Pilates House Macau owner Ceci Lam on what to see and do in the historic village
Macau is often described as the “Las Vegas of Asia”, but the best corners of this Special Administrative Region of China are away from the baccarat tables and slot machines. To experience the territory’s history as a former Portuguese colony and fishing village, make your way over to charming Taipa, on an island south of the main peninsula. Wandering through the neighborhood’s narrow lanes, you’ll encounter pastel-painted, low-rise village houses, mom-and-pop shops and a percolating design scene. Owner of Pilates House Macau, Ceci Lam, takes us on a trip through the historic district, from colonial Portuguese-era museums, to beloved food stalls, cafés and temples.
11AM: Savor freshly baked pastries at Lord Stow’s
If there’s one food item you can’t miss in Macau, it’s definitely Lord Stow’s egg tarts. Though the original bakery is in Coloane — about 20 minutes’ drive from Taipa — you can still get a taste of the rich, flaky pastel de nata (Portuguese egg tart) in Taipa Village. The beloved local outfit runs a small branch along Rua do Cunha that hosts an ever-present line out the door. But not to worry, it moves quickly. And these creamy tarts are worth the wait. 9 Rua do Cunha; lordstow.com
11.45AM: Admire architecture at Taipa Houses-Museum
About a five-minute walk from the heart of Taipa Village, you’ll find a gorgeous leafy staircase that leads to the Taipa Houses-Museum. Formerly the summer villas of Macanese elite, these pastel turquoise beauties now house exhibitions that trace the territory’s heritage as a Portuguese colony, from 1557 to 1999. “I used to be a part-time model and was often at the museum for photo shoots,” says Ceci. “It’s so quiet in that area and the Portuguese architecture is beautiful.” Avenida da Praia, www.icm.gov.mo
1.30PM: Enjoy pork chop buns at Tai Lei Loi Kei
Another must-try is the venerated pork chop bun at Tai Lei Loi Kei, a Taipa institution that’s been around since the ’60s. The eatery looks humble, but a lot of love goes into the sandwiches: think black pork imported from Brazil and marinated for two to three days in a secret sauce. “The woman behind this café is the grandmother of one of my high school classmates,” says Ceci. “My parents and I ate here often when I was younger.” 35 Rua Correia da Silva; taileiloi.com.mo
3PM: Unwind at Quarter Square
Sitting in a quiet pedestrian largo (Portuguese square), Quarter Square is a two-storey boutique that combines alfresco seating, freshly brewed coffee and accessories handpicked from around the world. Discover rare Scandinavian items, including Ferm blankets, and L:A Bruket skincare products. “I met Alberto, the owner, at an event and we became fast friends; we have a similar taste in design,” says Ceci. “But I think Alberto’s dog Copper is the most famous character at Quarter Square; people don’t often leave without snapping a photo with him.” 89 Largo Maia de Magalhães; quartersquare.co
5PM: Get spiritual at Pak Tai Temple
Pak Tai, one of the most beautiful temples in Taipa, is dedicated to the “Northern Emperor”, who’s believed to have protected the village from powerful natural disasters, such as floods or fire. The façade showcases 19th-century architecture, a traditional roof and pretty carved inscriptions. Inside the pavilion, incense coils spiral overhead and fill the room with aromatic smoke. “The temple has been here for more than 150 years and most people visit to pray for fortune and health,” says Ceci. “If you want to pray for yourself and your family, you could buy a giant incense coil and put all of your names on it.” Largo Camões; macaostreets.iacm.gov.mo
8PM: Indulge in a Portuguese dinner at António
Taipa may be full of quaint mom-and-pop restaurants, but for top-class sit-down meals, there’s just one name that stands out: António. A family affair, the eatery is helmed by chef António Coelho, while his wife Mercy, looks after the front of house. As for the food, you can expect hearty portions of seafood, homemade chorizo and banana “au flambée” with rum, which is theatrically prepared tableside. Enjoy it all in the main dining room, where you’ll be surrounded by pretty Portuguese tiles and artwork, or head up to the outdoor terrace for a more casual experience. 7 Rua dos Clérigos; antoniomacau.com
10PM: Sip bubbly at Bella Taipa
Around the corner from António is new bar-restaurant Bella Taipa. The venue offers uninterrupted village views from its third-floor terrace. Decked out in wicker furniture, the terrace is a comfy place to unwind. “You can see all the colors of Taipa Village; the coral and peach shades look beautiful at sunset,” says Ceci. “I come up here after my classes to relax with a glass of rosé.” 1 Rua dos Clérigos; bellataipa.com
10AM: Snack on baked goods at Pastelaria Koi Kei
For 20 years, Pastelaria Koi Kei has won the hearts of Macau residents with its freshly baked cookies, peanut candy, egg rolls and famous almond cakes. A quick visit to this hole-in-the-wall bakery will reward you with not just a fantastic morning snack, but also a glimpse behind the scenes of bakers racing around to keep production going. Koi Kei creations are considered among the most popular souvenirs in Macau, so expect a line. “My mom and I go crazy for these biscuits,” says Ceci. “I like everything that Koi Kei makes, but I especially like the banana cakes.” 11–12 Rua do Cunha; koikei.com
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Three free things to do in Macau
Visit the Ruins of St Paul’s: One bucket-list item that’s genuinely worth it. Part of the Unesco World Heritage-listed Historic Centre of Macao, this beautiful façade is all that remains of a 17th-century church complex, which burned down in 1835.
Explore Camões Square: As Macau’s oldest public square, Camões Square plays host to a manicured garden, old merchant houses and a few art galleries. Head there in the morning to witness elderly residents practicing tai chi, playing mahjong or walking their caged pet birds.
Hike to Guia Fortress: The highest peak on the Macau Peninsula, Guia Hill is home to the namesake fortress, plus a 15m-tall lighthouse and the 17th-century Chapel of Our Lady. The chapel is particularly interesting, as you can venture inside to see a series of gorgeous frescoes.
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How to get around on public transport
Macau doesn’t have a metro — though a light rail system is coming soon in 2019 — so buses are the primary means of public transport. To pay, you can pick up a Macau Pass card at 7-Eleven and load it with money, or you can carry small change. Most lines cost between MOP3.20 and MOP6.40 (about P21 to P41) per trip.
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Good news for history buffs: Most of Macau’s museums are free to enter. Our top choices? The Macao Museum of Art and the Macau Tea Culture House. Meanwhile, the Maritime Museum — near the also free-to-enter historic landmark of A-Ma Temple — costs just MOP5 (about P32) to enter. www.museums.gov.mo
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Meet a local: Alberto Chan, founder of Quarter Square
Why did you think Taipa was the right fit for Quarter Square? ‘I love the old town, which isn’t about luxury or casinos; it’s more about leisure. The village came as the perfect match for a relaxing space offering good coffee and a selection of beautiful products.’
Why have coffee and design in one shop? ‘Homeware shopping — other than that which is done at big-brand, mass-production stores like Ikea — is still new to many Macanese. I thought that perhaps a straight-up design shop would be intimidating, so I included coffee as an ice-breaker.’
So, what should we order? ‘I work with a local coffee roaster called Beans Aloud and they’ve developed a special blend for us. Try it as an espresso or a long black. We’re a small outfit and my idea has always been to support other small businesses.’
This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of Smile magazine.