The Las Vegas of Asia! This is not simply a “copy-paste” of the Nevada strip, Macau has a fusion of Portuguese, Cantonese and International influence that makes it quite a unique destination.
1. It’s all about the Cotai Strip.
The newest and nicest casinos (The Venetian, Paris, Ritz Carlton) are all located in Cotai. It is the most opulent, lavish section of Macau and it is made from landfill between Coloane and Taipa Islands (hence the abbreviated name, “Co-Tai”). Casino developers have 100-year leases on the properties, since technically everything is owned by the Chinese government.
2. Gambling is the focus.
Las Vegas is heavy with entertainment, headliners and magic shows, but the focus in Macau is really the gambling, which is a much bigger deal in Chinese culture.
3. It is less international than Hong Kong.
While you’ll see the occasional American stopping over while coming to/from a business trip, it is much more a playground for domestic Chinese tourists. If you have light hair and fair skin, mainland Chinese might ask to take your picture.
4. Macau Island has Portuguese history, but the older hotels and casinos.
Macau had its casino hey-day in the eighties and nineties, and it feels visibly dated and is surrounded by molding, dilapidated buildings in need of repair. I would recommend staying on the Cotai strip but just visiting the UNESCO Portuguese sites by cab. I made this mistake and stayed in The Grand Lisboa. While I was closer to the historical sights, I was away from “all the action” and new development in Cotai.
5. You Do Not Need a Visa
Macau is a SAR (Special Administrative Region) which means unlike mainland China, you do not need to arrange a visa in advance. You can simply pop-over on a 50 minute high-speed ferry and go through their own customs. While they have their own currency (MAC) Hong Kong currency (HKD) is accepted there and an equal 1:1 value. Most of the resorts also offer free shuttle bus to-and-from the Macau ferry terminal.
6. The High Speed Ferry services the HKG International Airport
You can get directly to/from Macau using a 70-minute high speed ferry. When you are flying out of HKG, they even check you into your airline, review your travel documents and print your boarding pass. I took the ferry and then went straight through HKG security to my gate.
7. It is Crowded
Old Macau is a tiny island, the streets are narrow, it is so old even the Portuguese pavement remains! With the boom in the Chinese middle class and the rise of tourism, more and more mainland Chinese are flocking to these tiny streets. Mentally prepare for Senado Square to feel a little more like Times Square.
8. Eat those Delicious Pasteis De Nata Pastries
What the heck, was this photo taken in Lisbon?! The wavy black and white pavement, Portuguese tile and egg tarts mix with Chinese characters and pork rolls. Eat your way through Macau, especially on the way up to Saint Paul’s ruins.
9. Bar Hop
I had a glass of wine and a window view at Le Chine, the 6th Floor restaurant in the Paris hotel’s Eiffel Tower. The St. Regis is another great bar, while it does not have a view it has live Jazz music and a wine flight. Yes. Please.
10. Shop ‘till You Drop
The amount of stores (especially luxury brands) is mind-blowing. Had to be more than Las Vegas, especially at the Venetian. I enjoyed watching the gondolas glide by through the endless halls of shoppers and stores.