You have to feel kind of sorry for Macau. It's always been the poor relation to it's bigger and more successful sibling Hong Kong. When the Portugese first colonised Macau, they hoped it would rival Hong Kong as a centre of world trade. It wasn't to be.
Macau spent almost a 400 years languishing in Hong Kong's shadow. In the 1970s the Portugese tried to convince Mao to take it off their hands. China wasn't even interested. Macau was destined to spend another twenty years in Portugese hands. During this time it managed to develop a healthy addiction to gambling. Dowdy, family run hotels were torn down and replaced with schizophrenically designed bronze-tinted glass casinos.
Today Macau is the epicentre of China's booming gambling scene. It's already doing more "business" than Vegas and if the sea of cranes dominating the sky is anything to go by, that's not going to change.
How to spend a day in Macau
Like most Western visitors to Macau, Joe and I were staying in Hong Kong and decided to visit Macau for a day. The best way to get to Macau from Hong Kong is by ferry. Ferries run really frequently, but this being Hong Kong we struggled to get a place on our preferred crossing. We had to resort to buying a ticket from a shady ticket tout. I'd definitely recommend booking ahead.
The Macau Taipa ferry terminal is inexplicably located on the grounds of an airport. When you pass through immigration your greeted by a surreal combination of taxiing jets and a scrum of casino promotors touting for business. The upside to this is that it's incredibly easy to get into Macau. Each casino offers a free shuttle bus. The casinos are literally fighting to get tourists into Macau.
Our first port of call in Macau was the Grand Lisboa. The Grand Lisboa is the original Macau gambling den opened by rumoured triad kingpin Stanley Ho. The casino is housed within a bronze glass clad lotus flower shaped sky-sore. It's without a doubt the ugliest building I've ever encountered on my travels.
Things aren't much better inside. Guards in black suits control your every movement throughout the dark windowless maze of a building. If it wasn't for the complimentary jasmine tea and coconut mochi balls we'd never have had the sustenance to escape. They really don't want you to leave.
Once we'd secured freedom we decided to head towards the old Portugese quarter for some lunch. Towering casinos and Hong Kong style apartment blocks gradually gave way to crumbling Portugese piles. We lunched at Albergue 1601 set in a deserted, leafy Portugese style square. They serve up a fusion of Portugese and Cantonese dishes called Macanese. I'll spare the details as Joe gives it a good writeup - I was a big fan of the "African Chicken" though. If you ever visit Macau sampling Macanese cuisine is a must!
After lunch we took a walk to Macau's most popular selfie spot: St Paul's, the empty facade of an old Portuguese cathedral. The ruins sit next to a fort which was home to the Potuguese army until the 1960s. The fort now houses a museum about Macau, but the real draw are the views of Macau's skyline.
We finished our day in Macau with a visit to the worlds largest casino, the recently opened Venetian Macau. The scale is staggering. It took us almost 40 minutes to walk from one side to the other. In that time we walked the entire length of the grand canal, ate a portuguese pasteis and embarked on (and abruptly ended) our gambling career.
The Venetian Macau is ghastly. It optimises everything I hate about the tourism industry. Having said that it's scale is so vast, and unlike anything I've ever seen before that it's a spectacle worth experiencing in it's own right.
Go to Macau. Make a day of it.