Sometimes travel takes you straight down the rabbit hole.
Macau is an easy day trip from Hong Kong, but as soon as I had the opportunity to spend a few hours walking around, I sincerely wished I were staying for at least a few days.
Because it’s the strangest place I’ve ever been.
To understand exactly what makes this place so perplexing, I’ll need to give a bit of backstory: Macau is the result of the combination of a strategic placement at the mouth of the Pearl River, a strong tradition as a trading centre, a history as a Portuguese colony, and an identity that is mercurially Chinese. Guangdong farmers settled it, Portuguese traders expanded it, Chinese rulers allowed it because of the benefits Portuguese trade brought. It remained under significant Portuguese influence and control until 1999, when it was ‘handed over’ to China just as Hong Kong had been returned by the British a few years earlier.
And that’s, obviously, just the short version.
As a result, modern-day Macau is a truly bizarre example of multiculturalism: there are streets you can walk down which are lined with smooth, perfectly European colonial buildings, yet filled with Chinese businesses; signs on corners and ads are written bilingually in Portuguese and Chinese, which creates a seriously startling juxtaposition; graves in the local cemetary have pictures of Chinese women in qipaos with names like Maria Rosa and Luisa Antonia. At lunch, I flipped through a magazine featuring interviews with local Macanese residents – people who trace their heritage back to generations of intermarriage between the Chinese and Portuguese. Mixed haphazardly along the streets are pops of blue-and-white tiles, Lunar New Year firecrackers, and tiny shrines with curls of smoke rising from them next to bakeries selling pastéis de nata.
Tell me again why I thought I should just make this a day-trip?!
It’s true, Macau is microscopic and it’s more than possible to visit the majority of sights in just a day, but as I spent time exploring I sincerely wished I had more time to delve into this culture and atmosphere of this strange place. I wish I had had time to meet the locals, to talk with Chinese residents and Portuguese exchange students alike, to try and get some insight into what identity and sense of self-awareness comes from living in such a (and though the word will always sound trite, this is meant honestly) unique place. For serious, guys, I wish I could have gotten my anthropologist on!
So, friends and readers, take my advice, from someone who didn’t quite realise the sometimes-gravity of travel – if you have a chance to travel down the rabbit hole, don’t come up before you’ve gone all the way to the other side.
There are multiple ferries running between Macau and Hong Kong daily, from either the Shun Tak in Central (Hong Kong Island) or the China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon Island). They run roughly ever 30-60 mins, frequently enough that you don’t really need to book ahead – though if you’re feeling particularly baller, you can also hire a helicopter!
Things to Do:
While I was perfectly happy just wandering the city (especially in the historic centre and Taipa – awesome strolling neighbourhoods!), there are plenty of other activities for interested travellers. One of my favourite moments was visiting the Lou Kau Mansion, a quiet pocket of the old town that you can check out for free. And seriously, what would be a post of Macau without mention of the casinos? If gambling’s your game, the downtown area is absolutely crawling with neon lights and betting tables. Poker, blackjack, and roulette abound…so go win back that money you’ve been blowing on nights out!
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