Exit China. Enter Macau. Though now technically a part of China, Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) just like Hong Kong. With the exception of defense and foreign affairs, Macau is autonomous and will remain that way until at least 2049. At first glance, Macau is… drastically different than mainland China. First, they drive on left side of the road like Australia does. China drives on the right like the US. Second, they actually obey traffic rules AND wear helmets when on bicycles and motorcycles. It’s a whole new world!
Ok, so there are other, more drastic differences too. Macau has its own currency, economy, and immigration laws. It is the world’s most densely populated place with around 550,000 people crammed into roughly 11 square miles. Within that small space, three distinct Macaus exist. The first Macau is the Chinese Macau. Look around: nearly everybody is Chinese and speaking Chinese, albeit Cantonese instead of Mandarin and the writing is traditional Chinese and far more complicated than the simplified Chinese writing that they use in mainland China, but still. Chinese. It is part of China after all. As I had just spent a bunch of time in China, I decided to largely ignore the Chinese Macau and check out the other two, more unique Macaus.
Portuguese Macau! Now this is what I’ve been waiting for. The Portuguese settled Macau in the 1500’s and maintained their presence until 1999. While the people don’t look Portuguese, there remains a ton of Portuguese influence in Macau. Street signs are a good start:
They are always in both Cantonese and Portuguese, and usually in English as well. With the Portuguese came Christianity – something you won’t readily find in mainland China. All that remains of the Church of St Paul is this facade, but it was the largest church ever built in Asia:
European architecture abounds in Macau, especially in certain parts of the old city:
And of course, how could I forget my favourite remnant of the Portuguese era: food! Macau is famous for its Portuguese egg tarts, sold all over the city:
Delicioso! (Ok, that’s Spanish, but that’s as close as I’m going to get!) And after the tart appetizer, I headed down to Praia de Hac Sa (Hac Sa Beach) to check out the famous Restaurante Fernando!
Yummy Portuguese chicken and chips… ::drool::
The Museu de Macau (Macau Museum) sits atop an old Portuguese fortress.
The museum was interesting, but a bit oversold by Lonely Planet. The view from the top of the fortress, however, was pretty sweet.
Ummm… it looks like that canon is aimed and ready to destroy the third Macau… the Vegas Macau!
Macau is a gambling mecca. Such a mecca it is that Macau now exceeds Las Vegas as the place with the highest gambling revenue in the world. It all started in 1962 with one casino, and that casino – the Casino Lisboa – was on my list of 103 Things!
And another one crossed off the list! The inside of the Casino Lisboa wasn’t all that impressive, but remember it was built in the 1960’s.
In 2002, the Lisboa’s monopoly on gambling in Macau ended and all of the big Las Vegas players moved in. Venetian, Wynn, MGM, Hard Rock, and more! The neon lights abound at night:
Patronage of the Macau casinos is dominated by mainland Chinese. They bring their new found wealth to the casinos to either squander it away or win big. And for the big winners, every big casino is equipped with a wide array of fancy stores which will assist the newly rich with showing off to their friends and neighbors. Seriously. Macau – with a population of around 550,000 – supports 2 Fendi, 2 Prada, 2 Versace, 3 Chanel, 3 Dior, 4 Gucci, 4 Louis Vuitton, 5 Coach, and 6 Cartier boutiques. Nuts!
For me, my casino of choice was the Venetian Macau – the world’s largest casino. Only the biggest and best for me, right?
Modeled after its counterpart in Las Vegas, the Venetian Macau comes complete with all of the things you’d expect a tacky, over-the-top, absolutely incredible hotel casino would have. Like gondolas!
And a Sistine Chapel-type ceiling!
My suite wasn’t all that expensive but it was massive and luxurious!
I even had my own living room! And don’t even get me started on the bathroom:
Can I stay longer? Please?
Of course, no Vegas experience is complete without a show, and nobody does a show quite like Cirque du Soleil. Since Macau is the new Vegas, it’s only proper they get their very own Cirque du Soleil show too!
Overall, Macau was an absolutely fabulous vacation destination and I’m already itching to get back. Beaches, history, shows, casinos, fancy hotels, and Portuguese food – all while you can say you’ve been to exotic Asia. This is my kind of place.