Macau has grown into a mélange of new world glamour and old world grit.
Foreign visitors per year: 3.94 million
Languages: official Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese; unofficial Cantonese, Patua
Major industries: gaming, tourism
Unit of currency: Macau pataca (MOP$), Hong Kong dollar (HK$)
Cost index: hotel per night MOP$1500 (US$188), Portuguese dinner for two incl. wine MOP$800 (US$100), taxi from Macau Peninsula to Cotai Strip MOP$150 (US$18.80), ticket to a show MOP$1000 (US$125).
Why go ASAP?
Macau has grown out of its rep as a Las Vegas knock-off and into a mélange of new world glamour and old world grit. With six times more revenue from gaming than Las Vegas, Macau has seen a huge boom in recent years. Nouveau riche mainland Chinese have begun to flock here to enjoy the buzz of China’s gambling hub.
But the casino culture belies Macau’s true charms. Its Portuguese heritage has created a fusion cuisine that combines European, African, Indian and Chinese elements. And where else in the world can you make an incense offering at an ancient Chinese Buddhist temple in the morning, take the world’s highest bungee jump in the afternoon, have a Michelin-starred meal in the evening topped off with a bottle of Portuguese vino, don your finest for a glitzy show and then pull up a plastic stool for some Chinese street food as a midnight snack?
With a spiffy new light rail system connecting the peninsula and islands in the works, as well as major hotel brands like Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott arriving and a slew of new glam casinos under construction, gambling in Macau will become even more tempting. And the completion of the world’s longest sea bridge between Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China means it’ll be easier than ever to get here.
Festivals & Events:
During the A-Ma Festival, celebrate the Taoist goddess who gave Macau its name (`A-Ma gao’ means A-Ma Bay) on 11 May with offerings at her namesake temple and performances of Chinese opera.
As its name would suggest, Macau’s rowdiest to-do is the Drunken Dragon Festival on 20 June, when inebriated fishermen parade through the streets waving wooden dragons.
Stretching for an unbelievable five weeks throughout September and October, teams from around the world descend on Macau for the World Cup of pyrotechnic arts, the Macau International Fireworks Competition.
In November, the Macau Grand Prix sees champion motorcycle and race-car drivers take to the peninsula’s Guia Circuit, culminating in the Formula 3 Grand Prix race.
Life-changing experiences :
Exploring the back streets of Macau’s Unesco World Heritage old town – a mix of Portuguese and Chinese architecture found nowhere else on earth. Sampling the delights of Macanese cuisine, which mixes elements of Portuguese, African and Chinese food – think prawn, chorizo and olive-laden ‘Portuguese fried rice’. Thrill-seekers shouldn’t leave without a leap off the world’s highest commercial bungee platform or a cool stroll around the 233-metre-high Skywalk at Macau Tower.
Space-limited Macau is expanding at an incredible rate, with the Cotai Strip landfill having closed the formerly aquatic gap between Taipa and Coloane and more reclaimed land surfacing by the day. Real-estate prices are soaring, but pressure remains on local businesses to maintain Macau’s historic (read: low-rise) architecture. Added to that are ongoing discussions about the democratic process in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the region’s handover from Portuguese to Chinese sovereignty.
Macau is the world’s most densely populated territory, with more than 21,000 people per square kilometre.
At 980,000m2, the Venetian Macau is the world’s largest casino.
According to the CIA, Macau has the second highest life expectancy in the world at 84.41 years.
Code-switching is a common fact of life in Macau. On any visit, you’re likely to hear a local changing seamlessly from Cantonese to Portuguese, English and Mandarin, though you’ll be lucky to hear the local creole, an endangered language known as Pattuá .
With such a mix of influences on its cuisine, the food itself is a reason to visit Macau. Portuguese fried rice, African chicken and charcoal roasted seafood are staple dishes. Another local speciality is the Macanese egg tart – not unlike a Portuguese pastel de nata, but made with less sugar to suit local Chinese tastes. Cantonese cooking is also excellent here, from gourmet dim sum to late night chetomian from street stalls. And the sweet lack of import tax also means a gorgeous bottle of Douro wine is a no-brainer at most meals.
Most bizarre sight:
The golden facade of the Grand Lisboa casino, with its surreal pointed leaves designed to look like a lotus flower, dominates Macau’s skyline. And these days, dozens of cranes surround Macau, dredging sand and soil in the middle of the sea to form reclaimed land plots.