Focus On Macau. Casino Mecca or Casino Mucka?

Posted on November 22nd, 2008

 Macau- the former Portuguese colony on the south-east coast of China- is back in the news again, but this time for different reasons. We have become used to hearing the incredible growth rates in this Special Administrative Region of China (SAR) thanks to its booming gambling industry, but now it seems even the Mighty Macau has causght a cold in the current economic downturn.
The Cotai Strip is a man made casino mecca, linking two former islands in days gone by- but now the cranes on one of the biggest construction sites in Asia- the Las Vegas Sands’ have gone quiet and there is an eerie silence settling over the 3 huge skyscrapers that have been built so far. Many of the workers that have been bustling around the site like ants have gone and the weeds are starting to gain a grip in the dirt.

The Sands group- heavily in debt thanks to its construction projects around the globe (a mega casino complex is also planned for Singapore) insists that they are delaying the project, not cancelling it.

Macau has always been a gambler’s paradise- formerly the market was pretty much contolled by local tycoon Stanley Ho, but since 2002 the peninsular has experienced a spectacular boom thanks to the growing Chinese economy, more freedom of movement between the Mainland and the territory and a huge influx of investment from Las Vegas gaming corporations.

But before you comnpletely discount the place, remember that there’s a new mega complex opening up here in 2009: the City of Dreams which is a a joint venture from the new generation: planned and built by the sons of Australian high rolling tycoon Kerry Packer and local gaming supremo Stanley Ho. Macau is still the only place in Cathay (the old Occidental name for the Middle Kingdom) where you can legally gamble (and remember- China is still growing albeit more slowly) and it also has a huge advantage in terms of its geography.
So should you visit? Well, we reckon that there has never been a better time! Macau is situated across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, (so that you can combine your trip with a visit to this famous city (it’s a short jet foil trip across the delta on one of Mr Ho’s fast boats.) And the fact that supply is outstripping demand at the moment means that there are some great deals to be had. Stay in one of the luxury suites at the Macau Venetian and you’ll pay a fraction of the money that you would in Las Vegas- and the Chinese food is better!

A Very Brief History of Macau

“Macau” is called “Macau” thansk to a Chinese goddess called A-Ma or Ling Ma.
Legend has it that she saved a junk sailing across the South China Sea that became trapped in a fierce storm- probably a Typhoon the likes of which hit these shores in the summer months as the fierce Asian sun warms up the South China Sea. A striking young woman boarded the ship at the last minute as it was setting off before the Typhoon and quietened the storm when it was at its most furious. When she got off the boat, she walked gracefully up to the top of a local hill and ascended into heaven in a blaze of light and incense. Portuguese sailors liked the story and called the peninsular A-Ma-Gao (Bay of A-Ma), which subsequently became Macau.
It’s this mix of Chinese and Portuguese cultures that makes the place so interesting. It’s always been a popular weekend away for HongKongers- somehow the Portuguese influence has left a calming influence and slower pace on the place and although there’s a lot more Las Vegaseque buzz about, it has still managed to retain its charm.

You’ll find Macau on the south eastern coast of China in  Guangdong Province, 40 miles west of Hong Kong and 90 miles south of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. Macua is not an especially big place- it’s a peninsula and two islands, but it does pack alot in.

Macau was at first populated by fishermen from Fujin and Guangdong. The Mediterranean influence began when Jorge Alvares stepped ashore in 1513. The Portuguese later set up a trading post which, with the permission of the Emperor of China, controlled the trade between east and west in the early years. Macau also served as the springboard for Christian missionaries setting up shop in China and Japan. Macau was eventualy lose out to Hong Kong in the trading wars but it contined to flourish alongside its sister city across the water.

Head to Macau in October and November for the best weather (during the north-east monsoon, dry winds sweep in from the north and the weather is generally sunny and warm.) The summers are hot and humid (which won’t bother you inside the casino palaces, and we’d avoid January and February which tends to be cool and damp.

While you are there, check out the Lisboa Hotel, which has all the history going back decades (this is where Bond heads to in The Man With A Golden Gun), visit the Bella Vista hotel (another institution) and make sure you head to Fernandos on the islands for garlic prawns.

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