After 4 hours of taking off from Changi airport in Singapore, I had landed in Macau International Airport. Not that I remember much of it, because I had slept throughout the flight. Thank god for clear skies! But I do remember not updating the time on my watch when I landed. Because after all, Macau and Singapore were on the same timezone. Effort minimized!
But I couldn’t remember why I had not visited Macau till now. I had been to Hongkong, which was just 40 miles from Macau. Twice. I could have visited Macau easily, at least on a day trip. But I didn’t. Hongkong was always the more attractive sister, and I did not venture out to seek the other one.
Practical information on how to get to Macau from Hong Kong
All I had to do was visit the 24-hour Macau Ferry terminal in Sheung Wan, and catch a ferry to Macau – which leaves every 15 minutes, and takes only 1 hour. Or even take a direct ferry from the Hongkong airport, which made up in convenience for what it lacked in frequency.
Probably this fact was also understood by the Executive council and legislative assembly of Macau. Or even the previous Portuguese government who handed over Macau to China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in 1999, effectively ending European colonialism in Asia. But by 1995 itself, they had built the Macau International Airport on a reclaimed land strip located at the eastern end of the Taipa island. Originally, the airport was a major transfer point for people travelling between Mainland China and Taiwan. And when the rules of the game changed and there were direct flights between mainland China and Taiwan, the airport authorities seemed to have picked up on a different opportunity.
As the nearby Hong Kong International airport kept increasing their landing fees, Macau decided to play it a little different. They maintained some of the lowest landing fees in this part of the world. It wasn’t long before this went noticed by the abundance of budget airlines around East Asia and South East Asia. And gradually, there were more direct flights to Macau. Air Asia flew from Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Cebu Pacific began flying from Clark and Manila. And Tigerair started flying from Singapore.
Which was how I eventually got to Macau.
Pataca in the most densely populated region of the world
I don’t know if there is a relationship between population density and wealth, but Macau sure made it seemed like there was. On my infamous visit to Monaco previously, I found out that it was the most densely populated sovereign country, yet had an extremely high number of billionaires. Macau definitely topped that, as the most populated region (it is not a sovereign country) and I could see the billionaires within an hour of touching down at the small airport in Taipa island. The public bus AP1 ran between the airport and Macau island at a rather cheap rate of MOP 4.20. That’s about 50 cents in USD.
First, the Trivia: MOP, or Macanese Pataca, is the last remaining Pataca currency which the Portuguese gifted to the world (Pataca is Portuguese for Peso). Until a few decades ago, there was also the Maltese Pataca and the Timorese Pataca, but history has washed away that memory. Since the Joint Declaration on the question of Macau between China and Portugal stipulates that Macau operates with an autonomous status atleast until 2049, we can safely say that the years of the Pataca are numbered for a few decades more.
Second, the Tip: Patacas cannot be exchanged anywhere, not even in most places of HongKong. So, ensure you finish your MOPs before you leave Macau, or exchange it back.
I had booked myself at a royal house. Or as they say in Portuguese, Casa Real hotel. As the AP1 started to move on the 4.7Km long Ponte de Amizade (friendship bridge)from the airport to the Macau peninsula, I had already started to notice the fancy cars. They increased in frequency as we entered the Macau Peninsula. There were flashy hatchbacks, mostly driven by older Chinese men, who cuddled up to pretty 20-something women. The sight made me a little worried. I was not new to backpacking in super-rich regions (Qatar, Luxembourg, Brunei, Monaco), but every time I did that, there were new butterflies in my stomach. According to the world bank, Macau had the second highest GDP per capita. I did not have that kind of money, and did not live their kind of lifestyle, but I was visiting them. Would they look down upon me? ‘This Indian immigrant arrived with a backpack’. Would they be scoffing behind my back? Or even to my face?
Which was also why the hotel itself was quite expensive for me, although it was the cheapest I could find. There are no hostels in Macau. There is one Youth hostel, but there is a special permission required for lodging there. So, a hotel it was. But when I finally reached it, I wasn’t quite sure if it was a hotel anymore. They had a 24-hour casino, although they preferred to call it a gaming floor.
It was not one floor of the hotel. It was the first 3 floors, entirely.
I slept early, because the night presented very less options for a poor backpacker like me. I did not have the money to go gambling, drinking on the many bars and clubs along the Avenida Sun Yat Sen, or to pick up any of the sexy girls walking around in mini-skirts. I was no fool: I knew they needed a sugar-daddy, and this daddy had no sugar at all to give.
The largest casino in the world: Venetian Macau
What do you visit when you are in the biggest casino market in the world, even bigger than Las Vegas? Of course, you visit the largest casino in the world!
The Venetian in Macau flashed a lot of superlatives even before I entered it. The largest casino in the world. The largest single structure hotel building in Asia. The seventh-largest building in the world by floor area. The casino resort had 3300 suites and even a 15,000 Cotai Arena for entertainment and sports events. Its not even coincidental that the largest casino in the world is located right next to the international airport. (yeah, I took the AP1 bus again to visit back here)
Not to be outdone by the upcoming Parisian Macau, the Venetian Macau had already built an element of Venice outside it. 3 different artificial canals were lined up outside the giant Venetian facades: The grand canal, Marco Polo and San Luca canal. I clicked around for a little by the canals, before taking a step inside. Just to see if there was anything that my poor backpacker tastes could afford.
When entering the main lobby of the Venetian Macau, I almost felt like I had entered some royal palace. Or rather, some royal palace filled with people! There were tourists everywhere, clicking every corner of the lobby. The roof looked almost like it was the Sistine chapel itself, with elaborate artworks, and detailed decorations. No wonder that Psy had shot his last video here. I wandered through the lobby and the plethora of shops, dining joints and tourists.
And finally settled for a beer. Nothing better than a beer after experiencing Macau, Paris and Venice. All in one day.
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