Roman baths, mouth-watering egg tarts, spectacular stage shows, and fast cars are a part of Macau these days, along with the ubiquitous roulette wheel.
The millions of visitors who come to this ‘Las Vegas of Asia’ are lured by the gambling, and a growing lineup of show-stopping attractions ranging from quirky to gob-smacking.
But with so much entertainment, great food, a charming old town, and so much more opening up, how do you know what’s best? Here’s our list of some things, beyond the gambling tables, that just can’t be ignored.
1. The Eiffel Tower
Macau has its own Eiffel Tower now, a half-size replica of the real deal in Paris. The Tower is part of The Parisian, a $US2.7 billion casino hotel that opened late last year.
In between hands of Black Jack, head to the Observation Deck on level 37 for great views of the neon-lit Macau landscape, or reserve a table at La Chine on level six, where classic Chinese dishes are served with a French twist in a refined setting. Red-bean crepes, anyone?
There are 3,000 rooms at The Parisian, marble shopping promenades including designer brands, and a spectacular entry area with a huge domed roof and fountain. Keeping up French appearances, there are mime and street performers mingling with the crowds.
If you want more European faux, take a short stroll to The Parisian’s famous nine-year-old sister, The Venetian, where you can take a gondola ride along canals in a shopping mall, complete with opera-singing gondoliers.
2. World’s most luxurious hotel
The most anticipated property in Macau for years is The 13. As Vacations & Travel went to press, it was still a work in progress, however the opening of the self-proclaimed seven-star boutique property has been imminent for so long that everything must be done except for the folding of the napkins.
This is a hotel for high-rolling guests who will be spoilt with 24-hour butler service and rides in red Rolls Royce Phantoms. The standard accommodation comes with a roman bath with baroque ceilings, neo-classical columns and crystal chandeliers.
If you like this French palace style, you may have to part with your house deposit. Rumours have been swirling that a night’s accommodation in the 200-suite property may be between $10,000 and $100,000.
A new MGM with 1,500 rooms is also due to open in Macau’s Cotai district in June or July, promising a more affordable room rate.
3. Egg tart delight
The humble Macau version of the Portuguese egg tart won’t cost you a house deposit; just $48MOP (about $AUD8.70) for a box of six.
These are some of the most delicious morsels on Earth. To go without an egg tart in Macau is like going to the Moon without a space suit, or jumping from an aeroplane without a parachute. Madness.
The place to get them is Lord Stow’s Bakery, credited with making the Macau originals. The bakery is in a sleepy and historic seaside village on Coloane, one of the two main islands that make up Macau. Lord Stow’s egg tarts are full of rich custard, encased in pastry and are baked daily.
Just 10 minutes from Lord Stow’s, is Hon Kee, a casual outdoor café with simple wooden furniture, a cooling sea breeze and highly rated rich coffee made by the Kung Fu practising owner. The café has been a favourite among locals, but the secret’s out now.
4. Hot tickets
All the big-name casino hotels and integrated resorts – The Sands, City of Dreams, Galaxy, Studio City, The Parisian, The Venetian and Wynn Palace among them – stage world-class shows, including Broadway and West End performances from time to time.
When The Parisian opened in Macau last year, the first show in its 1,200-seat theatre was the smash hit Michael Jackson tribute, Thriller Live.
Some Macau shows stay for only a short season, so you need to keep a look out on the hotel websites for what’s coming up, but others are there for the long haul.
One of the longest-running is The House of Dancing Water. It opened in 2011 and is still packing in audiences at the City of Dreams. It has been described as Singin’ in the Rain musical meets China folk tale; then add breathtaking jets of water, high diving and acrobatics in the style of Cirque du Soleil. If you’re in the front rows, prepare to get wet.
The jaw-dropping House of Magic is another Macau show destined to stay for a while and features the world-acclaimed illusionist Franz Harary.
There are also classical music performances, K Pop stars, rock stars (The Rolling Stones have played previously), Moulin Rouge-style can-can shows and Cantonese opera to see.
Afterwards, step out on the town and try a couple of Macau’s nightclubs. One of the hottest is the just-revamped China Rouge at the Galaxy Macau, or get into the groove with the celebrity DJs at Pacha Macau at Studio City.
5. Fast and furious
There’s a certain appeal to fast cars and street circuits, and Macau doesn’t disappoint. Its annual Grand Prix delivers high-octane excitement and is on this year from 16 to 19 November.
These may not be the big boys of Formula 1, but the racing sees the world’s best Formula 3 drivers rolling the dice on the six-kilometre street circuit that includes long-and-fast straights (with cars hitting 275km/h), as well as tight corners.
Previous winners include drivers who stepped up to Formula 1 star status, including Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
Adding to the four days of excitement, motorbikes also race on the street circuit that has often been referred to as one of the most testing in the world.
6. Wynn Palace and that incredible gondola ride
A slow ride in the Skycab at the newly opened $US4.2 billion Wynn Palace is sure to leave a lasting impression. The Doppelmayr lift (the same company that provides the lifts in The Alps and at ski fields around the world) rises 30 metres over a 3.25-hectare performance lake.
Passengers in the air-conditioned six-person cabs are treated to a breathtaking show of music, light and fountains, with water shooting into the air from 1,200 jets in the lake.
Two of the lift’s towers represent golden dragons, said to be a symbol of good luck for casino visitors.
Another good vantage point for the fountain show is in Wynn Palace’s high-end Cantonese restaurant, Wing Lei Palace, where the service is as crisp as the tablecloths.
Big windows provide diners with a clear lake vista, that’s if they can take their eyes off the wok-fried sliced duck or barbecued suckling pig.
Wynn Palace’s Wing Lei only opened in Macau in August 2016, but it has all the makings of a Michelin-star restaurant.
7. Michelin-Star eating
While Wing Lei works towards its inevitable Michelin star(s), there is no shortage of restaurants in Macau that have already earned star status.
Gambling is the big draw card of this special autonomous region of China, but food is clearly another ace in the pack, with 19 Macau restaurants awarded stars in the latest edition of the Michelin Hong Kong Macau guide.
To pick out just a couple of the 19 is like picking a favourite child, but here goes: Robuchon au Dome for its French cuisine and The 8 for its Chinese food. Both are at the Grand Lisboa hotel.
There are a further 12 restaurants that have been awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin for their impeccable street food. Guess who’s among them? Yep, Lord Stow’s.
It’s not just Michelin throwing accolades at Macau. Forbes has just got into the act by giving 11 Macau restaurants a five-star rating, more than any other destination around the world.
8. Old Town Charm
The historic centre of Macau provides a breather from all the glam and glitz of the casino hotels. Here, you’ll find the iconic Senado Square with its wavy pattern of black-and-white cobbles; A-Ma Temple, which was built in 1488 and is the oldest surviving building in Macau; and the famous façade of St Paul’s, a church that was built between 1602 and 1640.
Everywhere you turn there are historic buildings, urban squares, and even fortresses, reflecting the Chinese and Portuguese heritage of Macau. •
Photography by various establishments.
• Cathay Pacific flies from Australia to Hong Kong 70 times a week. cathaypacific.com.au
• Hong Kong to Macau ferries take about 70 minutes, or direct from the airport it’s about 60 minutes. turbojet.com.hk
• Later this year, the Hong Kong to Macau Bridge is due to finally open. The $US10.6 billion bridge, which is really a series of linked bridges and tunnels, is about 50 kilometres long and will have a drive time of about 40 minutes.
Where to stay
• The Parisian – New and very French: parisianmacao.com
• Wynn Palace – New and spectacular: wynnpalace.com
• Pousada de Sao Tiago – Boutique, Portuguese 17th-century castle: saotiago.com.mo
Where to eat
• Antonio’s – Authentic Portuguese, laneway rustic, Michelin recommended. antoniomacau.com
• La Paloma – Paella heaven, Spanish fine dining in historic setting at the Pousada de Sao Tiago hotel. saotiago.com.mo
• Macau Tower – Revolving buffet restaurant with views (and a bungy jump!). macautower.com.mo
• Restaurante Litoral – Mecanese on the plate (a fusion of Portuguese, Chinese, African and Indian). Dee-lish! restaurante-litoral.com
• Lord Stow’s Bakery: lordstow.com