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TIME OUT

Mad about Macau

TANUSHREE PODDER

Laidback and quiet, Macau offers an invigorating mix of Portuguese and Chinese cultures.

Photo: Tanushree Podder

Heady Heights: A night view of Macau Tower.

Macau is a city that moves at a sedate pace. After the frenetic pace of Hong Kong, it comes as a blissful reprieve. With its lush landscapes, sandy shores, heritage buildings, beautiful gardens, cross-continental cuisine, Macau has emerged as a tourist hot spot.

With a unique amalgamation of Asian and western cultures, Macau offers a touch of Portugal, blended with ancient and modern China. After more than four centuries of Portuguese rule, it was returned to China in 1999.

Macau is a tiny island which can easily be covered on foot, if you have the energy to do so. Walking is the best way, in fact, to take in the beauty of the island. You can start from Senado Square, which is located in the heart of Macau. Towering above Senado Square is the landmark of Macau, the famous “Ruins of St. Paul”. The church was struck by lightning during a typhoon in 1835 and only the imposing façade remains today. According to travellers of that time, the church, built in 1602, was made of taipa and wood. It was brilliantly decorated and furnished. The imposing façade of carved stone was built in 1620-27. It was designed by an Italian Jesuit, Carlo Spinola, with the assistance of Japanese Christian stonemasons who had fled persecution in Japan.

Quiet contrasts

If you have the inclination for a steep climb, take the steps at the back of the façade and you will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the adjoining areas. The little Taoist temple, Na Tcha, lies to the left of the ruins. Built in 1888, the small traditional temple presents a contrast to the imposing façade of St. Paul’s ruins.

Amble down towards St. Dominic’s Church, a marvellous example of baroque architecture, built by the Dominican friars in the early 17th century. It was here that the first Portuguese newspaper was published, on September 12, 1822, on Chinese soil. The newspaper was known as the A Abelha da China (The China Bee). The church has an imposing façade of cream coloured stone and white stucco mouldings. The bell tower has been modified into a small Museum of Sacred Art.

A short walk from Senado Square stands the neo-classical Leal Senado Building, Macau’s first municipal building, constructed in 1784. If you are tired, rest a while at one of the many bustling restaurants in the area or head to the cobble-stoned St. Augustine’s Square for a conventional Portuguese streetscape. The “Historic Centre of Macau” has recently been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The centre is a living representation of Macau’s rich architectural legacy. The Sir Robert Ho Tung Chinese Library with its peaceful garden dotted with reading tables close by is an ideal retreat for the erudite. Sir Robert, a Hong Kong businessman, bought the house as a retreat in 1918 and left it to the Macau government in his will.

A stone’s throw away is the oldest European-style theatre in China, the green-painted Dom Pedro V Theatre built in 1858. It still hosts regular symphony concerts and other public events.

If you’re not up for more walking, grab a taxi, and head towards the Macau Tower area. If you turn right you would reach the colonial home of the Portuguese consul-general (formerly the Bela Vista hotel), set in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Not far from here, at Barra Point, is the famous A-Ma Temple, a must visit while at Macau.

The temple has been built into a hill that rises from the waterfront of the inner harbour. It has pavilions on four levels. Linked by winding paths and moon-gates, three of the four pavilions are dedicated to the Taoist goddess of A-Ma (also called Tin Hau) and the topmost shrine is dedicated to Kun Iam, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. According to legend, A-Ma, a poor girl looking for passage to Canton, was snubbed by the wealthy junk owners but a lowly fisherman took her on board. A storm blew up and wrecked all but the boat carrying the girl. On arrival to Macau she vanished, to reappear as a goddess, on the spot where the fishermen built her temple.

Also, check out the Moorish Barracks on Barra Street nearby. A neo-classical building “with a Mughal influence” dating back to 1874, it was originally built to accommodate an Indian regiment from Goa that was appointed to reinforce Macau’s police force.

Walk the sky

The 338-metre high Macau Tower is the world’s 10th highest building. It is also the world’s highest commercial bungee jumping station. The father of Bungee Jumping, A.J. Hackett, along with Edison Chen, has broken two Guinness World Records at the Macau Tower. If you are too timid to try your hand at Bungee Jumping, you could do the Skywalk, which takes you on an exhilarating stroll along the outer rim of the tower.

Macau comes alive after the sun goes down. The nightlife is a vibrant one. Even the drabbest buildings by day become pulsating neon palaces. Dozens of bars, discos, nightclubs and casinos provide a pulsating experience for the night owls. Try not to miss “Crazy Paris Show” at the Hotel Lisboa. A Macau experience is never complete without trying a hand at the gaming tables, so head for one of the casinos for a unique gambling experience.

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Fact file

Getting there: Take speed boats from Hong Kong piers for an hour long ride to Macau. There are also helicopter rides from Hong Kong.

Staying there: Macau has a host of hotels right from budget to top class ones to choose from.

Nearby places: Take a day trip to Coloane, an island in Macau that boasts of magnificent beaches and a lavish, green countryside that has a rich flora and fauna. The island has sports facilities, swimming pools, and Karting tracks. Visit Taipa for a laid-back feel. The old Praia waterfront is idyllic, with a row of five beautifully restored neo-classical houses.

Gastronomic fare: Macau offers all kinds of food experiences from the Portuguese to the Chinese, Malay and Thai. Don’t forget to sample Portuguese wine and Macanese fare, which is a confluence of Portuguese and Chinese food. Down it all with Portuguese red wine, ending with the delectable dessert called Serradurra.

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