Macau: an island with the Midas touch
- Recommended for:
- Cultural, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range
From traditional shrines and temples to Vegas-style hotels, the former Portuguese colony of Macau has lots to offer visitors
When it comes to Macau the streets really are paved with gold. Yellow gold to be precise, used not only for jewellery, but for the statues found at shrines to the Hindu Gods, which are dotted about the island – by the shore line, the local hospital and even at McDonald's…
People visit every day with fresh fruits for the gods, reams of plastic flowers and charms that signify prosperity, in the hope the giver will be blessed with riches. To the innocent tourist like me, it was delightful to wander from temple to temple, shrine to shrine, looking at these colourful spectacles, and marvel at the Catholic churches amidst it all.
Macau is a former Portuguese colony off the southern coast of China in case you didn’t know. The 16th-century A-Ma Temple was a serene place, full of pavilions and pretty courtyards, where I soaked up the peaceful surroundings. Being the only one there that morning I was greatly intrigued by the monk in the prayer hall.
I could have stayed all day but instead walked on to discover my next find, which was the local flea market. You know the sort: snakes, puppies, tiger’s scrotum… Anything and everything’s up for grabs really. Dead or alive. I even spotted Anthrax medicine for sale. Fascinated by the selection and appalled at the lack of animal rights simultaneously, I settled on a pair of nice faux leather shoes for a fiver. They only lasted me three months, but for a fiver you can’t complain can you? Most items of clothing, however, contained fur, whether it was in the lining of a jacket, a scarf or a rabbit's foot attached to a zip!
I stayed in Macau for two whole months and I have to say I absolutely loved it. I had no fears of being hassled by tuk-tuk or black cab drivers. Nobody tried to usher me to their market stall where I would be forced to haggle for a fake watch. It was bliss. I could wander around Senado Square in the evenings, shopping, watching the outdoor concerts and generally feeling quite safe.
One night, with a friend, I climbed Guia Hill, the highest point in Macau, to the 17th-century Guia Fortress, built to defend Macau from attacks from oncoming ships. It was exhilarating when we reached the top and the views breathtaking of course.
I thoroughly enjoyed the various restaurants serving Macanese cuisine (a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese). One of my favourite haunts was the revolving 360° restaurant in a 1,109ft building, the Macau Sky Tower, which you can actually bungee jump off (although I wouldn’t recommend it on a full stomach). CVB at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel had an exciting, vibrant atmosphere and I would often frequent the place of an evening for a swift Grasshopper or two.
The hotels in Macau were very opulent indeed. In fact, the island has its very own version of Las Vegas’s ‘strip’ and it doesn’t get much grander than The Venetian, a five-star hotel housing a large casino, shopping esplanade, restaurants, entertainment... you name it, it’s got it. You can even take a ride along the canal in a gondola. In fact, I’d say Macau could give Las Vegas a run for its money in terms of lavishness. Even the lesser-known hotels all featured detailed frescoes, beautiful lobbies and fine dining as par for the course.
I stayed a few nights in Ole London Hotel in downtown Macau when my purse strings got a bit tight. This boutique hotel was a snip for £30 a night. I found I could spend as much or as little as I wanted from day to day and still have a good time on this island, and I made some excellent ex-pat buddies along the way. I still reminisce about the time I watched the monk in the prayer hall and one day I hope I can go back…