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Taipa

Closest to the mainland, Taipa once served as a protected anchorage for clipper ships and was accessible only by ferry until 1974, when the Macau-Taipa Bridge was finally completed. Two additional bridges have led to increased development on Taipa, including unsightly apartment blocks and booming suburbs that have pushed the population on this small, 6.8-sq.-km (2 1/2-sq.-mile) island to more than 50,000. Still, Taipa is worth a visit for quaint Taipa Village with its popular restaurants and colonial architecture. Taipa is also home of the United Chinese Cemetery with its blend of Confucianist, Taoist, and Buddhist influences, a university, Macau Stadium, Macau's airport, and the Macau Jockey Club for horse racing.

For architecture buffs and those looking for atmospheric restaurants, the first stop should be Taipa Village, a small traditional community of narrow lanes, alleys, squares, and two-story colonial buildings painted in hues of yellow, blue, and green. Although now almost completely engulfed by nearby housing projects, village life remains in full view here, with children playing and older residents sunning themselves on benches. On or near Rua do Cunha, the picturesque pedestrian-only main street, are a number of fine, inexpensive restaurants, making dining reason enough to come.

But for sightseeing, the best place to visit is the nearby Taipa Houses-Museum, on Avenida da Praia (tel. 853/2882 7088), where five colonial-style buildings that once belonged to Macanese families in the early 1900s are now open to the public. They line the banyan-shaded Praia, which used to be on the shoreline but now faces unsightly reclaimed land (Cotai). Still, with their large verandas facing what was formerly a sea filled with clipper ships, they reflect the fact that most entertaining in this small colonial outpost -- a boat ride from Macau -- took place at home. Probably most interesting is the Macanese House, which combines both European and Chinese design as a reflection of the families' Eurasian heritage. It has a dining and living room, study, kitchen, and upstairs bedrooms, all filled with period furniture, paintings, art, and personal artifacts reflective of a dual heritage. Three other houses contain displays relating to the history of Taipa and Colôane, traditional regional costumes of Portugal, and special exhibitions (a fourth house is used for special functions). The Taipa Houses-Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm; admission is MOP$5 for adults, MOP$3 for students, and free for seniors and children 11 and younger. Next to the buildings, on a hill, is Our Lady of Carmel Church, built in the 19th century for the devout Macanese Catholics.

The easiest way to reach Taipa Village is to board one of the buses that stops in front of the Hotel Lisboa near the bridge on the mainland. Bus nos. 11, 15, 28A, or 33 all go to Taipa Village.

Colôane

Farther away and connected to Taipa via a huge added strip of reclaimed land (called Cotai, which has essentially made the two islands one), Colôane once served as a haven for pirates who preyed upon the rich trading ships passing by. The last pirate raid was as late as 1910, when bandits kidnapped 18 children and demanded ransom. Government forces eventually overpowered the pirates, freeing all the children. Colôane today, measuring 7.8 sq. km (3 sq. miles) but with a population of only 4,000, is far less developed than Taipa and is known for its beaches, pine trees, eight marked hiking trails, golf course, and traditional village. The trails are accessible from Seac Pai Van Park, from various picnic parks on the island, and from both Cheoc Van and Hac Sa beaches. Trail maps are available at the information booth at the entrance to Seac Pai Van Park (bus: 15, 21A, 25, or 26A) and at the trail heads. At its center, on Colôane Hill and visible from miles away, is a 20m (65-ft.) white marble statue of A-Ma. Two of the most popular beaches are Cheoc Van and Hac Sa (which means "black sand"). Both beaches have lifeguards on duty in the summer, and nearby you'll find restaurants and public swimming pools that are open until 10pm. To reach them, take bus no. 21A or 26A from Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro in the city center or from the Hotel Lisboa; additionally, bus no. 25 also runs from the Lisboa to both beaches. Bus no. 15 connects the beaches with Taipa Village.

Now that Taipa Village has suffered so much surrounding development, I find Colôane Village much more picturesque and a worthy destination if exploring the islands. Located on the southwestern tip of the island, it is so close to China that it almost seems like you can reach out and touch it. Boats headed to and from the mainland pass through the narrow waterway. The social center of the village revolves around a small, tiled square, which is lined on two sides with cloistered cafes. In its center is a monument erected in 1928 to commemorate those who fought in the 1910 battle against the pirates. At its end is the small but sweet Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, built in 1928 and dedicated to Asia's most important and well-known Catholic missionary. The church, built in classic Portuguese style, would seem rather plain if it weren't for its exuberant Asian artwork. For a snack, head to Lord Stow's Bakery, Colôane Town Square (tel. 853/2888 2534), serving what some contend are Macau's best Portuguese egg tarts, best when eaten fresh from the oven, as well as sandwiches and bread.

Cotai

Connecting the former islands of Taipa and Colôane is a strip of reclaimed land called Cotai. It's home to Macau's growing convention trade, the Macau East Asian Games Dome used for international events, a go-cart track, a golf course, and the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena used for big events. Here, too, is the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel (tel. 853/2882 8888; www.venetianmacao.com) and City of Dreams (tel. 853/8868 6688; www.cityofdreamsmacau.com), complexes containing hotels, restaurants, shops, casinos, and other entertainment. City of Dreams, for example, offers the Bubble, a dome-shaped standing theater that presents a 10-minute visual extravaganza about four dragons, free on a first-come, first-served basis; the House of Dancing Water, the world's largest water-based show, with performances by acrobats, stuntmen, and musicians (http://thehouseofdancingwater.com; tickets from MOP$380 for adults, MOP$340 for students and seniors, MOP$270 for children); and Kids' City, with climbers, a bouncy tent, princess dress-up clothes, and arts and crafts geared toward 2- to 12-year-olds (daily 10:30am-9:30pm; admission MOP$90 for 2 hr.).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.