Macau is a showcase of modern grandiosity and the old but charming Mediterranean atmosphere. A dreamland, where the flashy and extravagant lifestyle evoked by its casinos and luxury shops blends harmoniously with the laid-back, antiquated colonial heritage left by the Portuguese. Macau is a fusion of the east and west, the old and the modern, the charming and the brazen and more.
Lying just one hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong, we made sure to include Macau in our itinerary. With limited time, a day trip would be enough to leisurely saunter around its rich colonial inheritance and hop through its glitzy casinos, but we opted to stay for a night. Diverging from our usual backpackers’ ways, we decided to pretend to be part of this ostentatious and decadent world for a night. However, this was not the reason why I was so keen on visiting Macau – I had set my mind on one thing before I even left Manila: to bungee jump at Macau Tower!
It was almost 11AM when we left South Pacific Hotel in Wan Chai and took a cab to the Hong Kong – Macau Ferry Terminal. The hectic and tiring day spent tramping around Hong Kong the day before made us sleep in late, and lose some precious time that could have been used to see more sights in Macau. The ferries run every 15 minutes from 7am till midnight but the next available ticket left when we reached the terminal wasn’t until 12:45. Thus, we decided to have lunch first in one of the restaurants in the terminal while waiting for our trip. We almost missed our ferry! We didn’t expect the queue for immigration to be that long – after all it was only Wednesday. Thanks to the couple who let us check-in ahead of them, we just made it to our ferry in time, after running through the terminal with all our baggage in tow.
Getting to Macau from HK was fast, efficient and easy. The ferry ride was pleasant with comfortable seats even in the economy class of the modern TurboJet. Getting through Macau’s immigration was also smooth and hassle-free. All we needed was our passport – no visa required. Most of the hotels have representatives to welcome their guests and lead them to their shuttle buses at the Macau Ferry Terminal. Although we missed ours, it didn’t take long before our shuttle bus came back for the next batch of guests and transported us to Grand Lapa Hotel which was just a few minutes drive from the terminal. We would have walked to our hotel if we weren’t carrying heavy luggage.
Grand Lapa Hotel was the only five-star hotel we booked, out of the 3 hotels we stayed in for this vacation. It has expensive and upscale shops, extravagant amenities, flashy exteriors, and of course a casino, typical of most hotels here. The view from our window was also magnificent with the Sands Macao Hotel in sight, a vast pool and colorful streets of cobblestones. With just an hour of rest, we headed to the back of the hotel to check out the pool area before strolling along a nicely paved street towards the Fisherman’s Wharf.
Macau Fisherman’s Wharf is a 120,000m entertainment park situated on Macau Peninsula near the Macau Hong Kong Ferry Pier. It is the first period themed park in Macau that combines entertainment, shopping, accommodation, fine-dining, and exhibition facilities. Its 150 stores and restaurants were built in the style of the different world seaports like Cape Town, Amsterdam and Venice. The first things I noticed though were the immense replica of Italy’s Coliseum and the Filipino band singing cover songs in the complex. We spent most of our time here practicing portraiture (good thing we brought a tripod). We then dined in one of the restaurants over-looking the glowing Friendship Bridge across the harbor. We unfortunately missed the nightly explosion of the 40-meter-high volcano and the daily jet-ski stunt shows, and skipped checking out the retail shops. But I guess, the best reason to include this in your itinerary is that the entrance is FREE!
After the wharf, we crossed the main street to check out the casino of the Sands Macao. With the entrance of the big-name casinos from Las Vegas like Wynn and the Venetian, Macau has evolved into the hottest gambling Mecca of the world even surpassing the Vegas strip in terms of annual revenue. The casinos have brought the unparalleled growth in tourism, intensified by the day- trip visitors from the mainland and Hong Kong. We then rode in the free shuttle service that transports guests form the Sands to the Venetian Hotel at Cotai Strip. We passed along the scenic Friendship Bridge and the view across the harbor was even more magnificent than the skyline of Hong Kong. Macau’s casino strip is a sight to behold and even grander at night.
Even the most jaded among the rich and famous couldn’t help but be awed by the luxury of the Renaissance-inspired Venetian Hotel and Casino Resort. Aside from the 3000 luxury suites, the replica of the baroque Venice that includes canals, gondolas, singing gondoliers and other Venetian icons are among the famous attractions. But I guess the main allure of the Venetian Macao lies in the four themed gaming areas of its casino, considered the largest in the world. We spent most of our time looking around for a beginners’ table for Texas Hold Em Poker. We ended up playing roulette instead, since most of the tables in the gambling hall were playing blackjack, baccarat and Caribbean poker, while the Hold Em Poker tables we found were filled with serious and “professional” looking gamblers – not a good place to start if you are only planning to spend 500 HK$ to last for a few hours of fun! Surprisingly, our game of roulette lasted for more than an hour and lost only HK$25!
We left the Venetian around 10pm to catch the last trip of the shuttle bus back to the Sands Macao before taking a cab to Avenida de Lisboa. Situated in this strip is the Lisboa Hotel, which was once the “it” casino in town. It was interesting to see what the casinos and hotels were like in the golden days of Macau before the invasion of the mega-casinos from Vegas. Adjacent to Lisboa Hotel is the spectacular Grand Lisboa, modern and grand, but with a Portuguese touch. Its lotus-like flower design dazzles passers-by with thousands of brightly colored and glittering lights.
Macau is not just about casinos and retail therapy. The myriad selections of snazzy themed clubs and trendy bars will not disappoint those who seek pleasure and hard-core partying. While those who fancy singing can try the famous Karaoke bars and clubs at Taipa Island, a quiet and relaxing drink at the wharf’s waterfront is a tranquil alternative. To get a taste of Macau’s nightlife, we headed to Avenida Sun Yat Zen where we saw a small stretch of bars and restaurants on the way back from the Venetian.
The Moonwalker Bar was the obvious choice for us, beguiled by the busy crowd and the impressive voice of the vocalist belting out some cover songs of Journey and Bon Jovi. As it turned out, this bar is considered as the most famous as well as expensive among its neighbors, but it was interesting to learn that it is run by an all-Filipino staff – even the performers too! After some live music and a few drinks, kuya tipped us to try Club D2 to get a bit of a workout at the dance floor. (It’s hard to linger in a bar that offers a 400 plus peso beer when you can have a better tasting one at 25 pesos back home) The club is obscurely located in the AIA Corporate Tower opposite the Grand Emperor Casino and is frequented by a good mix of locals, tourists and expatriates. Finally, at 4am with achy feet and droopy eyelids we got back to our hotel and crashed in earnest anticipation of the next day’s crazy adventure.