By Ahmad Osman
CURIOSITY is driving an increasing number of Singaporeans to visit Macau, the former Portuguese enclave handed back to China in 1999.
They spend an average of two nights mostly in four- and five-star hotels filled with casinos, shops, restaurants, and convention and meeting facilities.
Those who visited the small city before the 1999 handover to China go back to see the tourist attractions developed over the last decade.
Singaporeans who make their first visit are drawn by Macau's reputation as an affordable and exciting getaway. This is a mainly Cantonese city and its delights are promoted by the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) Singapore.
|Fireworks light up the Macau night sky.
It takes three and a half hours to fly directly from Singapore to Macau on Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia.
Tour prices for a three-day free-andeasy package start from $299 per person, excluding estimated taxes, which amount to $208.
Macau had 289,337 visitors from Singapore last year - an increase of 41 per cent from the previous year.
MGTO Singapore's general manager, Mr Charles Leong, expects the total figure to grow by about 8 per cent this year.
He says Singaporeans who go on annual holidays abroad this year will probably switch from long to short-haul trips because of the global economic downturn.
"Macau can tap this opportunity," he notes, adding that it is an attractive destination for senior citizens, families, corporate travellers, honeymooners, singles and couples.
Gambling is not the only thing Singaporeans do in Macau.
They can also see the sights, shop, eat, watch interesting events, attend business meetings and play golf.
A World Heritage site, the Historic Centre of Macau is a living representation of its early Portuguese and Chinese settlements.
|Portuguese egg tarts are a popular snack.
Urban squares and streetscapes in the centre link more than 20 historic monuments, including the A-Ma temple and the ruins of St Paul.
The temple represents Chinese culture inspired by Confucianism, Buddhism and multiple folk beliefs.
The facade of the original 16th century Jesuit Church of Mater Dei and the remains of the first Western-style university in the Far East are in the ruins of St Paul.
Walking through the narrow streets around Senado Square is like taking a trip back in time to Singapore's old Chinatown.
Small shophouses painted in red are popular places for Singaporeans to eat steamed milk pudding and take home packed almond cookies, egg rolls and pork chop buns.
Macanese food, renowned for its flavour- blending culture using spices such as turmeric, coconut milk and cinnamon, is unique and irresistible, Mr Leong says.
It is a special combination of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines, using ingredients and seasonings from Europe, South America, Africa and South-east Asia.
The Taipa island village is famous for its food street with numerous restaurants and food and beverage outlets.
|Portuguese folk dance at the ruins of St Paul.
There is a shop in the laidback and rustic Coloane island village selling its popular brand of Portuguese egg tarts.
Plush shops in mainland Macau at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the Four Seasons, the Venetian and the Wynn sell branded clothes and luxury items.
The observation deck at the top of the 338m Macau Tower Convention and Entertainment Centre offers a panoramic view of the city and the Pearl River Delta.
Strapped safely, adrenaline junkies can step out of the windows and "skywalk" around the outer ledges of the observation deck.
You can also bet on the running dogs at Macau Canidrome - the only greyhound racing track in Asia.
The annual Macau Grand Prix draws many visitors. Mr Chan Lye Choon from Singapore won the race in 1958 and his name is inscribed in the Macau Grand Prix museum next to the wine museum. Both museums are the only ones of their kind in Asia.
Other popular annual events include the Macau arts, food and music festivals and its international fireworks display competition.
The new world-class Cirque du Soleil Zaia mega production of dances, aerial aerobatics and artistic entertainment is a growing attraction for visitors from Singapore.
Travellers also use Macau as the gateway to shop, dine, play golf and go for foot reflexology in neighbouring Shenzen, Zhuhai and other Chinese cities in Guangdong province.
This trip was sponsored by Macau Government Tourist Office Singapore. For details, visit www. macautourism.gov.mo
This article was first published in The Straits Times Special. It is produced by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.