On this particular Travel Tuesday, we are heading to where the East meets the West in a beautiful country that is very under the radar – even though it is an awesome opportunity to indulge in a fusion of cultures in one very small radius.
That country is Macao, and it is situated in the South China Sea about forty miles west of Hong Kong. I recently had the absolute pleasure of welcoming Jamie Lusher a Senior Public Relations Executive from the Macao Government Tourism Office to fill us in on what makes Macao a bucket list destination – and she did not disappoint! Read on to discover why you should consider a trip to Macao – whether on its own or as a stop in an Asian adventure curated especially for you!
You Said It’s Small? Macao is actually made up of two islands and one peninsula and remember I said it was very small? Those two islands and one peninsula together only measure 11 square miles total – with the Macao Peninsula at 3.6 square miles, Taipa Island at 2.9 square miles and Coloane Island at 2.9 square miles as well. But even though it is quite compact – that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is so very much to explore here!
How Do I Get There? Macao is about a 15-hour journey from most major US cities however you can get there a variety of ways and the Macau International Airport offers many connecting flights to nearby destinations – making Macao a perfect destination to bundle with a few other stops. As Jamie pointed out – it’s a long journey to get to there but one of the wonderful things about the destination is that it offers a great jumping off point for other major Asian destinations. For instance, you have Japan to your north and the Philippines, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand and Singapore to your south – just to name a few. So, think about it – what a great package deal – you get this amazing, smaller destination but then you can extend your stay to some of the other areas via the Macau International Airport – meaning we can create a great itinerary for you with a starting point or endpoint of Macao. Definitely something for you guys to consider!
One of the many cool things about Macao is that US citizens are not required to obtain a visa – unlike visiting China. Meaning there is no visa application process – you will actually get a visa upon arrival from the US (and Canada) making it a breeze to go through immigrations.
Sounds like even more of a reason – and the perfect opportunity – for you to grab those kids your home schooling – get them a passport – and take them to Macao for a living classroom experience they will never forget!
What About Language and Currency? There are two official languages in Macao – Chinese and Portuguese. This explains why you will see the Portuguese spelling of Macau which is with the “u” and the English spelling of Macao with an “o” – but of the two the main languages spoken there it is mainly Chinese with some English as well. Portuguese is not as spoken as widely but you’ll still see Portuguese on the street signs. The currency – which is oh so colorful – is both Macanese Patacas – which is 8 Macanese Patacas to one US dollar and Hong Kong dollars which is about 7.75 Hong Kong dollars to one US dollar. Since Hong Kong dollars are widely accepted in Macao Jamie said she almost always recommends going with them as the Macanese Patacas are not accepted in Hong Kong – so if you are planning to bundle the two cities – as many do – getting Hong Kong dollars will simplify the currency exchange for you.
But Is It Historical? Macao’s history is incredibly unique and fascinating as it has over 500 years of cultural exchange between Portugal and China. The best way to describe it is that you could be walking along, and you almost feel like you’re in Europe and then you turn down another street and now you’re in China! There are even parts of it that feel very Caribbean to me looking at Jamie’s pictures. And Jamie explains to us that – in fact – Macao’s history is certainly one for the books. It’s recognized by UNESCO and there is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of over 20 stunning monuments in Macao. These include:
- Ruins of St. Paul’s – which is a favorite among locals and travelers.
- A-Ma Temple – which is really beautiful and very juxtaposed with the Catholic Church of St. Paul’s mind you.
- Guia Lighthouse – which was a 17th century fortress and one of the first light houses in the East.
- Tin Hau Temple in A-Ma Cultural Village – which is dedicated to the Goddess of the Heavens and showcases the Asian influence here.
- Taipa Houses and Museum – which were some of the first houses that when the Portuguese settlers arrived in Macao their government administrators lived in. If you go inside of the houses they are decorated as if as they were back in the day so you can really get a sense for how people lived then.
- Senado Square – where there is a lot of opportunities to shop but the main tourist attraction point is the street itself. It is made up of whole stones from Portugal that they brought over on ships back in the day – so you’re basically walking on living history.
These and many of the other UNESCO World Heritage monuments are actually walkable – so Jamie highly recommends taking a walking tour or just wandering about on your own and getting lost in Macao and all its history.
How About the Food? Ah yes – my favorite topic – gastronomy! Well, here is a hint about what to expect from the culinary scene – in 2017 Macao was designated as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy! And here is another hint – Macao is home to 18 Michelin starred restaurants – yes 18 in 11 square miles! – and they include – French, Japanese, Chinese, European, Indian and Italian cuisines. The interesting story here is that the way Portugal came into play within the Chinese territory. The Portuguese history dates back over 500 years ago and it kind of blends its way into the gastronomy. When the Portuguese landed in Macao, they brought most of their recipes with them and proceeded to go to the Chinese women and asked them to cook for them. Along with their recipes they had all these spices from the spice routes of Africa, India – you name it. So, the Chinese women took these Portuguese recipes and they blended them together with their own style and that became what is known as Macanese cooking today. As per Jamie one of the most famous – and favorited – Macanese dishes is called African chicken. It is so named because it is chicken that is served over rice but is made with all these unique spices from along the spice route giving it a really spicy texture and according to her is absolutely delicious. I would certainly like to find out for myself! Who’s with me?
Another favorite of Jamie’s is the Macanese street food. Street food is always a favorite of mine too – no matter what the destination – as I love the idea of seeing them prepare it right in front of you – making that in itself an experience. And of course, we can absolutely arrange for a food tour that takes you right into the heart of all that street food in Macao – as well as to the top tier restaurants because they are intermingled among those vendors. And speaking of top tier restaurants I have to tell you guys that 18 Michelin starred restaurants is a huge deal. Getting a Michelin star is no small feat and they’ve got 18 of them! It’s just an honor to eat at a Michelin star restaurant because you know the chefs have worked so extremely hard to get it. Plus, the star rating is also about consistency and maintaining that consistency – trust me – having gone to culinary school I totally appreciate what goes into that star rating.
Another plus of the gastronomy scene here is getting a taste of Portugal – mainly because oh my gosh those Portuguese desserts are amazing! Jamie agreed and shared a story about one of her favorite restaurants in Macao. It’s this little, tiny hole in the wall Portuguese restaurant and it’s kind of hidden in a back courtyard in an old Portuguese house. She told us how it’s one of her favorite things to do – to sit down and enjoy the food with good company and a bottle of wine and then of course get the serradura which is a famous dessert there and is also known as Macao pudding. Then there is always the Portuguese egg tart which is another great dessert you can find at Lord Stow’s Bakery … and well as Jamie said – you’re going to walk it all off so feel free to indulge!
To sum up the good eats in Macao – I think the best way to explain it is that it’s truly the world’s first fusion cooking and really it gives us a great understanding of how multiple cultures come together to give us new tastes to savor.
And Where Would I Stay? Clients always ask me about the accommodations in Macao and tend to assume that they are going to be mostly one star or two-star properties but there’s actually quite a number of four and five star and luxury properties to choose from. In fact – they have the most five-star properties per square mileage in the world. Jamie advised that the one thing that they like to tout about Macao is that it’s affordable luxury – meaning you can get an amazing five-star accommodation starting at $100 to $150 dollars per night. And that includes a really lovely room and amenities such as breakfast and sometimes even a free mini bar. Of course – there are budget options as well.
One really cool thing is the way they have configured some of their resorts there – it’s resort style – but there are multiple hotel properties within one resort. They do it this way so that they can sell to a wider, more diverse family that wants to visit but have differing thoughts about the type of accommodations they want to stay in. Perhaps one of them wants a more family-oriented resort and another wants a little bit more luxury with shopping and a spa and yet another wants a more romantic resort – you get the idea. This way they are able to cater to all of those different tastes in one resort complex. Brilliant!
The majority of the resorts have unique shows and amazing entertainment – we are talking Broadway-esque shows. Jamie shared that one of her favorites is House of Dancing Water – which is a love story – but it includes so much more – like diving and acrobatics and a pirate ship and is great family entertainment for sure. Along with productions like this you will also find such amenities as lazy rivers, wave pools, water slides and the world’s first figure-eight Ferris wheel! Many of the resorts also house casinos – however they are separate from the resorts with separate entrances and no children are allowed.
Will I Have Enough To Keep Me Busy? Well, when you get done marveling at the UNESCO World Heritage monuments, taking in the talent at your resort, cashing in at the casino and lounging on the lazy river… yes! The answer is emphatically yes – check out this lineup:
- Macao Giant Panda Pavilion: Located at the Macao Zoo and featuring four of those oh so cute giant pandas – and other wildlife too!
- Hikes and Natural Parks: There are 13 hiking and nature trails to choose from – yes 13 in once again – an 11 square mile radius.
- Macao Walking Tours: Pick a tour – any tour!
- A Tour of Historical Trails
- A Tour of East Meets West
- A Tour of Arts and Cultures
- A Tour of Nature and Creativity
- Festivals: Pretty much any time you visit you can celebrate something with the locals!
- Chinee New Year – January and February
- A-Ma Festival – April
- Macao Arts Festival – May
- Dragon Boat Festival – May
- Lotus Flower Festival – June
- Macao International Fireworks Display Contest – September and October
- Macao International Music Festival – October and November
- Macao Food Festival – November
- Macao Grand Pre – November
Plus, when the sun goes down Macao lights up and the nightlife offerings abound. And perhaps my favorite story from Jamie – or from any of my chats so far – is when she told us that you can bungee jump off of the Macao Tower – which by the way is the world’s highest bungee jump. And she did! And she said I was totally worth it – 100% worth it – but very terrifying – and wonderful all at once! Love it!
And Because This Is The New Normal – Here Is The Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC has listed Macao as Level 1 – which means there is a low level of COVID-19 there. HOWEVER – visitors from foreign countries are prohibited from entering Macao.
Hey, I warned you at the beginning of this overview that just because it was small didn’t mean it wasn’t mighty! You guys – Macao really surprised me because I didn’t expect it to be as cultural as it is and after speaking with Jamie, I feel this has to be on your bucket list! So, what I want to emphasize is this is a destination that really embodies true cultural pieces of both sides – European flair and Asian flair. I want you guys to think of this again as being a fantastic opportunity for that living classroom that travel offers us.
Let’s start at putting an itinerary together – and remember you can use Macao as a starting point or an ending point and include some other countries that are in the area. Whether you want to go to Japan or Thailand or into Kuala Lumpur or Singapore – lots of opportunities here!
For more details on things to see and do in Macao, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!