Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Macau (Again)

After 60 days since my last exit and re-entry to mainland China, it was time once again to leave the country. Even though I should be getting a new visa soon, I wasn't able to get it in time to avoid the trip. I was pretty unhappy I had to leave because I have already been to Macau and Hong Kong and didn't really want to spend the money to go down there, but I had no choice. Since my trip to Macau during the Chinese New Year felt too short, I decided to go there again since I've already been to Hong Kong 3 or 4 times.

To save money, I flew into Shenzhen and then took a bus from the Shenzhen airport to Zhuhai, which is on the border with Macau. From Zhuhai you can do the exit/re-entry process and then take a bus into Macau's city center. When I first planned to go to Macau that way, it didn't seem like it would take that long, but the total time from leaving my apartment in the morning to arriving at my hotel in Macau took around 8 hours, so it ended up being pretty inconvenient. However, the difference between flying to Macau and flying to Shenzhen is $200 vs. $500, so it's worth it.

When I arrived in Macau it was really rainy, so I didn't do much the first afternoon. Since it was still a bit rainy at night, I figured I'd just get some dinner and then hit one of the casinos. I find that gambling in Macau is pretty lame compared to Vegas. Most of the minimum bets at the good casinos are a bit high and the other casinos are really quiet. You can't even get drinks at the tables at a lot of the casinos, only tea or coffee, which is pretty lame, too. As I mentioned before, everyone seems to play baccarat in Macau as far as table games go. It's hard to find blackjack and nearly impossible to find craps. I did end up playing some blackjack at the Rio and although it was quiet there, I was able to win about 650 Macau Patacas or a little less than $100, so not too bad.

The next day, I decided to head to the two islands that are connected to Macau. The last time I went there, I only stayed on Macau island, so I didn't get to see anything else. I first went to Taipa. In Taipa there are some historic buildings, museums, narrow streets with shops, and other sites like that. Most of the stuff is pretty nice to look at, but it's probably not as cool as the churches and streets that are on Macau island.




Narrow Back Street

Shopping Street

One of the interest things to look at from Taipa island is the new Cotai Strip casino development. It's basically a mimic of the strip in Vegas and in fact a lot of the casinos being built there are being done by some of the top casinos in Vegas. Right now only a few casinos are finished, but a ton of new casinos are currently being built and the whole area is one big construction project. In the air are nonstop sounds of machinery, workers shouting, and all the other familiar noises of big building sites. Right now it is kind of an eye sore with all the buildings unfinished, but in another 2 or 3 years, I bet the area will look pretty great. This is a prime example of massive, if often unoriginal in thinking, building going on throughout China.

Massive Unfinished Casino

Casino on Side of Mountain
Cotai Strip Construction

Cotai Strip Close-Up

After spending some time in Taipa, I headed to the other island, Coloane. Coloane feels a lot less developed than the other parts of Macau and Taipa and a lot of the locals seem to live lives less affected by the massive gambling industry. There were a lot of small houses, churches, squares, and other things. I stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch and got an excellent Portuguese and Cantonese mixed dish. All the food I ate was really great in Macau. I liked Coloane a lot, even though there isn't as much to see there and it doesn't have any of the flash that is present in other parts of Macau. It just seems like a nice, quiet place to relax, enjoy some food and nice weather.

Fruit Vendor

Tin Houses
Dilapidated and Abandoned Warehouse (Bottom is Water)
Port of Coloane
Church and Square

Buddhist Temple

After spending a quiet afternoon in Coloane, I decided that relax and respite is not fitting for a true American. I need to have my senses over-stimulated at all times and at the maximum amount allowed by law, so I went to the Cotai strip area to check out the construction and casinos there. I also spent some time wondering around the Venetian, which is already completed and almost an exact replica of the Venetian in Vegas.

Cotai Strip Construction

Cotai Strip Construction
The Venetian

The Venetian Entrance

The Venetian

The Venetian is very impressive, but like most things with gambling and Vegas style, there is more style than substance. Pretty much everything is fake, although at first glance it is hard to tell. Inside there are ceiling paintings that are supposed to be similar to ceilings in some of the famous churches in Italy. There is even a canal with gondola boats like in Venice, although with an Asian man singing opera style, the illusion is slightly tarnished. All the buildings around the canal are not real, but they all have shops on the main floor to induce the consumer in us all to buy overpriced goods. They even have a blue sky painted with white fluffy clouds, which admittedly is the most beautiful looking sky I've seen in China for some time, a nice switch from the permanent gray. It's impossible to deny how impressive the building is in size, scale, and overall attention to detail.

Venetian Lobby

Ceiling Paintings

Gaming Floor

The Canal
The Great Hall

Before when I went to Macau, I thought it couldn't compare to Vegas at all. But after seeing all the new development, you can see that in a few years it will be a big competitor, even if a lot of the companies in Macau are, after all, some of the big American casinos. I don't think it will take too much business from Vegas, but maybe a few rich Hong Kong or Japanese businessmen will go to Macau for the convenience instead of spending a lot more to go to Vegas.

The rest of my time in Macau I just relaxed and saw a few more sites. I like Macau a lot, but this might be my last time to go there in awhile, since I've been twice in the last 2 months. It's definitely worthwhile for the food, the Portuguese style churches and streets, and of course if you have interest in losing some money, there are always the casinos. With limited time, maybe it isn't worth going to the other islands outside of Macau, but once the Cotai strip is more complete, it will be a lot more of a prime destination.

Here are a few random pictures of Macau sites. As always, I have all my pictures on picasa:

Senado Square at Night

Senado Square during the Day