At the end of 3 weeks in Hong Kong (see Hong Kong Trip Report) I headed over to Macau for a long weekend. This was my first trip to Macau.
Macau Trip Report
I think that pretty much sums up my feelings about Macau. However, I’ll share a little more about my time in Macau.
Macau is a special administrative region (SAR) of China. There are two special administrative regions in the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong and Macau, which were former British and Portuguese territories, respectively. Macau lies on the western side of the Pearl River Delta and borders the Guangdong province of China to the north and faces the South China Sea on the east and the south. The PRC’s Central People’s Government is responsible for the SARs defense and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, and immigration policy.
Macau was settled by the Portuguese in the 16th Century and even today you can feel the Portuguese influence in the food, architecture and culture. In 1999 China assumed formal sovereignty over Macau.
The currency unit in Macau is the Pataca (abbreviated as MOP) and is usually about equal to the Hong Kong Dollar. Today, 1 MOP = .097 HKD. And, in fact, in Macau you can use Hong Kong Dollars everywhere and receive a 1:1 exchange value.
Macau has a humid, subtropical climate and receives a lot of rain driven by the monsoons. Summer is very hot and wet and Winter is mild with less rain and humidity.
Getting to Macau is very easy. There are several ferries that run from Hong Kong and mainland China to the Macau Ferry Terminal. From Hong Kong, you can catch a ferry from Hong Kong Island at the Shun Tak center, in Kowloon at the Ferry Terminal and at the Airport SkyPier. Tickets are inexpensive ($22 for coach fare and $44 for premium fare) but should be booked in advance to ensure passage as prime time ferries can sell out. The two primary ferry vendors are TurboJet (which I took) and CotaiJet. At the Macau Ferry Terminal, you will find free bus transportation to all hotels in Macau. Upon departing the terminal, find the down escalators that will allow you to cross under the street to the bus depot. Buses to the large hotels leave about every 15 minutes and buses to the smaller hotels (like the Westin where I stayed) leave approximately every 30 minutes.
Taxis are also a great way to get around Macau. They are relatively inexpensive (compared to most cities) and most cab drivers speak enough English to get you around. They all know the major hotels. It is the law in Macau (and Hong Kong for that matter) that you must wear your seat belt in a cab. You can be ticketed, as can the cabbie, if you’re caught not wearing one.
What to do
The two main things to do in Macau are shopping and gambling. There are some cultural and local historical attractions, but the weather can command what you do in Macau. On my trip, it was about 95+ degrees with feels like temps over 100. The smog was suffocating on my first full day in Macau. I had picked out a few things I wanted to see and after about an hour outside in the smog, found myself coughing and with teary eyes. All I wanted to do was get back inside.
I did go to the A-Ma Temple, the oldest Temple in Macau dating back to the 17th century. The temple is beautiful and a great part of history. Worth a visit. I wish it was cooler and I could have spent more time. After the temple, I went to the Coloane Village – an village that looks like time stood still. The buildings are reminder of the Portuguese legacy left behind. Spanish style buildings painted in yellows, light blues and pinks. The streets are narrow and filled with local merchants and restaurants. The village square provides great photo ops and is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Again, I wish it had been less smoggy and a bit cooler so that I could have spent more time exploring all of the alleys of the village.
The majority of tourists to Macau are from mainland China and there for the casinos and extravagant shopping outlets. Each Casino, just like in Las Vegas, has a variety of entertainment options, restaurants and shops. The exchange rate with the US dollar didn’t really make for any good bargains in the upscale malls. However, if you happen to win big in the casinos you can find just about every high end designer boutique you’d ever want to splurge on.
I spent some time on Sunday, during a rain storm, checking out the casinos. The Cotai Strip, known as little Las Vegas in Macau, houses the The Venetian, the Four Seasons, The Conrad, The Holiday Inn and the soon to open, Sheraton Hotel. The Venetian is a beautiful and elegant hotel/casino reminiscent of the original Vegas location. The Venetian features glass artist Dale Chihuly’s spectacular blown glass. Many of the casinos are connected to one another making it easy to get around. The Venetian is connected to the Four Seasons which is very elegant. Across the street are the Conrad, Holiday Inn and Sheraton (opens late September 2012.) The Conrad is very modern and has a huge spa and pool area. I didn’t wander into the Holiday Inn.
On the other side of the Island is the MGM Grand, Wynn, the Sands and other smaller casinos. The MGM Grand is a more formal and modern hotel/casino with a magnificent butterfly garden inside. The Wynn looks very modern, but I decided not to tour it.
Each hotel has its own restaurants – some are very high end and some are more casual. I had a great meal at the MGM Grand Patisserie. They had delicious western-style sandwiches and more traditional Asian fare. They are most known for their tea and desserts. The Venetian has a large food court where you can find every type of Asian food you could desire from Singaporean food to Vietnamese food to traditional Chinese. Upon the suggestion of fellow blogger, Gary Leff from View from the Wing, I tried Fernando’s Portuguese restaurant which is located just down the beach from the Westin hotel. It was very good and a great suggestion.
Three days was way too much time in Macau. I would have probably been happy with one night/two days in Macau. Aside from gambling – which was fun for about an hour, and shopping – which I couldn’t really afford to do, there isn’t a lot to Macau. If you just love Vegas and can spend days on end there, then you’ll love Macau. If you get bored in Vegas, then you’ll find the same of Macau. (It’s also important to note that Macau lacks the elaborate shows that Vegas offers and doesn’t have nearly the variety of dining options – or any celebrity chef which have taken over the Vegas food scene.)
I personally wouldn’t head back to Macau because it isn’t the type of vacation that I like. But if you’re into gambling, then Macau’s your place.