To many people in the West, Macau is a mysterious place that may be a bit difficult to find on a map. In fact, at least three out of four Americans cannot tell you where Macau is located or if Macau is its own country.
This famed destination was actually a Portuguese colony for several hundred years. And it was the Portuguese who introduced modern gambling to the city. One of the interesting points of Macau’s history is that it has always remained a part of China, even during Portuguese rule.
On this page, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Macau and what it’s like to travel there. Keep reading below to gain some insight on this gambling capital.
Macau Has a Rich History
The city was organized according to a treaty between Portugal and China. The special arrangement was altered in 1887 when Portugal received perpetual colonial rights to the city. But that arrangement was altered again in 1999 when Portugal formally returned Macau to full Chinese sovereignty.
Like Hong Kong, which sits right across the Pearl River Delta to the east of Macau, the former Portuguese colony was granted a 50-year grace period in which the transition to full Chinese nationalism was to be managed.
And unlike Hong Kong, Macau has thus far been relatively quiet and stable about adapting to full Beijing leadership.
Although only a few hundred years old, Macau is rich in tradition, history, and culture. Many ancient Chinese boat families settled in Macau and they intermarried with Portuguese colonists, many of whom were unable to marry into aristocratic Chinese families from the mainland.
Macau has always been an important port city, but its role as a gateway to Western trade was superseded by Hong Kong in the 1800s. Macau was the only coastal city in China to be largely untouched during the Second World War because of Portuguese neutrality.
One of the benefits Macau gained after its formal return to China in 1999 was the lifting of a government-sanctioned monopoly on gambling established in 1962. Foreign investment began to pour into the city, transforming Macau into one of the leading gambling destinations in the world.
Its Entry Policy Is Very Flexible
Citizens of 60+ countries including the United States and many European nations are permitted to visit Macau for short periods without a visa, provided they have valid passports.
You should consult your country’s travel advisories for the latest details about travel requirements to Macau as they can change at any time.
The light burden on entry encourages tourism. However, you cannot enter mainland China from Macau without a visa.
So, how do you get to Macau?
Most people actually enter the city by ferry from Hong Kong.
There Are Two Currencies
Macau has its own official currency (the Macanese pataca), denoted by MOP. People may also use Hong Kong dollars, denoted by HKD. The two currencies have the same exchange value and people may use them interchangeably without thinking about it.
Most of Macau’s gambling tourists are from Mainland China and they typically pay for their hotels, gambling, and some dining in Yuan. But they are expected to use local currencies by most businesses. Some larger hotels reportedly prefer or require payment in Hong Kong dollars.
Despite the need to spend MOP in Macau, most people must wait until they reach the city to exchange their own currencies for the local one. Even in Hong Kong, places where currencies can be exchanged for MOP are limited.
By the way, if you visit Macau and find yourself holding Yuan at the end of your trip, exchange that for Hong Kong dollars before you leave or you may never get your money back into your own currency.
Macau Is the Most Densely-Populated City in the World
Many of Macau’s citizens are working-class people. They don’t lead glamorous lives, and many work hard just to make ends meet. Most of them live in rather plain-looking apartment buildings.
Macau’s gambling industry employs about ¼ of the work force and nearly all the high-end restaurants and venues are built for foreign visitors. Around 700,000 people live inside Macau’s 11 square miles. At any given time, thousands of tourists are also in the city.
You’ll find an eclectic mix of architectural styles throughout Macau, and it’s relatively easy to travel around. But if you’re hoping to find a unique Macau experience like local attractions or natural landmarks, you’ll be disappointed. Macau is really all about the casinos and their supporting industries, at least as far as foreign tourists are concerned.
The city boasts many small parks with statues and interesting artwork. There are also museums and several shopping areas out of the way, including the Fisherman’s Wharf.
Perhaps the most famous of Macau’s several local attractions is Senado Square, or Senate Square. A local senatorial body met there in the 16th and 17th centuries. This is a world heritage site and is designated for pedestrians only. Used in a number of film locations, Senado Square was also once a place where governors reviewed their troops.
Tourists visit local shops around the square and the Ruins of St. Paul, which was once a church and college.
Residents Use Two Official Languages
Because it has always been part of China, the Macanese people speak Cantonese. But most of them also speak Portuguese.
Tourists can usually get by with English, but experienced travelers recommend giving destinations to taxi drivers by their Chinese names. Smartphones make that easy to do. Show the drivers where you want to go, and they will understand.
There Are Almost No Purely Macanese Restaurants
If you enjoy sampling local cuisines when you travel, you’ll find that the Macanese people have plenty of Portuguese and Chinese restaurants.
True Macanese cuisine is a blend of Portuguese and Chinese traditional dishes. And yet, only a few larger restaurants specialize in these cuisines.
Your hotel concierge will be able to advise you on where to go sample local dishes. The hotels provide shuttles to important areas of the city, and there is adequate public transportation.
Your best bet for sampling local cuisine is probably Taipa Village where street vendors cook traditional dishes.
The city is famous for its many festivals and if you don’t mind walking the crowded streets, you’ll surely find some interesting things to taste.
There Is One Major Landmark That Adventurers Love
Macau may be too small to have its own mountains, deserts, and national parks, but it does have a local treasure that adventure-seeking tourists love.
Macau Tower offers the world’s highest commercial bungee jump. You can drop over 200 meters if you have the courage and physical stamina for it.
Macau Tower has one other adventure attraction, too—the Tower Climb. Visitors literally climb another 100 meters up inside a metal tube to reach the top of the tower. You’ll be over 1,100 feet above sea level when you come out.
Travelers say the inside of the tube gets very hot during the summer. Remember, you’re climbing up inside of it, so you’re exerting yourself physically. This adventure is not recommended for people who may have trouble climbing 100 meters.
A Universal Power Adapter Is Necessary
This is especially important for American travelers. Macau uses African, Asian, and European-style power outlets. You can’t just plug your laptop or smartphone into the wall.
You should be able to buy a power plug adapter from sites like Amazon.
Smaller devices that charge over USB ports should do okay with swappable connectors.
Gratuities Are Automatically Added to Your Bills
Unlike many countries in the West, Macau services don’t expect much tipping. The price you’re charged is usually the price you pay.
Tipping is simply not expected in this city.
Hotel Shuttles Are Free for Everyone
The major hotels drive guests to and from the tourist attractions. The drivers don’t require for you to be a guest at their hotels. So, you can usually find free transportation between your hotels and most interesting neighborhoods in the city.
Savvy travelers may stay at the smaller, less expensive hotels and still hop on the shuttles from the larger hotels without any problems. The hotels really want visitors to play at their casinos, so they aren’t picky about who is riding the buses.
In the Cotai area, the hotels occupy a lot of land. You’ll want to use their free inter-hotel shuttle services rather than walk from hotel to hotel.
You Only Need to Know a Few Neighborhood Names
You’ll probably spend most of your time in Macau Peninsula or Cotai.
The major attractions are the hotel resorts themselves, like Grand Lisboa (the oldest casino in Macau) and the Venetian. The Venetian not only offers gondola rides, it boasts a huge shopping mall. You’ll find other familiar casino names there, including the Sands and the Wynn.
You’re more likely to ask for directions to a hotel than to a specific neighborhood. Let’s say you want to see the House of Dancing Waters, you would simply ask for the City of Dreams hotel.
There is no denying that Macau offers a unique vacation experience, especially to Western visitors. While Mainland China doesn’t allow gambling and thus, its wealthiest citizens frequently play in Macau, the city’s history and proximity to Hong Kong make it a popular destination for Western travelers.
While not everyone will make it to Macau, those people who do visit the city come away with memories they cherish for a lifetime.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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