Macau, with its famous “Cotai Strip”, is often considered the Las Vegas of the East. Nevertheless, I went to Macau for five nights; stayed at the Sheraton Macao (3,896 guest rooms) the largest hotel in this entire Special Administrative Region of China, and did not gamble once! Instead, I discovered the destination's cultural side.
Macau is unique in its balance of historic Portuguese and traditional Chinese culture. The culinary scene is a major draw, with opportunities to experience authentic Chinese, Macanese and Portuguese cuisine, as well as international specialties by top-rated chefs. A must try Macanese favorite is African Chicken, fusing coconut milk with African and Indian spices. I also took part in a Portuguese cooking workshop at the romantic, white brick and stonePousada de Coloane. Just a 15 minute drive from the Sheraton and the bustling Cotai entertaining and luxury shopping scene, the Pousada is a world away in its tranquil setting with spectacular views of the Cheoc-Van beach and the verdant mountains beyond.
From the dining table to the streets, my cultural explorations continued on a fun-filled educational day with an “iPad Discovery tour” of important edifices and UNESCO world heritage sites including: the Ruins of St. Paul's Church; Camoes Garden; Mount Fortress; Lou Kau Mansion; St. Domingos Church; Santa Casa da Misrecordia; Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple; A-Ma Temple; Leal Senado; Rua da Felicidade; and the modest Protestant Chapel, whose claim to fame is that Florence Li Tim-Oi, who served as the locally ordained priest from 1944-46 was first woman priest in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The Ruins of St. Paul's Church, a complex that includes what was originally St. Paul's College and the Cathedral of St. Paul, is probably the most recognizable landmark in Macau's UNESCO designated Historic Center. Upon ascending 66 stone steps to the top of a hill, my companions and I marveled at the intricately carved stone façade that was created between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola. Images depict both Christian and Oriental themes. Christian depictions include: the founders of the Jesuit Order, Jesus' conquest over Death, and a dove with outstretched wings crowning the very top. Standing out among the Asian imagery is a woman stepping on a seven-headed hydra, described in Chinese characters as “Holy Mother tramples the heads of the dragon”. There is also an associated crypt, which when discovered during excavations from 1990-95, contained the architectural plan of the original building, religious artifacts, and relics of the Chinese Christian martyrs and monastic clergy, including the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau, Father Alessandro Valignano. Although I didn't do it, tourists can also climb along a steel stairway to the top of the façade from the rear for another perspective of the city.
At the far southwest of the Macau peninsula is the Taoist A-Ma Temple, one of the most revered Chinese sites within the UNESCO Historic designation. Built in1488, it is dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of fishermen. The temple protrudes out from the side of a hill with views of the water. Travelers can wander among the rocks to discover hidden shrines. They can also join locals in burning incense with prayers for health and good fortune.
ctivity always enhances cultural experience. I stretched my legs and arms and postured my back and neck, when a local fan dancer taught me and my companions to relax with tai-chi moves enhanced by the opening and closing snaps of a traditional Chinese fan. I actually did this twice during my stay – once in the local park and once in one of the Sheraton's ballrooms.
The Sheraton Macao, which opened on September 20, 2012, was developed by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. For more information on travel to Macau visit the Sands Cotai Central website at: www.sandscotaicentral.com or contact the Macau Government Tourist at 646-227-0690,www.macautourism.gov.mo