For travellers with the yen, or the yuan, to explore China yet hesitant at the challenge, Macao – a special region of the Republic on the south-east of the mainland – offers an ideal, stimulating mix of the fascinations of Sino-culture with the history and architecture of longstanding European tradition.
Macao’s ancient interconnection of Eastern and Western civilisations persists to this day and is on magnificent display in all its dynamic, dual-faceted, contrasting and complementary aspects in an area of just 30sq.km. It’s colonial atmosphere mixed with Chinese context; if you like, a modern construction of the ancient Silk Road that linked not only trade and economic prosperity but merged many political and religious philosophies and exchanged developments in technologies and science.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Macao’s handing back to China by Portugal, an occasion nevertheless highlighting the continued autonomy of its status. It retains its own form of government, legal system, currency, and other regulatory framework such as its visa rules (Australians don’t need one for short trips).
Travel with Cathay Pacific, the internationally-awarded airline and local carrier co-founded post-war by an Australian, or Virgin Australia or Qantas. (It’s just over 20 years, too, since the world forfeited one of the most exhilarating, heart-stopping and magnificent arrival experiences, even for pilots: flying low over Kowloon, skimming the rooftops and clotheslines of houses in a narrow corridor between the hillsides and soaring commercial towers, into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport. That facility was replaced by the new regional and international hub and gateway to south-east China, Chek Lap Kok, a $20bn project built on reclaimed land some distance away.)
Now, the gasp of delight of old might well be substituted by a modern wonder: a remarkable road trip westwards towards the mainland, across the world’s longest over-sea bridge (pictured), a 21st century engineering marvel. Newly completed late last year after nine years and at yet another $20billion cost, the total 55km-long span – the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge – comprises a 30km main deck, 12km link road from/to Hong Kong and 13km Zhuhai link road. It connects the three major cities with continual departures, at fares the equivalent of $11-$14. Zhuhai, in Guangdong Province, is one of China’s premier tourist destinations, known as the “Chinese Riviera” and named the republic’s most liveable city.
Macao’s proximity to China proper and its Portas do Cerco border with Zhuhai surprises tourists by its closer resemblance to Europe than Asia, outstanding World Heritage-listed Portuguese colonial architecture, fine beaches and excellent cuisine – Portuguese, Chinese and fusion Macanese – and hotels. The first, and last, European colony in East Asia, Macao was colonised by Portugal in the 1550s and lasted until its 1999 return to China’s sovereignty. It offers a more visible colonial history than Hong Kong; its buildings and cobblestoned streets resemble similar sites in Mediterranean Europe. There are the magnificent buildings – churches, temples, fortresses, museums; wonderful cuisine; topline entertainment and nightlife; excellent outdoors, golf and other sports experiences; walking and hop on-off tours, and this anniversary year filled with an unbroken string of world-class and varied festivals through to December, including plenty for young people and families. Begin exploring at www.visitmacao.com.au and ask your travel agent to provide further information for your trip.
Travel Editor, Susie Boswell.
The winner of last month’s competition for the prize of a Crumpler ergonomic weatherproof backpack with tablet pocket and padded left or right shoulder strap is Valerie Johnstone of King Creek. The backpack, RRP $169, is made from a blend of reclaimed recycled polyester materials from Crumpler’s Conversion travel accessories collection including laptop messenger bags, cross-body and waist-bag styles available at Crumpler stores nationally or online with free domestic shipping at www.crumpler.com