Yesterday I described how casinos drive the Macau economy, but what else does the city have to offer those who don’t gamble?
Macau is a city at the crossroads of different cultures: the Portuguese heritage of Macau is unique in the region, the city having roots as a trading post in the 16th century, with Portuguese administration continuing until the territory was handed back to China in 1999. Today all official signage appears in both Chinese and English like in Hong Kong, but Portuguese still features as an equal.
The most iconic example of Macau’s Portuguese heritage is the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The cathedral was built between 1582 to 1602, being the largest Catholic church in Asia until it was destroyed by fire in 1835. Today only the stone facade remains, with tourists flocking to the steps leading towards the ruins.
Back to ground level, a number of narrow streets lead back to the centre of town.
If you manage to avoid getting lost, you will then arrive at Senado Square, the traditional heart of Macau. The buildings in this area also date to the start of Portuguese settlement in the 16th century, with the entire district listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as the “Historic Centre of Macau”.
On leaving the square, rest of Macau might have nicely maintained garden beds, but the buildings looks somewhat run down, with only a handful of modern skyscrapers in the middle of town. On the shopping front, many major Hong Kong retailers also operate in Macau – “Luk Fook” is a major jewellery store chain.
If you continue walking around the city, another attraction I visited is Fortaleza do Monte – the name is Portuguese for Mount Fortress. Located on the hill above the Ruins of St. Paul’s, from this vantage point you can see how the rest of Macau lives – dirty old apartment blocks squashed on narrow streets, which my father compares to the 1960s Hong Kong in which he grew up in.
The small size of Macau is easily seen from the fort, with Mainland China being only a short swim across the water – provided you don’t fall ill from the pollution! The opposite side of the river is Hengqin Island, a mostly undeveloped area of the city of Zhuhai.
Despite the proliferation of apartments in the densely populated Macau Peninsula, at least some old fashioned detached houses remain.
On the transport front, the narrow streets of Macau lend themselves to motor scooters, which are seen in plague proportions around the city – the only form of public transportation is buses.
A final place to visit on the way home is the Koi Kei Bakery – they have branches scattered throughout Macau. Famous for their almond cookies, egg rollms and other bakery treats; their marketing line is “No. 1 Selling Souvenir in Macau“.
I found a press release where the Koi Kei Bakery claims they hold 73.7% of the current souvenir market in Macau, and I have little reason to doubt them given the number of people lined up inside.
From what I could work out, their entire business model seems to be convincing Hong Kongers that if you go to Macau, you must to buy your friends a gift of dried meat or you are committing a major social faux pas. Their plans seems flawless – my Dad boarded the ferry to Hong Kong with a half dozen bags of beef jerky for his brothers and sisters!
There are plans afoot to build an automated light rail system in Macau from what I can gather. The plans were in an advanced stage, the last time I checked.
There’s a short rundown of the system over on Wikipedia – Macau Light Rail Transit – the plans for the light rail seem to have been in a constant state of change over the past few years, so it will be interesting once it gets settled and work starts.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries won the Macau contract in 2010 with their Crystal Mover APM system – it’ll be just like Hong Kong’s airport people mover just with more stations and a much longer route.