Macau: Past meets present in the Vegas of the East

By Kritika Seksaria

Macau’s reputation as a tourist destination has been rapidly increasing over the past few years. A fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cultures, the city offers experiences ranging from an insight into cultural heritage to abundant opportunities for partying, gambling, drinking and shopping. As the Macau Peninsula preserves its culture, the developing Cotai Strip is following the footsteps of Las Vegas with casinos and a tremendous nightlife.

Macau deserves a good 5-6 days to enjoy and appreciate everything the city has to offer. However, often many of us don’t have that opportunity. Here is a list of things to do, I consider as a priority on a short trip to Macau in order to experience the fusion of heritage and nightlife.

Senado Square: Known as Lagos De Senado in Portuguese, this paved area is located in the city centre of Macau Peninsula. Consisting of neo-classical buildings in pastel shades such as pink and yellow, this part of the city manifests the Portuguese cultural heritage. Many of the buildings have a uniform pattern of narrow archways that form the shaded sidewalk and entrances to shops and cafes. The square is paved with unique wave patterns with a montage of coloured mosaic stones. It leads up to the one of the most iconic monuments of Macau — the Ruins of St. Paul. Being one of the most significant churches of Macau, the ruins reflect the importance of Christianity in the region. Unfortunately, its stone façade and enormous staircase is all that has survived. If you are lucky to escape the scorching summer heat, I definitely recommend every tourist to climb up the stairs and enjoy the intrinsic architecture.

The Senado also leads up to the St. Dominic’s Church. The splendid green and yellow church is an example of Filipino architecture. For believers, it is a place of extreme serenity and comfort and for others it is without a doubt, a construction worth admiring. The Square is surrounded by narrow lanes consisting of various shops. Some of them sell locally made fabrics and garments whereas others specialise in curios, furniture and decorative items. The furniture and curios generally reflect the Macanese and Chinese heritage. There are a number of items worth picking up, but I personally loved the tiny boxes and vases in porcelain with Chinese motifs.

The lanes also have food shops selling the famous Portuguese egg tarts with decadent flaky pastries and a creamy custard flavour. The pork-chop bun in Macau is a famous snack as well. I recall stopping at a wine store selling authentic Portuguese wines. Besides Portugal itself, Macau would probably be the second best place to go wine tasting for Portuguese wines.

Macau Tower: 338 metres tall, this tower is the 10th highest free standing building in the world. According to some sources, the Macau Tower is designed like a lotus, which is the symbol of modern Macau. A centre for shopping, restaurants and cafes, the tower also has an observation deck with a spectacular view of the city. For adrenaline junkies, it is a great opportunity to be adventurous and take a shot at bungee jumping or do a thrilling walk around the outer rim. On December 17, 2006, the father of contemporary bungee jumping, A J Hackett, broke his own Guinness World Record of “The Highest Bungee Jump from a Building” at the Macau Tower. His previous record was made at the Eiffel Tower in 1987.

The 360 Café, on the 60th floor is popular for being a revolving restaurant offering a buffet of Macanese, Indian and Asian delicacies with scrumptious desserts. Enjoying a delectable meal whilst appreciating the panoramic skyline is a luxurious and classy experience. I strongly recommend any prospective customer to make a reservation in advance since the café is heavily booked, even on a weekday.

City of Dreams: A mixture of Hyatt, Crown and Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos, the City of Dreams does justice to its name. The interiors have a modern look with the huge bubble fountain, a Vquarium, hues of white and gold, refreshing fragrance and high-end label showrooms, lit up even at night. In my opinion, there isn’t much point shopping in the City of Dreams as the variety of stores and labels at The Venetian across the street is much wider.

One of the highlights of COD was the Madonna exhibition displaying memorabilia from the trajectory of her career and life. It included the raspberry dress she wore in her 1985 Material Girl music video, the satin cone-bra bustier she donned in her 1986 “Open Your Heart” video, and dresses she wore playing Argentina’s Eva Peron in the 1996 musical “Evita.” Also, it displayed personal documents such as a cancellation of a post marital agreement between Madonna and her ex-husband, actor Sean Penn. The exhibitions may be temporary; however, most of their displays are admirable.

The other attraction would be the Vquarium or a video aquarium on the wall, with water cascading down it thus adding the realistic effect to the swimming mermaids. Performance art lovers must make it a point to watch the Dragon’s Treasure media show featured in the City of Dreams’ Bubble Theater with a 360 degree dome screen and the acrobatic show, House of Dancing Water performed in a theatre containing one of the largest commercial pools in the world incorporating performances with various design elements such as fire, water and atmospheric effects.

Even though I would not have a negative word to say about the Hyatt and Crown Casino, my favourite experience was at the Hard Rock gaming area. Now, most of the casinos have their usual range of games, machines and bars, but since I do not gamble, it is the theme of the Hard Rock casino that enticed me to spend hours there. Starting my night at the R Bar, I enjoyed drinks and music ranging from modern hits to all-time classics. I then moved base to the bar in the Hard Rock casino admiring memorabilia from timeless musicians, watching people enthral in victory, sook at their loss and later feel comforted by the sight of waitresses serving them in red furry bikinis.

The Venetian: The Venetian is not just a hotel, casino or a place to shop. It is an experience, one that left me rather awestruck. Needless to say, the lobby and casino exhibited immense grandeur and a majestic and traditional feel. The bars in the casino are classy and elite and the enormous gaming area is thronged with people trying to be millionaires or just earning back enough money to survive the rest of their trip. Also, it is the venue featuring the famous Cirque de Soleil shows. However, every time I think of The Venetian the first vision that comes to mind is of the ceiling.

As I explored into the unexposed shopping and dining area (well after sunset), I was suddenly struck with natural daylight, pavements, canals, gondolas and I found myself walking in what felt like Venice in the middle of the day. The Venetian is one of the most unique works of architecture and interiors in creating a make-believe world. The light-blue and partly cloudy ceiling elicits a daytime lighting. While walking on the paved flooring, amongst lamp posts, bridges and railings protecting the canal, it is worth admiring the huge range of shops on both sides and the architecture that resembles the houses and buildings in Venice with rows of flowers at the window sill.

I spent my day just enjoying the atmosphere, shopping and experimenting with Macanese curry. In the end, I relaxed with a gondola ride across the canal appreciating the sapphire blue water and the mellifluous, high pitched voice of my Italian gondolier as she sang her favourite opera song and I sank into tranquillity.

Besides the above mentioned activities, Macau has a lot more to offer as well such as the gorgeous and spiritual A-Ma Temple, Red Market and the beaches and hiking trails at Coloane. On another visit to Macau, I would be more curious to explore the historical, natural, religious and local life in the city.

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