I have always dreamed of going to Asia, and Macau was the perfect, albeit unique, way to see it for the first time. I had a certain image in mind of what it would be like, and in many ways it was what I had pictured, a super romanticized, almost naive picture of the East. I burned incense at ancient temples, learned the proper way to steep and serve Chinese teas, ordered street food from the market, and even waited by the docks at 5 am to see the morning flower delivery roll in.
What I didn't expect was learning phrases in Portuguese, eating sweet pastries like egg tarts, or ever once encountering a latte. The Portuguese influence was so much more pronounced than I was ready for, at times I felt I could've easily been in Europe. Not only was it unexpectedly western, it was young. There were art districts, coffee shops, a fashion scene, it wasn't as old world traditional as I imagined, although you could easily find it if you went looking.
But in the end, I found a place that was more than just a gambling town, although the casinos are something you should experience at least once, or a day trip to take if you're visiting Hong Kong. It's very much its own destination and with it comes with its own culture.
Usually, I would recommend staying somewhere a little more off the beaten path, but I'll make an exception when it comes to Macau. When staying in a city known for it's casinos, the larger hotel chains are some of the most exceptional. I stayed at the Sofitel, which had amazing views and one of the best spa experiences I've had. When it comes to spas, Asia seems to have it right, the treatments always seem to be more catered to travelers.
After a 30 hr journey, as well as experiencing a 12 hr time change for the first time, jet lag hit me harder than ever. Luckily, The Sofitel's spa offered a jet lag recovery treatment, a mix of massage and aromatherapy, which proved to be a life saver. I recommend booking your appointment day two or three of your trip, I had no issue running off of adrenaline and the need to push through the exhaustion the first few days, but as soon as day three rolled around I was really starting to feel it. As much as I love relaxing on a trip, I was hesitant to spend any time by the pool or in the spa after traveling half way around the world, but hitting a wall is inevitable so might as well lean into it and recover the right way.
I had high expectations for the food, after all it was my first trip to Asia and all I could think about was Chinese tea, egg tarts, pork bao, and street food – so much street food. Macanese food, as it turns out, is a mix of southern Chinese and Portuguese with Indian and African influence. So there was a lot of ground to cover when it came to trying Macanese. I didn't realize when I went to Asia I'd be trying Brazilian, Portuguese, and African but it's those unexpected details I look forward to most on a trip.
+ Tai Lei Loi Kei | To Order: Pork Chop Bun
+ Margaret's Cafe e Nata | To Order: Egg Tart
+ Restaurante Litoral | To Order: Traditional Macanese
+ Antonio | To Order: Traditional Portuguese
+ Kafka Coffee | To Order: Matcha Green Tea
+ Long Wa Tea House | To Order: Chinese Tea
Macau is definitely a city where you can wonder around and not have to worry about having a plan. For me, Asia was always going to be about the markets, the street food, and feeling some culture shock. The Red Market was the perfect place to experience my to do list all at the same time. This is not like your local farmer's market, the trading is fast paced, it's busy, and will definitely have you feeling some culture shock.
While the markets are busy and a little confusing, wandering around the villages was oddly comfortable. It was easy to get around by foot and it was the best for stumbling across great street food like black sesame ice cream and pork jerky, picking up jade from jewelry stalls, watching locals practice tai chi at the park, and getting a sense for the Macanese day-to-day.
At night, regardless of whether or not you are a gambler, you should see the casinos. Personally, Vegas never sparked any interest, I've actually only ever gambled once in my life, but when in Rome.. There's enough differences from American casinos that made for a very interesting night. Firstly, Asian gambling is not remotely the same as it is in Vegas. You rarely see anyone that intoxicated, the slot machines look abandoned, men in suits quietly crowd around the playing tables – and it's all very serious.
My favorites destinations as well as perfect starting points for exploring the different islands and neighborhoods: