In 2013, the bustling peninsula of Macau, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, generated about $45 billion in gaming revenue. An understandable figure considering the same hotel/casino brands that contribute to Las Vegas’ multi-billion dollar empire have offshoots in Macau. There’s an MGM, a Wynn and Encore, a Mandarin Oriental and, on Macau’s luxurious Cotai Strip (a restored portion of land located between the islands of Taipa and Coloane), visitors will find The Venetian and Four Seasons.
To add to the fabulosity, in 2015, a subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands Corp. plans to cut the ribbon on The Parisian Macao and the following year, Louis XIII, a $393 million project, opens on Coloane. Clearly, the purse strings have come undone in Macau, or Macao. Either spelling is acceptable.
Getting there: Although visitors commonly fly into Hong Kong and then take the one-hour rapid boat to Macau’s Taipa Terminal, as a hassle saving alternative, book a ticket on Eva Air instead. With Eva, you’ll hang out in the airline’s Taipei Club lounge catching up on incoming emails and noshing on delicious rice meatball dim sum, Chinese buns, and roasted sweet potatoes (amongst a smorgasbord of other Asian-inspired fare) before connecting to your final destination.
You’ll appreciate relaxing in this VIP lounge (replete with shower facilities) for a few hours because once you get to Macau, you’ll want to hit the ground running. Good thing Macau International Airport is only a five-minute drive from the Cotai Strip because once you drop your bags off at your hotel, you will be raring to immerse yourself in local culture. Just like in Vegas, the locals don’t hangout on the Strip—find them at one of the city’s various hidden gems.First things first, take a cab to Red Market, a lively red brick marketplace where animal meat hangs in rows on metal racks, fresh fish (grouper, tiger prawn, abalone, mantis shrimp) flop around on beds of ice and live chicken cluck in cages. Pick up crisp colorful veggies on your exploratory walk through the three-story warehouse. Two key things to keep in mind at this popular butcher’s bodega: One, the signs are in Chinese so go with a guide capable of interpreting. Try Kseniya Zorina from smallWORLD Experience. Also, don’t wear your finest. A fresh kill smell permeates the place and water is always being doused over the live mollusks. It’s best to wear sneakers on your visit. Donning flip-flops will only guarantee that your toes get wet.
From there, head to the Historic Centre of Macau, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the A-Ma Temple, the Ruins of St. Paul’s and Camões Garden. At A-Ma, you’ll breathe in incense-filled air while watching the locals pray to the goddess Mazu. If a picture-perfect background is what you’re in need of, head over to the Ruins of St. Paul’s (via a 15-minute cab ride), where steps leading to the carved stone façade of a 17th-century church is what’s left standing after a massive fire destroyed the building in 1835. Then, walk five minutes from the Ruins to Camões Garden and ogle old-timers playing intense games of Chinese chess.
For native fare, stop by Cathedral Cafe. Here, in this renovated 80-year-old villa, you’ll find Portuguese tapas and the popular vinho verde (green wine). Cap the night off by trying your luck in one of the many Cotai Strip casinos. An authentic Macau experience wouldn’t be complete without a stint at the baccarat table, a favorite game of the locals.