Fishermen from the province of Fujian and Guangdong farmers were the first known settlers in Macau. It was known as Ou Mun or Trading Gate because of its location at the mouth of the Pearl River. In ancient times the port city was part of the Silk Road where ships loaded the precious fabric for transportation to Rome.
Portuguese ships landed in southern China in 1513 and in 1557 Portugal acquired Macau from China. It soon held the trade monopoly between China, Japan and Europe, making it Portugal's most important trading centre in Asia and the east's greatest port in the early 1600s. Ships scurried around carrying precious cargoes of European crystal and wines, Malaccan spices and Chinese silk, which was traded in Nagasaki for silver swords and lacquerware. Monsoonal winds took the ships to Macau to trade silver for more silk and porcelain, back to Goa for exotic Asian goods and back to eager consumers in Europe.
In the 1970s Macau was strong in the world of trade once more. It produced electronics, clothing, toys and other exportable commodities and tourism flourished with the establishment of casinos and hotels. The Portuguese influence is what makes Macau more attractive to many than its neighbour Hong Kong.
It is more relaxed and laidback than Hong Kong, with narrow cobbled alleys, grand baroque churches, colonial mansions with romantic balconies, open plazas, Mediterranean-style cafes, shopping malls, theme parks, towers and bridges and, of course, the casinos.
Like Hong Kong in 1997, Macau was handed back to the Chinese in 1999, ending four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, but there are many reminders of the past.
Monte Fort's construction began in 1616. Part of St Paul's Church and built on granite foundations with bastions at each corner, it contained barracks, cisterns and storehouses. Cannons with very wide fields of fire were set at each corner, covering the inner and outer harbours and the Chinese border for piracy protection.
When the Jesuits were expelled in 1762, the fort fell into disrepair. In 1831 it became a barracks and in 1835 a fire destroyed the fort, college and church, leaving just the façade, which is now noted as 'ruins of St Paul's'.
As trees grew there the area became a public park where locals and tourists enjoy the views and a visit to the Macau Museum.
The Chinese love gambling. Macau is the only place in China where it's permitted to gamble, with the exception of horse racing and mahjong in Hong Kong. Mainland and Hong Kong Chinese make up around 80 percent of the annual 10 million visitors to Macau who go there purely to try their luck.
In 2002, a 40-year monopoly on gambling ended, paving the way to grander casinos and an expected upsurge in Las Vegas-style entertainment. There are more than 14 casinos in Macau right now, all open 24 hours. The most sophisticated are in hotels, but there are others which aren't so fancy. None allow photography and shorts aren't permitted. Admission is free and they may require passport identification on entry.
The Canidrome is the only greyhound facility in Asia and considered one of the world's best. The 500-yard oval track has two grandstands, private boxes, a VIP lounge and coffee shop. Races are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with more than 300 dogs racing each day.
If horseracing takes your fancy, the Macau Jockey Club on Taipa Island is one of Asia's most technologically advanced courses. More than 900 thoroughbreds from England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and France are trained here, attracting trainers and jockeys from around the world. Air-conditioned grandstands provide comfortable race watching and good Chinese and European food.
The Macau Tower, soaring 338 metres over the city, is the world's tenth-highest freestanding tower and Asia's eighth.
New Zealand-born AJ Hackett, co-inventor of the bungy jump, has come up with a range of tower activities. Skywalk X is a walk outside and around the tower's exterior, 233 metres above the ground with no handrails! The really adventurous can try the climb to the tower's mast.
The Westin Hotel on the southern tip of Macau is the only big hotel chain on Macau not attached to a casino. The eight-storey resort is on the pretty Hac Sa Beach on Coloane Island.
The hotel offers 208 spacious and elegant guest rooms and suites, including six one-bedroom Executive Suites, one Chairman's Suite and a Presidential Suite. Each features a large terrace providing privacy for in-room dining and sunbathing. All rooms offer splendid views of Hac Sa Beach and the South China Sea across to Hong Kong.
Forty-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong.
Skywalk X at Macau Tower is around $25.
The Flight Centre and Helen Wong's Tours have four-night packages, including return airfares, to Hong Kong, transfers to Macau, four nights at the Westin Hotel and a full-day city tour.
Return fares per person, including taxes, start from:
- Perth $2006
- Melbourne $2007
- Brisbane $2011
- Sydney $2025
- Adelaide $2076
Available for sale until November 30, 2005, and for travel between September 1, 2005, and March 31, 2006. Conditions apply.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
Helen Wong Tours
Level 17 Town Hall House
456 Kent Street
Ph: 1300 788 328
Macau Tower Skywalk
China: it is recommended travellers to China see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au.