Macau is largely unchanged since being returned to China on December 20th 1999 after 112 years as a Portuguese1 colony and visitors appreciate it.
Macau inhabitants regarded the handover as a mere change of administration. Certainly, you see fewer Portuguese faces on the streets nowadays, but there remains the curious mixture of European flair 2 and Far Eastern tradition that make the Macau travel city so special.
Like its larger neighbour Hong Kong, Macau is now a special administrative region of China, but its special capitalist status is guaranteed for the next 50 years.
When you first glimpse Macau on the ferry from Hong Kong, it looks less than impressive. The skyline is dull compared to the imposing3 glass skyscrapers of Hong Kong, and most people do not take the time to revise4 this first impression, devoting no more than a day trip to it. But this does not do justice to this city of two cultures, which hides plenty of interesting secrets.
The Macau Museum, which opened two years ago, offers an excellent introduction to the peninsula's5 past and present. Children love it because it is full of technical paraphernalia6. You can press buttons to light up trade routes on Macau Tourist Attractions maps, or to hear the different typical cries of Macau's traders.Marshall Islands
Just a few metres from the museum is the city's most photographed symbol: the ruins of Sao Paulo, the Jesuit7 church built in 1602, although today only its imposing stone facade remains.
While the majority of Macau's inhabitants are Buddhist8, some seven per cent are Catholic and the religious sites of Macau testify to the special mix of eastern and western cultures here. As well as the Macau tourism numerous churches inherited from Portuguese rule, there are very many different temples.
The largest is the Kun Iam Tong. In the main hall of this temple, giant spiral9 joss-sticks10 hang from the ceiling, raining small piles of ash on the heads of visitors. Along the sides are smaller ancestors rooms commemorating11 the dead. There is also a room of plants which includes a special bonsai12 tree, the trunk of which happens to be shaped like the Chinese sign meaning long life.
The contrast between the peace of these temples and the bustle13 of Macau city could hardly be more stark14. The lively pedestrian zone flanked15 by colonial buildings with their teeming16 side streets are not at all reminiscent of religious contemplation17. Locals and tourists saunter along with shopping bags.
Macau, on the southeast coast of China, consists of the Macau peninsula and the two offshore islands of Taipa and Coloane in the Pearl River delta18. Ninety-six per cent of the 450,000 inhabitants are of Chinese origin. Anyone who stays a few days, soon realises that the city is small but charming. You soon start to recognise a few faces, even the city tramps19 start to become Macau Tourist Attractions familiar. Although the tourism industry would like to sell Macau as a racy20, modern city, its real appeal is that it offers a very quiet, relaxing contrast to Hong Kong.
But Macau is one of the richest regions in Asia, with an annual per capita21 gross national product of more than 17,000 U.S. dollars. This is mainly thanks to gambling. Forty per cent of all state income comes from the numerous casinos here, the Macau travel only legally operating gambling halls on Chinese territory.