Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Asia V: Macao or Macau or however you spell it.

Macao was as hot as San Juan in July

The two days we spent in Macao were like a chapter out of a different vacation or, really, two different vacations. Macao was a Portuguese colony until the handover in 1999 and is regarded as the Monte Carlo or Las Vegas of Asia. The preserved Portuguese section of the town is a Unesco World Heritage sight and reminded me of Old San Juan.

Since we were in the largest bastion of Mediterranean culture in Asia, we traded in our dinners of rice, roast duck and cups of tea for salt cod, chourico and potatoes, washed down with slightly effervescent vinho verde. This was a welcome break. It had been over a week since I had seen a potato; I was desperate.

We spent a day wandering through the old part of town: past the preserved colonial buildings; up to Mount Fortress, a fortified hill which is now a museum; past the ruins of St. Paul's, a former Jesuit church which burned down in a kitchen fire; and finally down to the 15th century A-Ma temple overlooking the harbor, the one sight that was culturally Chinese in origin. The more tourist areas definitely play up the colonial heritage of Macau.

In the evening we hit the casinos. The strip in Macau looks just like Vegas, with it's very own Wynn which really could have been beamed directly from its Nevada locale. The most famous casino in Macau is the Lisboa, which has overcome Macau's seedy past by building the new Grand Lisboa Casino and Hotel adjacent to the original property. However, the striking difference between Vegas and Macau is that the average table bet is five times what it is in Vegas. Minimum bets at Roulette and Black Jack were roughly $40 and $70 respectively - and that was on a Tuesday night! We decided NOT to gamble.

Macau really only warrants a day or two stop over on any Asian vacation, but it was well worth it. A day later we were off to Hong Kong for last two days of our Asia vacation.

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