My idea of Macau used to be a scene from a Bond movie where Daniel Craig steps off a boat taking him to a casino. The night is dark, the building is warmly lit and everybody’s impeccably dressed. The place oozes money.
Now that we’ve been there, I’ve revised that image a bit. Sure, there are lots of casinos, but reality is different. The city lights capture the smog, the casino colours are more harsh than soft and we didn’t need to worry about the dress code. However, we didn’t go to Macau to gamble and it’s not the only thing to do there either. This is what we did:
See the historic city centre. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a permanent trade base in China in the middle of the 16th century – in Macau. They stayed ntil 1999. The city centre has a great mix of styles. Some buildings remind you of southern Europe, some of the Middle East, some are old Chinese and then of course there’s the newer creations.
In the heart of the centre, around Largo do Senado and the St Paul’s ruins, the main streets were overcrowded, but we found some quieter streets and pretty parks a bit further north and south.
Visit the islands. Macau is made up by the Macau peninsula, the two islands Taipa and Coloane and the reclaimed land in between, Cotai. We spent half a day walking around the old streets of Taipa and enjoying our only hours of sunlight in Macau. There’s a spot where you have the old town at your back while looking out over some wetlands onto the Macau version of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a bit odd. We had plans to get out to Coloane, which is supposed to be less touched by the high-speed development, but didn’t make it.
Eat. We had a lot of good food in Hong Kong and didn’t expect anything that special from its little neighbour. Wrong we were. Everything we ate was very good, but we randomly walked into one specific place that we really fell for: Naughty Nuri’s. We stopped there both because it looked nice and because the name reminded us of friends from home – Victor and Nassima. It was good enough to bring us back more than once and, sitting in the Chinese countryside, what wouldn’t we do to get some of their noodles or grilled ribs…
Watch people gambling. Even if you’re not a gambler yourself, it’s still interesting to walk through a few of the casinos.
Partly, you want to look at the venues themselves. They are big, gaudy and fake to the extent it gets interesting. There’s a mini indoor/outdoor Venice, complete with Italians singing for Chinese tourists as they navigate the canals in their gondolas, an Eiffel tower and Place de la Concorde fountain, random dance and mime performances, fountain shows accompanied by music and lights everywhere.
Then there’s the people, bussed around from one casino to another. (In Taipa, we thought we’d get a free ride home with the casino bus going to Sand’s on the main peninsula, close to where we stayed, but when we got on the bus it drove us to the Sand’s on the other side of the road. It couldn’t have been more than 400 meters.) You see very serious and sober Chinese men in fancy suits, the regular tourists in their jeans and trainers, pretty girls in high heels, and the children of the wealthy, laughing while losing sums that would have bought us a couple of weeks more in the city. One guy – he couldn’t have been much older than the required 21 – casually dropped the equivalent of 5,000 euros on the table for the croupier to exchange for chips. Laid-back and chewing gum, it seemed his night was only starting.
However, I need to point out that we only saw the small spenders. The really big players will sit in private rooms, far away from the regular folks. It’s something else than the black jack table in your regular Finnish bar.
We missed a couple of things: Shopping, catching one of the shows – we hear the one with motorcycle jumps through fountains should be good – and bungee-jumping off the Macau Tower. Maybe next time.