As a city that has developed faster than most - over the last few decades - into an international entertainment hub, Macau deserves its fair share of plaudits as a modern city. When one thinks of a city like Macau, one would often picture extravagant light shows and eye-catching neon much like Las Vegas.
However, in Macau, there are two unique places which seem to have escaped the modernisation of the city enough to retain their original cultural ambience: The Mandarin’s House and Taipa Village.
Step back in time when you pass through the doors of the Mandarin's House
Listed as one of the architectural gems that makes up the Historic Centre of Macau, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mandarin’s House is located on the Macau Peninsula. Known as Casa Do Mandarim by the Portuguese-speaking community of Macau, the Mandarin’s House lies deep within the heart of a small, dated Macanese suburb and is one of those places that seems cocooned in time.
It is easy to be swept away by the old and dated look of the Mandarin’s House, complete with furniture and antiques which date as far back as the 19th century. There is even an ancient well not far from the entrance! When one enters the compound of the Mandarin’s House, it is not difficult to imagine one’s self being cast in a wuxia (ancient Chinese martial arts) film. That is until you lift your head and see the tall skyscrapers which adorn Macau, peeking through from beyond the compound.
While the outer space of the attraction is a good place for photography, do take some time to explore the interior of the Mandarin’s House. Combining Chinese and Western architectural influences and showcasing furniture and room layouts which are reminiscent of Qing dynasty houses, the Mandarin’s House takes visitors through the the daily lives of Chinese aristocrats living in Macau from the late 1800s.
Discover the history of Macau
Before becoming the tourist attraction that it is today, the Mandarin’s House used to be the living residence of Zheng Guanying (1842-1921) and his family. Zheng was a reformist from the late Qing dynasty and his family (starting from his father) had lived in the very house since the beginning of its construction in 1869.
Needless to say, the Guangdong (formerly known as Canton) style house has deep roots in the historical development of Macau. In the Mandarin’s House, you will find many informative exhibits detailing the history of the building, from the laying of its foundation to its eventual completion and subsequent listing as part of the Macau Historic Centre.
There are also information panels and DVDs being played, which detail the Zheng family’s contribution to Macau’s political growth as a city. There are some artefacts (though not many) of some tools and cutlery that were used during the late era of the Chinese Qing Dynasty.
All in all, it is a very informative and scenic location. Entrance to the Mandarin’s House is absolutely free of charge and visitors are allowed to linger within the attraction for as long as their hearts desire. An hour is more or less perfect for a tour of the place and for some photography sessions.
Taipa: a quiet village in the backdrop of a modern city
Moving away from the Macau Peninsula and across the Macau-Taipa Bridge is the humble yet lovely village of Taipa.
If the casinos across Macau are the flashy attractions which draw tourists into Macau, Taipa Village is the sweet, whispering bliss that captivates and make them stay. Step foot into Taipa Village and gone are the neon signs and high rollers.
The ambience of taking a stroll through Taipa Village is very different to anywhere else on Macau. The streets are narrower, the buildings older, the people simpler and less frantic in going about their daily business. It is a nice, relaxing place to take a stroll if you ever find yourself within the vicinity.
Sample the very best of Macanese cuisine in Taipa Village
Taipa Village is lined with some of the best restaurants and eateries the city of Macau has to offer.
While the village itself looks rundown and is in no way capable of aesthetically competing with the more luxurious side of Macau, it houses within its many small and cramped spaces a delightful array of restaurants and eateries serving the very best of Macanese cuisine. From traditional Chinese style snacks to full Portuguese dishes, Taipa Village has it all.
And because Taipa Village is not exactly a gigantean maze of intersecting and confusing roads, you will often find restaurants and snack bars lined very closely to one another. Most likely, you will find a cosy shack selling famous Macanese Pork Chop Buns right next to a bakery selling scrumptious Portuguese egg tarts. Less walk and more munch! Can’t argue with that!
One particularly unique snack/dessert can be found at Gelatina Mok Yi Kei (opposite a small bakery selling egg tarts, look out for a huge yellow sign with the name of the shack) which sells delicious Musang King (durian) ice cream which contains actual fruit pulp. It is a little pricey at 60 HKD (7.74 USD) per cup of ice cream but for the true durian connoisseur, this is a dessert you won’t forget.
It doesn't all have to be state-of-the-art
For all its hustle and bustle, Macau does retain some of its more traditional aspects as a city in the Mandarin’s House and Taipa Village. And if they’re anything to go by, sometimes sticking to tradition results in beautiful hidden travel gems.
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