Asia, China, Destinations

12 hours in Macau – Asia’s gambling capital

June 29, 2015

A trip to Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia, is highly recommended since it’s only about an hour away by ferry from Hong Kong. Being a former Portuguese colony, Macau has a totally different vibe. It’s got this amazing ‘Lisbon style’ Old Center but you can feel the colonial influence everywhere. Besides that, what makes Macau unique is the legalization of gambling which turned the province into the Mecca of Asian gamblers.

The person who had the biggest influence in building the Macau we see today and the gambling capital of Asia was Sir Stanley Ho. The business magnate, nicknamed ‘The King of Gambling’, somehow managed to hold the gambling industry for four decades, instituting a casino monopoly.

This ended in 1999 once Macau was given back to China. The Chinese interest was to make money, so what a better way to do it than to lift the monopoly and invite all big operators from Las Vegas to build their casinos here. Therefore Macau depends heavily on tourism (over 30% from total income) and gambling.

I know most people are on a tight schedule so you can do this trip in one day, coming back late evening considering the ferries run 24/7, but it’s always nice if you could spend a night, because Macau is all about the night life, right?

Sites to see during your stay:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Senado Square – is the old town center of the Portuguese Colony, a superbly preserved square with a beautiful blend of Portuguese and Chinese architecture considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Dominic’s Church – built at the end of the 16th century, is the perfect example of Portuguese architecture and one of the first catholic churches in Asia


  • Ruins of St. Paul – one of the main historical attractions in Macau, is a ruin of what used to be the largest Catholic church in Asia.


  • Mount Fortress – the oldest fort in Macau designed to protect the city against pirates. Once up on the platform you have a great view of the city.


  • A-Ma Temple
  • The Venetian – shopping by the canals in the most impressive casino in Macau and also the largest casino in the world.
  • Performing Lakes at The Wynn’s – for a better visual impact you have to see it after dark.


  • Grand Casino Lisboa – the landmark of Macau, present on most postcards, having an impressive lobby with sculptures and decorations made out of gold or ivory. There is also the old Lisboa Casino which belonged to Sir Stanley Ho during the monopoly.

Since we were here only for a day, we didn’t have time to see any shows, but House of Dancing Water is something you could enjoy if you like “O’ in Vegas.

Here is a sample of the entertainment inside the Venetian:

Macau travel tips:

  • Get one of those free MGTO guide books from your hotel concierge (or at least the one from the boys at the Wynn). Within the first few pages there is a walking guide to the Historical Centre of Macau.
  • Use the free shuttle service provided by all major hotels and casinos either from the ferry terminal (take the one from Wynn’s) or to travel between different casinos.

What to eat in Macau:

Macanese food benefits from a special combination of Portuguese and Chinese cuisine and it uses spices from both worlds. A famous signature dish that you simply cannot miss is the African Chicken. You can find it in many places but Henri’s Gallery has a good reputation.

In the old center you will find plenty of bakeries offering free tastes of their Macanese specialties. Some of the most famous sweet treats are:

  • Egg tarts – this sweet desert with a caramelized crème brûlée on top, Portuguese style, was definitely our favorite desert in Macau
  • Milk pudding
  • Almond cookies – apparently everybody is buying some for the road.
  • Serradura – finely crushed biscuits layered with sweetened whipped cream.
  • Pork and Beef Jerky and Pork Chop Bun are another must try snacks in Macau. A place with a decent pork chop bun is Tai Lei Loi Kei.

If you want to gorge yourself into one of the many buffets I’ve heard good things about Rossio in MGM or Grand Orbit at Sands Cotai Central, but I didn’t try them myself.

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