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Macau's Best Bets
Our sister SAR has a lot more to offer than just gambling (but that's a big part of it). Here are favorite things to do.

By HK staff | Aug 25, 2005

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  • Macau's Best Bets
    1. Gamble
  • Macau's Best Bets
    4. Find the Ox Warehouse Art Space
  • Macau's Best Bets
    8. Go to the Lou Lim Ioc Garden
  • Macau's Best Bets
    13. Check out the Dog Races
  • Macau's Best Bets
    15. Check out the 17th Macau International Fireworks Display Contest
  • Macau's Best Bets
    18. Check out the live shows
  • Macau's Best Bets
    20. See all of Macau's history on one block
  • Macau's Best Bets
    23. Walk the streets
  • Macau's Best Bets
    33. Live the nightlife

1. Gamble

This is number one on most everyone's Macau list, since the former Portuguese enclave is the only location in China that permits casino gambling. For decades, this booming industry was a complete monopoly under the thumb of one man: Stanley Ho and his Sociadade de Jogos de Macao. But in 2002, the government broke his vice grip and Las Vegas operators fought to be the first to get a slice of this annual US$3.7 billion-dollar pie. The first was The Las Vegas Sands Corporation (which owns and operates the Venetian Casino Resort and the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas). They opened the Sands Macao Casino, which makes more money than its Vegas sisters (a three-month period ending in September 2004 saw a table drop of US$972.3 million). But that’s only the beginning of the new influx of casinos that are nearing completion. The Macao Venetian Casino Resort in Cotai will be open by mid-2007. Meanwhile, the gigantic Galaxy Resort and Casino will open on Cotai as well, in different phases, the earliest being this January. Wynn Resorts (Macau) Ltd. is also set to open a huge casino by January near the Lisboa. Meanwhile, Stanley Ho is not taking all of this lying down. Even while the numerous casinos at his Hotel Lisboa continue to rake in profits, he’s building a casino with a working volcano on Fisherman’s Wharf (opening in January) to further boost his coffers.

Fancy your chances? Scott Murphy goes through the maths before you place your chips.

2. Jump from the Macau Tower

The Macau Tower is the 10th tallest freestanding tower in the world and the dominant phallic structure in the Macau skyline. It’s not enough to just see the tower though, you’ve got to walk around the edge of the top, 61 floors up - without a rail - and then jump right off. The walk around is called the “Skywalk X” and the jump (just opened) is tellingly called the “Sky Jump.” It’s not quite a bungee jump, since jumpers are tethered to three cables that prevent rebound without cutting out any freefall. We recommend you first dine in one of the Tower’s many restaurants, including a nice 360-degree cafe, for the amazing “Freefall Upchuck X-Perience!” Prices vary; call +853 98888-656 for more information and booking.

3. Go to the Teatro Pedro V theatre

Built in 1873, this lovely theatre is the oldest European theatre in Asia, showing plays from classics to avant-garde. The theatre is nowhere near as big as the new Macao Cultural Centre that hosts most of the stage events now, yet the neo-classical facade and the quaint roof garden give visitors a much stronger sense of intimacy. Only a few locally produced plays and operas are held here now, and it’s run more as a museum, but it’s a real gem of the city. Garden opening hours: 10am-11pm daily. Santo Agostinho Square (Northern Area), +853 939-677.

4. Find the Ox Warehouse Art Space

This is the spot for art lovers who’ve come for a slice of authentic contemporary Macau culture. One of the territory’s most prominent arts groups, “Old Ladies House Art Space,” holds regular exhibitions here in various media, showcasing paintings, sculptures, poster designs, installations and sketches. Like the Cattle Depot in To Kwa Wan, the Ox Warehouse is in a converted slaughterhouse, now housing a comfy cafe and a shop selling books, CDs and local-made accessories. It’s been gaining a higher profile recently by hosting a few gigs with respected international artists, such as the show by American indie band Caribou last month. It’s tucked away on the north side of town, at the Intersection of Avenue Coronel Mesquita and Almirante Lacerda (+853 530-026,

5. Go to the Grand Prix

If you can't make it to the 52nd Macau Grand Prix this Nov 17-20, the Grand Prix Museum is the next best thing. The museum displays winning cars and motorcycles, along with a collection of photographs, videos and memorabilia from past winners of the world-renowned Guia circuit. Interactive simulators allow you to get into the action by “driving” the circuit. Open Wed-Mon, 10am-6pm. US$1.20 adults, US$0.60 students 11-18, free for seniors and children under 10. Rua Luis Gonzaga Gomes, Tourism Activities Centre (just a block away from the Sands), +853-798-4130. Grand Prix info:, +853 796-2268.

6. Buy Chinese gold

Because Chinese gold is not taxed in Macau, it’s available in dozens of grades at bargain-basement prices. The selection is as huge as the discount, with pearls, jade and semi-precious stones also widely available. We recommend you avoid the street vendors and try the respectable jewelry shops on Avenida Almeida Ribeiro and Avenida Horta e Costa, near the Lisboa. (Where else are the streets paved with gold other than near the casinos?) The word of warning though: Get a warranty card for any big-ticket purchases and keep all your receipts.

7. Spend an afternoon in Coloane

The island of Coloane is Macau’s countryside, and at about twice the size of Taipa Island, there’s plenty of space for green hills and valleys, traditional villages and beach-lined bays. Had you visited at the turn of the century, the island would have been a base for pirates, who hid in the cliffs and caves waiting to strike at cargo ships coming from the mainland. Now it’s a base for leisurely walks and the Westin Resort and golf course. Skullduggery is so passe anyway.

8. Go to the Lou Lim Ioc Garden

Modeled after the classic gardens of Suzhou, miniature landscapes with bamboo forests, ponds and rugged concrete mountains make this garden the most popular in Macau. A Victorian-style pavilion at the end of a nine-turn bridge adds an international touch. People come here to enjoy everything from exercises to ballroom dancing, and the pavilion is used for art exhibitions and small concerts. Open daily from dawn to dusk. On Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida.

9. Pop in to Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Memorial House

Built in 1918 in Islamic-Moresque style, this beautiful home used to be the residence of the great Chinese revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who is credited with the formation of The Republic of China. In 1958, it became a museum dedicated to his legacy. The decoration is the same and the place still houses his original books, photographs, furniture and letters (which are on exhibition). Open Mon-Wed 10am-5pm, Avenue Sidonio Pais. +853 574-064.

10. Buy cheap pearl milk tea

When you’re shopping near St. Paul’s, you should stop for a quick recharge just down the street. You can’t miss these places - they’re simple stands set into buildings, staffed with teen girls and always teaming with people. During the afternoon hours (last we checked, it was 3-5 to be precise), the pearl milk tea sells for just US$0.40. (the same drink can set you back US$5 in Hong Kong). The stands sometimes come and go, but there’s never a lack of them.

11. Check out the Crypts

The Ruins of St. Paul’s is the iconic Macau destination, of course, but not everyone checks out what’s behind it. Granted this is for the more macabre among us, but if you walk behind the ruins, you can find a somber list of the priests who died in the fire that destroyed the church, and, a little farther back, actual graves and crypts - some of them featuring exhumed bodies. Ew.

12. Unwind at Hac Sa Beach

Check out this popular black sand beach on Coloane where you can play mini-golf, tennis and rent jet skis.

13. Check out the Dog Races

Billed as the only dog track in Asia, it costs just US$1.25 to enter the Canindrome, which can then be used on your first bet. It’s lower key than horse racing, and perhaps more enjoyable. The dogs race at speeds of up to 80kph around the track. Literally, blink and you’ll miss it. But you won’t forget the fun, especially if you decide to get up close to the dogs during the nightly auction. Avenida General Castelo Branco, +853 221-199. Races are held on Tue, Thu, Sat and Sun.

14. Ruin Someone’s Picture at the Ruins of St. Paul’s

We’ve all seen the Ruins of St. Paul’s - it’s THE image of the Macau Tourism Board. And, yes, it is cool. The church, destroyed by a fire in 1835, was once considered the most glorious Catholic church in Asia. Tourists come from all over the world to pose in front of it and cameras are constantly popping. It’s easy to invade someone’s memories with an errant V-sign or worse. When that’s done, head over to Monte Fort, just beside the ruins, to visit the Museum of Macau.

15. Check out the 17th Macau International Fireworks Display Contest

This contest is the largest of its kind and is one of the most important in the world, with expert judges coming from around the globe. This year, expect an even larger turnout since Macau has risen to become one of the leaders in the global fireworks scene. At the waterfront near the Macau Tower. Sep 3, 10, 18, 24 and Oct 1.

16. Go go-karting

A karting circuit with a 1.2km track is situated at the end of the causeway linking Taipa with Coloane. Here, locals and visitors can get a small taste of what it’s like to be a Formula One driver, even if it is only at a fraction of the speed. Still, this is how Michael Schumacher got his start, and for our money, it’s the best karting track in China. Call (+853) 881-862 or e-mail for more information.

17. Buy Macanese junk food

Check out the alleys beside Almeida Ribeiro St. for the handmade almond cakes and other snacks. There’s a group of bakeries here, but the two most popular are Chui Heong Yuen (Open 9am-11pm, 1AB Rua da Ressurreicao) and Pasterlaria Koi Kei (Open 9am-11pm, Rua da Felicidade). In addition to the almond cakes, they’ve also got candies, beef and pork jerky, egg rolls and dried preserved fruits and nuts. For the famed Portuguese egg tarts, try the neighborhood bakery Lord Stow’s (Thu-Tue 7am-11pm, Wed 7am-6pm, Coloane Village Square). Bring these popular gifts back for your local friends.

18. Check out the live shows

While the mainstream cultural scene grows at the Macao Cultural Centre with a range of upcoming international events (see the schedule at, the indie scene has also found its own niche. Due to the high venue fees and government levies in Hong Kong, many major independent artists are opting to perform in Macau instead. American indie rockers Caribou were just the first; Austrian electronic producer Christian Fennesz is on tap to come later this year.

19. Burn incense at A-Ma Temple

To really get into the local traditions, visit the A-Ma Temple dedicated to the legendary young woman who gave Macau its namesake (“A-Ma-Gao”). She’s regarded as the “Goddess of the Calming Sea” and at her temple, worshippers burn incense in her honor. Outside, along the beautiful cliffs, you can find poems and calligraphy inscribed on the stones, a lovely look into the local heritage. Open 8:30am-7:30pm daily at Rua de Sao Tiago da Barra.

20. See all of Macau’s history on one block

The best place to do this is as at Senate Square, at the opening of Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. On one side, there's the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau, formerly known as the Leal Senado, or “Loyal Senate” for the colonial government. Right opposite is the Santa Casa de Misericordia, the oldest European charity in China, established in 1568. At the far end of the square is the cream-yellow St. Dominic’s Church. In between all of this lies the modern comfort of a Starbucks and a McDonalds. This is where east meets west and centuries past meet the contemporary world.

21. Bargain at the Flea Market

No trip to Macau is complete without checking out what the medley of hawkers has to offer at the flea market at Rua das Estalagens. Here you can haggle over anything from antiques and tea ware to fabrics. You can also head to Hong Kung Temple between Rua de Cinco de Outubro and Rua de Guimaraes, where on the weekends, the local Neighborhood Association organizes a night market.

22. Go to the Penha Peninsula

Penha Hill is one of Macau’s remaining quiet places and hands-down the best tourist spot. At the top of the hill is the Bishop’s Palace and Penha Chapel, a great place to take in gorgeous views of the city and sea. Be sure to look out for the “Gate of Understanding,” a monument to Sino-Portuguese friendship. You can also catch a glimpse of the elegant Portuguese mansions that dot the hillsides, including “Santa Sancha” (Government House) and the famous Bella Vista Hotel, now the Portuguese Consul’s residence.

23. Walk the Streets

Sprawling yet pedestrian friendly, the best way to scope out the city is by foot. Eager amblers can start right upon arrival at the ferry terminal with an hour-long walk due south all the way to the Macau Tower. Walk west to the Guia Fort, and beyond, to the city’s signature landmark, the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The most picturesque walks are on Avenida da Praia Grande on the east side and Rua do Almirante Sergio towards the western part of the city, where winding hills, quaint homes, hidden restaurants and the Bella Vista and A Ma Temple await. For a little romance, saunter along the Avenida da Praia Grande next to the Nam Van Lake. Touristy types can tap into the CTM-sponsored “Walk the Talk” ( audio tours on their mobile phones at no extra charge. You can even save your energy and listen to the tour from your hotel room.

24. Get Bookish

Bookish types can mull over Macau’s history in the Portuguese Bookshop, or IPOR (Liveria Portuguesa e Galeria de Art). Nestled in a narrow colonial street, this hub for Portuguese-Chinese literature hosts special talks, readings, book launches and other Portuguese literary events. (Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, 18-20 Rua S. Domingos, +852 566-442.) Chinese and English speakers can find books on Macau history, politics and religion at Starlight Bookstore. Daily 10am-8pm. Novelty Lane, 1/F Macau Landmark, 555 Avenida De Amizade, +852 787-133.

25. Go to the Arts Festival

In March, the city comes alive with an annual international arts festival that attracts audiences and performers from around the globe. This year’s festival featured 18 programmes and 28 performances from Mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, Portugal, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, USA, India and Macau. Keep an eye on for program details.

26. Go to the East Asian Games

This fall, Macau will transform into a sports Mecca when the East Asian Games hits the enclave. From Oct 29 until Nov 6, 11 participating nations and 2,800 athletes and officials will compete in 17 sports and 235 events. Visit for more info and booking information.

27. Get philosophical on Port

Take a break to imbibe the sweet, fruity, brandy-fortified Portuguese red wine, also known as the “wine of philosophy” - available practically everywhere in the city. Pair it with its classic accompaniment, strong blue cheese, or enjoy it at the end of a meal with a fruit-flavored dessert. Drink a few glasses on its own and you may just wax philosophical: The smooth spirit has an alcohol content of 20 percent.

28. Soak up some multicultural architecture

There’s more to Macau than flashy casinos. Its unique mix of Chinese and Portuguese influences makes for eclectic architecture on Macau’s steep and cobble-stoned streets (leave the high-heels at home). The Portuguese-style tiles are one of the most striking features, with many streets and buildings lined with them. We recommend you walk down Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro from Avenida da Praia Grande to the Inner Harbor to get a good taste of the architecture of the city.

29. Cop a view

Flora Garden on Sidonio Pais St., situated on the former grounds of the Flora Palace, is an aristocratic Portuguese mansion that was destroyed by a firecracker factory explosion in 1931. Now it’s home to Macau’s largest gardens, a miniature zoo and a cable car that takes visitors to the top of Guia Hill for sights of the Guia fortress, lighthouse and chapel.

30. Wrap yourself in Chocolate

At Spa Philosophy, the world’s only oxygenated, pollution-free spa, you can have one hell of a decadent experience with their Godiva Chocolate body treatments. Our favorite is the Chocolate Lover’s Delight (US$274 for two) - which includes a chocolate scrub, body wrap, massage and milk bath. They do not recommend eating the treatment, but we can tell you that, despite a mild earthy aftertaste, it is undoubtedly the real thing. If you spend US$150 on facial treatments or products, you can get a free one-way ferry ticket to Hong Kong. If you bring this page, they'll even give you a free 10 minute massage. Unit C and D, 327-331 Avenida Xian Xing Hai, Nam On Garden, Macau. +853 728 330,

31. Connect with the locals

Sit, take a rest and write a postcard by the spherical fountain at Senate Square. Look over the old men’s shoulders and watch a game of chess, or just chill out, twiddling with a jade ring for that authentic twist. This is a great place to meet up with some chattering locals. Pop the card in the drab-looking Central Post Office on your way out to keep your mamma happy.

32. Rent a Mini-Moke

This is by far the best way to get around the city. You can rent these fun little buggies from Happy Mokes at room 1025 at the ferry terminal (call +853 439-393). They’ll set you back US$37 per day (plus a US$500 deposit), but its well worth it. Local licenses work for all nationalities except Canada, France, Japan and Singapore (whose residents require international licenses).

33. Live the Nightlife

One place to dig into Macau’s nightlife is along the Avenida Dr. Sun Yat-sen close to the Kun Iam Statue and the Cultural Centre. It’s commonly referred to as the “Lan Kwai Fong of Macau,” and it’s the same in many ways: Competent cover bands come from around the world to provide a soundtrack to sangria-swilling expat revelry. But there’s more to Macau’s nightlife than this somewhat disappointing strip. Instead, we recommend the insane DD Disco (Av. Inf. D. Henrique, Silo Sintra, Cave 1, (853) 711-800). DD’s is divided into two sections - one playing unhinged, chest-rattling techno and the other features a bizarre, sub-par cover band. But it’s not about the music here: It’s about the experience. Love it or hate it, you won’t forget it. It only gets going after 2:30AM.

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