MGM Grand, The Venetian, Wynn? No it’s not Vegas, we are in Macau – the gamblers paradise in Asia. Formally a Portuguese colony and now administered by China it has a long and diverse history making it a unique destination to visit.
What to see
Macau isn’t a big place so it is easy getting around as most of the attractions can be seen on foot. For those not so keen on walking there are many free tourist shuttle buses and taxis available.
The architecture of Macau is something to be seen in order to be believed. The streets are lined with buildings painted in pastel shades of pink, green and cream, making it very reminiscent of the Mediterranean. Nowhere else in the world can you see old European neo-classical structures juxtaposed against Asian influences. In fact, so historically significant is Macau that it received World Heritage listing by UNESCO in 2005.
A popular stop for tourists is the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1602, only the façade remains today due to a fire many years ago. You will find St Paul’s on Rua de Sao Paulo. Another historical delight is the Moorish Barracks, also known as Edifíçio da Capitania dos Portos located on Rua Direita. Built in 1874 to house police reinforcements from Goa, today it is home to the Macau Maritime Association. There is also a number of temples and museums throughout the island for the culturally inclined to enjoy.
If gambling brings you to Macau you will not be disappointed at the number of casinos. Starworld casino is definitely a worthwhile stop, housing entertainment, shops and restaurants. Casino Lisboa is another destination along the casino trail and is busy most of the day.
There are also the ‘home away from home’ casinos such as Wynn and MGM Grand to see. Whilst touring throughout the casinos it appeared that these two casinos had far less players on the gaming floors so head there if you don’t want the bother of waiting for a seat at a table. It will be déjà vu for some as the Wynn Macau looks freakishly similar to its brother in Las Vegas. There is also a fountain show accompanied to music outside the Wynn. MGM Grand has a lavishly decorated atrium dotted with upscale restaurants serving a variety of cuisines.
Those interested in luxury travel are well catered for in Macau. The main streets are lined with jewelers selling bright, 24-carat yellow gold and jade jewellery. Though this style may not be everyone’s taste there are also plenty of watch stores where you can spend your gambling winnings on a new Rolex. You can find big designer names like Dior and Louis Vuitton in the casinos.
Many shops and market stalls can be found around Senado square. There is a variety of wares for sale such as clothing, souvenirs and accessories at reasonable prices. Locally made handicrafts and art can also be bought.
Macau has its own currency called the Macau Pataca (MOP) but Hong Kong dollars are accepted also.
The food in Macau is a fusion of many cuisines as you would expect by its diverse heritage. Combining Asian and European tastes, the Macauese have created their own dishes. The most well known dish is Bacalhau, which is dried codfish slices served in a variety of ways such as fried or accompanied by other seafood and rice. Bacalhau can be found in most restaurants. African Chicken is another favorite which is a fusion of African and Indian tastes resulting in a spiced chicken dish. A recommended place to try African Chicken is at ‘Solmar’ on Avenida da Praia Grande. Staying true to their Portuguese past, there are many opportunities to indulge in a Portuguese-style egg tart. For those who have yet to sample one, they are a rich egg custard style tart with the top usually caramelized, on a puff pastry base. Very tasty! If western food is calling out to you, the best available is at the casinos.
Where to stay
Many tourists visit Macau as a day trip from Hong Kong but if you decide to stay longer there are plenty of options for all travel classes. I stayed at the Sofitel located on Rua do Visconde Paco de Arcos. The room was very spacious and included some of the tell-tale wealthy trappings of Macau such as a TV in the bathroom. The hotel also has the added convenience of a casino downstairs.
How to get there
It is possible to fly directly to Macau, drive across the border from China or take the route many tourists commonly take and arrive via ferry. Ferry services run frequently throughout the day from central Hong Kong, Hong Kong International Airport and a number of ports in China. The ferry ride from Hong Kong is approx 1 hour. There is also a helicopter service from Hong Kong for those who like making an entrance. The typhoon seasons lasts from July to September so be aware when traveling during this season that delays may occur.