Macau: The Las Vegas of the East
China’s party capital is a mix of extravagant nightlife and fascinating culture
Macau is a densely populated city in southeast China and often described as the Las Vegas of the East. It's one of the best party destinations in Asia and makes an unforgettable stop for travellers in the region looking for a hedonistically liberal environment in which to let their hair down for a few days. Gambling is legal in Macau (unlike its neighbour Hong Kong and the rest of China) and there are absurdly opulent casinos on practically every corner. The nightlife is, quite simply, epic.
But this is just one side to Macau. The other is one of charming heritage and fascinating history. The region used to be a Portuguese colony (it was only annexed by China in 1999) and clues to its past can be seen at every turn, particularly in the Historic Centre, the entirety of which forms part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
We’ve put together a quick guide that will help you get the most out of both of Macau’s faces, with some suggestions of ways to fill both the night and the day.
The casinos in Macau are the main drawcard for many. Superlatives just don’t come close to evoking the grandeur of these venues. Take the Venetian Macao, for example, the largest casino in the world and the sixth largest building in the world. As the name suggests, the venue is themed on Venice, and features indoor canals complete with gondola traffic. Another top gambling den is the Wynn Macau, famous for its extravagant daily shows. One, the Dragon of Fortune, sees an enormous sculpture of the mythical beast rise amidst a commotion of fog, lights and noise in the Rotunda atrium. A slightly more shady affair is the Galaxy Rio Macau, known for being filled with locals rather than tourists.
Bars and clubs
Much of Macau’s nightlife is understandably found within the casinos, most of which have swanky bars and put on various shows each night. If you find yourself tiring of the roulette tables and washed out degenerates, however, there are some alternatives. Club Cubic is the largest club in the city and offers an electrifying experience, with two levels of entertainment space, a stage for performances and a laser-lit dance floor. Another good venue is D2, which keeps its doors open until 8am and features a VIP service. For a good vantage point, look no further than Sky21 Lounge. This rooftop bar provides spectacular, 360-degree views from its outdoor seating area. There's live music most nights and it’s open until about 3am.
Well, we should say ‘show’, because there’s only the one. But what Macau lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. The House of Dancing Water is an incredible spectacle, not least for the way the entire set emerges from the stage (actually a 26-feet-deep pool of water). The story concerns a fisherman who stumbles into a magical kingdom and gets into all kinds of adventures. It’s the stunts that make this show so special though: expect acrobatic high dives into the water, circus tricks and motocross antics.
The UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Macau contains a plethora of fascinating sites which speak volumes about the city’s history as a colonial outpost and a place where Western and Eastern cultures came together. One of the better known sites is the Ruins of St Paul’s – once a grand catholic cathedral but now just a single wall poised atop a small hill. Another point of interest is the Holy House of Mercy of Macau, located in the heart of the district in Senado Square; it was once an orphanage and place of refuge for widows.
Macau Tower Bungee
For a slightly more adrenaline-inducing experience you can bungee from the Macau Tower. Clearly any form of leaping off something with nothing but a glorified elastic band between you and oblivion is not for the faint of heart, but this one is particularly thrilling: at 764 feet it’s the world’s highest bungee tower. Before you jump you’ll be treated to some truly stunning views of the city, both the neon-clad skyscrapers of the new town and the jumble of ancient buildings which make up the Historic Centre.
Visit Coloane and Taipa
Coloane and Taipa are two islands just off the mainland of Macau (connected by bridges so reachable by buses) and both are worth a visit – to escape the hectic bustle of the city if nothing else. Coloane is the largest and something of a rural idyll: Coloane Village is the main settlement, characterised by twisting cobbled streets and Portuguese colonial architecture. There isn’t a great deal to do, other than wander around and soak up the atmosphere, though there are a couple of decent beaches if you fancy a sunbathe or a dip. Taipa is less serene than its neighbour, having undergone major development in the last few years, but you can find some peace and quiet if you head into the hills, which are perfect for cycling and walking.
Will is the Content and Social Media Specialist at gapyear.com. His obsession with travel would probably be classed by the medical profession as ‘unhealthy’, but he doesn’t care. He spent most of 2010 bumbling through far flung corners of the world, including the Australian Outback, Vietnam, Nepal and India. Adventure runs in his blood and he is always seeking out new ways to satisfy his appetite for new experiences, be it canoe marathons in Sweden, skydiving in Slovenia or hot air ballooning in Barcelona. His travelling plans can best be summed up by the quote: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”