlike near-neighbour Hong Kong, Macau isn’t really a shopping destination – unless you want to pay too much for fancy handbags and jewels inside the newly minted boutiques at each casino. Instead, try the Macau Design Centre for gifts created by local artists. On the ground floor, you’ll find a collection of startups selling their latest designs – everything from wallets to T-Shirts. The rooftop, meanwhile, often plays host to exhibitions and an outdoor cinema.
Where: No.5 Travessa da Fabrica
Stretch Out on the Sand of Bamboo Bay Beach
It’s Black Sand Beach (Hac Sa) that gets all the attention – and the crowds. Instead, escape the hordes at Bamboo Bay beach (Cheoc Van). You’ll find a neat stretch of sand and a large outdoor swimming pool where you can take a dip when the South China Sea is a bit chilly.
Where: Escadaria Praia de Cheoc Van
Barter at the Bustle of the Red Market
For something more traditional head to the Red Market, Macau’s oldest. Built in 1934 this grand building has been hosting sellers since the day when the doors first swung open. Today, the focus is on food and produce, while the streets around are filled with flower sellers and mom and pop sized electronic stores.
Where: Avenida Almirante Lacerdal
Explore Carmel Gardens
There are half a dozen prim and proper European style gardens to wander in Macau but Carmel Garden enjoys the best location. Set on a hill overlooking Taipa and the South China Sea, you’ll find beautifully executed beds of flowers, vine-covered gazebos and plenty of benches to rest on away from the bright lights of the casino.
Where: Avenida de Carlos da Maia
Taste Macanese food at A Lorcha
You’ll find the influence of Portugal in the architecture, the culture and the dinner table in Macau. Macanese cuisine is a fusion of Portuguese spices and Cantonese ingredients. The national dish is Minchi, a mix of minced beef or pork cooked with potatoes, onions, soy sauce and occasionally an egg. There are plenty of Macanese restaurants to choose from in Macau, but many people rate A Lorcha as the best.
Where: No. 289A Rua do Almirante Sergio
Sample a Few Vintages at the Wine Museum
The Portuguese influence in Macau goes beyond the dinner table. You’ll also find it in the local taste for fine wines. Nowhere in Asia has such a long and distinguished culture of serving up grand reds or classic vinho verde. Explore Macau’s history in the wine trade with the somewhat dusty exhibitions at the Wine Museum – made more enjoyable by the tasting of a glass or two of the good stuff at the end of your tour. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see some traditional Fado music.
Where: No.431 Rua Luis Gonzaga Gomes
See the Handover Gifts Museum of Macau
Wonder how the regions of China marked the return of Macau to China? Wonder no more. The handover gifts museum of Macau was built on the site of the handover ceremony of the then colony from Portugal to China and now houses all the gifts given by China’s 56 regions to mark the occasion. You’ll find silk embroidery, calligraphy, and fancy looking vases.
Where: Avendia Xian Xing Hai
Try Some Traditional Tea Making at the Macau Tea Culture House
Tea making means more to the Cantonese than dipping a tea bag in some hot water. Ignore the collection of teapots at the Macau Tea Culture House and head here on Saturdays and Sundays when they give an exhibition of traditional Chinese tea making skills. Be sure to check ahead of time to find out what time the tea tastings are being held.
Where: Lou Lim Leoc Garden.
Uncover the Macanese Past at G32 Gallery
While much attention is lavished on Macau’s colonial past and the return to China, the decades in between are a bit of mystery. Fill in the blanks with a visit to this small museum inside a typical Macau tenement, where an apartment has been decorated in 1960s style and period fixtures and fittings, You’ll find floral wallpaper, sewing machines, and pastel lampshades. It’s a short but fantastic introduction to life in the colony back in the sixties. At the time of writing, the museum only had limited opening hours on Saturday and Sunday.
Where: No.32 Rua de Sao Miguel
Meet the Pandas at the Macau Panda Pavilion
Who doesn’t love the world’s cuddliest bears? Macau is the proud owner of Kai Kai and Xin Xin, a pair of bamboo chomping presents from the mainland. The 3000m2 pavilion must be one of the most luxurious bear pads in the world and includes two separate levels for viewing so you won’t be crushed by the crowds.
Where: Avenida de Seac Pai Van