A non-gambler's guide to enjoying Macau
In Macau, you don’t have to roll the dice to hit the jackpot. Although this former Portuguese colony is now known for glitzy casinos, it still offers fun activities other than burning a gambler's hole in your pocket.
Macau is the perfect place for a non-gambler who wants to experience a unique mix of Eastern and Western cultures. It displays a distinctive Portuguese façade, but exudes a strong Chinese soul. Here, you can see a bronze statue of a Buddhist deity which resembles the Blessed Virgin Mary, and traditional Buddhist temples placed side by side baroque Roman Catholic Churches.
Macau’s Chinese roots are most evident in the A-Ma Temple, located at the southeast tip of the Macau peninsula. This old temple is the source of the city’s name—“A-Ma-Gau” or a place for the Buddhist goddess A-Ma.
Even before reaching the temple, visitors will be treated to the aroma of incense burned by throngs of Chinese worshippers who frequent the place for their prayers. Inside the halls of the temple, you get to see how the locals and Chinese tourists practice their faith, while marveling at the traditional Oriental architecture of the place.
Just a short ride from the A-Ma Temple is the Taipa Houses Museum. This place features a block of pastel-colored houses earlier inhabited by wealthy Portuguese migrants. Each house has already been converted into a museum to showcase the lifestyle of Macau’s past colonizers. From this vibrant little village, you can also get a picturesque view of Macau’s famous Cotai strip, where all the casinos and luxury hotels are located.
World Heritage Sites
Unbeknown to many, the Macau peninsula also hosts a high density of man-made UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These historical and architectural treasures are mostly accessible through short walking tours. Just make sure to wear light clothing and bring bottles of water, because the weather in Macau is usually hot and humid. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an umbrella prepared, since rain showers are common during the late afternoon.
Walk through the narrow and often congested Rua de Tomas Vieira and you will reach Macau’s most iconic landmark: the Ruins of St. Paul. This remnant of an ancient church and seminary stands atop a flight of stone steps, with grandeur typical of baroque structures. The unique mix of inscriptions embossed on the Ruins’ façade serves as a testament to Macau’s bicultural heritage. For instance, a Chinese dragon is depicted beside images of Roman Catholic saints and Jesuit priests. Chinese characters are also juxtaposed with Latin words dedicating this place of worship to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A few paces away from the Ruins of St. Paul is another baroque structure: the Church of St. Dominic. Its cream-colored stone façade, emerald green windows and intricate stucco moldings give a vibrant feel to this 17th century church. Inside, the decorations are simple yet elegant—from the ceramic mosaic flooring with floral accents to the beautifully carved wooden roof. This place is perfect for the Catholic believer who wants to get away from the busy tourist spots for a few minutes of prayer to the Blessed Virgin and to the Child Jesus, whose images can be found on the church’s altar.
Further down the alley from the Ruins of St. Paul is Macau’s central hub: the bustling Senado Square. It is a cobblestoned plaza featuring a striking wave design—a reminder of the region’s maritime past. Most of the buildings around the square, such as the Santa Casa da Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy) and the Leal Senado Building, are neoclassical in style. This is evident in the structure’s simple geometric forms and frequent use of columns as accents.
If you are in for a crash course on Macanese history, you may also want to check out the Macau Museum, located just beside the Ruins of St. Paul. The interactive exhibits take you back centuries before Macau became Asia’s Las Vegas—a time when locals made firecrackers, peddled food and explored the seas for their living. Outside the museum is Mount Fortress, which served as the Macanese defense network against Dutch invaders during the 15th century. It is best to visit this place on Sundays, when English-speaking tour guides can take you around the museum.
There is really more to Macau than just slot machines, baccarat tables and casino chips. The real charm of this place lies not in its current flashy image, but in its laidback past. This booming Chinese administrative region undeniably shows that two sets of beliefs which are worlds apart can blend into one—a culture that is distinctly Macanese. –KG/HS, GMA News
Disclosure: The author's trip was sponsored by the Macau Government Tourist Office.
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