What to Love When Visiting Macao Away From the Casinos


Even though I had long wanted to visit Macao, I didn’t know that much about the region other than the basics. Like most people, those basics revolved around one thing – casinos. I knew that Macao was world famous as being a sort of Las Vegas in Asia and, if that’s what you want, you’ll find gaming tables that seem to go on without end. Thankfully though, during my brief stay there a few months ago I was able to get away from the glitz and glamor of the luxury establishments and discover a different side to Macao, a much older and I think much more interesting aspect of this very unique city. My trip was in cooperation with Cathay Pacific but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.


The Basics

The history of Macao really started with the Portuguese, who established a permanent settlement there in the 1550s. Their interest in Macao was based mainly on the strategic location for shipping and trade and over the course of more than 400-years, the colony largely prospered and was a successful overseas possession for Portugal. Transfer back to China occurred in 1999 and marked the end of a very long relationship that defined Macao in every way. In fact, it was this European legacy that surprised me the most during my stay.

Macao is also incredibly easy to reach. Arriving into Hong Kong International Airport the steps could not be simpler to quickly connect to Macao. As soon as you deplane, DO NOT go through immigration or get your bags. Instead, head to the Cotai Water Jet ferry counter, purchase your tickets for the 1-hour boat ride and let them do the rest. They take your bag tags, collect your things and transfer them over to Macao for you. It’s a seamless process and there’s nothing that the connecting passenger has to do except wait for the next ferry. The boats themselves are large and comfortable with plush chairs and great views. The trip is short and as soon as I arrived I collected my things and was on my way. The process is just as easy for the return. If you’re going back to Hong Kong International Airport, you can check in your bags at the ferry terminal without having to worry about anything. When I checked in for my return, the bags were tagged to my final destination and that was it. I really have to applaud the powers that be in Hong Kong and Macao for making this process as easy as it is, enabling more people to visit and to enjoy their time in beautiful Macao.

Senado Square Macao

UNESCO World Heritage

I love history and I especially love visiting new-to-me UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is probably why I enjoyed my time exploring the historic center of Macao so very much. The entire old town is designated as a UNESCO site for a variety of reasons. The long legacy of Portuguese control has thankfully been preserved throughout the centuries, presenting visitors with a city that feels more like Europe than Asia. Macao was also a strategically important city for a very long time and a center of trade between Europe and Asia. This history and the traditions that accompany it are thankfully all very much alive in Macao, and easy for the casual visitor to experience.


What is essential for any visitor to Macao is to leave the casinos and head down to the historic center of the city, starting with the ruins of the now famous St. Paul’s church. Originally built in the 1600s, fire destroyed the large church more than once and it was after the final inferno in the 19th century that it was finally abandoned. Later restored, the facade is all that remains, but it has quickly become a symbol of the city. It’s also the ideal place from which to start to experience the expansive history of Macao. Blue Portuguese tiles and expansive squares were the theme of the day as I dodged rain showers and tried to visit as many of the more than 20-historic spots as I could. Together they tell a story of a colonial era that doesn’t seem as onerous as in some places I’ve been. It seems to have been a more laid back sort of occupation; trade and money being the focus of Portugal’s interest in the region. However history decides to remember it, what is clear is that the Portuguese have forever left their imprint on this remote city in the Far East, and in the 21st century that is perhaps best seen in the city’s dynamic food scene.


Food & Other Fun Moments

Since Macao has been at the confluence of international trade in Asia for centuries, the food scene reflects those influences. You can and will find everything in Macao, from very traditional Chinese cuisine to those famous Portuguese egg tarts that have become the stuff of legend. What was perhaps the most interesting to me though was experiencing a style of food found only in the city, Macanese cuisine. Like all great food styles, it has very humble beginnings; dishes created by local workers from what they could find. It’s also the cuisine that best exemplifies Macao, a strange but tasty combination of foods and traditions.


Based on Portuguese cuisine, these spices and ingredients from Africa, Southeast Asia and India – including curry, coconut milk, cloves and cinnamon – are combined using Chinese culinary skills in a wonderful potpourri of tastes and aromas, giving birth to the uniquely delicious Macanese cuisine of today. African chicken is perhaps the most famous dish, but my favorite was a hash of sorts called Minchi. Originally made by using what was around the kitchen, it’s a combination of meat, potatoes, spices, rice and egg and was usually cooked by parents looking to feed their large families. It’s been embraced again though by traditional restaurants in the city and for me, is the star of Macanese cuisine. UNESCO has even recognized Macao for its very unique culinary history and to enjoy it in person is just one of those experiences everyone has to try at least once.

If you haven’t visited Macao and think you know what to expect, you’re probably wrong. I know that I was. Macao is one of those places that you will find what you look for. If you want to spend a few days staying in a luxury hotel, eating great food and handing over large quantities of cash to a casino, you can do that. But if you want to discover a fascinating destination with a long history and colorful culture, you’ll find that too. Macao is what you make it and for me, I know it’s a place that I’ll return to again and again, to continue exploring and expanding my own education into this fascinating part of the world.

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Kunming, China in 4 Steps & Why You Need To Know About This Important City

The only reason I had heard of Kunming was thanks to one of my oldest friends. She and her husband adopted their daughter from Kunming years ago, and for some reason it’s a name I never forgot. So, when Cathay Pacific and I started working on what spots in China we should highlight, that’s immediately what came to mind. After a little research, I was definitely intrigued and a project was created. I’m working with Cathay Pacific to bring more attention to amazing places in Mainland China like Kunming but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. Including these reasons why I think Kunming should be on everyone’s travel to-do list.

Urban Retreat

For luxury travelers to Kunming, there are only a few options and without a doubt the best is the InterContinental Kunming. The only resort in the city itself, it very much is an urban oasis as I learned during my time with them. The sprawling property enjoys an incredible location in Kunming, but as soon as I arrived I felt as if I was in a secluded getaway. Embracing the natural charms of the Yunnan province, the hotel does an incredible job of instantly putting guests at ease. I’ve long been a patron of this luxury brand, and their presence in the Yunnan Province is considerable, with I think their Kunming property at the heart of that experience. With plenty of places to rest and relax, enjoy incredible cuisine and of course the luxury service for which InterContinental is so well known, it’s the ideal place to call home for a few days. One of my favorite experiences at the hotel though was a remarkable dinner showcasing the best of locally inspired dishes. At the on-site gourmet Chinese restaurant Shang Tao, I enjoyed the specialties of the season, including the area mushrooms for which Yunnan is so famous. Course after course of amazing food kept coming, creating an evening exploration in Yunnan cuisine that I know I’ll never forget. Add to that a world class Club Lounge, inviting rooms and outstanding service, and you have a hospitality experience in Kunming that is truly unparalleled.

Kunming, China

Heart of Yunnan Province

China’s southern Yunnan province is large and very diverse, and since Kunming is its capital city many of these diverse traditions and cultures are on full display right there in the city. Whether it’s attending the “Dynamic Yunnan” show that highlights the music and dance of the province’s many minority groups, or sampling some street food inspired from far off locales, it’s very easy to get a feeling for the province in the middle of Kunming. One of my favorite experiences though was a visit to the city’s historic core, the Guandu. Although Kunming is a large and modern city of more than 6 million people, spending time in Guandu really is like going back in time to a slower and decidedly simpler era. For decades this historic part of the city was essentially ignored but, thankfully, in recent years the local government has invested to bring the area back to life and transform it into a tourist site. Easy to navigate with signs in a variety of languages, it was here where I admired centuries-old pagodas and old-style Yunnan homes that have nearly disappeared. It’s also the perfect place to try some local delicacies, with plenty of street food vendors offering a little bit of everything.

Stone Forest Kunming China

Stone Forest

I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and as soon as I learned about the nearby Stone Forest site, I knew that I had to visit. These massive limestone formations extend for as far as the eye can see, making it seem like a vast forest of stone, hence the name. Guided by a member of the local Yi people, the experience wasn’t just about the geology of the region, it was also very much about the culture of this minority group. According to legend, the Stone Forest is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful Yi girl. After falling in love she was forbidden to marry her would-be husband and she instead turned into a stone that can still be seen today. It’s a gorgeous park and a lot of fun to visit. It’s also one of the best-organized UNESCO sites I’ve been to.

Kunming China

Unexpected Moments

As with most destinations though, it was those moments I never planned that meant the most to me in Kunming. Going for a bike ride along Dianchi Lake, taking a chair lift up a nearby mountain for panoramic views and even sampling some local street food favorites, these were all very discrete and unique moments that will stay with me forever. For many of us, visiting China is still an enigma. It’s an enormous country and, frankly, most of us don’t know that much about it. Sure, we understand the basics – the Great Wall and Beijing – but beyond that, the average traveler doesn’t fully comprehend how dynamic the experience of traveling in China really is. Made up of dozens of ethnic groups, each region around the country is like its own small nation. Each spot has very specific customs and traditions, foods and holidays that make it unique. There is no such thing as Chinese culture per se, instead the country is very much made up of its individual parts that come together to create one of the most enigmatic but fascinating countries I’ve ever visited. What that means for the casual tourist is that we must force ourselves into adding those cities and regions to our China itinerary we might not know a lot about, but which will add an almost indescribable quality to our adventures. Kunming and the entire Yunnan province is one of those important places in China that I think everyone should plan to visit as they either begin or continue their education into what modern China is really all about.

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4 Reasons To Love the InterContinental Xishuangbanna Resort in China

I was woefully unprepared for my visit to the extreme Southwest corner of China. Working on a project with Cathay Pacific and InterContinental Hotels, I had researched every other aspect of my trip in China except for Xishuangbanna. I couldn’t pronounce it, there isn’t all that much online about it and I just figured that I would work it all out once I landed. Turns out that hunch proved to be a smart one, thanks in large part to my caretakers for my time in Banna, the fine folks at the luxurious InterContinental Xishuangbanna Resort. I’ve been working hard to convince everyone that this is an area of China that demands a visit so, if I’ve succeeded, then I also need to share where you should stay. Luxury options are limited, but my experience at the InterContinental was extraordinary in almost every way. So, today I want to share why you should have this getaway on your travel bucket list.

Service and Comfort

The first few hours after my arrival into Xishuangbanna I was a little confused as to which country I was still in, and the resort is largely (and wonderfully) to blame for that. They’ve created what looks like a Thai mansion, complete with all of the touches I’d expect to see from the gorgeous teak woods everywhere, to small design embellishments that are so common throughout the region. Walking through the lavish open-air lobby was the ideal introduction to what was a relaxing and calming experience. That was actually the theme of the stay, relaxation. The kind staff members were there not to bother or inundate me with superfluous information, but to help me get to a place of peace as quickly as possible. I’m not entirely sure I’ve experienced that before and while at first a little unnerving for a Type-A individual like myself, it ultimately was an amazing touch that transformed the hospitality experience.

Just as service is at the heart of the experience at the InterContinental Xishuangbanna, so are creature comforts. Walking into my room I was met with the type of escape I love. Hardwood floors, luxurious linens and fabrics, an expansive patio and more small touches and embellishments than I can name. That comfort wasn’t just confined to my room, it was everywhere at the large but still homey resort. That’s a hard feat to manage, but at this tropical getaway it’s been accomplished with apparent ease.

On-Site Restaurants

Other than the inherent comfort, the other highlight of my time at the InterContinental Xishuangbanna were the culinary offerings. In the last decade or so, hotels around the world have dramatically stepped up food and beverage options and that’s on clear display in Banna. With several restaurants on-site, each offering different styles from creative chefs, it’s possible to have a dramatically different food experience every night of your stay. There were two standouts for me: the Man Lin Chinese Restaurant and Lotus Thai. Drawing on local traditions and tastes, Man Lin executes contemporary Chinese cuisine with ease. They also heavily rely on what is in season, as my tasting menu full of freshly found mushrooms quickly showed. Lotus Thai though was a special dining experience, not only for those Thai flavors I know and love, but for incorporating traditional cuisine from the local Dai people. One of the largest ethnic minority groups in the region, tasting the flavors and nuances of their traditional food staples was a treat I know that I will never forget.

Xishuangbanna China

Club Lounge

I love hotel lounges and always book them when they are available. They add so much to any hotel experience and in Xishuangbanna I found what surely must be one of the best InterContinental Club Lounges in the world. Drawing on the graceful Thai design found throughout the property, the two-story lounge took my breath away as soon as I walked in. Once again, the attention to detail is remarkable, and I felt like a true VIP whenever I sought refuge in the lounge. With several food options offered throughout the day, it’s the ideal place to enjoy breakfast, a midday snack or tea and definitely cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Add to that truly incredible concierge service from Club Lounge staff, and this is the ideal way to add some luxury to what is already an incredibly luxurious hospitality experience.

Xishuangbanna China

The Region is Amazing

I spent a lot of time on social media comparing Banna to Thailand, and looking back at that now I don’t think it was quite fair. Yes, absolutely everything about the region reminded me in every conceivable way of Thailand, but there’s one important thing to consider – it’s not Thailand. This is a very unique part of not only China but of the world with its own distinct culture, traditions and lifestyle. China landscapes and temples in China vary widely, something important to keep in mind. I ignored that at first by simply labeling them as a cross-cultural phenomenon, but thankfully I realized my mistake in time to learn more about the area and people who live there. One of the best ways I learned to appreciate the region was by spending time with some members of the local ethnic minority groups. Several ethnic minorities call the region home, but the one I saw the most of were the Dai people. The name comes from the word Tai and, yes, they are very closely related to both the Lao and Thai people. At one point in their history they were nomadic, which is why the culture of the Golden Triangle today can’t really be isolated by national boundaries, but by a broader geography instead. These clues to cultural identity for me were actually best seen in the local Buddhist temples. The style and shear number of them again mirror what one finds in other areas of Southeast Asia, and the Dai people have added their own customs to the practice of Theravada Buddhism. Extremely large gongs and bells form the cornerstone of many folk dances and music, common during festivals like Songkran. It was really their history and traditions that taught me the most during my time in Banna, whether at a night market stall or walking through mist covered tea plantations set amongst the rolling hills.

Xishuangbanna is a special place and it quickly won a place in my heart, as did the luxurious InterContinental Xishuangbanna Resort. Tucked away in a relatively unknown corner of China, this is one of those great travel treasures I love to discover.

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