There’s half-a-dozen different ways to get around Macau; megabucks limos, buses packed like sardine cans, bump-and-grind taxis, rattletrap pedicabs, and the very handy (and totally free) shuttles graciously run by the major casinos that whizz to and from the airport, ferry ports and the border crossing with Mainland China. But for my money, to really explore Macau you can’t do better than take a wander round the city on foot. Here’s what to do in Macau on a walking tour.
What to do in Macau away from Senado Square
St Lazarus is the Macau of yesteryear, spreading out from the eponymous church, made up of an intriguing network of peaceful squares, broad, shady trees, and alleyways patterned with distinctive Portuguese tiles.
The retro ambience has attracted gallery owners, one-of-a-kind shops and boutique restaurants – anything, in short, that simply wouldn’t fit in a glitzy designer mall.
Settling down with a cappuccino, I fell into conversation with a septuagenarian Macanese whose facial features, accent and demeanour spoke of cultural fusion.
“Pretty much all of Macau used to look like this,” he said, without any sort of preliminary introduction.
“Fewer people, hardly any cars, more hours in the day, you knew your neighbours and they knew you, looked out for each other, handed out presents at Christmas and little red packets at Lunar New Year.”
He paused, and puffed at his pipe for a minute or two.
“I’m not saying it was better. I’m just saying it was different. And of course the girls were more beautiful when I was young. At least, that’s the way I remember it.”
And with a something between a laugh and a snort, he rose, spry despite his years, and strode briskly away across the square.
It is humanly possible to walk to Taipa – once an island, now connected to the Macau peninsula by a trio of bridges – but it’s not the most relaxing of routes.
So I hailed a taxi, and about 20 minutes and as many patacas later, uncoiled myself at what might be Taipa’s Ground Zero.
Call it by its Portuguese name (Cunha or “wedge”), its Chinese appellation (Guan Ye Jie – Government Official Street), or its nickname “Food Street”, there’s no denying that this is the heart and soul plus alimentary canal of old Taipa village.
Straight as an arrow, 120 yards long and never more than four wide, Food Street runs between the Largos de Bombeiros and the 19th-century covered market known as Carmo Fair. And on either side a score and more eateries and snack shops – their home-brewed aromas pirouetting across the taste buds and their touts crying the irresistible deliciousness of their wares – boast ever yet more unique culinary specialities of the gourmet Mecca that’s pronounced “Macau”.
Food Street’s infectiously tasty ambience is nowhere better displayed than at Gelatina Mok Yi Kei, a gallimaufry of puddings, jellies, ice creams and fruit salads that could equally be called “Just Desserts”.
“Fun to work here? I should say so!” yelped Liang Yin Ji, one of the numerous closely-knit band who’ve been merrily jellying here for several score years.
“Everyone’s got a bit of sweet tooth, so very few people can resist trying something when they come past.
Durian ice cream and chocolate pudding are the favourites, and loads of people love our fresh mango juice too. Can’t say I blame them!”
Wander away from Food Street’s brouhaha, and you’ll find yourself in the oldest part of Taipa, which could well be pronounced Time Warp.
Some houses are shuttered and bolted, others wide open to passers-by providing a brief tableau of family life. Astonishingly, there’s a Michelin-star restaurant, run by the larger-than-lunch Chef Antonio Coelho. But whenever I’m in this neck of the woods, I always pop into the barber shop whose sole proprietor is usually to be found asleep in the chair, although he soon gets busy with clippers and comb once he’s yawned and stretched for a few minutes.
Shorn of a few curly locks and a handful of patacas, I strike south again, on four wheels rather two legs, to Coloane’s village square.
Walk south of the village, past Tam Kong temple and the shooting range where police marksmen are usually making enough noise to wake the residents of the cemetery next door, and you’ll find yourself on Estrada da Aldeia, a country lane of sorts favoured by courting couples, dog walkers and slightly eccentric types who might well be smugglers.
Half-an-hour ’s stroll leads to Bamboo Bay or Cheoc Van, Macau’s best beach, not least for its boasting a public swimming pool (in summer at least), Gondola – the long-term expats’ default pizza hang-out – and an air of seclusion that makes it seem a whole world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Macau.