Macau (or Macao) is one of the two special administrative regions (SARs) of the People's Republic of China (PRC), along with Hong Kong. Governed by Portugal until 1999, and now transferred to the People’s Republic of China, it was the oldest European colony in China, dating back to the 16th century.
Macau is a peninsula, and also consists of the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and a new area created called the Cotai Strip. A total area covering just 27.5 square kilometers. It is located 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Hong Kong. The peninsula is formed by the Zhujiang (Pearl River) estuary on the east and the Xijiang (West River) on the west.
The Macau peninsula was originally an island, but gradually a connecting sandbar turned into a narrow isthmus. Land reclamation in the seventeenth century made Macau into a peninsula. Macau is a dense urban area and has no arable land, pastures, forest, or woodland; thus Macau's people traditionally have looked to the sea for their livelihood. The total population of Macau was estimated at 513,427 at the end of 2006. The majority of people live on the Peninsula.
Macau is called the “City of Culture.” For a city this size, it has quite a few museums, sculptures, parks and beautiful architecture. Also, if you want an affordable game of golf on a world-class course, you have come to the right place. Macau is a major tourist destination in China and numbers continue to grow each year.
According to recent statistics from China, from 9.1 million visitors in 2000, arrivals to Macau has grown to 18.7 million visitors in 2005, 21.98 million visitors in 2006 and is expected to receive between 24 and 25 million visitors in 2007, with over 50% of the arrivals coming from mainland China.
Put on your walking shoes to best explore the city's many cultural and historical attractions. Popular sightseeing places are found all over the Macau Peninsula. Largo do Senado, the main square with surrounding Portuguese and baroque style buildings, is the busiest downtown area of the city. Clothing shops, pharmacies, cafes and jewelry shops are housed in the narrow alleyways that radiate from the square.
Macau boasts China's largest group of historical properties in the urban area, as it had almost five centuries of incessant osculation between West and East, after the Portuguese seafarers settled in Macau in the mid-sixteenth century.
The Historic Centre of Macau, which includes 28 historic monuments and eight public squares, was officially listed as a 31st World Heritage Site by UNESCO on July 15,2005 during the 29th session of the World Heritage Committee.
As you set out to explore Macau, go north to find the ruins of St. Paul's, a former screen wall of St. Paul's Church and the Monte Fort, one of the best-preserved forts in Macau. The Museum of Macau, to the right of the ruins, tells stories of the city's past.
Situated at the base of Penha Peninsula in the southwest part of the city is A-Ma Temple, built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which is dedicated to the sacred goddess A-Ma. During the festival seasons, thousands of devout prayers come to visit the temple.
In the southern part of the Peninsula, the New Reclaimed Area and the Outer Harbor Area is the newly-developed region. There are many luxurious hotels housing various gambling casinos and these venues are packed with people from all over the world when the night comes.
Numerous museums in these two areas present the essence of Macau's culture and history including the Macau Wine Museum, the Grand Prix Museum and the Macau Art Museum.
The two outlying islands of Taipa and Coloane connect the Macau Peninsular by two bridges. The islands are more tranquil than the bustling city. Macau Jockey Club's horse racing attracts numerous gamblers from the nearby areas and Hac Sa Bay and Bamboo Bay are two breathtaking natural scenic areas with the best seaside bathing places in Macau.
Besides historical relics, Macau's biggest attraction is its gambling industry. Some of the most inclusive, famous Macau casinos are found here. Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal. With the opening of the largest casino in the world as measured by total number of table games, Macau is known as ‘Oriental Las Vegas’ and the casino industry is an important part of Macau’s economy. In the next few years the area known as the Cotai Strip will be home to dozens of new world class resort casinos.
The high stakes betting is comparable to Las Vegas. Though many forms of gambling are legal here, the most popular game is baccarat, which generates over two thirds of the gaming industry's gross receipts.
In addition, Macau is one of the most well-known offshore financial centers and tax havens in a worldwide sense, amongst Bermuda, British Virgin Islands or the Bahamas.
The work force in Macau is mainly composed of:
- Manufacturing 16.4%
- Construction 8.3%
- Wholesale and retail trade, repair, hotels and restaurants 27.1%
- Financial services, real estate, and other business activities 8.6%
- Public administration, other communities, social and personal services, including gaming 31.8%
- Transport, storage and communications 6.8%.
When you visit Macau, you’ll find a wide range of tempting, delicious cuisines from all over the world. Macau-style Portuguese cuisine, traditional Cantonese cuisine, exotic food from Italy, France, Brazil, India, Japan, and Korea can be found.
The well-known Macau dim sum delicacies should never be missed. The Pastéis de Nata (a Portuguese-style egg tart) that originated on the outlying island of Coloane is the featured snack of the city. Many varieties of dim sum ranging from almond cake, chicken cakes, cashew cookies, sesame crackers, egg and cheese rolls are served in the Portuguese cafés.
How do you get around Macau? There are a variety of modes of transportation to get you to and from your destination in an efficient manner. You will find an efficient bus service, not only in the main city but also on the islands. Visitors can find the destinations, itineraries and stops in the information panels located at every bus stop.
There are also plenty of taxis. In order to eliminate the language barrier between taxi drivers and passengers, the Tourist Office has provided most taxis with a destination guide which includes the names of the most requested destinations in Chinese, Portuguese and English. When used together with a map, this guide will reduce many of the usual misunderstandings. Or drive yourself in a rental car.
The pedicab is a unique but rather slow way to move about. Though not a practical method of mass transit in Macau for many years, it is a unique way to roam about in Nanwan or other interesting areas. There is no standard fee for rickshaw service, so one may need to first negotiate with the owner.