After dark in Macau

After dark in Macau

Shunning the casinos, Pat Kinsella takes a moonlit meander around the more interesting side of Macau.

Standing in central Macau and contemplating your surroundings involves sustaining an assault on at least two of your senses. Within seconds of leaving your air-conditioned hotel the humidity seizes you in a sticky embrace, and your eyes are bombarded by a synthetic, ultra rainbow of multicoloured lights and neon imagery that erupts in waves across the claustrophobically clustered cityscape. It’s as though you’ve stumbled into the guts of a giant slot machine.

And this is precisely what most people expect of this SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China – that it’s an enclave of excess on the doorstep of the world’s biggest supernation: an Asian Vegas on an outstretched limb of China, that is literally swelling as the number of casinos it hosts continues to grow.

But this is only one face of an astonishingly diverse destination. With its Portuguese heritage, perfectly preserved Old Town areas and population of tai-chi practising locals who have been here far longer than the modern gambling dens, Macau holds more than a few surprise cards up its sleeve.

If you’re indifferent to the come-hither power of the casino’s winking electric eyes, and you demand more from a night out than a few imported beers in a sterile bar with false lights and no clocks, we suggest spending the day exploring the temples, parks and streets of the islands of Taipa and Coloane, before working your way back to the peninsula via some of Macau’s more interesting watering holes and feeding stations. By the time you get back downtown, you may be in the mood to dig a bit deeper into what really lies behind those lights.

Start by lining your stomach with a couple of Portuguese egg tarts from Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village. Englishman Andrew Stow went up to the big bakery in the sky a few years ago, but his legacy lives on thanks to his now iconic interpretation of these classic pastries (pies that became so legendary they got him onto Macau’s new year’s honours list). It’s tempting to tuck into a baker’s dozen of these melting mouthful-sized tarts, but pace yourself – eating is a central part of a night out in Macau, and there’s plenty more to come.
Lord Stow’s Bakery 
1 Rua da Tassara
Coloane Town Square

Wash away the crumbs by pouring a couple of bottles of ice-cold Macau Beer down your pie hole, while sitting around a table in the neighbouring market. The service is reassuringly rude at joints such as Nga Tim, so you know you’re getting the real deal and not the tourist treatment, and the whole square is as chaotic as it is aromatic. Sip your beer and slurp down the atmosphere while surrounded by cacophonous locals scoffing supper as the sinking sun turns the Chinese mainland into a silhouette across the water. Menus are full of seafood dishes cooked in a mixture of Macanese, Portuguese and Chinese styles – from ‘sauna prawns’ to curried crabs – but restrict yourself to a few light nibbles as an appetiser, then jump in a cab.
Nga Tim 
1 Rua Caetano
Coloane Town Square 

Arrive at Miramar Restaurant, which has outdoor seating overlooking Hác Sá Beach and is a top place to continue your sundowning. This Portuguese place has been bashing out classic cuisine since before the 1999 Macau handover, and the charismatic and matriarchal chef, Rosa, does a mean galinha á Africana (‘Africa Chicken’ – a local Macanese recipe that has absolutely nothing to do with Africa), as well as a fine garoupa (white fish) dish and an epic serving of a meal that involves a suckling pig stuffed with rice. Plates are generous here, so order a big ice bucket full of Super Bock (Portuguese beer) to keep you lubricated between mouthfuls. The wine list is comprehensive too – with its Portuguese history, Macau is one of the few places in Asia where wine is truly appreciated. It’s difficult to avoid eyeing the cake counter – lined with towering variations of Macau’s signature dessert, a simple but seductive sweet made from cream and crushed biscuits called serradura (‘sawdust’, because of the powdery biscuits) – but try and restrict yourself to a small serve as there’s more belt-loosening activity ahead.
Miramar Restaurant
Zona Norte da Praia de Hác Sá

Moving away from the greenery of Coloane, toward the busier streets of Taipa, you’ll cross the Cotai Strip, an area of reclaimed land that now joins the two islands. This is home to the Venetian (where you can take a gondola ride along a canal, complete with a big-lunged gondolier from the Philippine Opera Company), the Galaxy and the City of Dreams – all behemoth hotel, casino and entertainment complexes. The latter houses three hotels – including the Hard Rock, where you can hire a suite complete with a round, padded room containing a rodeo machine. To sup with the high rollers, head to Belon in the Galaxy’s Banyan Tree for a glass of fine wine, hand-picked by Jeannie Cho Lee, Asia’s first Master of Wine, or introduce yourself to the mixologist at the City of Dream’s Flame Bar and pucker up for every pyromaniac’s preferred poison, a Solar Flare, or perhaps even a drop of Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Brew.
Cotai Strip

Time to park your arse, give your mouth a rest and your body a chance to digest some of that bounty, as your eyes take in a show. Macau might not have the variety of visual entertainment that Vegas boasts, but in the House of Dancing Water it does have a unique and astonishing show that will blow the cynical socks off even the biggest of theatre-phobes. Staged in a purpose-built performance space above a complicated and ever-transforming water pool, and involving everything from finely choreographed dancing and fighting scenes, right through to high-diving daredevilry and Crusty Demons-style motorbike stunts, it pretty much has something for everyone – although just watching it may give you indigestion. 

Despite the looming presence of modern money-spinning monsters nearby, historic Taipa Village remains a charming little spot with European-style alleyways running through it like tunnels in a rabbit warren, restaurants and bars buzzing with activity and local families mingling with visitors on lantern-lit cobblestone streets and piazzas. António, right in the belly of the village, is a spectacular place to experience Asian Portuguese cuisine at its finest, with Michelin-starred chef António Coelho driving both the saucepans out the back and the atmosphere in the front of this intimate and welcoming restaurant. António also has a little bar opposite his restaurant on Rua dos Negociantes, which is great for a pre-dinner drink and where – particularly if you’re a lady – he’s been known to demonstrate how to open a bottle of champagne using a sword. The menu is enormous, but if you can’t do justice to the bacalhau (a dish made from dried, salted cod) or the camarão tigre grelhado (giant tiger prawns), perhaps settle for something lighter, like honey-fired goat cheese on truffle toast with some house-cured olives, and chase it down with a few glasses of vino verde (a bubbly green Portuguese wine that’s well loved in Macau). For dessert, don’t miss out on the dramatic flaming crepes suzette, which António makes in front of your table – as much a spectacle as it is a dining experience.
3 Rua dos Negociantes
Old Taipa Village

Just down the road from António’s joint is the Old Taipa Tavern. Taipa is where most of Macau’s expats base themselves, and this pub is a classic British-style boozer where many of them come to sip pints. It’s not a god-awful theme pub though, it’s a genuine alehouse in the midst of Asia, with a convivial atmosphere inside and pavement seating outside. Down a pint of Guinness here while you wait for a cab. Old Taipa Tavern 21 Rua dos Negociantes, Old Taipa Village, Taipa 11.15pm Bolt back across the bridge to the bright lights of the peninsula, where the skyline is dominated by the Macau Tower. AJ Hackett offers the world’s highest bungee jump (233 metres) from the top of this tower, and you can even take a leap at night – although perhaps not after such a bellyful of booze and bacalhau.
AJ Hackett Macau Tower

Hop out of the taxi at the tower of tackiness that is the Grand Lisboa and have a wander through the gaming floors of one of Macau’s classic gaming houses – even if it’s just to gawp at the surreal spectacle of it all. In just a decade, Macau has been transformed by the casinos, which have been turning over more coin than Las Vegas since 2006 and now make at least US$14 billion a year. The casino culture is quite different here though; the (predominantly Chinese) crowd takes their gambling very seriously, and there’s not much bucks’ night frivolity in evidence. The on-table action differs too, with local games like sic-bo, fantan and pai-gau being played alongside baccarat and roulette. If you don’t feel like losing any money, there’s plenty of opportunity to spend some too – choose from one of three Michelin-approved restaurants that this building boasts (including the jewel in the crown, the uber fancy Robuchon au Dôme), or grab a pick-me-up glass of chilled vodka in the Lotus Lounge (thanks to the influx of cashed-up Russians, the selection of exquisitely distilled potato juice is startlingly good). Grand Lisboa Avenida de Lisboa, Macau 

A short walk away is one of Macau’s hidden nocturnal gems. Sky21 is a surprise bar perched on the 21st floor of the ever-so-corporate-looking AIA Tower, with an outdoor mezzanine level offering an amazing alfresco drinking experience with a view right across the peninsula and into China. DJs tickle your ears with cruisy tunes as you sip cocktails or beers, and the gentle lighting and classy-but-cool ambiance is a world away from the insanely illuminated mercenary madness of the gambling dens below. Slightly incongruously for such a trendy joint, there’s also a dart board (albeit an electronic one). Open late, this is a cracking place to wind the night down, but if you’re still amped for more action, one of Macau’s best clubs is just downstairs.
Sky 21 
Level 21, AIA Tower
Avenida Comercial de Macau (opposite the Grand Emperor Casino, take the lift next to Starbucks)

At D2 you can shake away some calories ingested earlier to the tunes of the best local DJs or visiting Russian turntable tsars. On a good night it stays open right through until 6am, when you can wander back through the city’s parks, past the swaying army of tai chi practitioners and caged-bird walkers that meet the dawn each day.
Level 2, AIA Tower
Avenida Comercial de Macau  

Get there

Macau has an international airport, but most visitors coming from Australia will go via Hong Kong. Qantas flies many times daily between Sydney and Hong Kong (with feeder flights from all other Australian cities). 

From Hong Kong International Airport, you can take the airport ferry service without having to go through HK Customs and Immigration or even collect your luggage, which will be transferred directly to the ferry (explain you are travelling on to Macau when checking in for your outbound flight). The trip is inexpensive and takes approximately 45 minutes.

Stay there

The Mandarin Oriental, right in the heart of Macau, offers luxe rooms from US$307 per night. 

Get Informed

To find out more about Macau visit their tourist information website.

Words Pat Kinsella

Photos Pat Kinsella

Tags: bar, china, macau, nightlife, urbanites

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