Macau’s growth in tourism has mostly been driven by the gaming industry – so much so that the “Las Vegas of Asia” has long passed the city many of its new hotels were inspired by! And if gambling doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, you can enjoy the Portugese colonial history and architecture.
My first trip to Macau was many years ago, before gambling took off, and I visited to explore the history on a day trip from Hong Kong! From the iconic ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Guia Fortress to the squares and little streets of the old town with its beautiful buildings and funky stores, there is plenty to see for a day trip.
And it is refreshing to see how different it is in contrast to its neighbor Hong Kong! While there are plenty of tours available to show you the historic sights in a convenient package, I’d recommend to go on your own, take it slowly and just walk around to really appreciate the old town, its sights and people. It’s a small area easy to explore on foot and it’s surrounded by water on three sides, so you can’t really get lost too badly! Make sure to walk down a few of the small alleys and check out the local stores – snakes in a glass were certainly a first for me!
If this sounds terribly boring to you, then maybe the title “Las Vegas of Asia” can draw you in? On the newly developed Cotai side of Macau, you’ll find a number of huge casino hotels! Some, like the Venetian, are clearly developed after their American name sakes and you’ll find the same Italian architecture, fake blue skies, canals and gondoliers to take you on a (more or less romantic) boat ride, gawked at by 100s of other visitors! In addition to the casinos, you’ll also get plenty of stores with all the global brands, lots of restaurants and some shows. And you can see the same starry-eyed tourists who can’t believe that anybody would actually build indoor canals with boats and bridges!
The vast majority of visitors to Macau are from mainland China and they are big fans of gambling, making Macau a much more hardcore gambling experience than Vegas. There are fewer performances and shows, fewer bachelorette or birthday parties and a lot more people zeroing in on the tables. While you’ll find all the casino classics like Blackjack and Roulette, you’ll also find local games I hadn’t seen before. And you’ll probably be surprised by the much higher minimum bids than what get’s you started in Vegas! Now I know why Macau has surpassed Las Vegas – there is some serious money changing hands – and that’s even before you get to the “high stakes” tables!
Even if you don’t like gambling, you can take advantage of the endless shopping – the malls are conveniently connected, offering 100s of stores with all the global and regional brands. Inbetween the stores, you’ll find lots of restaurants to take a break, enjoy food and drinks from allover the world and watch the crowds! People watching is certainly entertaining, the same way it is in Las Vegas.
What makes Macau a good alternative to Hong Kong, even if you are not into gambling, are the much lower hotel prices. You can stay at equivalent hotels for a much lower price or enjoy spacious and brand new accommodations instead of the infamously small rooms of Hong Kong! Check out my review of the stunning Conrad Hotel Macau to get an idea what you can get for your money! There are ferries from Hong Kong’s airport and from Kowloon, with free shuttle transportation from the ferry pier to the hotels provided by the casinos, so getting around is easy!
If you are planning a trip to Asia and have done a stop-over in Hong Kong before, maybe you should consider a stop-over in Macau the next time. Between the gambling, shopping and history there is plenty to keep you busy for a few days and it won’t break the bank!