For most of its existence, Macao was primarily known as the foremost stronghold of the Portuguese in Asia. This is the city that the Portuguese built, and this was the place from which they spread their influence across the region. The marks of Macao’s colonial past are very much evident at every corner you can turn to in Macao.
But the Portuguese have long been gone. Today, Macao is more known by different epithets – Monte Carlo of the Orient, Las Vegas of Asia, Gambling Capital of the East. All of these names pertain to the new face of Macao as the gaming haven of Asia.
Macao is a small and compact city, much more compact than its sister Hong Kong. Although most of the visitors to Macao are often tourists going on day trips from Hong Kong and taking the ferry back to Hong Kong upon nightfall, Macao nonetheless enjoys significant attention as a major tourist destination in China. A huge part of Macao’s economy is highly dependent on tourism and gambling, and most tourists to Macao indeed have one single purpose when coming to the city, and that is to experience the different flavor of gambling in Macao. Macao has nothing of the rambunctiousness and noise often found in other gambling cities like Las Vegas. Indeed, in Macao, gambling wears a refined and sophisticated air.
There are 28 casinos operating in Macao, the largest of which is The Venetian Macao. Business is booming for casinos in Macao, and the growth has attracted the attention of many foreign corporations that have fingers dipped in the gaming industry. Many Las Vegas casinos have begun to build counterparts in Macao.
This does not mean, however, that all Macao has to offer is its status as a gambling haven. People who are not into gaming can still find Macao an interesting and fascinating place. A visitor to Macao can go exploring and marvel at buildings and edifices that are truly Portuguese in nature standing side by side with edifices that are truly Chinese. It is a very lovely and harmonious mix.
A stroll along the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro will take the tourist back to the days when Macao was still one of Portugal’s colonial jewels. This thoroughfare is one of the biggest tourist attractions of Macao. Along the Avenida is the Largo do Senado, a lovely square surrounded by Portuguese Baroque buildings, paved with a wave pattern and an elegant central fountain.
Just off the square are the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, once the biggest and grandest Catholic church in East Asia. Now, all that is left of this magnificent edifice are its Baroque façade and the underground crypt that is the resting place of the Christian martyrs of Macao. A little north of the ruins is the Camoes Gardens, the oldest park in Macao and dedicated to the memory of the poet Luis de Camoes.
Another place of worship worth visiting in Macao is the A-Ma Temple. The temple is very old, around 600 years old; it had been in existence before the Portuguese occupied the area that Macao not occupies. In fact, Macao derives its name from the A-Ma Temple, when a Chinese fisherman misunderstood a Portuguese sailor’s question on what the settlement’s name is and thought the sailor was asking how to get to the A-Ma Temple. The temple is dedicated to Mazu, the sea goddess worshipped by the fishermen of old Macao.
Small as Macao may be, smaller than Hong Kong in fact, but it is nonetheless a very interesting place to see. It is worth spending a day or two in Macao on a holiday to China.
More on China travel destinations