BY LORI CAPULLO
With an economy based largely on tourism, it’s hard to believe that the hidden gem of Macau in the People’s Republic of China is not more prominent on the world’s radar. Conveniently situated less than 40 miles west of Hong Kong and Shanghai, the peninsula, which was once an island, makes one-third of a triumvirate of luxurious, relatively unknown destinations — at least, relatively unknown outside of Asia.
“People don’t know a lot about it,” says Lisa Crawford, owner of SitInMySeats VIP Tickets, Travel & Concierge Services in Hallandale Beach. “The funny thing is that it’s a big sister to Las Vegas when it comes to gambling.” (In fact, Macau, with more than 30 casinos, surpassed Las Vegas five years ago as the top gambling market in the world.) “So if you’re a high roller — and I get a lot of those coming in to book trips — it’s perfect, because if you go to Hong Kong it’s a great close getaway. And it’s stunning — it sits on the tip of the Pearl River, whereas Vegas is in the desert.” There is even a Wynn Hotel and a Caesar’s Palace.
In early 2010, Macau ramped up shows and entertainment options as well — one of the most popular being the House of Dancing Water, a $250 million showcase created by the veteran Vegas showmaker Franco Dragone (of Cirque du Soleil fame), which features sculpted men performing acrobatic aquatic, aerial and theatrical stunts — along with concerts and a spate of annual festivals that have resulted from the melding of cultures here and that draw visitors from around the world. The biggest event of the year is the Macau Grand Prix in November, when the main streets on the peninsula are converted to a racetrack. Others to consider checking out include the Macau Arts Festival in March, the International Music Festival in October and November, and the Macau International Marathon in December. But the most significant festival held here is the Lunar Chinese New Year celebration that takes place at the end of January and runs into February.
But there’s more than just gambling and festivals that visitors to Macau have to look forward to. Foodies will appreciate discovering the local specialties, which consist of a blend of Cantonese and Portuguese cuisines, with ingredients and seasonings borrowed from Europe, South America and Southeast Asia, along with local Chinese ingredients; typical ones include turmeric, coconut milk, cinnamon and bacalhau, dried and salted codfish, which is the national dish of Portugal.
And then there’s the lively nightlife. There’s something for everyone, whatever your preferred way to spend a night out. Elegant, clubby spots like The Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge cater to the whisky and scotch-loving set, while 38 Lounge on the top of the tallest building in Taipa, one of the two small islands comprising Macau, offers stunning views with your cognac (38 varieties, of course), water pipe or cigar. Mingle with the Chinese crowd at Club Lotus in The Venetian, where DJs spin and you can dance off the native food you consumed on the dance floor (if your timing is right, you’ll be there on a night when Boy George guests DJs, but there’s also a hip-hop room, a piano bar and a bunch of VIP rooms), or at Club Cubic, one of the largest nightclubs on the continent, where when you’re tired of showing off your dance moves (horse dance, anyone?) you can hit one of the five themed Karaoke rooms.
Traveling between Hong Kong and Macau is a cinch, so those with diversified interests can enjoy the best of both worlds. The river system will take you down to Shanghai, where you can see rural China from a riverboat, or if that’s too rustic a form of transportation for you, you can always book a premier class helicopter. The ferry ride is about 45 minutes, but the helicopter ride from Hong Kong to mainland Macau only takes about two to three minutes. Tour guides are mainly Chinese, but tours in English are readily available. If all that isn’t enough to process, here’s another fact you likely didn’t know: Macau also has some of the best golf courses in the world.
Who knew? Best kept secret, indeed.
SOME THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT MACAU
Unit of currency: The Pataca (recent exchange rate: $1 to 7.99)
Official language: Chinese (Cantonese)
Religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, as
well as a sizable
Drives on the left
Macau Government Tourist Office:
For more information, contact Lisa Crawford at SitInMySeats VIP Tickets, Travel & Concierge at