Earlier this year we had the pleasure of a stay at Sheraton Macau, the largest (and perhaps the busiest) Sheraton in the world. The-never-seen-before long queue at the check-in counter astounded us. But more about the hotel in a later post. This article is about Macau. Things we loved and loathed about Macau.The hits and the misses.
First the love:
The culture: Macau is the new traveller’s paradise. Here people are given all the incentive to blow away their savings at a casino or in a shopping mall. But as an avid traveller our focus was more on the local produce. We wanted to explore the local fabric of the country. The best way to know about a country is to get to know the people. So we went about interacting with the natives we met on our way.
The local people are kind and helpful. Language can be a bit of a problem and gestures a heavily required. It may seem hopeless at first but eventually you will find someone who speaks a little English. Even if you don’t, it isn’t bugging since people are patient and pleasant. No need to click selfies here. You’ll surely find someone more than willing to click your pictures. Polite and simple, the locals are genuinely nice.
The architecture: Macau shows traits of an economy with a disparity similar to all growing economies. On one hand you have the Cotai strip, the epitome of luxury and grandeur and on the other hand you have the Macau peninsula, overflowing with high rise apartments and old establishments. And there is no better place to experience this disparity than in Taipa village. It’s a village adjacent to the Cotai strip and offers an observation point for the peninsula area. The village is beautiful, like a little piece of Europe in Asia (Macau was one of the earliest European colonies in Asia). The Portuguese influence is ever present and you’ll find yourself smiling through the narrow lanes. The air in the village is cheerful yet subtle. Our experience here was simply serene.
Free Wifi: While Delhi-ites will have to wait for this technological candy, we had the pleasure of experiencing this first hand in Macau. We were able to connect almost everywhere. Cleary, the Macau administration is very serious when it comes to giving the tourists a convenient (and connected) time. This has its obvious positives as navigating became a piece of cake. It goes to show how concerned the administration is when it comes to attracting the tourist demographic.
Gondola ride at the Venetian: What’s fun about this ride is the person operating your gondola. They are actors with beautiful voices and an even more beautiful personality. They will charm you, interact with you, sing for you and simply win you over with their passion for life. It can become a bit of a spectacle though and it might not be the best for the introverts amongst us, but hey, who cares. It’s a strange country and you can be whoever you want to be. So go out and have fun! The ride is inspired by actual Venice and would be great fun for grown-ups and kids alike. The entire Venetian experience was exciting and made our holiday in Macau fun.
Casino Royale: Okay the casino scene is as real as it gets. One feels one has stumbled upon the sets of Oceans 11. Some people are dead serious, some are ecstatic and some look absolutely disinterested. We enjoyed because we won a little fortune! You need Hong Kong dollars to get rolling and slot machines start at about 10 dollars (70 rupees approximately ). On the whole it was a different experience and nothing felt better than leaving with some extra shopping money (ka-ching). A big problem here was that almost all slot machines were non-English. So you are literally gambling here with no clue as to what the machine will be doing next with your money. But I guess that part of the madness that prevails at a casino. Tip: The trick is to not be greedy. Walk out when you win the first time and don’t let “what if” thoughts come into your head. Tough. We know.
Now the bad stuff:
The food: I consider myself to be an experimenter when it comes to cuisine but even I got stumped in Macau. Local cuisine is not fit for the Indian taste palette. I tried some stuff at Senado Square and wasn’t much impressed. May be it is an acquired taste. The food can only be defined as very raw, very smelly and way too chewy for my liking. And the most disappointing meal was a bowl full of duck, crabs, tofu and chicken. Not only did it cost an astronomical 65 dollars, it tasted like road kill and had be to thrown after a few brave attempts of consumption. Pack some noodles in your luggage, they will definitely come in handy.
The walking: Cotai strip is definitely not for those who like hiking. The hotels are huge and seriously lacking sky walks. I’m not sure how older people manage their way around here. In the two days that we spent here, we must have walked more than 10 kilometers and thank god we kept our running shoes. Don’t get me wrong here. Transport isn’t a problem. There are plenty of cabs and buses available but the distance in Macau is awkward. It seems to less for a cab and too much for a walk. And coming back to hotels and their sheer massiveness, it just took my breath away, literally. Buses are a good alternative but make sure you put in the exact fare as there isn’t any “you’ll get your change back” system here. Or consider it as a donation for the free wifi.
The shopping: If you’re someone who enjoys local novelties, then Macau might leave you disappointed. The local markets don’t offer much variety. I would rather suggest you go to Hong Kong’s Ladies Market and have an awesome time bargaining and then bargaining some more. And just in case you plan on buying a t-shirt with a rooster on it (local Portuguese Galo de Barcelos) make sure it doesn’t say “lucky cock”. (Yeah, we forgot check and came back with this t-shirt.) The malls didn’t offer much respite either. You had all your high end brands and low end discounts. Our shopping aspirations during this holiday in Macau remained dissatisfied.
The budget: If you’re travelling on a budget then you really need to get lucky at a casino to have a good time. For starters, the hotel asked me to deposit 2000 dollars as refundable security. The credit card got declined and I had to pay literally out of my mad money. Then I would seriously suggest asking the locals for buses. Cabs will make your budget bleed and before you know it you would have easily spent more than 300 dollars in a day. Also make sure you take your time when you order food here. Chances are you might end up paying a good amount of money on some inedible food.
Having said the above, I would conclude by saying that Macau is a beautiful place with its own flaws. Just go with the right company and enjoy the madness. Its beauty is its people and their simplicity.
– There are no direct flights to Macau. We took a ferry from Hong Kong city (and not airport), which is cheaper but a long (and tiring) route
– There’s visa on arrival
– Currency: Macau Pataca (MOP) and Hong Kong dollar. 1 MOP = 1 HKD = Rs7
– Just be on Macau Peninsula if you want to enjoy luxury retail, casinos, posh hospitality etc. Head to Taipa and Coloane if you want to try local food and see local culture.
Do write to us if you have any queries about your trip to Macau. We’ll be happy to help.