The stone facade of St. Paul’s Church
Two decades ago, Macau, Europe’s oldest colony in Asia, was such a
quiet backwater that only businessmen, adventurers and hardcore
gamblers could be seen on the ferry from Hong Kong to the
Portuguese colony. Even the mainland Chinese government didn’t
appear to be in any rush to get there. In 1974, they turned down a
request from the Portuguese to take back their overseas possession.
Finally in 1999, the People’s Republic of China took possession of
Macau with a promise to administer it, as it is doing with Hong
Kong, under a “one country, two systems” policy.
In the years since, Macau, as the only place in China where
gambling is legal, has become the Las Vegas of the East, with new
hotel and casinos and state-of-the-art tourist attractions opening
one after another. Except for the historic facade of Saint Paul’s
Church, few return visitors will recognize the Macau skyline.
In 2004, the $240 million Sands Casino Macau opened, followed by
the Wynn in 2006. The stakes keep getting higher and higher with
the $2.4 billion Venetian Macau, the Chinese gaming enclave’s
largest hotel-casino, scheduled to open later this summer on the
Cotai Strip, 10 minutes from downtown Macau. While it’s styled
after the Venetian in Las Vegas, the Macau property will contain a
550,000-square-foot casino, almost five times the size of the Las
Vegas casino. The Venetian Macau will have 3,000 hotel rooms, 1.2
million square feet of meeting space and 1 million square feet of
retail space with 350 stores. The property’s 1,800-seat Cirque du
Soleil theater is not expected to open for several months.
Bungee jumping off the Macau Tower
The Venetian Macau is the first of nine planned resorts on the
Cotai Strip, with the gambling being operated by the Las Vegas
Sands and the hotels being operated by such brands as the Four
Seasons, Sheraton, St. Regis, Shangri-La, Traders, Conrad,
Fairmont, Holiday Inn and InterContinental.
Playboy Enterprises, Inc. is getting in on the action as well
with Playboy Mansion Macao scheduled to open this year. Playboy
chairman and chief executive Christie Hefner sees Macau as having a
“vast growing power as a travel destination,” citing studies that
predict the number of visitors to double between 2006 and 2011.
In addition to the many casinos, non-gambling-related
attractions are springing up throughout the island due to its
revitalization. Fascinating museums with state-of-the-art
presentations, including the Museum of Macau, the Grand Prix Museum
(filled with Formula 3 race cars) and the Wine Museum are worth a
visit, as is the 1,273-foot Macau Tower with a spectacular viewing
platform. Thrillseekers can experience the world’s highest
commercial Bungee jump from 764 feet above ground, summit the
structure’s tower by climbing the mast’s exterior vertical ladders
or walk around the exterior outer rim of the viewing platform
hooked to a safety harness.
Most visitors making the 26-mile trip from Hong Kong to Macau do
so by Jetfoils, which operates around the clock and takes 55
minutes. A computerized booking system is available through Hong
Kong’s MTR Travel Service Centers.