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It was the Portuguese who settled Macau in 1557, persuading the Chinese to rent them the peninsula and establishing trade links in the region that made them very wealthy. It was this period of prosperity that created the colonial Macau we see today – the Basilica of St Paul, the Mediterranean courtyards, luxurious villas, the hill-top lighthouse and UNESCO World Heritage old city. By the 17th century Macau was already in decline and became a backwater for licensed gambling, prostitution and organized crime well into the 20th Century. In fact the Chinese refused to take it back until 1999, by which time it was in better shape anyway. By then the Triad gangs had been dealt with, the monopoly on casino licenses revoked and Macau’s economy had kick started as foreign tourism increased. Today Macau is seen as having something of two faces with people coming to appreciate the fortresses, churches and food of the colonial era and dining in the modern Las Vegas of the East amidst 14 casinos and ritzy hotels. There are also other sights such as Buddhist temples, war bunkers, the excellent Museu de Macau, Macau Tower and the Fisherman’s Wharf theme park.
Macau is based on a peninsula with a couple of islands including Taipa and Colôane. Most of the sights including St. Dominic's Church and Basilica of St Paul are packed around a few blocks in the old core around Largo do Senado, a good starting point of your tour.
Macau restaurants serve a spicy blend of Portuguese, Chinese, Malay, Indian and African dishes. The choice should keep all palettes happy because not only can you find delicious dim sum and pork chop bun, but there are also excellent Portuguese coffee (bica) and wine, Goanese chicken and fresh Chinese vegetables. Traditional Portuguese dishes to look out for including bacalhau (dry cod) and rich soups like caldo verdo or sopa a alentejena. Famed Macanese (Chinese/Portuguese) dishes include stir-fried curry crab and jagra de ovos (sweet egg tart).
Thanks to its Portuguese heritage, Macau has got coffee right. It therefore makes sense to head to Portuguese establishments for the best blend of bica and pastries, while the Chinese establishments produce a juicy pork bun with milky teas and puddings.
Nightlife in Macau no longer centers on the gambling establishments. There are wonderful places to head including the Dock’s Outer Harbor sidewalk bars on Avenida Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Do note some places are true to the Mediterranean tradition and don’t heat up until after 1am.
Due to its tax free status, shopping is a delight in Macau with prices considerably lower than the USA, Europe and other Asian centers. Thanks to recent developments, you can find designer shopping centers though there are plenty of exotic Asian markets and traditional shops selling Chinese medicines and Portuguese antiques. Other things to shop for including electronics, jewelry, fabric, porcelain and wine. Prices vary according to quality so be wary of imitations. Avenida Almeira Ribeiro is the main commercial center and has many designer boutiques.
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