[ 0 ] October 3, 2012 |

Leaving mainland China by ferry, we arrived in Macau just an hour later. This city known to many as the Vegas of the East has a little more than only bright lights and slot machines to offer.

Ferry to Macau

Macau was the first and last European Colony in China. In 1999 China took formal sovereignty over Macau and declared it a Special Administrative Region. For the following 50 years Macau is intended to have a “high degree of autonomy” from China.

The Portuguese colonial influence is still very evident in Macau. Not only is Portuguese one of the official languages (although rarely used) but also the architecture of the city in many areas is European rather than Asian. The cuisine is made of a unique blend of influences from all over the world- mixing Latin American, African, European and Asian flavors.

With just over 24 hours dedicated to this stop we were on a mission to explore quickly. We spent the daylight hours perusing the historical, cultural and culinary side of the city.

Macau City Scene

We began on foot for a stroll around the city winding our way up and down both main and back alley drags. Eventually we hit San Ma Lo, a main thoroughfare of the city. At one end of the street is Largo de Senado, a large square and common meeting point in town. From here we made our way down a congested narrow street lined with shops selling stacks of meat jerky, egg pies, candy and other souvenirs until we finally reached the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul.

Streets of Macau

Sheets of Meat for Sale

A grand stairway leads to the one remaining side of the church. Some consider this site to be the greatest monument to Christianity in Asia. It was designed by an Italian Jesuit and built in 1602 by Japanese Christian exiles and Chinese craftsmen. In 1835 a fire destroyed the church except for one side of the façade. Behind the ruins there is a small Museum of Sacred Art and below is a crypt.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Macau

Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral

In the same compound as the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul is the Chinese temple Na Tcha. The close proximity of these places of worship was a reminder of the diverse mix of cultures that has influenced this city.

Hungry from the stair climb, we wanted to experience Macanese food. We found Escada, a traditional Macanese restaurant located in a former town house. Pat enjoyed African Chicken and I sampled the Portuguese Seafood.

The streets of Macau are bustling. The sidewalks are wide and true to most money driven touristy cities, they are lined with jewelry stores on every block.  I assume they’re hoping you’ll win big at the casinos and go buy some bling to show it off.

Macau Casino Scene

As evening approached, we cleaned up a bit and grabbed a cab to the famous Venetian Hotel, the world’s largest casino and anchor of the Cotai Strip. Having heard that Macau brings in five times the amount of gambling revenue than their U.S. counterpart we had pretty high expectations for an action packed scene.

The Venetian Macau

Inside the Venetian

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. Yes there are beautiful giant hotels and lots of gaming options- but there is a big difference between Macau and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, most visitors think of gambling as entertainment, people show up for a weekend and leave +/- a few hundred dollars. In Macau gamblers play such high stakes games that it becomes more like investments being made on the tables.  So for the non-high rollers who are interested in causal gambling- there’s not that much for you. And for those risk adverse visitors like us- it left a lot to be desired.  We did find it interesting to watch some games we’ve never seen. Baccarat and Sic Bo are by far the most popular and take up a lot of the casino floors.

Curved Escalator

I’ve only been to Las Vegas once, but I remember being struck by the beauty of the hotels and the glamour of the entire scene. At night everyone was dressed to the nines and all of the employees were exceedingly helpful.  There was a vibrant feel to the place- good, bad or ugly. People were awake. I remember choosing from a 100 different shows what entertainment to see: comedy, Cirque Du Soleil, magic, you name it.

Glamor Inside

Macau was a different story. The people at the casinos were there to gamble not there for the scene. The employees were as interested in service as I am in math. No one was wearing sequin dresses or sexy high heels. And there was a total of one show that I would call PG-13, everything else was beyond my rating system.

Casino City

From the Venetian we decided to cab it back to the side of town where we were staying to explore a few other casinos that were within walking distance. As we spent the night roaming casino floors we accidently stumbled on free center stage entertainment at several casinos just out in the open for all to see. Let’s just say it was a lot of showgirl on display for free. Each casino had their own feel, and we eventually decided we preferred the cheapest, gaudiest, flashiest, oldest of them all- the Grand Lisboa. The table buy-ins were more reasonable so it attracted a larger crowd which made for better people watching.

Bright Lights

Walking at Night

All in all, Macau was an experience. It’s a place I’d recommend for a short visit if you’re already in the area, but it’s not a place I’d rush to independently.

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Category: Alison's Blog, Asia, Blog, Destinations, Macau

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