Macao, more than just casinos…

July 25, 2012


Ruins of St. Paul

Macao has a special place in my heart and I’ve returned a few times over the years, the most recent being last September. Located between the Pearl River Delta to the West and the South China Sea to the East, it is fair to say that it has changed quite a bit. The first time I went, about 20 years ago, there were a couple of casinos. Today the whole island is covered with them. Extravagant in architecture, surpassing anything out west such as Las Vegas, Macao is luxurious to say the least. At first, being a back packer at heart, I was apprehensive to go back, but when I arrived in Hong Kong and got on the ferry for the 45 minute crossing, it felt like old times and I could feel that old-world energy as we approached the island.

Though still under Chinese rule, Macao was a Portuguese colony from the late 1800′s until the handover in 1999. Its culture is very much based on that simple fact alone, even though civilization there goes back at least 5000 years. It is apparent in the food and the Macanese language, a hybrid of Cantonese and Portuguese, this being the main language spoken, with Portuguese in close second, then Cantonese and English, the latter spoken by the newer generation mostly.

Macao by night

The hustle and bustle of this island is due to tourists coming from all over the world but mostly from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Portugal, looking for some gambling fun and entertainment. Macao is host of 33 casinos the two largest being The Venetian, currently hosting “Ice World” Asia’s largest ice sculpture show running through September 16, 2012, and City of Dreams hosting “The House of Dancing Water,” a spectacular show promising to keep you on the edge of your seat!

Like I said earlier, luxurious is how I would describe this place, and I was lucky enough to have stayed at the Mandarin Oriental and Grand Hyatt when I was there.

enjoying a bath at the Grand Hyatt Macao

Both amazing properties offering a number of amenities. My king size suite at the Grand Hyatt with glassed-in bathroom replete with marbled walls and counters and rather large bathtub, I thoroughly enjoyed, as I did the spa treatment at the Mandarin Oriental. Never underestimate the delicate hands of a petite Asian woman. She went full strength on me starting with some reflexology in a foot bath before I was guided to the massage table for a custom 2-hour treatment. Both are 5-star properties with beautifully appointed rooms with everything you could ever want including a flat screen tv, French linens, and more. I was spoiled with chocolates, pastries, fresh fruit, and beautiful teas every day. Something you can get used to quite easily and I did for a week!

at the square in front of A-Ma Temple

But while Macao has always been known for its casinos and more recently its entertainment factor and upscale resorts, it is so much more than that. Off the beaten path, you will discover the people and the cultures that bring color to this island, so do wander around the neighborhoods. I took a stroll though Flora Garden, one of the most beautiful parks in Macao, and was greeted by a woman doing tai chi, and a group of musicians with a singer practicing Chinese opera. And then the old historic neighborhood is a must see, especially A-Ma Temple, built in the mid 1300s during the Ming Dynasty for the sea goddess Lin Mo who blessed the fisherman before going out to sea, if only for its beautiful tiled roofs, massive coiled incense hanging from the ceiling, and the people paying homage and praying. Then embracing Portuguese culture are the Ruins of St. Paul’s Church, built in the late 1500′s to early 1600′s by the Jesuits and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Museums, Fisherman’s Warf, and the Macao Tower (if you love shopping and bungee jumping), are all worth visiting. There is so much to see in Macao that you will never be bored.

Chef Manuel Bena, owner of Manuel Cohinza Restaurant

Besides the exquisite foods served in any number of the resorts, I highly recommend you indulge in some local dining. I took a spin at the famous Red Market with Chef Manuel Bena owner of Manuel Cozinha Portuguesa where he then prepared his famous king prawns and grilled squid for me. You can also go to Antonio’s for crispy suckling pig or Pou Tai Yuen Monastery for a vegetarian meal. And if you want to taste typical Macanese food go to Cafe Litoral for “minchi,” the national dish made with stir-fried ground pork and beef, and potatoes and topped with a pan-fried egg. Still, if cooking and wine tasting are what you love most, visit celebrity chef David Wong, director of IFT Cooking School and their restaurant, which has consistently high ratings.

Otherwise said, if you visit Macao, you’ll have a blast!

(For more info, check out Macau Tourism, and book with Cathay Pacific for direct flights from New York and Los Angeles.)


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