Macau, the ‘Vegas of the East’ is pretty much Disneyland for adults as we found out on a recent Macau day trip from Hong Kong. Portuguese colonial architecture mingles seamlessly with ancient Chinese temples and lane ways which themselves give way to garish neons and megalithic casino complexes…. Throw in the Macau Grand Prix and some delicious egg tarts and you have the ingredients for an exhilarating, if somewhat spatially challenging, Macau day trip that’s only a 55 minute boat ride away from Hong Kong!!
What to do in Macau in one day without staying overnight??
Macau has a lot to offer. I would have liked to send more than 24 hours but unless you have more than a week in Hong Kong it would be hard to justify more than just a day trip. For a one day itinerary I would recommend an early start, as early as you can manage and focus on the colonial UNESCO sites during the day and then in the evening taking in all that casino glitz and glam…. I have outlined the main sites by day and night below but the Grand Prix was on when we were there which slowed things significantly so you will likely have time for more!
Getting to Macau by Ferry
This is the easiest way from Hong Kong and the only realistic option currently though authorities are rushing to build a Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge which has been delayed till 2017 at the earliest. Ferry prices are higher for return sailings in the evening and highest late at night. You can always return earlier but not later than the ticketed time, but you will be on standby which we found out was a long and arduous process…Best to try stick with the time that suits you (remembering that some parts of Macau are best seen after dark!)
Hong Kong Terminals
China Ferry Terminal is in Tsim Sha Tsui or Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal is near the IFC Towers in the Shun Tak Center on Hong Kong Island. Price: 132 to 172 HKD (single trip, economy class). The ferry also departs from the Sky Pier at the Hong Kong International Airport but is for transiting tourists only.
Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal is the main northern terminal closest to old town while Cotai Terminal is to the south, closest to the Cotai Strip area with the biggest casinos. Ferries rarely sell out but I would recommend to try to enter the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal and leaving out of Cotai but it doesn’t really matter as is rather small place and is plied by free casino buses!
On arrival we stumbled across the Macau Grand Prix, an annual motor racing event which is held in November. If you are interested, and in the area in November I would highly recommend getting tickets and going across for the night so you still have a full day to see Macau BUT if you are not interested I would avoid or re-plan to avoid the weekend as Macau will be so packed to the brim and clogged up with traffic jams – its not worth it!
We took advantage of the Grand Lisboa Casino shuttle on arrival to take us to their casino. It is also near the Wynn. MGM and StarWorld if you want to check those out. This group is located close to historic Macau while the other casinos are located on the Cotai Strip, across the bridge and rather inaccessible due to being on a different island!. As we had limited time, we could only see one group at night but I would highly suggest trying to come back here to see these casinos at night too!
From here it is a quick 15 min walk to a highlight of Old Macau – Senado Square (Largo do Senado). This is the public square of Macau and a great introduction to the area. It is located in the central area of the Macau Peninsula and in 2005 it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as it forms part of the Historic Centre of Macau site. Around Senado Square there are also plenty of other attractions. To the east of the square is Macau Cathedral and at the the end of the paved road is St. Domingo’s Church. The Lou Kau Mansion is located to the northeast of the square. The Macau Tourism Board actually has made some really helpful walking tours based on interests which you can use here to make the most of your time – They also have produced a comprehensive iPhone app to make you trip go more smoothly which you might want to grab before you go!
Walk to north of the church and you will arrive at the Ruínas de S. Paulo (Ruins of St. Paul’s). This is the most famous landmark in Macau. Right at the east of the Ruínas de S. Paulo is the Museu de Macau (Macau Museum), in which historical relics of Macau are exhibited. On the day we visited it was insanely crowded – Like ridiculously crowded, fight your way through oblivious masses of selfie stick wielding tourists, makes you want to go home crowded but hopefully this is just to do with the Grand Prix… Either way I still have to say it was worth it !!… The Ruins of St. Paul’s are simply amazing, making for great photos and have an stunning view to take in of the old town from its steps. Would be a great place to enjoy lunch on the weekdays too!
Speaking of lunch you have have HAVE to try the (Portuguese style) Macau egg tart – They are so delicious that you will buy 3 to share … and then just eat them all yourself. Not that I would do that … But they do make a great reward for surviving the masses. I think this is the definition of stress eating. The egg tart is found all over Canton and China but there at subtle differences in taste between Cantonese and Macau (Portuguese) style egg tarts. The visible traits are quite clear due to the slightly burnt top, which creates a hint of caramelisation (think crème brulee), that you only get with the local Macau egg tarts. You can read more about the baker behind Macau’s famous egg tarts here
While they have egg tarts on every street corner in Macau there are two clear standouts- Lord Stow’s Bakery, founded by Andrew Stow, or Margaret’s Cafe e Nata, found near the Historic City Centre in Macau. Interestingly enough, founder Margaret, was formerly married to Andrew Stow. At some point, they parted ways, and now there are two separate egg tart giants in Macau. So which is best, Lord Stow’s or Margaret’s? This is a long running debate amongst locals and fans of the Macau egg tarts. Most have a preference for one over the other but in the end, they are both excellent choices and far out-shine the competition so go with which ever is closest – better yet, try both!
After you have enjoyed a egg tart (or 3) be sure to work it off with a brisk walk through nearby Casa and Camoes Garden. This is a hilly, heavily wooded garden formed part of the grounds of the house which was occupied by the Chairman of the British East India Company and finish up in Temple Tou Tei. From here (on nearby Rua da Ribeira do Patane) catch the 26A towards Hac Sa Beach to the Venetian and City of Dreams! This is the end of the historic tour part and now time to see the new Macau – The one whose gambling take in 6 weeks is what Vegas makes in an entire year!!
The Venetian Macao is a 39-story, $2.4 billion dollar anchor for the seven hotels on the Cotai Strip in Macau. It is modelled on its sister casino resort The Venetian Las Vegas, and is the seventh-largest building in the world by floor area. The Venetian Macao is also the largest casino in the world, and the largest single structure hotel building in Asia!! Officially opened on August 28, 2007, the casino welcomed its 8 millionth customer in just 133 days after launch – That is just insane number! Over 2x the population of NZ in 8 months!!
The Venetian offers over 30 restaurants with cuisines from around the world and the Grand Canal has 51 gondolas with serenading gondoliers that ply the waters of the Venetian’s three indoor canals and outdoor lagoon. It’s nowhere near as stunning as the real thing, but is still nice.. There are also over 350 brand name retail stores at the Grand Canal Shoppe – nowhere in Asia is there more luxury shops crammed into a single space. You’ll want to extend your credit limit to go shopping with a red carpet line up that includes COACH, Calvin Klein and Tiffany….I skipped on this to save funds and time, but if you’re interested this would be the spot for you!
Well actually almost every store we saw was empty except for staff but my friend reckons they must only need to sell one or two hand-bags etc a day at that price to be profitable…Still its all amazing to check out and be in awe!You can even place a bet though from my experience I’d advise not and I can testify that the house does always win!
From here you just wandered around all the other mega casinos including the Studio City, Galaxy Macau, Sands Cotai and City of Dreams. They are all amazing but Studio City here is the one to watch. When we visited had only been open for a month so was not all 100% yet but has already become world famous for its Batman ride and a Ferris Wheel in the shape of a figure-8 … This non-gambling features are a result of Macau’s casino industry worst downturn on record as China’s slowing economy and its crackdown on corruption. China’s President Xi Jinping in December ordered the city to diversify its economy from gambling, on which it relies for about 80 percent of revenue and the results of this should be seen more in the future – The Parisian Macao should open next year and many existing casinos are busy creating shows and other entertainment events…. Expect to see Macau look more like Vegas in the the future – which isn’t a bad thing…While gambling can be fun, I for one would love to see a proliferation of entertainment options when I come back in future to draw me in few days (as Vegas does) rather than the current day trip option may take.
An interesting future development which would add to the appeal accessibility (user-friendliness) is the Macau light rail transit (planned to be complete in 2019). It will serve the Macau Peninsula, Taipa and Cotai, serving major border checkpoints such as the Border Gate, the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal, the Lotus Bridge Border and the Macau International Airport connecting major entry-exit points at the Macau Peninsula and the Taipa Island with residential and tourist areas. Exciting times for Macau and with the growth it has had in the past and a supposed resurgence (which may or may not be occurring as we speak) you can be sure to add Macau into your future travel plans! I for one will be going back to explore further in the future when I get the chance!
Our Macau Day Trip ended with a ferry back to Hong Kong. Tired and exhausted I slept the whole way back… An amazing day trip with history, food, vice and modern extravagance. I highly recommend to check Macau out… Though maybe just look a a quieter day!