- Al was here: April 22, 2010.
- Time needed for a visit: 1 day should be enough.
- My score: 2/5 if you have been to Las Vegas, 3/5 if not.
With a historic Portuguese colonial center, some of the most luxurious casinos on the globe and thousands of traditional and ugly Chinese houses, Macau is a very curious and barely graceful mix. This small peninsula, once an island, is the place in the world with the highest population density and one of the places with highest per capita incomes adjusted per inhabitant in the planet (translation: they are very rich).
In mid-sixteenth century, the great powers by that time competed for the development of international trade, and East Asia was a point of enormous interest. After being denied to the Portuguese the lease of Hong Kong as the main port for their business in China, they finally rented Macau exclusively in 1557. In the nineteenth century, after several years of defaults and taking advantage of Chinese weakness due to the Opium Wars against Great Britain, in 1887 and by mutual agreement, China cedes full sovereignty to Portugal. Curiously, years after the Second World War it was Portugal itself that offered to return the territory alleging difficulties to maintain it, and China rejected it claiming that they would have difficulties to manage a capitalist redoubt in their newly released communist society; but as the economy of both countries improved, both governments changed their minds, and the will of the strongest was imposed: Macau returned to China on December 20, 1999, being the last remaining European colony in Asia. The terms of the agreement determined a socio-political-economic regime with great autonomy and a progressive transition during the next 50 years. This Macau’s special regime allows them to have something that has no other place in the country: gambling is allowed.
- In the last 15 years it has become in a copy of Las Vegas that grows from one day to another. The best casinos in that city have replica: Venetian, MGM, Parisian (with its Eiffel Tower) or Wynn are some of them, with all their luxuries and details, including their permanent shows of Cirque du Soleil. In addition there are others of their own, among which stands out, and it does stand out, the Hotel Casino Grand Lisboa, the tallest building in the city, imposing, golden, impossible and quirky; but it is not far behind the City of Dreams, a mega complex of 3 luxury hotels, a giant casino and the theater with the most expensive show in the world, The House of Dancing Water.
- High and bizarre is also its tower, one more to add to the list of towering towers built with the sole purpose of drawing attention from the world and, why not? bungee jumping.
- Completely changing about architectural style, churches, most of them catholic, including the ornate façade of the Ruins of St Paul’s Church, cobblestone squares and streets with names in Portuguese, houses of one or two floors painted in warm colors, sometimes reminiscent of Mediterranean white villages and sometimes to Havana, and even a fort with its canons from the beginning of the seventeenth century. Its historic center dates back to colonial times and has been included in UNESCO’s heritage since 2005 (perhaps to prevent its demolition and the construction of new casinos).
- This remix could not be alien to gastronomy. Nowhere else will we find Chinese noodle dishes along with Portuguese egg and cream tartlets.
It’s pure entertainment, but it does not translate into a visually pleasing set. Everything that is not the lavish casinos (which fascinate me, why not say it) and the historic center is very unattractive, they even show a certain sense of dirt and poverty. Sometimes it is hard to believe that this city is one of the richest in the world, not to mention that money and gambling have promoted the appearance of mafias and their corresponding illegal activities. It seems evident that true luxury does not reach all its corners, but if it continues to exploit its potential, soon it will do. Macau is a surprise, pleasant for some and unpleasant for others, but a surprise in growing expansion after all. And if at the end you do not like it, you can always go to Hong Kong to spend the evening.
WHAT TO SEE
- BEST OF MACAO: ONE DAY ITINERARY
- ONE DAY EXCURSION: HONG KONG
- WHEN TO GO
- HOW TO GET THERE
- HOW TO MOVE AROUND
- WHERE TO EAT AND SLEEP
- DANGERS AND PROBLEMS