Travel

Macau: the Vegas of the far east

Though only a short ferry ride from Hong Kong and mainland China, the tiny enclave (4 square miles smaller than Norwich) could not be further from its neighbours. A neon-glowing cash cow in the South China Sea, Asia’s Sin City is a prime example of capitalism in full swing.

The history of the region is primarily dominated by colonial Portuguese rule, which lasted from the early 16th century until 1999, when it was handed back to the People’s Republic of China. Since the Portuguese first landed on the Macanese coast the territory has become an economic power-house primarily reliant on tourism. Over 20 million tourists annually flock to Macau to try their hand in one of the region’s hundreds of casinos. Tourists also come to witness such international events as the Macau Grand Prix, Zaia (the permanent Cirque du Soleil production at The Venetian hotel) and the International Fireworks Display.

Yet for all its glitz and glamour, Macau is all fur coat and no knickers. Unless you are willing to splash the cash, the special administrative region is not worth the time or money to visit. From the moment you step onto the Macau ferry pier, everything authentic and natural disappears, to be replaced by everything and anything synthetic and man-made. As you make your way through the streets of the enclave, you will be overwhelmed by high-rise casinos and construction sites exhibiting what the future of Macau has to offer. The only trees that line the Macanese boulevards are plastic, and the many statues that advertise the city’s casinos are monuments to man’s greed and materialism.

The artificial nature of Macau continues once you enter one of the region’s abundant casinos. Garish decorations adorn the walls, dimmed lights ensure customers believe it is still the early hours of the evening (and so carry on gambling), and in The Venetian, a replica canal meanders its way through the complex. Unless you’re a “Richie Rich” playboy, Macau is best left off your “places to go” list. The extraordinary Zaia production and the annual Macau International Fireworks Display are certainly great experiences, but they do not save the fact that Macau is nothing more than a pretentious, loud, wannabe Vegas.

03/05/2012

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