Macau (traditional Chinese: 澳門 simplified Chinese: 澳门) is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Located across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, Macau was until 1999 an overseas territory of Portugal. One of the world’s most densely populated spots, Macau generates more revenue from gambling than anywhere else on the planet, including more than seven times the revenue generated by “The Strip” in Las Vegas.
Macau was one of the earliest European colonies in Asia and the last to be relinquished (1999) and thus has a more visible colonial history than Hong Kong. Walking through the old city you could convince yourself you were in Europe – if the streets were devoid of people and signs in Chinese, that is. The Portuguese and Macanese populations continue to maintain a presence but, as expected, most of the population is native.
Besides the city itself, Macau includes the islands of Taipa and Coloane, which are connected to Macau by bridges and to each other by a causeway, now built up into the Cotai Strip. The Chinese city of Zhuhai borders Macau to the north, and the border crossing carries heavy two-way vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The Zhuhai Special Economic Zone extends south to Hengqin Island, an area west of Taipa, Cotai and Coloane; the Lotus Bridge from Cotai connects to that area. There is significant movement by the local population of both Zhuhai and Macau across the border, making the two feel like twin cities.
Macau is subtropical with hot summers and mild winters. Visitors should note that typhoons often strike from mid-summer to Autumn which could stop many activities there. Although winter is generally mild, there are occasional cold fronts which could make temperatures drop 10°C (~25°F) in a day. Macau is located in the subtropical climate zone and has moderate climate conditions throughout the year. Annual average temperature is about 23ºC (73ºF). Humidity levels are high in the city, where the average annual relative humidity tops 79%. The average annual rainfall measures about 2,058 mm in Macau. January, February and March are the winter months with relatively cold but sunny weather, when it slowly gets warm again in April. To keep warm, woolens are recommended along with a thick jacket or an overcoat. May to September is summer season. The weather becomes very hot and humid with more rainy days and occasional tropical storms (known as typhoons). Visitors are advised to wear light cotton clothes for a pleasant journey. October to December is the most pleasant season to visit Macau, when visitors can enjoy warm autumn days with low humidity.
In the 16th century, China gave Portugal the right to settle in Macau in exchange for clearing the area of pirates under strict Chinese administration. Macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. It became a Portuguese colony effectively after the treaty signed by the Qing and Portuguese Governments in 1887. It was also the last when, pursuant to an agreement signed by China and Portugal in 1987, Macau became the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on 20 December 1999, ending over 400 years of Portuguese administration.
China has promised that, under its “one country, two systems” formula – Macau is officially the same country with mainland China, but maintains its own ruling systems. Like its neighbor Hong Kong, Macau still does not have a full democracy and the locals often think that there is too much control or influence from Beijing (more one country, less two systems).
In recent years, Macau’s economy has boomed rapidly due to the issuing of gambling licenses. Thousands of tourists visit Macau each day, mainly from mainland China and neighboring regions. The standard of living in Macau has as a result grown significantly, and is now on par with some European countries. The tourist industry has also diversified – instead of casinos, Macau is also promoting its historic sites, culture and cuisine.