When it comes to Macau, the glitz and glamour of the Cotai strip, casinos and the historic town centre grab the limelight but don’t overlook what tiny Taipa has to offer.
Before land reclamation and Cotai casinos and with the official opening of Studio City on October 27 adding to the entertainment mix, 500 years of Portuguese, Chinese and Macanese culture blended within the narrow streets and alleyways of Taipa village.
Now the 7 sq km island is joined to the Macau Peninsula by three bridges and bounded on its landward side by reclaimed land that forms the Cotai casino strip that irrevocably locks it another former island, Coloane.
Here are five reasons to visit and stay in Taipa Macau
1- Fabulous Food in Taipa
From tiny little cafes hidden away in the narrow backstreets selling grilled steak to trendy new tapas bars, Taipa food is a glorious cross-cultural mix.
Traditional restaurants like A Petisqueira (15C-D Rua de S. Joao, Vila de Taipa) set the tone with great Portuguese staples like grilled bacalhau (salted cod) and octopus salad.
Every traditional restaurant in Taipa has its own version of Duck Rice – think of paella meets African fried chicken with chorizo thrown in. It’s so popular that I’ve seen a whole table get up and leave when told it was sold out.
Make sure to leave plenty of room for dessert – they’re fabulous. Try various versions of Sawdust Pudding or Serradura.
This oddly named temptation is pure comfort food – a mixture of vanilla bean infused whipped cream and condensed milk topped with a layer of fine biscuit crumbs – that looks exactly like sawdust.
The best Serradura’s have a fine layer of crumbs set between the cream layers as well. It’s a fine balance, too much crumb and the whole quality of the Serradura changes – too little and sweetness is cloying.
Don’t forget to try Portuguese beer or wine over a long lunch or dinner. Over ordered? Be shameless and ask for a container to carry off any leftovers, the locals are used to Hong Kongers heading for the ferry laden with Macanese goodies.
2- Sea views over history
Taipa Village where most of the restaurants, cafes and historic sights are located is relatively flat, but the area does have a few hills, which means there are a few options for hiking to scenic lookouts.
Particularly scenic is the route overlooking the three bridges – the Ponte de Sai Van (2.2km long), the Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho (2.6km) and the Ponte da Amizade (4.7km long) spanning the sea between Macau and Taipa.
The Taipa Pequenta trail leads to a great view of an enormous sculpture by Portuguese sculptress Dorita Castel-Branco.
The highest point in Taipa is only 160 metres so it’s more of a stroll than an all out hike. Trails are well signposted and of course, since you’re walking – they’re free.
3- Taipa History and Museum
When you’ve finished wandering the narrow streets and alleyways of Taipa village, step back in time at the delightfully pastel coloured Taipa Houses-Musuem, a collection of five early 20th century Macanese – Portuguese inspired architectural buildings, in pale green and white.
The houses overlook the Pria de Nossa Sra. da Esperanca lake bordering the Dra Launna Mesparteiro garden.
Each house displays an aspect of Macau life during this era – from furniture and costumes to historic documents and exhibitions.
Before heading there, check if you’re likely to see free floral exhibitions in the grounds in front of the Taipa Houses.
The annual orchid exhibition is a riot of colourful orchid varieties and even if you have no idea about flowers, the size, colour and strange way of displaying these blooms is fascinating and a great photo opportunity.
4- Mega concert and stay in Taipa
International acts like Katy Perry frequently bypass Hong Kong and perform at venues like The Venetian, Cotai. Huge themed casinos also attract huge crowds and if you’re not into gambling, mass consumption and aimless strolling can be well, overwhelming, so stay in Taipa and commute the short distance to the Cotai strip.
From the Taipa Houses Museum, it’s an easy walk to the casino strip. If the weather’s hot and steamy don’t even attempt this. Catch a bus or grab a taxi to save your feet – you’ll probably need them to last for the duration of any concert anyway.
5- Gardens, miniature trees and turtles
On a hot sunny day – there’s nothing quite like sitting in the airy coolness of a Chinese pavilion watching golden koi gather in shoals.
While Macau has one of the most beautiful Chinese gardens, the Lou Lim Leoc Garden, Taipa’s Garden of Flower City is a modern take on traditional Chinese landscape, updated to include a kids playground and skate area.
Little known Pou Tai Un Buddhist Monastery is definitely off the beaten track and a bit tricky to find, being tucked away on Estrada Lou Lim Loek, so you’ll probably be the only tourist wandering in its grounds.
The monastery includes a beautiful prayer hall.
The gardens surrounding the temple are filled with lovingly groomed bonsais, from minute trees to complete forests. Don’t forget to say hello to the monastery’s turtles too.
Until the 50 km long Hong Kong–Zhuhai- Macau Bridge and tunnels are completed in late 2016, if you’re heading to Macau from Hong Kong, you’ll need to enter China’s Special Administrative Zone by ferry or air. Alternatively, if you’re entering from China, you can arrive by road. Macau’s international airport lies alongside Taipa, so it’s a fast but expensive travel option.
If you’re leaving Hong Kong, the best bet is to catch the Cotai ferry. Smart Taipa travellers book tickets on Cotai ferry for two reasons: it saves valuable holiday time and money because it delivers you directly to Taipa – meaning a short taxi fare to your hotel and, If you arrive at the terminal early, staff will change your ticket and put you on an earlier ferry, leaving you with less boring downtime in the passenger terminal. Bonus!
Visit Taipa and The Taipa Houses-museum for more information on hiking.
Taipa is undergoing a spectacular renewal. Find out more