Travellers to Asia are often drawn into comparing Macau with neighbouring Hong Kong. Both are Special Administrative Regions of China – with their own currencies, police forces, education systems and governments – but that’s where the similarities end. The differences between Macau and Hong Kong are quite obvious and a Hong Kong to Macau day trip is worth doing just to see the differences.
If I was asked to label them using one word I’d call them “Highrise Hong Kong” and “Heritage Macau”. But being an occasional visitor to the region, I don’t feel qualified to discuss the differences so I caught up with TripAdvisor’s Hong Kong and Macau destination expert Brad Reynolds for his views.
Living in Hong Kong has provided Brad Reynolds the opportunity to explore every corner of Macau.
Brad and his wife Jill have visited Macau so many times they have lost count.
Originally from Edmond, Oklahoma in the United States, Brad is a director at Lemon Tree Learning Centre, a small English language school in Hong Kong where he teaches English and oversees the school’s marketing, operations and English programme.
How often do you visit Macau?
My wife and I stopped counting about eight years ago. These days, Macau is like a second home to us.
Sometimes we visit Macau a couple times a month, especially during the cooler months when it is more pleasant to spend time outside.
Conversely, we generally spend less time in Macau during the heat of summer.
After visiting Macau regularly for nearly 10 years, I have no desire to stop visiting and spending time there.
I think what is going on in Macau in terms of the development as a world-class tourist destination is really special.
What are the main differences between Macau and Hong Kong?
Considering their colonial histories and close proximity, Hong Kong and Macau are surprisingly quite different as holiday destinations.
Hong Kong is ultra-modern, with skyscrapers everywhere and everything moves fast!
In Hong Kong, you can enjoy high-impact sightseeing at Disneyland, Ocean Park and Victoria Peak as well as world-class shopping and dining.
Macau historically has lacked the high-impact sightseeing and modernity of Hong Kong but with the rapid development of this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China as a gaming and sightseeing destination, that is changing fast.
We even have a Macau LRT system in the works now.
What’s one experience that is guaranteed to impress?
The Venetian Resort was the first real “Wow” experience in Macau, now we have the likes of the House of Dancing Water, a world-class show at City of Dreams, and several other resort properties that offer enjoyable experiences for visitors beyond the casino floors. And there is quite a bit more on the way in Macau. We’re really looking forward to trying the new figure 8 Ferris wheel that will be part of the Studio City property.
What does Macau have that Hong Kong doesn’t?
What Macau has that Hong Kong is missing is the old-world charm in the form of its preserved heritage and history.
We are big fans of the UNESCO World Heritage area in Macau as well as the likes of St. Lazarus, Taipa and other areas where you can enjoy the unique, European-Chinese fusion that can only be experienced here in Macau.
For us, it is easy to see what makes Macau unique and special in its buildings, streets, squares and restaurants.
It is just not the same in Hong Kong.
Which hotel should I choose?
Macau hotels are catching up rather quickly to Hong Kong.
However, there remains a real need for more mid-range and low-cost accommodation of suitable standard.
Backpackers and budget travellers still find it tough going when trying to organise a visit to Macau.
This is not the case in Hong Kong, where you can easily find places of all standard and price.
Macau hotel prices also skyrocket on Friday and Saturday nights so we often encourage visitors who are making combined trips to Hong Kong and Macau to target a visit to Macau during the midweek to save on their Macau accommodation costs.
Is the food in Macau good?
As for dining, Hong Kong is recognised as one of the genuine culinary capitals of the world.
There is very little you can’t find here in terms of world cuisines.
Macau, on the other hand, is an emerging food and dining destination with strengths in local Cantonese, Portuguese and Macanese dining.
Macau is making clear inroads towards becoming a food and dining powerhouse destination. There’s a growing list of Michelin restaurants in Macau.
There are excellent international restaurants in Macau like French, Spanish, American, Japanese, Korean restaurants as well as and many other food types if you know where to look.
One of the special aspects of Macau is the presence of local pastelerias (bakeries) like Koi Kei, which sell local Macanese snacks like braised meats, almond cookies and Portuguese-style egg tarts.
It is a neat aspect of Macau that Hong Kong has no real equivalent for.
What about the shopping?
People come the world over to shop in Hong Kong on both the wholesale and retail levels.
Ten years ago, Macau had a couple department stores, traditional street shops and a few street markets in the Red Lamp district. That was about it.
Again with the arrival of the large hotel and casino properties, we have seen large malls and resort shopping areas open up all over Macau, creating an equivalent high-end and luxury shopping experience to what you can find in Hong Kong.
However, I don’t think it is realistic for Macau to ever develop the full breadth of shopping experiences you can have in Hong Kong.
There’s a growing list of local fashion and craft shops to add to your Macau shopping experience.
Where would you take your Mum?
I have taken my mother to Macau several times in the past for weekend trips and she really likes it there, probably more than time spent in Hong Kong.
The Giant Panda Pavilion, Venetian Resort and World Heritage buildings are things she enjoys as well as picking out which nice restaurant to try.
However, what my mother has been most impressed with during her visits is the House of Dancing Water show at City of Dreams.
Being a fairly regular visitor to Las Vegas, mum loves to see shows and she believes this is up there with the very best she has seen in Vegas over the years.
I have to admit, I rather enjoy watching House of Dancing Water as well. It is really good!
What are your favourite spots?
This is probably my favourite area in Macau, where you find similar architecture and beauty to the popular Senado Square but virtually no tourists.
I also very much enjoy walking along Avenida di Republica which runs along the north side of Sai Van Lake. Very few vehicles pass this way, allowing you to stroll the lake in peace and quiet.
You can hear birds chirping while watching fish splash in the water.
The Macau Tower is just on the other side of the lake.
This is also a great spot for the International fireworks competitions held during weekends in September.
I don’t have a single favourite restaurant in Macau; there are several places that I am always happy to eat at.
The African Chicken at Henri’s Galley has a way of always putting a smile on my face.
For a nice meal, I really enjoy the French cuisine at Sofitel’s Prive while my personal favourite fine dining and Cantonese restaurant is The Eight at Grand Lisboa.
They always serve such delicious dim sum and mains and everything is presented in such beautiful ways.
It is a real treat to dine here.
Interestingly, there is a thriving coffee culture in Macau. My top spot is Terra Coffee House at St. Augustine Square.
Where do you usually stay?
We try to stay at different hotels during our visits so that I can better advise those asking about accommodations on the TripAdvisor Macau forum.
However, if I were to suggest a personal favourite, it would be Sofitel at Ponte 16.
The rooms are pretty good and come with great views of the city or the harbour.
The profusion of flowers throughout the year in their lobby is always pleasant and as we are partial to Art Nouveau, we like their lounge called Rendezvous.
Also, we highly rate the French restaurant, Prive.
Location-wise the hotel is just a five-minute walk to the historic city centre and main sightseeing areas of Macau.
It’s surprisingly one of the best-priced, high-end hotels in the city.
In the end, it is an easy hotel to recommend to visitors to Macau and a place we enjoy as local repeat visitors to Macau.
Do you have any tips for travellers to Macau?
There is really a lot to see in Macau for travellers and to better enjoy this destination, we recommend staying a couple of nights – day trips to Macau from Hong Kong are really a thing of the past now!
Also make sure to check out the MGTO website to see what’s happening in Macau during your visit.