When I first stumbled on the word ‘Macau’ I thought it was an exotic Chinese dish. Well I was wrong, very wrong. In actual fact Macau is a semi-autonomous territory of China (similar to Hong Kong) and is now one of the most popular Chinese tourism hotspots for one thing and one thing only – Macau is the world’s biggest gambling revenue generating supercentre and when I say big, I mean bigger than Las Vegas!! Located an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, it is an island which was once a Portuguese colony and was interestingly the first and last European colony in Asia. As we had five days in Hong Kong, Jules strongly recommended that we visit another country/territory (well get another passport stamp) for the day, so we did.
As we arrived at the ferry port, it really did feel like we arrived at an airport minus the runway replaced by ocean. There was passport control, allocated seat numbers, boarding passes the whole deal. While we enjoyed smooth ferry ride over to Macau I really didn’t know what to expect. I had been told it was Las Vegas younger sibling, but I just couldn’t believe I was heading to Vegas for the day. Also since I have never been to Vegas but have had the privilege of visiting her poorer Nevadan cousins Rino and Lake Tahoe, all I could do was calmly relax and sit back immersed with intrigue.
When we arrived in Macau it was clear Casinos rule the roost. All the major American casinos are here such as MGM, Wynn and The Venetian who all offer free bus rides to and from the terminal to their casino. As it was very tempting to visit them as soon as we arrived, we decided to take a free bus but leave the casino to the evening and discover Macau’s more cultural side.
When we arrived in Macau’s old town, it was clear the Portuguese influence is everywhere with cobbled streets, cramped alleyways, ancient Catholic churches and cathedrals and substantial stone-buildings in an assortment of styles and colours. We also tried a Macau delicacy – the Portuguese egg tart which is a pastry filled with both egg and custard. The outcome was basically a pie like specimen that was very eggy, mushy, greasy and very sweet. Unfortunately, Paula and I found it a bit too much to stomach but were glad we tried it anyway. On completing our cultural trail of Macau we stumbled on one of the major highlights – The Ruins of St Paul’s. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built from 1582-1602 by the Catholic church and was at the time the largest Catholic church in Asia. As we stood on the top floor of the 400 year old ruins looking over to the sprawling strip of Casinos and flashing lights in the distance, it was clear to me that there was no where else on earth where we could literally walk 5 minutes to encounter such an antipodal architectural and cultural contrast.
To finish our day we decided to hit the lights of Macau. The Casinos are split into the Macau Peninsula and the Cotai strips. We first visited the Casino Lisoba on the Peninsula which is undoubtedly the most architecturally outrageous building I have ever seen. From the outside the building looks like a pregnant belly dancer dressed in gold while the inside decor is swarmed by a sea of diamonds dangling from the ceiling as you enter the ridiculously ostentatious lobby. Since we spent the majority of our day on the peninsula we decided to promptly move on and take the free shuttle bus to Cotai on the South of the Island which is now home to Macau’s megacasinos.
Here you can find The Venetian and City of Dreams casinos which compete directly opposite from one another. The Venetian Casino is now the world’s largest casino which is three times the size of its Las Vegas counterpart and is literally the fourth-largest building in the world. So we thought we might as well start on a high. As soon as you walk into the casino you are confronted by a building that is no older than 3 years old, but gives off the appearance of a 200 year old Italian listed building that could compete on the grandeur levels of The Peninsula Hong Kong which I discussed in my last blog. This construction cost US$2.4 billon, but being overly critical, I see one fundamental problem, it’s essentially a very expensive oversized replica or apologies in advance to the owners, the worlds most over-budget theme pub! This might sound harsh, as the authentic design and detail is simply second-to-none, but I don’t really understand why they would want to spend so much money on replicating an architecture that is no more. Then again, it is a theme casino and is often said that these 17th and 18th Century buildings can no longer be built. Well the Chinese have certainly proved they can do it if the price is right.
After getting ridiculously lost in both casinos we then decided to call it a day heading back to Hong Kong to catch the 11pm ferry. Macau has been a great day trip and certainly one of the unexpected and unknown. As I sat back relaxing on the turbojet back to Hong Kong, it made me realise that encountering stuff like this is why I love travelling so much and I will never ever loose the bug.