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Last updated 10/2/2012
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Special Administration Region Recap: Macau

Macau is a very unique place. It’s just a tiny peninsula and one island, so we were able to circumnavigate the whole thing in one day. The Portuguese settled there in the 1500′s, although it didn’t officially become a Portuguese territory until after the Opium War in the 1840′s. Macau was transferred back to China in 1999 and, like Hong Kong, is currently a “Special Administration Region.” China now controls its defense and foreign affairs, but it has its own government, currency, immigration, customs control, and police force.

442 years of Portuguese influence definitely left their mark on Macau. The remaining colonial buildings (which are now World Heritage Sites) look just like the historical areas in Lisbon. Signs and announcements are in both Chinese and Portuguese, even though less than 1% of the population speaks Portuguese today. (And Portuguese is no longer taught in the schools.) The food, though, is really interesting and delicious. It’s a mix of Chinese and Portuguese, but also uses spices from all over the world. We went to Fernando’s, one of the most well-known Portuguese restaurants in Macau, and had a great lunch of roast suckling pig and Portuguese chorizo. We also made a special trip to Lord Stow’s Bakery, famous for its egg tarts.

Of course, today Macau is known as “the Vegas of the East.” Its gambling revenue in 2011 was $33.5 billion, over five times that of Vegas. Five of the ten largest casinos in the world are in Macau. The biggest, the Venetian Macau, is an incredible 546,000 square feet. (The MGM Grand in Las Vegas is 170,000 square feet.) Baccarat is by far the most popular game in Macau. It seems like most of the floor space is devoted to baccarat tables with minimum bets of about $25. (The $25 minimum bet tables are rare, actually. The majority have a minimum of about $65.) We spent most of our time just looking around in the casinos. In typical Asian style, many of them are incredibly cheesy and covered in flashing LED lights. The Wynn in Macau has a fountain show similar to the Bellagio’s in Vegas, but this one includes colored lights and fire.

We only spent one night there and it was raining, but I think we still got to see a fair amount. Here’s what we thought about our time there.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Checking out the colonial buildings and areas, especially Senado Square. It really did feel like I was suddenly in Portugal.
  2. Eating the egg tarts at Lord Stow’s Bakery. Best egg tarts in the world!
  3. Wandering around in the casinos. We were very high rollers, gambling 60 Hong Kong dollars. (About 7.50 in US dollars.)

Brad: We only had a day and a half here, and with the rain I felt like we only did about three things…

  1. The food! Fernando’s was delicious–amazing chorizo, good beer (for a change), and warm bread. The suckling pig wasn’t as good as Anthony Bourdain made it out to be, but the chorizo made up for it. The egg tarts at Lord Stows Bakery were even better than the ones we had in Singapore.
  2. The black and white tile designs on the streets in the historic district. Sometimes the tiles waved like the ocean and sometimes they were sea creatures.
  3. Seeing the casinos. Grand and gaudy, they’re quite an experience. They have a very different feel than Vegas: the majority of the floor is tables rather than slots (which makes it much quieter), the main game is baccarat, and the casino is comprised of more smaller rooms rather than one big open room.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Sightseeing in the rain. It rained the entire time we were there. I had to hold an umbrella over Brad’s head while he took pictures.
  2. Trying to find affordable food in the rain.
  3. Missing our bus stop on the way back to our hostel and ending up all the way back at the top of the peninsula. Then having to find our way back in the rain.

Brad:

  1. The weather. It rained the entire time we were in Macau.
  2. Patacas. This is their monetary system, which is pegged to the Hong Kong dollar at very close to 1:1, and in reality everywhere in Macau accepts either currency. However, outside Macau, the pataca is nearly worthless, so it seems almost everyone uses Hong Kong Dollars here anyways. Dealing with more than one currency at a time is just confusing.
  3. We got in a really slow line in Immigration into Macau. 

Best meal?

Nikki: Portuguese style chorizo at Fernando’s. Best chorizo ever! Seriously.

Brad: Portuguese Chorizo at Fernando’s! It was really, really good.

Worst meal?

Nikki: It wasn’t bad, but the seafood supreme soup we ordered was kind of a disappointment.

Brad: Our only dinner. After a big lunch at Fernando’s, we went to a place known for seafood soup served in a big bread bowl, but we didn’t order the right thing–the soup was in a normal bowl, but still good. (The fact that this is my least favorite meal tells you that all the other two were really good.)

Worst disaster?

Nikki: Margaret’s Bakery was closed on Wednesdays, so we couldn’t do our taste test of the best egg tarts in Macau. (Lord Stow’s would’ve won, anyway.) And did I mention it rained the whole time?

Brad: After the delicious egg tarts in Singapore, we really looked forward to Macau, since it’s the birthplace of the egg tart. Lord Stow’s Bakery first perfected the egg tart, but we also wanted to try Margaret’s, Lord Stow’s ex wife. The two shops have quite a rivalry and there’s a lot of debate over whose egg tarts are better.

We set out Wednesday morning to try Margaret’s, but lo and behold, they’re closed on Wednesdays! Now we’ll never know whose egg tarts are better.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: Some of the casinos, like the Casino Lisboa, are so strange and tacky, you’d have to see it to believe it. Think Vegas is tacky? Go to Macau and then we’ll talk.

Brad: Common themes of the slot machines in Macau are dragons (especially golden dragons) and pandas. I don’t think encountering a dragon would be a lucky thing, I’d run!

Statistics for Macau

  • Days in the SAR:
  • Rainy days: , the entire time
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 1
  • Photos taken: 62
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 23, 37% of all photos taken
  • Geocaches found: 1
  • Money lost gambling: US$7

Statistics for the Trip

1 comment to Special Administration Region Recap: Macau

  • Char

    Hello again,

    Have really enjoyed your blogs about China. So much to see and learn. Really like the Wisconsin sightings. Leo would like it there because they have Pabst beer-his favorite. The world is smaller than we think.

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