Monday, September 3, 2012

Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia

After my ordeal with immigration, my time in Macau was pretty awesome. It began with the very nice free bus/shuttle ride from the airport to the Sands Cotai Central complex which includes a shopping mall, a casino, the Holiday Inn, and the Conrad. There is also a Sheraton there but it's not finished yet. The Holiday Inn and the Conrad share a building which is really odd and makes for a somewhat confusing lobby setup. When we got to the check-in desk we were treated like royalty. Two people took our bags and another manager showed us to our room on the 32nd floor. I was shocked to see that it was a club-level suite. It was huge and had two bathrooms. This is a brand new hotel that has only been opened since April so they are really trying to make a name for themselves. The view from the hotel was of the rest of the city and the lights on the hotels in Macau put Vegas lights to shame. I think they are all LED lights that do different patterns that are much more reminiscent of old Vegas lights that  flash and move in patterns. I loved it.
This is the casino and hotel complex known as City of Dreams. The hotels are Crown, Hard Rock Hotel, and Grand Hyatt.
 These are pictures from suite 3222 at the Conrad Macau Cotai Central.

If you didn't know already, Macau was the first European settlement in Asia. It was founded by the Portuguese which is why many of the old buildings have the wonderfully bright colors and the architecture is decidedly European. There are many streets that are cobblestone or mosaic. The old part of the city is about the only area that is sort of untouched by the casinos although you can still see them towering over the old city. All of the street signs are in Chinese and Portuguese, so I can read almost everything because of my limited Spanish knowledge.
There's always a Starbucks and this time we needed it. 

The last time I visited Macau was in 2006 and many things have changed including the landscape of buildings. But the most notable change is the influx of mainland Chinese tourists. They literally come in busloads and descend upon the city. We walked around the old part of the city with really narrow streets and it felt like New Year's Eve in Times Square except it was over 90 degrees with just about 100% humidity. It was quite a steamy time. There is a "walk" from the main center of the old city called Senado Square to the ruins of St Paul's cathedral where only the facade remains. It felt like there were about a million people walking along the path. There are tons of little shops and lots of bakeries selling all kinds of Chinese and Portuguese (Macanese) creations including the famous egg custard tarts.  

This is a great shot that includes the old city with the newest additions. This is taken from the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral ruins looking down the narrow street path. In the upper left corner is the equally gigantic and gaudy Grand Lisboa which is located right next to the original Lisboa casino. It is quite famous and was featured in a James Bond movie. The original still feels like the 1960s old Vegas. It's quite cool, but also kind of sad.

The Macau Wynn is actually quite small. You might call it the mini-Wynn. There is an Encore tower but it doesn't look like the Wynn tower at all. There is also a Vegas Bellagio style fountain in the front of the Wynn but it was under maintenance. The Macau MGM Grand is the monstrous tower seen behind the Wynn in this picture. It also looks nothing like its Vegas counterpart. 

Originally Macau consisted of two island that lie south of the Penha peninsula where the old part of the city is. The island just south of the peninsula is called Taipa and the one south of that one is called Coloane. Currently Macau consists of the peninsula and one island. They reclaimed all of the land between Coloane and Taipa and called it Cotai. That is where the Venetian, Galaxy, City of Dreams, Cotai Central, and the Macau Dome (which is a sports facility) are located. At least they have preserved both Taipa and Coloane villages. One of these days when I return I'll visit both of those.  

This picture shows one of the three bridges that connects the peninsula with Taipa. The Macau Tower is seen here. This is the waterfront right in next to the Wynn. 

Also if you didn't know, Macau is only a one-hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong. There are high-speed hydrofoils that leave about every 15 to 30 minutes. Macau has two ports. The main ferry terminal is the original one on the peninsula and there is a temporary ferry terminal right near the airport located on Taipa. Because of its proximity to Hong Kong, you can easily make a day trip out of Macau or stay a night or two. Each casino and most hotels have their own free shuttle buses that run all over the place. They all run to the ferry terminals, the airport, and the mainland border gate, but they also run to other casinos. So if you plan things right, you never have to pay for transportation while in Macau, but you will have to go to some hotels and casinos that you may not want to visit. 

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