Macau – Fancy hotels, flashy lights and a Facade

One of the most unorthodox trips in my kitty. I mostly crave for either nature or history when I travel and try hard to stay away from flashy lights and crowds. So this was not what I would have chosen to do on my own. Let’s call it family influence but I did find myself among the crude, lights, sounds, and architecture of this cousin of Las Vegas. While the architecture is quite similar, the casinos even grander, the weather lot better, the stakes even higher and even the rooms much fancier, Macau lacks the soul that somehow Vegas has managed to preserve. Among all the ringings sounds of slot machines and groans of the blackjack losers, there is no magic of Cirque Du Soleil or the risque of Crazy Horse. While the hotels boast of a range of amazing fine dining options, just that historical charm of a Coyote Ugly or the diversity of the Paris Paris buffet.

That said, there is also a different side of Macau, that still retains its flavors of Portuguese occupation and some interesting historic structures. There is also the lesser talked about old Macau town with the older casinos and hotels that have now been completely outdone by the newer more modern and more opulent structures. The older casinos still retain a bit of the historic charm, but don’t get any of the cash spending Chinese tourists anymore. It’s a city all about the money you can spend. Unlike Vegas, which has something for everyone, Macao caters to the rich and the infamous.

Getting to Macau was quite easy – there is a direct flight to Hong Kong and right from the international arrivals area, before the Hong Kong passport control is the the way to the ferry terminal. An hour long ferry ride will take you straight to Macau and they will also load up your luggage from the belt once you give them the baggage tags. Macau passport control is easy, they don’t check for much and don’t leave any mark on your passport. While what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, in case of Macau you have never really been there. After picking up the bags hotel shuttles are waiting for you and it’s just a 5 minute ride into the hotel area, if you are staying at one of the newer ones.

The Venetian is as grand as you can imagine with massive fountains in the foyer, grand ceilings and of course the canal. The check-in process was smooth but when you have so many rooms, its bound to have a wait time. The suites were exquisite. Multiple living areas and one of the largest spaces I have seen. Everything seemed to have luxury written all over it. The foyer was the main casino area but you could easily find your way out to the luxury shops next to the canal or the fancy restaurants on the other side including a michelin star Indian restaurant. There is also a food court with some more affordable but still generally good options. Most of the food is asian and there is some good variety.

The best part of going to one of these gambling resort destinations, if you are not a big gambler, is to just enjoy the opulence of the architecture. We walked from Venetian to the Parisian through the Four Seasons hotel. The Four Seasons is just pure opulence with some nice cafes, though. The Parisian was new when I had visited but it was as amazing as the Venetian, if not more with an artificial sky indoors that could go quite colorful and bizarre. I found some of the dining experiences in Parisian more complete and even a tad bit more affordable.

Across the road is the City of Dreams, which has a bunch of hotels inside, but nothing to write home about with some dark movie themed interiors. There was one good mexican restaurant inside with some good burritos and margaritas. The most memorable thing on the visit was a extra large foosball table for 8 players. The ropeway ride into the Wynn was more interesting with the facade lined with Bellagio (vegas) like fountains and hourly shows. They were as grand as the ones in Vegas, but I still think the backdrop of the Vegas Bellagio was more grand than the Macau Wynn. The Galaxy hotel right behind the Venetian is again a cluster of different hotels with a common massive foyer area. The light show in Diamond Lounge of that area was quite amazing – one of the few hotel shows of the city that stood out.

Stepping out of the dream world of these hotels was quite an interesting experience. The hotel had made sure that it was hard enough to catch a cab to anywhere but the ferry terminal/ airport. A backdoor led to a long line to get a cab into the city. The often ignored city has houses the thousands of casino workers and some more people had a surprisingly wonderful character.

The first and most commonly visited stop for the city is St. Paul’s Church or in reality, just its facade. It’s a nice drive that ends on top of a hill with the facade of the early 17th-century church that was burnt in an 1835 fire. The facade has remained standing and with some conservation efforts, it is now one of the best-preserved monuments of Portuguese culture globally. Its usually quite crowded but still worth a visit. From there you walk down a winding street with a crowded market and a large number of street vendors to the main square of old Macau. This cobblestone square has. a nice fountain right at the center and is lined with several eateries and has a church with a facade almost identical to the broken St Paul’s. The markets have some really good Chinese stuff to buy if you have the appetite to bargain.

Finally, let us talk of the primary reason people visit Macau, gambling. Sadly, I didn’t gamble much though I paid my tribute to the city by losing a couple of hundred bucks quickly. I will leave the currency to your imagination, but the slot machines were not as exciting and at the min stakes tables were a little too high for the miserly me. One final pointer is about Macau dollars, they lose most of their value moment you exit Macau and go to HK. Do remember to keep as much currency as possible in HK dollars and convert Macau dollars you get into the HL variety.

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