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Macau Holidays

Macau

One of the most compact and concentrated places you can experience in the world, Macau (or Macao) stands out as the first and last European colony in China, with a unique blend of juxtaposed elements that manage to coexist in perfect harmony. With an eye-popping mix of old cobblestone lanes, colonial mansions, modern art deco touches, Portuguese fortresses, Chinese shrines, tranquil parks and a fusion of Sino-Portuguese architectural styles and motifs here and there, Macau sure is a treat for the senses. The best bit? It's just an hour from Hong Kong by ferry, so for anyone already based there it's an easy one-day hop and exciting addition to any holiday in this part of southern China.

Introducing Macau

Dating back to the 16th century when the Portuguese first arrived in Macau and colonised it, the Macau of today has clear traces and vestiges of its colonial past, even when it has been claimed back as part of China since 1999. It now stands as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) much like Hong Kong and as such enjoys certain peculiarities found nowhere else in China.

It stands out as the world's most densely populated place and also the world's gambling capital with the revenue of its casinos being five times bigger than that of the Las Vegas Strip.

With 33 casinos in total you might not have known that since 2007 Macau has overtaken Las Vegas as the world-leading leisure destination in terms of gambling. Yes, you read it right, this once sleepy fishing port and former Portuguese colony started developing its tourism industry by investing heavily in the creation of casinos and glitzy, glamorous hotels that have nothing to envy those in Las Vegas. You can go on a scenic gondola ride at The Venetian Macao or try your luck with Bacaratt, the casinos' number one, most popular game here.

To experience a much slower paced side to this city you only have to head down to Coloane, Macau's most southern island, perfectly removed from the casino craze with low-rise houses and tranquil tree-lined streets. It's a wonderfully relaxed and chilled place to explore the Macau that has remained unchanged for decades.

Beaches?

Well, despite Macau being a peninsula (an artificial one actually as it was originally an independent island but a sandbar linking it to mainland China changed that) with two offshore little islets, there aren't many beaches per se but if you want to bathe in the sea, there is one place that clearly outdoes the others.

That's the striking Hac Sa Beach, meaning "Black Sand Beach", Macau's largest natural beach at one kilometre in length and famous (as you may have guessed from its name) for its naturally black sand. Sadly, due to the fact that erosion starting chipping away at the beach, the government decided to top it up with yellow sand, which has now muted the original dark hue...however, you could always dig your way down to find the darkest tone.

A dual city – from Portuguese fortresses to Chinese temples

Contrasting cultures have created a rather unique landscape in Macau, shaping its landscape as well as its people and making it a delight to explore.

There are plenty of heritage sites to get your camera ready for – Macau's historic centre for example was added to UNESCO's list in 2005. With its array of ancient monuments including landmarks like the Senado Square, the Ruins of St Paul's, various churches and temples as well as the old city wall; it all helps paint the perfect picture of that early encounter between the Chinese and European civilisations.

What should you do here besides sightseeing?

Definitely try the unique and authentic Macanese street food with Portuguese and traditional Chinese delights galore as well as tasty fusions of the two cuisines. You must not overlook food on a trip here, so please don't! From skewered treats of all kinds (yes they put almost anything on a stick) to steaming hot Chinese buns and sweet Portuguese tartlets; there's plenty of delicious things to sink your teeth into.

Portuguese flavours heavily influences many popular dishes here with the "caldo verde" soup being a popular starter, it's close to the Portugal original but with a twist – using bok choy instead of collard greens. Don't forget to also try "minchi" the national dish, consisting of pork or minced beef cooked with onions, potatoes, soy sauce and, often, also an egg.

Two real islands and one man-made one: Taipa, Coloane and Cotai

What's even more special about Macau is that there isn't just one single place to explore but four! First you have Macau, then there's Taipa, a little further down you'll find virtually untouched and laidback Coloane and in the midst of the last two the man-made island of Cotai - the only place in China where gambling is legal and where you'll find the world's biggest concentration of casinos.

Macau is the place to dig around for culture. Here you can expect to find the finest example of colonial Portuguese architecture as well as a variety of attractive museums like the Macau Museum of Art and historical sites that include the remnants of the 16th century Mater Dai complex, Mandarin's House and the General Post Office and St. Dominic's Square.

It's hard to believe that only a couple of decades ago Taipa was a place only populated by duck farms and boat yards. Nowadays it's a completely urbanised hub full of residential dwellings, shopping malls, hotels and the Macau Jockey Club racecourse. Here you can explore the Museum of Taipa and Coloan History as well as walk around the row of colonial houses known as the Taipa Houses Museum. If you feel adventurous there's also Bungee Jumping and Sky Walking offered at Macau's World Federation of Great Towers with a clear-glass-floor observation deck for those not afraid of heights.

Coloane is decidedly the quieter island with the most unchanged façade of all Macau. It's almost an ancient relic although it has modernised somewhat but it still retains its relaxed, slower pace of life. Highlights here include the Chapel of St Francis Xavier and temples like the Tam Kong. Climb to the top of Alto de Coloane to inspect the impressive A-Ma Statue representing Macau's goddess, standing right beside the enormous Tain Hou temple.

Cotai, a name that results from the combination of syllables of Coloane and Taipa, and appropriately so, as it stands between the two, it's the place to find spectacular hotels, sky-scraping wonders, and of course, row after row of casinos.

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