Macau vacation packages
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Macau vacation packages
Apart from Chinese gamblers, most tourists who go to Macau spend just a few hours here. It's a pity, because it's one of those curious places where something new can be found on every visit.
Macau, which hangs off the south coast of China, is divided into three main sections - the Macau Peninsula, which is attached to China at the northern tip, and the two islands of Taipa and Coloane. Taipa is directly south of the peninsula and has two bridges, each 2km (1.2mi) long, connecting the island to the peninsula. Coloane is south of Taipa and connected to it by a causeway. Macau is a tiny place. It has a total land area of 23.5 sq km (9 sq mi), including the peninsula and the two islands. The airport is on Taipa Island, with the runway on a strip of reclaimed land just to its east.
Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro is the main street of Macau. Most of Macau's sights are in the area directly north of the Avenida, known as Central Macau. The area north of this has been more recently developed than the centre and south, and has fewer historical sights. You'll find cheap guesthouses and mid-range hotels in the west of the peninsula, and top-end joints in the east and centre of town. There are a few exclusive options in the south of the peninsula. Most places to eat are clustered in Central Macau.
Macau's history is intertwined with the history of Portugal. The first boatload of Portuguese set foot on Chinese soil in 1513 at the mouth of the Pearl River, near what is now Macau. The Portuguese hoped to set up a permanent trading base, but until the 1550s the Chinese were none too keen on the idea. In 1557, Portuguese traders signed an agreement with Guangzhou officials to rent the peninsula known as Amagao or Macau, if (in a slightly fairytale twist) they could rid the area of pirates. The Chinese, forbidden to go abroad, did a lot of their trade with India and Japan through the Portuguese and helped make Macau a thriving trading centre.
By the beginning of the 17th century Macau supported several thousand permanent residents, including about 1000 Portuguese as well as Chinese and Japanese Christians, and African, Indian and Malay slaves. As well as being a trading centre, Macau was also a centre for Christianity in the Far East. Among the earliest missionaries was Francis Xavier (later Saint Francis) who headed into China in the 1450s, doing a better job of getting beyond Macau and Guangzhou than the traders had managed to. All this Portuguese influence had made Macau into a city of rococo houses and splendid baroque churches, including the Basilica de Sao Paulo, apparently the greatest monument to Christianity in the east.
The Portuguese decline was as rapid as its success. In 1850 Spanish armies occupied Portugal and in 1607 and 1627 the Dutch attacked Macau, albeit unsuccessfully. In 1637 Japan, growing suspicious of Portuguese intentions, closed itself to foreign trade. Because the Portuguese could no longer offer them Japanese silver, the Chinese also ceased trade - in 1640 they closed the port of Guangzhou to the Portuguese and Macau languished. From the mid-18th century other Europeans started moving to Macau, and the city became the major outpost for European traders in China until the British took Hong Kong. But it wasn't until the mid-19th century, when Macau's governor introduced licensed gambling, that Macau pulled itself out of the economic doldrums.
In the mid 1920s a steady stream of refugees from the Sino-Japanese war began pouring into Macau, swelling its population dramatically. They were followed by Europeans fleeing the Japanese in WWII, Chinese fleeing Communism in 1949, and Vietnamese fleeing the same thing from 1978. In 1974 a military coup in Portugal brought a left wing government to power and, eager to divest the country of it's unreconstructed imperialist holdings, tried to give Macau back to China. Rumours are rife about why, but for some reason the Chinese said they didn't want it.
In the mid-1990s over-enthusiastic speculation in housing and property left a huge glut of unfilled buildings, and house prices halved. The economy, in line with economies across Asia, was faltering - a lot of hope was pinned on the new airport which opened in 1995, but it has so far consistently underperformed. In 1997 gangland killings - revolving around gambling - escalated and a hotel was raked with AK47 gunfire, doing nothing for the local tourist industry. Government officials who tried to put a stop to gang warfare often found themselves targets.
Once the joint declaration over Hong Kong was signed by Britain and China in 1984, it was inevitable that China would seek a similar agreement over Macau with Portugal. Under the agreement, signed in 1987, Macau will become a Special Administrative Region of China for 50 years from 20 December 1999. It will have a 'high degree of autonomy' (though it might be worth keeping an eye on Hong Kong to see what this means in the real world) in all matters except defence and foreign affairs. The current legislature, which Macau has been electing for the last 20 years, will continue to serve throughout the transition.
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