Twenty reasons to visit Macau
From gambling to hiking to bungy jumping, there's something for everyone in Macau.
1 IT'S BIGGER THAN VEGAS
Las Vegas has its Strip but Macau boasts the Cotai Strip. This area of reclaimed land connecting the "islands" of Taipa and Coloane is home to a sprawl of mega-casino hotels. At the Venetian, Filipino gondoliers serenade you while poling indoor canals under painted blue skies.
The City of Dreams complex boasts three hotels, including the Hard Rock, where you can yahoo around in a Rock Star Suite complete with a mechanical bull in a padded room. In 2013, Macau's 35 casinos raked in US$45.2 billion ($54 billion) in revenue - far out-stripping Vegas's US$6.4 billion ($7.7 billion) - to cement its position as the world's casino capital.
2 CASINO KITSCH
The gaudiest casino isn't on the Cotai Strip but the peninsula jutting from the Chinese mainland. The lotus-shaped Grand Lisboa is regularly named one of the world's strangest buildings. Stroll past it at night to catch the dizzying neon-light action or venture inside during the day for a Michelin-starred meal that won't break the bank.
Robuchon au Dome, a fine-diner on the 43rd floor from French celebrity chef Joel Robuchon, is one of two Macau restaurants bestowed with three Michelin stars (The Eight is also within the Grand Lisboa).
Browse Robuchon's 9000-bottle wine list or go with two sommelier-selected glasses of wine MOP$280 ($42) to accompany a three-course lunch MOP$458 ($70).
3 CATCH A WAVE
The 2200-room Galaxy Macau resort on the Cotai Strip is home to the world's largest rooftop wave pool. Frolic in waves of up to 1.5 metres or stroll the beach of imported white sand. The wave pool reopens at the end of this month after maintenance.
4 POSTCARD PICTURE
With those fake Venetian canals and surf beaches, perhaps it's fitting that Macau's most famous landmark - the Ruins of St Paul's - is a facade. All that remains of the 17th-century Jesuit church is an intricately carved, stone façade, dramatically perched and propped at the top of 66 stone steps, after fire ripped through the mostly timber structure in 1835.
Carvings covering the facade and grand stairway include Chinese dragons, Japanese chrysanthemums, Portuguese sailing ships and more, illustrating the former Portuguese colony's multicultural history. See macautourism.gov.mo.
5 WALK THE WALKS
With 25 World Heritage sites crammed into the compact Macanese peninsula, it's an enthralling place to ramble around and explore. Pull on comfortable walking shoes, carry an umbrella to fend off the sun's glare and follow one of the self-guided themed walks listed at macautourism.gov.mo.
Don't miss Senado Square, Macau's symbolic centre, lined with pretty pastel-coloured neo-classical buildings and paved with a striking black-and-white wave pattern.
6 RIDE A RICKSHAW
Those who have toured Hanoi's French Quarter by cyclo will know the romantic appeal of the pedal-powered slow tour. Take an old-fashioned spin around the quaint streets of historic Macau or the waterfront areas of Nam Van and Sai Van lakes on a tricycle rickshaw (also known as a pedicab).
Hire a rider near the Macau ferry terminal or from a stand near the Grand Lisboa. Settle the price before climbing in.
7 CELEBRATE CHINESE NEW YEAR
On January 31, the first day of the Year of the Horse, a 238-metre-long golden dragon, accompanied by 18 lions, animals from the Chinese zodiac and the gods of fortune, prosperity and longevity, will parade from the Ruins of St Paul through Senado Square and beyond.
New Year is also a great excuse for fireworks and firecrackers: the Macau Tower and Taipa waterfront are the best vantage points. On New Year's Eve, head to the A-Ma Temple - it will be thick with dragon dancers, drummers, fortune tellers and the haze of incense.
8 MORE BANGS FOR YOUR BUCK
Chinese New Year isn't the only time the Macau night sky lights up in spectacular fashion. Over five nights (September 8, 13, 20, 27 and October 1, the National Day of China), 10 international teams engage in pyrotechnic warfare as part of the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest.
9 WORLD'S HIGHEST BUNGY
Take the plunge off the Macau Tower. Kiwi bungy pioneer A. J. Hackett offers the planet's highest bungy jump from 233 metres above ground - but at MOP$2888 a jump, you might have to win at baccarat or sic bo first.
10 PICK A PARK
Macau's shady parks are a welcome respite from the heat. Camoes Garden, named after the Shakespeare of Portugal, Luis de Camoes, features an 1886 bronze bust of the poet secreted within a grotto formed by massive boulders.
Elsewhere in the park, watch residents carry out their graceful tai chi moves, play chess or walk their songbirds in wooden cages. Camoes Garden adjoins the Old Protestant Cemetery, where gnarled trees shade the graves of merchants, missionaries and other colonists who made their home in Macau.
11 EGG TART HEAVEN
We might know these delectable pastries as Portuguese egg tarts but it was an Englishman who developed Macau's iconic interpretation of pasteis de nata.
Andrew Stow was the brains behind the unassuming Lord Stow's Bakery on Coloane Island, which turns out a mean egg tart: think warm, flaky pastry cradling slightly charred sweet custard. Stow died in 2006 but his legacy lives on to such an extent that an outlet of his bakery is also stashed within the Venetian casino.
12 DINE LIKE A LOCAL
For a taste of "real" Macau, venture around the corner from Lord Stow's Bakery to Coloane Town Square, overlooking the waterway separating Macau from the Chinese mainland. Pull up a plastic stool at one of the restaurants that spill from the colonnaded archways, knock back a Macau Beer and order away.
Nga Tim Cafe serves up the likes of mussels in black bean sauce, curry crab, grilled sardines and "sauna" prawns. The square's centrepiece is the Baroque-style St Francis Xavier church - for Chinese New Year it's decorated with red lanterns and placards bearing the Chinese characters for "happiness".
13 ARRGHH, PIRATE HISTORY
It's hard to believe that just a century ago, marauding pirates preying on the cargo travelling between China and the West hid out in the deserted coves and hills of Coloane.
The "Combatting Pirates Monument" in the town square commemorates a 1910 incident in which pirates held more than a dozen Guangdong students for ransom. Portuguese soldiers intervened and, while the students were saved, dozens of villagers died. The monument commemorates the villagers and celebrates the ousting of pirates from the island.
14 GET PIGGY WITH IT
On the eastern side of Coloane is the black-sand Hac Sa Beach - home of the ultra-romantic Miramar Restaurant that serves Portuguese and Macanese cuisine. It's popular, so book ahead to tuck into bacalhau stew for two, octopus rice, beef on hot stone, suckling pig or spicy African chicken.
The dessert cabinet must be seen to be believed: succumb to a serving of Macau's iconic serradura (sawdust pudding) or the light-as-air egg cloud.
15 TAKE A HIKE
Lush Coloane is known as the "lungs" of Macau. Work off all of that eating with a hike up the highest mountain: it's crowned with a monumental statue of the A-Ma Goddess, said to protect fishermen and merchants who sailed to Macau. Carved from Chinese white jade, it took 120 sculptors eight months to complete.
If staying at a peninsula hotel, a taxi to the trailhead costs about MOP$88 ($13). Remember to bring a hotel card in Chinese to facilitate the taxi ride home.
16 STEP BACK IN TIME
There are few more charming neighbourhoods in Macau than historic Taipa Village. Wander the warren of tiny alleyways and lantern-lit piazzas, snack on samples of dried meat (a popular souvenir for Chinese visitors) and slake your thirst at the Old Taipa Tavern - a convivial British-style alehouse that has Guinness on tap - located on Rua dos Negociantes.
17 HAUTE PORTUGUESE
Just down the alleyway from the Old Taipa Tavern is Antonio - a cosy eatery that elevates Portuguese cuisine to haute status. Run by the flamboyant Antonio Coelho, the restaurant offers dishes such as warm goats cheese drizzled with olive oil and acacia honey, garlicky prawns and fish stew.
Wash it down with a glass of the famed vinho verde - a slightly effervescent green Portuguese wine - and finish with crepes suzette, if only for the fiery performance that unfolds in front of you.
18 ON THE TILES
Fallen for the stunning hand-painted tiles seen everywhere around Macau? Check out the selection on offer at the Portuguese Corner Shop, which specialises in traditional goods imported from the mother country, including sweets, soaps and salt.
The store is in the Albergue SCM complex of shuttered villas surrounding a peaceful courtyard in the St Lazarus Quarter, near the Ruins of St Paul's.
19 THE LIFE AQUATIC
Just as Las Vegas features showbiz spectaculars, Macau offers its own unmissable extravaganza. The House of Dancing Water premiered in 2010 at a 2000-seat theatre within the City of Dreams.
Don't worry about the storyline, which involves a beautiful princess, evil stepmother and mysterious stranger - just sit back and gasp at the extreme aquatic skills of the performers.
20 RETRO REBORN
Considered one of Macau's best renovation projects, Gallery G32 is a tong lau (narrow tenement building) restored to look like a Macanese home from the 1960s complete with green floral wallpaper, low-hanging lamps and wicker furniture.
In 2011, the Creative Industries Promotion Association set about restoring the three-storey building and furnishing it with period pieces. Open weekends, free guided tours from 2.30pm-5pm, 32 Rua de Sao Miguel, St Lazarus.
The writer travelled courtesy of the Macau Government Tourist Office, Qantas and Mandarin Oriental, Macau.
Sydney Morning Herald