Macau

After a long holiday in Japan, we were headed back to Southeast Asia - with what I like to call a "bonus stop". When we were searching for cheap flights to Japan, a flight popped up that had a 22-hour layover in Macau. After quickly checking the visa requirements (none), we thought, Why not? Macau isn't a place I've thought about visiting, ever, but if it's on the way, we might as well check it out. We tried out extended layovers in Istanbul last year and really enjoyed ourselves, so we looked forward to seeing Macau in a day.



Here is a map of Macau's location, in case it's a bit fuzzy for you. Macau has a complex history, a mixture of Chinese and European influence through many centuries. It served as a key entry point to China from the sea, and Portuguese sailors settled there in the 1500's, slowly increasing their influence and control over the area. In the 1800's, Macau came under direct Portuguese control, which lasted until  1999. At this time, Macau was officially handed over to China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). Macau is probably known best for the dozens of casinos that draw millions of people every year and make more money than Las Vegas. But we also found a different side to Macau that was much more interesting.


Macau
Hilltop view of Macau

Because of its history, Macau is a fascinating mix of European and Chinese foods, architecture, and culture. We explored the historic old city along wide cobblestone streets, lined with tall shuttered houses. The streets eventually gave way to signs covered in Chinese script, crowded buildings, and a long set of stairs leading to the ruins of St. Paul, a cathedral built in the 1500's which burnt to the ground, except its facade, in 1835. 

Macau
Senado Square

Macau
Streets of Macau

Macau
Old St. Paul's Cathedral

While in Macau, we couchsurfed with another host who has been living in Macau for several years. He introduced us to what might be the best cafe in Asia, Margaret's Cafe e Nata. The cafe is famous for its Macanese egg tarts, egg custard wrapped in layers of buttery pastry delight. Combined with a piping hot cappuccino, it's pretty much the best breakfast in the world.

Macau with our couch surfing host


Portuguese egg tarts in Macau
Egg tarts (top right), apple danish, and Portuguese sausage roll

St. Peter's in Macau

After a full day in Macau, we hopped back on the plane for a flight to Bangkok, landing in the heat and humidity and actually being glad for it. I will never stop loving the thrill of new places, new sights and sounds, new food, but there was something about being back in a familiar place that let me relax in a way that I never do when traveling in new places. I know where to go, how to buy a train ticket, how much a taxi ride will cost, where to buy a bowl of pad thai

But traveling also introduces a willingness to try new things. We have a certain hostel we stay at nearly every month that is cheap, clean, and centrally located. While Andrew was walking to the 7-11 convenience store to buy water, he noticed music drifting from an alleyway and people walking into a restaurant. He came back and asked if I wanted to try it out. Sure, why not? And we found ourselves in a classic American-style dive bar: John Wayne posters hanging out the walls, a steer skull above the door, neon-lit beer signs flashing above a man with a massive Afro singing cover sings while strumming guitar. The tables were crowded with Thais happy to see the weekend. Servers were loading tables with dishes of steamed fish, fried shallots with red chili sauce, grilled chicken and limes. And needless to say, the food was like ambrosia for the soul. I fell in love with Japanese food over this trip, but I'm afraid that Thai food will always come first in my list of cuisines-you-must-not-live-without. 

"Sure, why not?" You have to be willing to say that while traveling. Egg tarts? Raw eel? Snowboarding in sub-zero temperatures with no visibility? A random restaurant down an alleyway that you've never tried before? If you're not willing to say that simple phrase, you might as well stay home, because travel is about embracing the new, the unexpected, the things that you would never do at home. Travel is not about being comfortable or 100% sure of anything. When you say that phrase, you will have the experiences of a lifetime.