Never mind the new light rail transit system that’s slowly taking shape, the fleets of casino limos that purr back and forth, or even the pedicabs that cluster outside the old ferry terminal. To my mind, the best way to discover attractions in Macao is to walk. Macao’s made for walking and getting lost in Macao is part of the experience.
Lost in Macau
Revved-up reclamation has welded the three formerly distinct parts of Macao – Taipa, Coloane, and the city proper – into a single blob. But it’s not too much of a flight of fancy to imagine that the one-time Portuguese colony is made up of a string of islets where it’s still possible to – recalling Desiderata poet Max Ehrmann — go placidly amid the noise and haste.
Red Market delights
I like to start off a wander through Macao by calling at Leong Wah Teahouse, next to Red Market.
Climb the stairs to the first floor, and you enter a time warp, where old Macao comes to you.
Gnarled ancients cajole their caged crested mynahs, staff amble back and forth with baskets of dim sum cackling the while, and a gargantuan boiler gurgles in the corner.
Yunan Pu’er tea is the speciality here, as it has been ever since the teahouse opened in 1962, and I always try and pick a window seat so I can gaze down on the street below as well as people-watch around me.
Rua da Felicidade
The girls, the gambling and all the other associated after-dark pleasures are long gone, and what’s left is a gently sloping flag-stoned street lined with traditional houses, two storeys high and adorned with bright red shutters and doors.
Some have been taken over by souvenir shops, others sell pastries or similar Macanese delicacies, others still – in that enduring Macao fashion – remain untenanted, as if their owners weren’t too bothered about what happened to them. And while Felicidade is the main street hereabouts, its neighbours are just as charismatic and well worth exploring.
Portuguese store in Macao
One of the most picturesque parts of Macao, the St Lazarus district, radiates out from the mosaic’d courtyard called Calçada da Igreja.
Graceful two-storey, tiled-roof colonial buildings – a gentle shade of apricot bordered with white – shelter an arts centre and a powerful homage to Epicureanism.
Started by filmmaker Ivo Ferreira and actress Margarida Vila-Nova, the solid wooden shelves of The Portuguese Corner Shop are loaded with spiced mackerel fillets in olive oil, Churchill’s Tawny port, sea salt, and a host of other delicacies.
I seldom go in here without my mouth watering a little, or exit without a full shopping bag.
Just opposite, Albergue 1601 is one of Macao’s most idyllic restaurants, serving traditional Portuguese food beneath shady umbrellas outside or in the cool interiors.
There’s no such thing as a hurried lunch or supper here, simply several hours devoted to eating and drinking before strolling on your way.
Lord Stow’s Bakery
A taxi or a bus is the only way to get to Coloane, the southern tip of Macao that’s still untouched by the gaming industry, and with an 18-hole championship golf course, lengthy hiking trails and broad beaches to back up its green credentials.
Trek here during the week, and you might well cover the full eight-kilometre circuit without clapping eyes on anyone else. By contrast, it’s a rare time of day when Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village isn’t crammed with customers.
The family business sells around half a million of its signature, hand-made egg tarts a month, a figure that requires no explanation as soon as anyone takes a mouthful of the delicate pastry and crème brûlée-type filling.
Yet despite the bakery’s popularity, the village stills seems to have one foot firmly anchored to the 1950s, with twisting lanes, family-run grocery stores, tumbledown houses that may or may not be inhabited, and a central square inhabited by a clutch of citizens with enough time to spare to watch the arrival and departure of each bus with no little interest.
Time progresses slowly here.
Sardine pate and Portuguese wine
How to round off a day’s wandering about Macao? I tend to avoid the ruins of St Paul’s – too many coachloads of selfie sticks – but delight in losing myself in the maze of streets and alleyways than run along beneath Rua de Sao Paolo.
Curiosity sated, it’s time to drop by another favourite haunt: Macau[sic] Soul. Fans say this latterday speakeasy is not just sound of surprise but its sight and feel and taste.
Jazz predominates here, although other live entertainers take in anything from blues to old-time, Texas swing, country, folk, and classical.
There are 400 Portuguese wines behind the bar, sardine paté, honey-roasted pork salad and much else to sample, and the alluring prospect of easing into the night in a bar whose closing time has always been pretty fluid.
Ed Peters is a Hong Kong-based freelance writer who loves wandering the back streets of Macao.
Although Macao is developing at a rapid pace, there are many places where you can wander aimlessly and soak up Macao’s old-world charm.
Taipa Island is going through a spectacular transformation, with the development of dining, shopping and art expos in Taipa Village.