Summer has officially arrived! The month of may sees our resident travel columnist take a gamble on one of China’s most unique spots. We bet you didn’t see this one coming!
If you have lived in Guangdong for any real length of time, it is almost impossible not to have heard of Macao. Known by some as “Chinese Vegas,” it is the only place throughout China where casinos are legal. Cha Ching! Getting to Macao from Dongguan is quite straight forward. Simply hop on the bullet train to Guangzhou South via Humen Station on the Dongguan metro and transfer to another train bound for Zhuhai, to find yourself at the Macanese border around two hours later.
The legacy left from the Portuguese means that the place has tons of iconic history.
Macao bears many similarities with Hong Kong. A previous European colony that is now a special economic zone of China. As with its colonial sibling, it has tons of history and individual character, except it’s much smaller and lesser populated at just over half a million residents. A remnant from the time the territory was originally leased to the Portuguese, as a trading post during the Ming Dynasty, Macao still bears many hallmarks from its former occupants, after control was handed back to China in 1999. Its previous flag was changed to a white lotus flower on a green background at the time.
Macao actually consists of two main islands connected by road bridges, with the southern area of Taipa presenting the more modern, glamorous casinos. The border immigration check itself is also a similar affair to Hong Kong, with the vast majority of countries able to get a visa on arrival with lengthy stays. There are several immigration borders around Macao and inevitably, coming from Dongguan will see you at the most northern crossing. I have visited the place several times, but I must admit I still get goosebumps every time I see the “Grand Lisboa” casino rising in the distance. A brief walk later and suddenly one finds oneself in a somewhat outlandish environment.
The first thing one will notice about Macao is that all signs and public announcements are multi-lingual, in Cantonese and Mandarin along with Portuguese and English. Then there is the money. Macao’s official currency is the “Pattaca,” with the exchange rates being very similar to the Hong Kong dollar at 1 RMB:1.2 MOP as of May 2019. That said, Chinese yuan along with Hong Kong dollars are widely accepted everywhere. It is also worth noting that many ATM’s in Macao require Chinese ID verification due to previous problems with money laundering, so it is recommended to acquire cash on the mainland in advance.
There are literally hundreds of casinos to choose from. My personal favorites are the unmistakable “Grand Lisboa” on the north island and the three main casinos in Taipa: the “Galaxy,” “Venetian” and the more recently opened “Parisian” with its celebrated Eiffel Tower design. Not many other buildings in China rival these for sheer grandiose, splendor and opulence. Whatever casino you may choose and whatever method you gamble by, be prepared to burn through some money. The odds are always in favor of the house, so it is advised to set yourself a budget and stick to it. Personally, if I win double my budget, I call it quits.
Naturally, Macao is not just about casinos. The legacy left from the Portuguese means that the place has tons of iconic history. The initial stop for any first-time visitor must surely be the cathedral façade in the city center. From there, one can climb the steps to the museum where the ancient battlements with their preserved cannons remain, offering fantastic panoramic views of the city. Upon roaming around the traditional areas, you really begin to feel the Portuguese vibe from all the preserved buildings with their yellow and white color scheme. When in Macao, it simply is a must to seek out authentic Portuguese cuisine, with restaurants such as “Lord Stows” and “A Petisquiera” being highly recommended.
If you can find the time to visit this destination during the weekdays, it will help your overall budget, as hotel prices tend to be more than double on weekends. Generally, if you shop around, you should be able to find a reasonable hotel for about 500 RMB. For me, one night was enough and sadly this time returning slightly poorer, I grabbed a traditional egg custard tart and a Macao beer, before hopping on the coach over the newly-opened bridge that connects to Hong Kong. Better luck next time!