Header photo credit by Dennis Wong
Thanks to appearances in countless Hollywood movies, Las Vegas has been widely regarded as the gambling capital of the world, with the bright lights of Sin City drawing visitors from around the globe for many decades.
However, the famous Nevada city can no longer claim to be the king of casino culture, and, in truth, hasn’t been for just over a decade now.
Rising to park itself firmly on that particular throne is Macau, which has transformed itself remarkably from what was once a sleepy fishing port to a booming Asian tourist destination at the top of many ‘must visit’ lists. Move over Las Vegas, because Macau is where the action is!
Move Over Las Vegas; Here are 3 Reasons Why Tourists Prefer Macau
Photo by Andrew Moore
#1 Fusion of European and Oriental Cultures
Macau was the first European colony in Asia when the Portuguese established a permanent settlement in 1557. It was also the last in 1999, when Macau became a special administrative region and formal sovereignty was returned to China, just like the British relinquished control of nearby Hong Kong just a few years earlier.
Steeped in authentic colonial history, Portuguese and Chinese are the two main official languages, although English is also fluently spoken due to the proximity of Hong Kong and the large number of visitors from the former British colony, being just an hour trip across the Delta by boat.
Before the major casino operators rolled into town, Macau smartly applied for UNESCO World Heritage status and, in 2005, it was added to the list of locations considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value.
There’s a wealth of fabulous architecture dating back through the centuries, with marvelous examples of the earliest encounters between the Chinese and European civilizations.
Places to Visit
Places to visit include the original colonial urban center of Senado Square, the Holy House of Mercy established by the first Bishop of Macau in 1569, and the ruins of St Pauls; a 17th-century Portuguese church dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle.
You can also visit spiritual and sacred shrines such as the ancient A-Ma Temple, which already existed before the city itself, inspired by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and numerous local folk beliefs. All make for a remarkable cultural adventure back through time.
Within the beautifully tended and tranquil open spaces, such as the European-style Flora Garden at the base of Guia Hill, or the charmingly Chinese influenced Lou Lim Ieoc Garden, you can genuinely escape the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle; even forgetting for a while that you’re in one of the most densely populated places in the world.
There’s also an excellent variety of museums to visit, covering everything from arts and ‘East meets West’ history, cultural curiosities and sciences, an even a Grand Prix museum dedicated to motorsports. All underline exactly why Macau is such a truly unique location in the world.
St Paul’s Cathedral Macau
#2 Casino Culture and Bright Lights
Gambling has always been one of the most popular and profitable sources of revenue but Macau only fully began to realize its huge global potential and appeal by genuinely developing its prominent casino culture in the last fifteen years.
For most of the 20th century, all forms of gambling in the so-called “Monte Carlo of the Orient” were controlled by syndicates of Hong Kong and Macau businessmen, who modernized marine transport between the two cities and introduced western-style games. But major changes in 2002 saw the local government end the gambling monopoly system.
This sparked a boom in both local and international investments, as casino empires set their sights on the city. Particularly, since the Sands Macau opened near the Ferry Terminal in 2004, the construction of some of the world’s biggest and most luxurious casino and hotel resorts has followed.
Such was the demand for the limited space available to embark upon such grandiose construction projects, the southern islands of Taipa and Coloane were united by a massive landfill project, reclaiming two square miles of land on top of the Seac Pai Bay, forming what is now the Cotai Strip and home to the main concentration of casino resorts.
Construction of Macau’s Casino Resorts
The Grand Waldo Hotel was the first to be completed on the new land, opening its doors in 2006 and quickly followed by more. Among them is The Venetian Macao on the Cotai Strip, the first of the enormous integrated hotel resorts, with 3,000 suites and boasting the seventh largest floor area (3,350,000 square feet) construction in the world.
There are giant retail areas and venues such as the 15,000 seat Cotai Arena for entertainment and sports events. An impressive 550,000 square feet of the overall construction is the casino floors, divided into four themed areas, featuring over 3,400 slot machines and 800 gaming tables, with baccarat and various forms of poker the most popular games.
Such amazing facilities and massive investment have made Macau one of the most popular casino and gambling resort destinations in the world, unrivaled by any other city and vastly outstripping even Las Vegas.
The former Portuguese enclave generated a whopping $24.06 billion in casino gross gaming revenue during the first nine months of 2017 alone. Growth looks set to continue, as millions more visitors continue flocking to Macau.
The Venetian Macao
#3 Plenty of Variety
Macau evidently has much to offer its millions of annual visitors, whether it’s immersing yourself in the glamour and glitz of the casinos, surrounded by the opulent and all-inclusive entertainment they offer or soaking up the rich diversity of the Sino-European history and culture of the city, with areas of great natural and architectural beauty.
There is genuinely enough to see and do that an entire vacation spanning a week or two could be spent fully exploring the entirety of Macau and everything this glittering Asian jewel has to offer.
But it’s also a short boat trip from Hong Kong, making the Chinese peninsula city and its islands a popular day-trip destination, as visitors pack in the key sights and experiences in a day or two.
One final thing that is certainly worth mentioning, however long you stay, is to tuck into the fabulous cuisine on offer, given the distinctive mixture of Chinese and Portuguese colonial dishes that’ll whet any appetite. It’s for that reason that, at the end of 2017, Macau was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.
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