Although it might not yet be as well-known as its popular neighbor, Hong Kong, Macau is fast becoming an intriguing destination for tourists looking for their next enchanting experience in the Far East. Known as the world’s most densely populated city, Macau is a veritable melting pot of cultures given that it used to be a Portuguese colony for several centuries.
The People’s Republic of China leased the territory on its southern tip to Portugal in 1557, with the Portuguese seeking a logistical base to enhance their trade links throughout Asia. Portugal owned Macau for over 400 years, eventually handing the city back to China on the eve of the millennium. During those four centuries, the Portuguese more than made their mark on the city, with Macanese culture and architecture now a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese tastes, creating a way of life that is well and truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
There are many reasons to visit Macau, whether you’re a single traveler or a young family. It’s quite a diverse city, with lots for all ages to enjoy. Let’s delve into the magic of Macau and underline why it deserves to be your next spontaneous travel stop in Asia.
It has never been easier to reach Macau, not least since the official opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. This 55-kilometer bridge-tunnel infrastructure is the world’s longest sea crossing and open-sea fixed link. At a construction cost of $18.8 billion (USD), funded largely by the governments of Macau, China and Hong Kong, the hope is that the bridge operates for at least 120 years, providing a direct road link to Macau from Hong Kong, which remains one of the most popular transit stops for flights from west to east.
Some say it is easier to fly into Hong Kong and drive to Macau today. The Macau International Airport saw passenger numbers increase to more than seven million in 2017 — more than a million over the airport’s terminal design capacity. If you’re traveling from Europe or North America, then you’re unlikely to find direct flights to Macau anyway, with only Royal Flight operating routes from Russia to Macau.
Unique East-Meets-West Culture
However, once you get to Macau, you won’t want to leave. As the last European colony in Asia, you have to see the assimilation of the Portuguese and Chinese way of life to believe it. The city’s architecture is a vibrant mix of Mediterranean colors, with the central Senado Square acting as the centerpiece of Portuguese architecture thanks in part to its mosaic patterns providing a feast for the eyes. The towering ruins of St. Paul’s are also a timely reminder of Macau’s Catholic roots. These ruins form a key part of the Historic Center of Macau, which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
UNESCO also deemed Macau to be a Creative City of Gastronomy, paying homage to its unique blend of southern Chinese cuisine and Mediterranean flavors. In fact, some say that Macau’s cuisine is the original “fusion” cuisine, with no other city managing to successfully fuse such a stark contrast of ingredients like the Macanese. If you consider yourself something of a bigtime food lover, then be sure to try local dishes such as minchi and tacho that are comfort foods and genuine Macanese soul food. Street food delicacies such as the Macanese egg tarts and its succulent marinated pork chop buns also make for sumptuous snacks on the go while exploring the sights.
Knocking Vegas Off its Perch
One of the biggest drivers of Macau’s economy is its casino industry. It is home to the world’s largest land-based casino, with The Venetian Macao offering 34,000 square meters of gaming space, including 878 table games and 3,300 slot machines at three times the size of the biggest casino in Las Vegas. In fact, Macau has overtaken Vegas as the world’s casino capital despite Vegas’ tradition and heritage, with its casino revenues putting Vegas well and truly in the shade. In 2016, Macau turned over $28 billion (USD), dwarfing the $6.3 billion (USD) taken in Vegas. The culture of Macau’s casino scene is so much different to Vegas, with people visiting Macau solely to gamble rather than see shows and party.
Although much of Macau’s casino revenues derive from its baccarat tables — which is a chance-based card game that the Chinese are infatuated with — Macau’s poker scene has also matured a lot in recent years, with the city’s casinos starting to offer exclusive poker rooms that take valuable gaming floor space away from the popular baccarat tables. Some of the casinos offer modest limits, attracting locals and tourists that are still in the process of learning how to play Texas Hold ‘em. At the other end of the spectrum, Macau is also home to the highest-stakes cash games on the planet, attracting the poker elite to the city who are quite happy to do battle with cash-rich Asian entrepreneurs and tycoons in the casino’s VIP poker rooms. You have to see Macau’s casino industry along the Cotai Strip for yourself to understand its importance to the city.
Other Notable Tourist Attractions
Thrill-seekers will also enjoy a trip to Macau. If you consider yourself to be something of an adrenaline chaser, then be sure to head to the top of the Macau Tower and take a leap of faith from the highest commercial bungee jump on the planet, situated some 764 feet in the air. Macau is also famous for its beach scene, with tourists and locals alike gravitating to its unique black sand beach, Hac Sa Beach, positioned on the southern side of Coloane Island.
The special administrative region of Macau, with its own government, has a per capita GDP of $91,000 (USD). That makes it Asia’s most affluent city and the fourth most affluent territory in the world. In fact, Macau is so flush with cash that it pays its permanent residents a yearly dividend of $1,200 (USD) and $670 (USD) even for temporary residents.
Be sure to put Macau on your bucket list of Asian destinations. You won’t regret it.