Macau (sometimes spelled Macao) is a special administrative region of the PRC (People’s Republic of China). The country, which is really just one large city, shares the language and some culture with Mainland China but is completely autonomous. Located in the heart of the Pearl River Delta, a densely populated region with little landmass left to build upon, Macau is a unique stop along an overcrowded and heavily modernized part of Cantonese China.
Macau’s biggest tourist draw is its casinos. Often labeled the “Vegas of Asia,” the city attracts a large and wealthy international crowd (who strictly must be over the age of 21 to participate). This doesn’t mean backpackers and hostel-goers should stay away, however. With a rich and fascinating history of Portuguese colonization, Macau boasts a European old town that is unlike anything else in Asia. Adrenaline junkies will line up to jump off the world’s highest bungee at the top of Macau Tower, plummeting nearly 800 feet in 9 seconds with a view of the Lingding Sea. Foodies will flock to the seafood markets and Portuguese-style egg tart bakeries. Cheaper than Hong Kong, only a ferry ride away from Victoria Harbor and Shenzhen Airport, and home to the budget Spring Airlines, Macau is more than worth visiting for travelers of all kinds.
The city itself is small and compact. Most sites are within walking distance of each other, though Macau is actually more than just one island, its three parts connected by the stunning Sai Van Bridge. A wrap-around highway that also served as the Grand Prix race track envelops the city, and cheap buses fly from stop to stop. Hostel location will make little difference on your stay, but most accommodations can be found on the main peninsula, near the Portuguese district, Macau Tower, and casino drive. Thanks to its European history and current gambling draw, hostels tend to be both westernized and expensive, so be sure to do some research and book well in advance to find the cheapest options.
Chinese visas are not required to visit Macau, so travelers without visas will often opt for a short stay in Macau and a longer stay in Hong Kong, allowing for more time in the larger of the two cities. While Hong Kong offers stunning city views, endless shopping, and gorgeous tropical hikes, travelers should save some time to soak up the rich culture of Macau during their days, visiting sites like Senado Square, the Ruins of St. Paul’s, and Fortaleza do Monte. A walk through the old town will drop you off at the race track, which is also home to the Grand Prix Museum. Other oddball museums include the Taipa Houses (with five colonial homes on display for all the HGTV addicts out there), the Macau Science Center, and the Macau Wine Museum. In the evening, you should take in the sunset views of the South China Sea, then gamble the night away at slot machines and blackjack tables in The Venetian. Whether you choose to stay on one of the Macau islands or at a hostel a ferry ride away in Hong Kong, you won’t regret any time you spend in the magical land of Macau.
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