Sunday, September 5, 2010

Luck be a Lady Tonight! Decadence, Delicacies and Delights in Macau, China.

Stats:

Destination:  Macau

Number of Days Spent:  3

Where we stayed:  Royal Macau Hotel – in a city that’s as expensive as Macau, you might as well go all out.  This 4 star hotel had all the amenities you might would expect – Indoor pool, sauna, chandeliers in the lobby, plush king size beds…I don’t think either one of us wanted to leave – but at over $100 bucks a night – time is money.

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Best restaurant:  More of an institution than a restaurant, Lord Stowe’s has been serving up tasty pastries for nearly a century.  Their Egg Tarts are delicious and well worth the trek down to Coloane for.  Also in the quaint village of Coloane there is a tasty open air restaurant that serves up excellent seafood – just look for the crowds of people.

The most popular treat for the visiting Chinese are little almond cookies.  They are seemingly on every corner in ready to give gift packs to take back and share with your friends and family.  Free samples are de rigeour :-) 

We didn’t try it but see, the Chinese like “ethnic” food too (In case you can’t read the sign it says “Ireland’s Potato”)!  We didn’t try the pig fat cookies either – I think the name says it all.

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Best of:  Hitting it ‘big’ at the Venetian, fountain and light show outside the Wynn, a little taste of Portuguese culture remarkably exists amongst the rapid expansion. 

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Worst of:  Expensive with little to no ‘cheap’ accommodation or restaurants – Bring your bank roll here.  I also never made it to get the Pork Chop sandwich – a local ‘treat’ that eluded us for various reasons.

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Most Memorable:  Seeing the throngs of touring Chinese gambling the night away and shopping till they drop on Almond Cookies and various dried meat products.  

Useful Tip:  Taxi’s are relatively inexpensive, but still are the most expensive method of transport.  Nearly every hotel in town offers a shuttle to the boat dock to Hong Kong.  From there you can catch any of the shuttles to the casinos for free.  Want a more direct path?  Jump on the bus system – it’s a little confusing but most buses follow the same route so getting on just about any of them will get you in the general area…that is if you know the area!

The other “Two systems, one nation”, Macau lived for centuries in the shadows of Hong Kong.  Financial centers based themselves in Hong Kong and Macau continued life with fishing being the main industry.  That was until 2001 when the government relaxed gaming regulations. Casinos have since became the main source of income for Macau drawing visitors from Hong Kong, mainland China and all over the world.

But it’s not all about casinos.  Macau is rich in culture and cuisine as well.  A unique blend of Old World Portuguese charm splashed with Chinese and Buddhism.  Cobblestone streets give way to churches and temples alike and the cuisine is equally as unique. Prawns from Goa (another Portuguese port), coconut chicken from Africa and local fish and seafood all blend together in delightful fusion foods long before ‘fusion’ food was a catch phrase.   

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Religion and superstition has been an integral part of everyday life for many Macanese. With the sea lapping on it’s shores, it’s no surprise that the goddess to the sea is the sight of the most revered temple in Macau.  A-ma was a poor girl looking for passage to the mainland harbor of Guangzhou.  No one would take her except for one poor fisherman. After a storm destroyed all the other ships and saved the one lone fisherman’s ship – she was immortalized both in name and tale. The name Macau comes from this story – A-Ma-Gau – or the bay of A-ma.

The temple is still an important place of worship today and many superstitious gamblers opt to drop a few coins in the donation slot before trying their luck with other forms of Slots.

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While superstitions and Buddhism remaining strong, the catholic influence the Portuguese brought with them also left a lasting mark.  All that’s left of the magnificent Church of Saint Paul is the facade, but what a facade!  Perched atop a hill, the facade has become one of Macau’s more recognized symbols.  Just across a small valley on another hill sits the Monte Fort.  Built by the Jesuits (who also built the church) in the 17th century, the fort protected their interests on the peninsula for many years.  Today is an excellent museum highlighting the history of Macau from pre-historic times all the way up to the return of Macau to China in the 90’s.

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The southern peninsula of Macau plays host to all the glory of the past as well as the future. The elegant 19th century homes of the noble Portuguese are well maintained.  Manicured lawns, no vehicles and along a beautiful lake, the setting doesn’t get much better.

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History is great and all, but Macau today is Casino central.  Prior to 2001, gambling in Macau was a monopoly, one man controlled all the casinos in town and treated it like a strict business.  No glitz or glamour – gambling was ran more rigid and controlled.  In 2002, things opened up and more casino operators started to move into town.  At first it was a few smaller businessmen opening up with, among others, the Lisboa. 

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It wasn’t long before Vegas caught wind of the excitement and started showing up.  Revenues from casinos in Macau have since surpassed Las Vegas and the building continues at breakneck speed all appealing to one of the fastest growing economies in the history of the world – present day China.

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We tested out lady luck at The Venetian – currently the world’s largest casino. A sprawling mass of high end shops spread between two malls, gondola rides along the ‘canal’ and lots and lots of flashing and beeping slot machines. Fortunately luck was on our side tonight – we dropped in a few Hong Kong Dollars (the preferred currency although they have their own money with a similar exchange rate) and ended up walking out with $1500 dollars!!  Ok, so it’s HK dollars which makes our winnings more like $200 US, but that just about covered our hotel and in a place like Macau, that’s about as good as you can hope for.

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Bank Roll and Visa in hand it was time for a real dose of reality and Chinese culture.  Next stop – Chairman Mao’s beloved country - communist controlled China!

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2 comments:

Fernanda said...

Hi guys! really nice trip! we´ve met at El Encuentro, in Cuzco, shared a table, remember? Haven´t you decided coming to Brazil?
Fernanda (and Vinicius)

From Muddy Waters said...

Tracy, enjoyed your pix from Macau!! ~Jess