Macau (sometimes written Macao) is a name you probably haven’t heard in years. Because of the intermittent and strict lockdown measures, the special administrative region—and only place in China where gambling is legal—has been largely off limits for three years. Before the pandemic, the city of just over 600,000 residents saw over three million visitors per month. During the lockdowns, visitor numbers failed to eclipse one million and in some months dipped below 100,000.
The experience has forced Macau to rethink its approach to tourism entirely and attempt to diversify away from gambling dollars, which made up 80-percent of the city’s total revenue before 2020. The result is a somewhat reimagined Macau focused on funneling travelers towards local restaurants, bars, and other attractions. The city’s compact size and breezy walkability make it easy to see plenty of it in a single weekend.
What to eat
Macau’s past as a Portuguese colony means you’ll be eating a mix of European and Chinese mainstays. The Portuguese egg tarts at Lord Stow’s (B48/piece, B280/6 pieces) are famous well beyond the city walls and are worth a trip to the colorful Taipa Village district.
Gorging on pork chop buns is another requisite eat for visitors and can be found all over the city. Not too far away from Lord Stow’s is Tai Lei Loi Kei, where you can find one of the most sought-after versions of the regional favorite (from B235).
African chicken, a uniquely Macanese dish that sees barbecued chicken lathered in a thick, aromatic sauce brimming with African spices, is another must-try dish that’s found everywhere. Riquexó is the go-to spot for that and other unique dishes, like diabo stew, you’d be hard-pressed to come by outside the city.
What to drink
Wine, cocktails and coffee are the target for most visitors here—and a lot of booze drinking happens on the Macau Peninsula side of the city. The off-menu Bloody Mary at Spacebar Cafe on is one of the best versions of the drink we have tried in a long time. A few minutes walk away is Two Moons, a cafe-by-day, bar-by-night that whips up a mean gin and tonic and boasts one of the best whiskey collections in town.
For Portuguese wine (required drinking for visitors who consume alcohol), head to MacauSoul on the same side of town, which boasts a range of 400 Portuguese bottles and decent food to match.
There are a good handful of decent cafes around town, too. On the Cotai side of town where Taipa Village is, head to Lamgo Coffee & Roasting—a small shophouse not far from Lord Stow’s—to snag a south Italian espresso for B78. On the Peninsula side, Bloom Coffee House offers a pricier and more concise menu, but is still frequented by bean heads all over town.
Where to go
This is the part where you will need the least advice. The remains of St. Paul's Cathedral tops most to-do lists, as are other relics from the Portuguese occupation like the Guia Fortress and Fortaleza do Monte (which houses the Macau Museum). Other, non-historic options include the Giant Panda Pavilion and teamLabs immersive art exhibit are worth visiting and make for great photo ops.
Glitz and Glamor
While Macau is putting in an effort to diversify away from being so heavily reliant on casino revenue, this is still the Vegas of the East for a reason. All of the heavy hitters in the casino world—Wynn, Sands, MGM, etc.—have strong presences here. These places are also, by and large, the homes of the city’s Michelin-starred eateries and cocktail bars that crack the annual “50 Best” lists. While there is a lot of glitzy competition for the monied traveler’s dollar, ask folks around town for the hotel that tops the lot as the fanciest and many of them will quickly say the Wynn Macau.
The mammoth, 1,000-room hotel sits on the banks of the Nam Van lake on the Peninsula side of the city, no more than a few minutes walk from local tourist sites like St. Paul's Cathedral and the Guia Fortress.
It’s the first of the brand’s two core resort casinos in the city, and probably the most exuberant. Even the one-bedroom suites here are surprisingly large (185sqm), and feel like miniature houses replete with private spa rooms, two bathrooms, full bars with counter seating, soaking tubs and king sized beds lined with Egyptian cotton sheets.
It’s also home to two of the city’s prominent Michelin star restaurants. The two-star Mizumi, its flagship Japanese venue, splits between a high-end omakase sushi, teppanyaki and a traditional kaiseki menus. The interior of the venue oozes those fine-dining vibes with a floor-to-ceiling crimson red color scheme accented by gold metal accents and artwork from contemporary Japanese-born, Vegas-based pop artist Sush Machida. A few steps away on the ground level is two-star Cantonese restaurant Wing Lei. It’s arguably one of the best places in town to find Canto fine-dining food, but often twisted with imported ingredients like barbecued pork topped with French Kristal caviar.
Across the peninsula on the Cotai side is where you will find the Wynn Palace. It’s most recent addition to the brand’s portfolio and sits close to the Cotai Strip, Macau’s answer to the Vegas Strip, where you will find gleaming replicas of London’s Big Ben and Paris’ Eiffel Tower—in pristine condition compared to their real counterparts.
The rooms here are almost more opulent than what you will find at the Wynn Macau. The Penthouse Suite, of which there are only four, boasts 24-hour butler service, custom beds made by Frette, TVs the size of entire walls and views over Performance Lake—a fountain lake in front of the hotel with a gondola ride around the perimeter for guests to ride. Wynn Palace also boasts Michelin street cred through the one-starred Wing Lei Palace, an analog to the Wynn Macau venue, and the two-starred Sichuan Moon.
Both hotels, much like many of their competitors, include lavish spreads of luxury brands across the ground floors—you will get used to seeing names like Gucci, Bulgari, Chanel, Burberry and the lot as you wander through both locations. Macau doesn’t charge a VAT or sales tax on most goods, which means you can score most items, including luxury goods, at a discounted price compared to Bangkok.
The Cotai Strip
If you are curious to explore or stay around the Cotai Strip, you will undoubtedly see the aforementioned replicas of various wonders of the world, like England’s Big Ben, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, and the canals of Venice. All of these resorts are owned and operated by Sands China Ltd., a majority owned subsidiary of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which is known across the world for its ritzy hotels.
Recently, The Londoner Macao enjoyed a grand opening celebration (the resort has been open for a while but Covid restrictions delayed the party) attended by none other than British superstar David Beckham. The celebration also christened the mammoth, US$2 billion renovation that the hotel complex completed during the course of the pandemic, turning it into one of the most impressive luxury hotels in the city.
The former football star not only acts as a global ambassador for Sands Resorts Macao, but was also on site to unveil the latest addition to the hotel—The Suites by David Beckham
. The rooms, which include all manner of Beckham related interior design goodies like photos of him and wife Victoria and pillows with his logo on them, were designed in collaboration with famed London interior design firm David Collins Studio. Those suites, which are booked by invitation only, can be previewed on The Londoner Macao website
If you are looking to stay at The Londoner Macao to soak up some of the vibes of the Cotai Strip, then there are a couple of options: The Londoner Hotel, Conrad Macao, St. Regis Macao, and Sheraton Grand Macao. All of these hotels are contained within the massive Londoner complex, which also includes a multi-floor shopping mall and casino on the main floor. The complex has more than 20 different dining options, and a brand new 6,000-seat arena that held the opening celebration with Beckham. If you are looking for a fun show in the middle of the day, check out The Crystal Palace for the “Changing of the Guard” celebration inspired by the real ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
There is plenty to see and do around the strip as well. You can scale the Eiffel Tower and peer down on the streets below, take a selfie in front of the absolutely huge Big Ben tower or inside a classic London double-decker bus, or hit of the replica Venice canals at the Venetian (be warned, it can get very hot in Macau during the summer, so plan for the weather accordingly because it can be overbearing to ride in a boat on a clear day). Another new addition to the line-up is the previously mentioned teamLabs immersive art exhibition that will see you exploring an array of 3D art exhibitions that blur the lines between reality and illusion.
Things to Know
Flights from Bangkok to Macau
Price: Around B6,000 (Thai AirAsia) roundtrip.
Travel time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Stock up on Hong Kong Dollars
The local currency, Macanese pataca, is not used outside the city and exchanges in Thailand don’t carry it. Grab a pile of HKD at the airport instead, which is used interchangeably throughout Macau.
You Don’t Need a Visa
Like many other nationalities, Thai passport holders do not need a visa to gain entry into Macau as long as they stay no longer than 30 days