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Macau: The Vegas of Asia

Macau, officially ‘the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China’, is a autonomous territory on the southern coast of China… just like Hong Kong. When we read that it was the “Las Vegas of Asia” and only a short ferry ride from Hong Kong, we decided to do a day trip. We left Hong Kong in the morning and returned in the early evening.

With an estimated population of around 636,200 living in an area of 30.3 km2, Macau is the most densely populated region in the world. Macau was administered by the Portuguese Empire until 1999 and, like Hong Kong, when Macau was handed over to China, a deal was put in place allowing it to enjoy a minimum of 50 years of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy.

In 2006, Macau became the world’s largest gambling centre. By the end of Q1 in 2010, Macau surpassed Las Vegas’ entire revenue for 2009. More money flows through Macau’s casinos than anywhere else in the world – probably the reason why many of the big Las Vegas based gaming companies (MGM, Las Vegas Sands, and Wynn) all have casinos in Macau. Macau has been described as a place to ‘experience gambling and excess on an unprecedented level’, and while we had the chance to walk through the casinos (we even gambled away the equivalent of $20) I saw nothing that would support these claims. Hey, maybe the craziness starts when the sun sets and the neon lights dominate the streets (about the time we returned to Hong Kong)!

Travelling between Macau and Hong Kong couldn’t be easier – multiple ferry terminals in both cities have multiple companies running ferries at least every hour. To cross, you need your passport (you’re essentially leaving/entering a new country) but like Hong Kong, the usual entry stamp is replaced with an entry card.

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Once you arrive at the Macau ferry terminal, almost every major hotel/casino has a free shuttle bus to town (so don’t bother paying for the city bus or a taxi). To return to the terminal, they’ve made it a bit trickier. We learned the hard way that as of March 1, 2016 you can’t simply hop on any free hotel shuttle back; I guess the taxis were losing too much money. Instead, you have to sign up with a specific hotel before you gamble at said hotel. We missed the memo and struggled to figure out the public bus system to get back.

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Having been a Portuguese colony for centuries, the influence is still visible in parts of Macau. Notably, there’s the iconic Ruins of St. Paul’s (the façade originally built in 1602) and then there’s the infamous egg tarts sold everywhere.

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The main areas you’d want to walk around are quite close together and you can easily walk through most of the major hotels, casinos and side streets in a single afternoon. There’s even an emerging coffee scene and plenty of restaurants to get your caffeine fix and feed your hunger. Do note that, very unlike Vegas, most casinos don’t serve or allow alcohol – yes, you read that right, no alcohol! Supposedly it has to do with the fact that people go to Macau to actually gamble, vs Vegas where people go as much for the entertainment as the gambling. People in Macau (i.e. the mainly Chinese market) view gambling as an investment and the market is geared towards that. Therefore, hot tea is available but a cold beer (or even a warm one) is hard to come by.

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Since no photos are allowed inside the casinos this is the closest I got to getting a photo (look past the giant gold statue):

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On a side note, if you do plan on travelling to Macau from Hong Kong via ferry do not buy a return ticket. We thought that we might save money doing so (you don’t) and got very frustrated on our return trip. Since you don’t book a specific return time, (it’s an open ticket), you are wait-listed once you arrive at the Macau terminal and every single other person that shows up and buys their ticket right in front of you gets on the ferry before you. If, at the last moment, there is still room on the ferry, the wait-listed line (which was quite long) is allowed to board. During peak hours – rush hour in the evening – you could end up waiting hours: worst deal ever! We lucked out and only waited about 30 minutes but we were the last couple to board that boat and there were dozens of people behind us who had waited nearly as long and would have to wait a minimum of another hour.


I don’t think it’s possible to park any closer together… what do you think?

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One thought on “Macau: The Vegas of Asia

  1. Anna Jean Mallinson says:

    Interesting! The no alcohol rule is wise: serious gambling requires a clear mind. I like the building in the photo that has a huge vacant spade in the middle, like an archway. The Portuguese colonial buildings must have been interesting. Portugal was once a world trading power!.

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