Macau is small. That is an inescapable fact. Made up of a peninsula and two islands, the area covered by the territory is a mere 250 hectares (5800 acres). So do not blink, or you might miss something!
Macau's three islands were originally separate, there is now a two and a half-kilometer (one and a half-mile) long bridge and highway to link the three regions together. Macao might be small, but it is well-developed in the tourism industry, has numerous parks and attractions that cater to the millions of visitors each year.
Historically, culturally and economically, the peninsula is where it is happening. Its central focus is the busy Largo do Senado . This very Mediterranean town square is surrounded by some of Macau's most famous buildings, including the Leal Senado and the church of Sao Domingos .
Shopping is a key element of central city life. St. Dominic's Market fills the alleyways off the Senate Square. Other roads leading off the square are full of shops selling everything from factory overruns to the latest designer gear. Gold shops by the dozen line the main thoroughfare running between the square and the Leal Senado.
Overlooking the busy town center from their hillside perches are the historic Monte Fort and the ever-impressive Ruinas de Sao Paulo , both Portugal's calling cards. The Museum of Macau , located within the fort enclosure, is great for some more of that essential Macanese history.
Sandwiched between the Ruinas de Sao Paulo and the inner harbor are streets teeming with furniture shops selling Chinese antiques and reproductions, and enticing visitors from all over with made-to-order services and bargain prices.
Almost hidden in the shadow of the imposing hillside ruins are Santo Antonio Church and the nearby Old Protestant Cemetery , which is the final resting place of many a famous soul. Right next door are the peaceful Cameos Gardens .
Further over towards Guia Hill is the Catholic cemetery of St. Michael and St. Lazarus Church . Also in the area are the quirky Lou Lim Ioc Garden , with its moat-bound Chinese mansion, and the beautifully restored Sun Yat Sen Memorial House .
Guia Hill is by far the largest of the seven Macau hills, and they are just hills! There is a tiny cable car system that runs from the picturesque Flora Gardens right up to the top of the hill, where the Guia Fort, Lighthouse and Chapel provide protection, light and guidance.
Further to the north, Kun Iam Temple is set in terraced gardens, while the nearby Mong Ha Fort is surrounded by a park. The Canidrome, albeit green, is not quite so restful due to frenetic night races.
Although the northern part of the peninsula is mainly residential, it does merit a mention. Home to the infamous Barrier Gate , once the besieged border crossing between capitalist Macau and communist China, the area boasts its own recreational area, Sun Yat Sen Park .
The southern tip of the peninsula is another culturally rich area. Old Chinese shops-cum-houses along the Rua da Felicidade have recently been restored to their full splendor.
Behind Leal Senado a more serene ambiance reigns as the narrow streets lead to a cluster of churches. Here the opulently styled Dom Pedro V Theatre joins the ecclesiastical beauties of Sao Agostinho , Sao Jose and Sao Lorenco . The hillsides themselves are dotted with colonial Portuguese mansions, a fine example of which is provided by the erstwhile Bela Vista Hotel, now the Portuguese Consul's Residence.
Barra Hill, right at the southern tip of the peninsula, is home to the former Barra Fort (now the Pousada de Sao Tiago ) and other treasures such as Penha Church , the Maritime Museum and the ever-lively A-Ma Temple .
Extensive reclamation has created an unnaturally squared-off shoreline along the outer harbor. This may be a prime business district, but it is not soulless. Alongside the Dr. Carlos D'Assumpcao Park there is the towering Kun Iam Statue , the Macau Cultural Centre and the Macau Museum of Art . Waterfront bars and cafes along Avenida Marginal Baia Nova keep the area busy into the small hours.
The original harbor front is home to a myriad hotels, including the unique Lisboa , with its glitzy casino . Most other hotels also have casinos these days, making Macau a gambler's paradise.
Reached by two hump-backed bridges, this is one of Macau's two islands, located three kilometers (two miles) south of the peninsula. Not far from Taipa Village are the Macau Stadium, and more importantly, the Macau Jockey Club and Racetrack , a magnet for all horse racing fans. Also on the island is Macau's International Airport, with its runway extending way out into the harbor - not for the faint-hearted!
A further three kilometers (two miles) south of Taipa, across an area of newly reclaimed land, is Coloane. Much of the island remains undeveloped, apart from Coloane village and some industrial complexes. The Seac Pai Van Park is a great starting point for some hiking . Coloane is also home to Macau's best beaches and an extensive golf course .
Macau is justly famous for excellent restaurants, unique cuisine and mellow bars. For sure, it is a premier dining and drinking destination in Asia. For five hundred years or so, Portuguese traders introduced the cuisine of their Brazilian and African colonies to Macau. As a result, the city now offers one of the world's most intriguing gastronomic adventures.
A Macanese meal is essentially a Chinese interpretation of Portuguese cooking--it reflects the cultural and racial influences within the city. A glance at a typical Macanese menu reveals traditional Cantonese dishes, vibrant South American ingredients, wild African spices and rural Portuguese recipes. You may never find such a blend of global influences again.
Festivals are often great opportunities to savor traditional food styles. During the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival the Macanese dust off the ornate doilies and elaborately embroidered tablecloths and set the family table for armies of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Cha gorda (fat tea) is possibly the most Macanese meal of all, a veritable feast from heaven with roasted meats, soups, rice, potatoes, vegetables, cakes, egg tarts and tacho (a sausage and pig's feet hotpot similar to the Portuguese cozido). Cha gorda is a family affair rather than a restaurant experience, but Macanese friends will gladly invite you to the family hearth.
Delicious Macanese food can be consumed at the Dom Galo Restaurant and Restaurant Platao , both located on the Macau Peninsula, as well as at Pinocchio's on Taipa, and Balichao and Cafe Nga Tim on Coloane. Typical dishes include caldo verde soup, omelets, lots and lots of codfish, beef stews and freshly baked walnut breads. Macanese dishes are heavier than most Chinese dishes but the prices are cheap.
If you want to try Portuguese food, a number of restaurants preserve the taste of Portugal's colonial heritage, its fishing villages and farms. The Clube Militar de Macau specializes in colonial-style feasts, while hugely popular institutions such as A Lorcha , Fernando's and Afonso III maintain authentic Portuguese menus. Some highlights include raw codfish salads, feijoada, Brazilian broad bean and pork stew, the marinated delights of African Chicken, and, though not for bunny-huggers, rabbit stew.
Although Macanese and Portuguese food give Macau that special identity unique in Asia, do not ignore the Cantonese and Chinese restaurants. For authentic food and atmosphere check out Long Kei for superior dim sum and noodle dishes, or baked earthworms at the Indian Garden Restaurant . And if romantic Italian cuisine in the quiet seclusion of the Cheoc Wan beach stimulates the juices, La Torre is at hand with delicious antipasto, salads and pizza.
OK, that is enough about food. Let us get down to the nightlife, and surprisingly Macau has shed its image as a sleepy South China backwater. Many tourists and business people leave Macau thinking "great history, wonderful food, lovely people, but not much in the way of nightlife." They are wrong, very wrong.
The Avenida Marginal Baia Nova, known as “The Docks” to local expatriates, is fast becoming the top nightspot in Macau. It is a plethora of cool bars and relaxed restaurants lining a quiet boulevard beside the bay. Along the waterfront you will find the Oparium Cafe and the Rio Cafe bustling with young Chinese party-types, kids of expatriate parents, and even the parents. The Bar Azul is the minutest drinking den in town, and if you prefer a quieter and perhaps greener pint, the Irish Pub on Taipa supplies alcohol and a convivial atmosphere. Those seeking a more up-market venue could try The Embassy Bar in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and jazz lovers should attend a smoky session at The Jazz Club.
Few places in Asia can match Macau's mellow atmosphere a fascinating blend of European and Chinese dining and drinking cultures. Cocktails along a Coloane beach or a meal in a rustic Taipa restaurant followed by drinks along "The Docks" offer great evenings out and satisfying alternatives to losing all your money in the Lisboa Casino .