By Jose Ma. H. Zaldarriaga

With its numerous casinos, resorts, and showy leisure establishments, Macau has gained for itself the monicker “New Las Vegas” and has since been remembered, more than anything else, for this name. Among the famous international hotel chains looking in its direction are MGM Grand, Wynn Hotel and Casino, Four Seasons, and the Venetian to name a few.

A trip to Macau is best remembered for the city’s vibrance and the spectacular lights of its imposing, multi-million casinos. But more than the numerous brightly-illuminated, elaborately-structured establishments, however, there is so much more to see, feel, and experience in Macau.

A former Portuguese colony located in the southern part of China, Macau is fast becoming a popular tourist destination. With a short travel time of only an hour and a half from Metro Manila, tourists can easily visit this highly progressive nation.

It was only last 1999 when Portugal relinquished its more than 400-year control over Macau and handed it back to Chinese rule, making it a rich trove of history. Macau is barely the size of Metro Manila, but this reality doesn’t seem to hinder its growth. The region is starting fresh as it begins to open its doors to globalization.

The City Proper

Most of the internationally-recognized hotels and/or casinos in Macau are located in the heart of this bustling region. Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Prada, and Armani have set up boutiques in some of these hotels. Shopping malls and establishments also crowd the city proper.

One of the most famous of these shopping establishments is the New Yaohan Department Store.

New Yaohan, located near the Macau Fisherman’s Wharf and the Macau Ferry Terminal, showcases several brands of clothing, watches, and shoes recognized in the global market. Brands such as Montagut, Munsingwear, and Luchino are very famous not only in this department store, but generally in the whole of Macau.

Should one get hungry, head into New Yaohan’s enormous food complex. The food stalls sell Macanese (Chinese with a slight hint of European cuisine) and Portuguese food which will surely tickle anyone’s taste buds. I tried the Há Gau (shrimp-filled dumplings), one of the county’s most famous delicacies, and I loved it.

The only down side is that the food sellers and the cashiers barely know how to speak English. Thus, be content with simply pointing at the food or beverage you want.

While in Macau, one must never forget to stroll along its lively and busy streets. We chanced upon the MGM Grand and the Wynn Hotel, two of the most enormous establishments in the country. One can’t help but marvel at the intricate architecture of most of the hotels and casinos. What caught my attention the most was the bright, light-studded, dome-shaped facade of the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino. Viewing such marvelous edifices is an adventure enough, entering them is another.

Macau is truly a treasure chest of history, and being freed from its European colonizer just recently, most of its avenues, houses, and streets remain reminiscent of the old Macau. Many roads are made out of cobble stones and road signs are still written in Portuguese. Countless places in Macau highlight pieces of the country’s rich history, but if you really want to immerse yourself in it, you should go to Leal de Senado.

Leal de Senado, also known as Senado Square, is Macau’s main plaza. Paved with a wave-patterned stone mosaic created by expert Portuguese architects, Leal de Senado has served as a focal multi-purpose square for centuries. Up to this time, old Portuguese homes and offices built in this area still stand.

It was only in Leal de Senado where we saw a Starbucks and Pizza Hut as majority of the restaurants and dining places in Macau are operated by the locals and serve only authentic Macanese food. Don’t expect to eat the usual fast food fare back home as you’ll be encountering a lot of bacalhaus (cod fish) and caldo verdes (green vegetable soup). A lot of mini stalls selling Portuguese egg tarts for only seven patacas (around 35 pesos) line the side skirts of Leal de Senado.

Around five hundred meters from Leal de Senado lies the breathtaking ruins of St. Paul. After treading through the shops and food stalls, we went to see this world heritage site.

The Ruins of St. Paul

Built in the early 17th century by an Italian Jesuit with the help of Japanese-Christian stone masons, St. Paul’s Church is the very first church and college of Jesuits in China. Due to a fire, all but the church’s stone frontage was completely destroyed. But behind the huge and somehow enigmatic facade of the burnt church lies a story:

It was in the year 1835 when a small candle inside the church suddenly emitted a spark which eventually grew into flames. The flames scattered throughout the whole of the church and burnt everything it could except the church’s facade which was made out of stone. It was night time then, and all the monks and Buddhists in the neighboring areas were roused from their sleep and saw the blazing structure. They went into the church grounds to see what was happening. All of them just stood there watching; none even bothered to help set the flames off. Meanwhile, as all of the people were in the church grounds, a huge flood from the nearby coast engulfed almost all of the houses and structures of the bystanders’ villages.

Thus, every time the locals and tourists who know of the church’s history come across St. Paul’s Ruins, they remember the old Macanese saying, “God burned His house to save His people.”

Macau Tower

Macau Tower is one of the country’s most famous and premier attractions. Being 338 meters high, it stands as the 10th highest tower in the world. But more than just being a photo op, the Macau Tower has so much more to offer.

One can enjoy a wide array of international dishes inside the tower’s 360 degree revolving cafe, considered as one of Macau’s first-class eateries. Inside, one can dine while enjoying breathtaking views of the whole of Macau. It’s so relaxing to while the time away while immersing oneself in the beautiful sights the city has to offer.

If you’re the adventurous type of person, why not go to the top of the Macau Tower? Experience the Sky Walk or perhaps bungee jump.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Aside from its panoramic sights, Macau is also a fun place to be. No other place in the country highlights this better than the Macau Fisherman’s Wharf. The Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, which is located near the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal, is the land’s very first theme park. Construction alone took five years to complete. This interactive complex boasts of 150 stores and restaurants with different themes, six rides, and a 72-room hotel. Major attractions in the complex include the Roman Amphitheater, Vulcania, and Vasco de Gama Waterworld.

The Roman Amphitheater is an outdoor activity center fashioned after the Roman Colosseum. It has 2,000 seats and is a regular venue for concerts and other performances. Vulcania is a 40-meter replica of a volcano inside of which roller coaster rides are housed. It “erupts” every evening, attracting many visitors to stay at the theme park at night. The Vasco de Gama Waterworld is also a popular venue for water-based shows such as jet-ski performances.

What I really loved about the Fisherman’s Wharf was that I felt like I was traveling from country to country in just a matter of minutes. Just a moment ago, I was around the “Roman Colosseum” and now, I’m enjoying the sites at an ancient “Aztec Temple”.

The Venetian Macao

This enormous, high-end resort, which is located in the Cotai Strip is, without a doubt, the grandest establishment in the whole of Macau. This $2.4 billion dollar resort has a world all its own, with 350 retail shops, 30 restaurants, a 15,000-seat sporting area, and over a thousand gambling tables.

Shopping, entertainment, dining, and even culture come together in this lively, interactive complex.

The Grand Canal Shoppes, a huge string of retail outlets, coffee shops, and restaurants, occupy the largest part of the Venetian, next to the hotel suites themselves. The Grand Canal Shoppes take you into the old world of Venice, Italy.

You’ll be amazed at the detailed structures of the buildings, shops, and even the painted ceilings; it feels like you’re really in Europe! The Grand Canal Shoppes also house large theaters in which several concerts and performances are held. Well-known international singers and bands such as Beyonce Knowles, The Black Eyed Peas, Air Supply, and Celine Dion have already performed in the Venetian Arena, the largest of all the performance halls.

A good thing about the Venetian is that once you get tired from all the walking, you can let someone else take you to where you want to go.The gondolas in the Venetian can take you to one of the 350 shops in the complex. Riding a gondola is indeed a unique and memorable experience and it will surely save you a considerable amount of time and energy in exploring the vast compound.

The Venetian Resort is a very beautiful place, but what really makes it special is its versatility. You don’t have to eat at a posh restaurant if you don’t want to; after all, there’s a McDonald’s just around the corner. Macau is indeed a place worth visiting again and again. You can be sure that the next time you visit it, more establishments have already been built. What is truly admirable about the region is its dedication and perseverance to grow. More than being just the New Las Vegas, Macau is a new destination for the whole family.