that Macau, like Hong Kong, is largely populated by Cantonese-speaking
Chinese, the territory has always had an atmosphere distinct not
only from Hong Kong but from other parts of southern China. With
outdoor caft, charming Portuguese place names, public squares, the
odd palm tree and numerous Portuguese restaurants, there is a definite
of southern Europe in the air.
However, by the millions of gambling fanatics living in nearby
Hong Kong (and increasingly Shenzhen and Guangzhou as well), Macau,
with its liberal gambling laws, is seen as little more than one
giant casino. It is largely as a spin-off from the colossal gambling
trade that money is being pumped in, allowing large-scale construction
to take off, including that of Macau's own airport, recently opened
on the island of Taipa. New highrise hotels, highways and bridges
are appearing and even the Hong Kong speciality of land reclamation
has begun in earnest.
Nevertheless, temptations for non-gamblers remain. With a colonial
past predating that of Hong Kong by nearly three hundred years,
Macau's historic buildings - from old fortresses, to Baroque churches,
to faded mansion houses - are still plentiful, while the crumbling
backstreets around the port are reminiscent of Hong Kong as it might
have been fifty years ago. Finally, the two islands of Taipa and
Coloane, now being linked to the peninsula by bridges and land reclamation,
contain pockets of total tranquillity with fine beaches and restaurants.
Considering that costs are a good deal lower here than in Hong
Kong, and the ease of travel between Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau,
it's a great pity not to drop in on the territory if you are in
the region. A day trip from Hong Kong is possible (tens of thousands
do it every weekend), though you need a couple of nights really
to do the place justice.
The Macaocurrency is the pataca (abbreviated as "ptca"
here; also sometimes seen as "M$"), which is worth fractionally
less than the HK dollar, and is very nearly equivalent to the Chinese
yuan. HK dollars (but not yuan) are freely accepted as currency
in Macau and a lot of visitors from Hong Kong don't bother changing
money at all. Like the Hong Kong dollar, the pataca is set to continue
its status as a separate currency for the foreseeable future.
Visa regulations are not set to change either. Citizens of Britain,
Ireland, Australia, NZ, Canada, the USA and most European countries
are automatically granted permission to stay twenty days on arrival.
If in doubt, approach the nearest Portuguese consulate. In Hong
Kong there's one at 10th Floor, Two Exchange Square, Connaught Place,
Central (2523 1338).