Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Macau, the other Las Vegas

During my SE Asian grand tour a few weeks ago, I took advantage of a long layover in HK (~12hours) to make a quick side-trip to Macau. Macau was previously a Portugese colony, and even back in the colonial days, it was famous for casinos, but they were small places, and I remember seeing one when we visited as a family in the early 2000's

The main (and biggest at the time) Macau casino in 2003, Casino Lisboa

But now.. wow. A few years ago, a number of Las Vegas resorts started building huge resorts - the Venetian, the Wynn... from the outside, it even looks like Vegas, except when you go inside and don't find any slots, or rarely blackjack, but tons of tables playing baccarat, and finding not burgers/pizza in the food court, but fried rice, Chinese bbq, etc. What a strange experience. Apparently, gambling revenues (and profitability) in Macau a few years ago have exceeded Las Vegas. Unbelievable. Sometimes I find it ironic that Asians are "well-known" for good math skills, but somehow, there's a "co-morbidity" towards gambling.

Despite what you might think, this is NOT Las Vegas

It's called the "Cotai Strip", with the Wynn, MGM, etc....

The interiors of some of these casino hotels are amazing, huge chandeliers, aquariums, everything you'd expect from Las Vegas like excess. What's also interesting is the staff you find in the hotels... they must be hiring models for eye-candy. (and holy cow, they were all really tall) Similarly, there were Indian security staff, Filipino dealers and casino attendants, etc.

Overall, an interesting day trip from Hong Kong airport. It's really interesting to see how the casinos have changed Macau. There is still a bit of the shady feeling from the old casino days, but with the large resorts, it seems more "legit", although I'm sure there's still some shadiness that's always lurking around the corner. Singapore has recently allowed 2 casinos, I wonder how much if it will change in the next few years if they allow more.

If you have a long layover in Hong Kong, it's worth the trip. Costs about $30-40 RT to Macau from HK Airport via high-speed ferry. Make sure when you arrive that you don't go to your transfer gate, or don't go through HK immigration. There's a special area that allows you to go directly to Macau without passing thru HK immigration. The boats leave directly from HK airport to Macau Taipa ferry terminal.

One might ask - anything special to eat in Macau? My answer: Macau-style egg tarts! So delicious, and you can even find them in the Venetian! And cheap too, HKD$8, or about US$1.25 or so per piece.

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