Macau a one-hour hydrofoil ride from Hong Kong is bustling with new
hotel construction and a potential remake of its image as the seedy
poor cousin to Hong Kong. The waterfront is undergoing a face-lift
that will include a $125 million waterfront theme park, with an
erupting volcano and an African fort.
The government has also commissioned world-famous architect I.M.
Pei to design a new science and technology museum.
But perhaps most important is a significant change in the casino
business, which until this year had been all but closed to
outsiders. Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho owns all 11 casinos in
Macau. It is estimated that the taxes on his combined business
interests casinos, hotels, online betting, horse and dog tracks
provide the Macau government with half of its revenue. VIn
February, the government took bids for three new casino licenses.
Ho, as expected, got one of them. But the other two went to Las
Vegas casino owners Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, and both men
have made it clear that they intend to introduce Las Vegas-style
glitz to Macau.
Adelson has promised to build a $1 billion Italian-style casino
hotel complex, complete with gondolas and Venice-style canals. If
Elvis were alive, he’d be proud.
Then & Now
Macau was a Portuguese colony for 600 years until it was handed
back to China in 1999, following Hong Kong by two years. There is a
rich mix of Portuguese and Chinese culture in the small enclave
(population: 450,000), from the architecture ancient temples
alongside colorful colonial buildings to the flavorful Macanese
food (see Daily Double below).
For gamblers, most of the action is at the big luxury hotels on
the tip of the peninsula (Macau is made up of a peninsula and two
islands, Taipa and Colonae). But there are luxury properties away
from downtown that provide a quiet, restful atmosphere for
vacationing families and recovering baccarat players.
Sooner or later, everyone ends up at the Lisboa Hotel. It’s like
a Disneyland with slot machines. Located near the ferry terminal,
it’s a favorite with tour groups. Just sitting in the lobby is like
being in an international airport; there are more tourists than
gamblers, or so it seems. The Lisboa is a destination unto itself,
and a lot of gamblers never leave the premises. Why should they?
It’s got more than a dozen restaurants, cocktail lounges, bars,
24-hour room service, same-day laundry, money exchange banks, a
house doctor and baby-sitting services.
If you get tired of playing baccarat or roulette, you can catch
a show at Crazy Paris, a nightclub featuring barely attired
The 1,050 rooms are divided into three wings older, newer and
the new tower. Not surprisingly, the rooms in the tower are the
best, offering harbor views and traditional Chinese architecture
and furniture. The restaurants in the older section serve some of
the best food in Macau Chiu Chow, Japanese, Shanghainese and
Rates range from $101 to $137.
Web site: www.hotelclub.net.
The Mandarin Oriental chain has set a standard for luxury and
comfort worldwide, and the hotel in Macau is no exception. The good
news is that the room rates are less than you would spend on sister
hotels in Hong Kong or Bangkok. The hotel is located on the old Pan
Am seaplane terminal. The exterior is rather nondescript, but
inside it is spectacular, with a definite Portuguese influence,
beginning with the blue-and-white tiles, chandeliers, tapestries
and artwork. Then there is the piece de resistance, the carved teak
staircase that sweeps up to the second floor, where the Mandarin’s
small but sophisticated casino is located. The slot machines, which
are called, appropriately enough, “hungry tigers” in Chinese, are
in a separate room. Even though this hotel is located on the
crowded peninsula, it has a children’s pool, a water slide and a
Rates for standard rooms range from $244 to $333. Suites start
at $872. Kids under 12 stay free with parents.
Call 800-526-6566. Web site: www.mandarinoriental.com.
Located on the island of Colonae, a 15-minute ride from the
ferry terminal, the eight-story Westin Resort is one of Macau’s
most stunning luxury properties. It features three swimming pools,
tennis courts, a health club and Macau’s first golf course. Westin
Kids Club provides activities for infants and children up to
Rooms, with up-to-date amenities, face the beach or the South
China Sea, most overlooking Hac Sa Beach.
Five restaurants and bars include a popular Cantonese eatery
with an outdoor terrace overlooking the sea.
Rates for standard rooms range from $121 to $166; suites start
at $384. Children under 17 stay free in parents’ rooms.
Call 800-228-3000. Web site: www.westin.com.
Located on the island of Taipa, near the horse-racing track, the
Hyatt Regency’s 326 guest rooms were shipped in units from the
United States and assembled in Macau.
The rooms feature rattan furnishings, Asian artwork, shutters
and cheerful turquoise-and-green color schemes.
Kids are kept busy at Camp Hyatt, while parents can use the
health-club facilities and the tennis and squash courts.
Two restaurants, one specializing in Chinese country food, and
the sleek Flamingo, are top-notch.
Rates for standard rooms range from $97 to $115; suites start at
$615. Kids under 12 stay free with parents.
Call 800-233-1234. Web site: www.hyatt.com.
The Daily Double
The blending of Chinese and Portuguese cultures in Macau has
produced a cuisine like no other. The Portuguese settlers brought
with them sweet potatoes, peanuts and kidney beans from Brazil,
piri-piri peppers from Africa, chilies from India and codfish,
coffee and vegetables from Europe. For their part, the Chinese
introduced rhubarb, celery, ginger, soy sauce, lychees and other
Asian foods. The result is Macanese cuisine. One of the most
popular dishes is African chicken, grilled or baked, with chilies
and piri-piri peppers. Other favorites include Portuguese chicken
(chicken baked with potatoes, tomatoes, olive oil, curry coconut,
saffron and black olives), bacalhau (codfish), Macau sole, spicy
giant shrimp, baked quail and pigeon, curried crab, Portuguese
sausage and caldeirada (seafood stew). Portuguese wines are cheap
and plentiful and quite good. Some restaurant wine lists are as
thick as small phone books. And if you have a sweet tooth, the
traditional Chinese desserts made of steamed egg, ginger milk and
walnut cream are delicious.
St. Paul’s Church, the most famous structure on
Macau, features the ruins of a temple commanding a view of the
entire city from the top of a hill. St. Paul’s burned to the ground
during a typhoon in 1835, and all that is left is the facade. You
approach it by climbing a grand staircase. The carvings and statues
reflect the mixed religious heritage of Macau: a Virgin Mary
flanked by a peony representing China, a chrysanthemum representing
Japan, a Chinese dragon, a Portuguese ship and a demon.
Largo do Senado (Senate Square) is one the most
beautiful squares in Asia. The traditional Portuguese tile wave
pattern was added in 1994, and since then the Largo has become a
true meeting place for Macanese of all ages at all hours of the
day. The beautiful pastel-colored buildings radiating from the
square recall the best of Macau’s colonial past.
A-Ma Temple, believed to be the oldest building
in Macau, dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Named after
A-Ma, a favorite goddess of the fishermen, it was here when the
Portuguese landed just to the south. The Chinese name for the area
A-Ma Gau (Bay of A-Ma), which the Portuguese transformed to the
name Macau. It has lovely ornate prayer halls and occupies a
hillside with steep, winding paths through traditional Chinese moon