Macau City Skyline
While all of China is experiencing dynamic economic growth, the SAR (Special Administrative Region) of Macau is outstripping not only its neighbors, but more established competitors elsewhere in the world, to become one of the most robust economies - and intriguing destinations - of the decade.
By: Lena Katz
A Portuguese outpost for nearly 500 years, Macau has a unique cultural heritage which combines European and Asian influences - the most obvious being in the architecture. This image shows a street in Coloan Village, with the Church of St. Xavier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the background.
Macau's holiday calendar is busy and diverse, celebrating all the traditional Chinese and Portuguese holidays. Many of the Chinese holidays, especially, have a theatrical aspect to them, as demonstrated here with the "Dragon Dancers" on the stone steps of St. Paul's Ruins (the first church in China, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). These iconic dancers come out to commemorate major holidays like Chinese New Year.
If the heritage buildings are symbols of old Macau, the Macau Tower, a 1,109 ft structure rising high into the air above the criss-crossing peninsula of Macau, is emblematic of the new, modern Macau skylight. Developers and industrialists from Las Vegas to Australia to Japan are racing to stake their claim.
It's no secret that Macau's rapid rise to wealth and worldwide recognition was funded by gaming. Currently the only gambling destination in China, it is on track to bring in five times more revenue than Las Vegas in 2011. Giant, ultra-luxury gaming resorts like the MGM (pictured), the City of Dreams and the brand-new Galaxy are opening one after the other, each with a more ambitious plan for luring in the newly minted Asian high rollers.
VIP Entrance at The Sofitel
Just like in any luxury destination, big spenders are treated with kid-glove care...and in keeping with China's enthusiastic (some might call it "nouveau riche") affinity for over-the-top displays of wealth, the hotels here go for the gold when it comes to VIP style. Also, for the silk, marble, crystal, in-room saunas, rain showers, and in-room sound systems that cost a cool $20K. One hotel boasts leather floors in its VIP suites. The Sofitel, pictured here, welcomes VIP guests into this stunning gold-leaf reception foyer, separate of the general check-in frequented by business travelers and low-stakes players.
The 8 in Grand Lisboa
Gambling may be a weakness, but dining is an enduring passion of the Asian traveler. A spokesperson at the Galaxy, the mega-resort with 30 standalone restaurants, says her clientele are "led by their stomachs" - just like most Westerners, come to think of it. And when it comes to fine dining, no property can match up to the Grand Lisboa, Stanley Ho's flagship hotel and proud possessor of three Michelin-starred restaurants including the incomparable two-star Cantonese culinary outpost The 8, seen here.
Ice Bar at the Venetian
Ferocious competition to win regular visitors and unlimited budgets with which to 'woo' them means unending innovation for Macau casino-hotels. From theatrical productions like the stunning House of Dancing Waters to free shows like Wynn's famous dancing fountains and the Bubble Show at City of Dreams, entertainment offerings are going beyond "Vegas-esque" and finding inspiration in every corner of the world. The Ice Bar, pictured here, is part of Ice World at the Venetian - a multi-room installation/experience inspired the likes of the Ice Hotel in Quebec and the famous Harbin Ice Festival sculptors. Unlike its predecessors, Ice World is not a seasonal occurrence; it's running through the hot and humid summer months, with a scheduled closing date of mid-September 2011.
Banquet Setup at Macau Tower
Though gaming is its most recent raison d'etre, Macau may not be a gambling destination forever. The Chinese government and the hospitality industry are in agreement that, in order for this destination to reach its full, multi-faceted, internationally appealing potential, it must attract crowds who want to stay in the city for several nights and experience all the options it provides for work and play. So, not only do the latest and greatest hotel-resorts all have some kind of entertainment and dining offerings, they also have diverse meeting and conference space - from elegant private dining rooms to massive ballrooms (the Venetian and the Hyatt dominate this) to lavish setups like the one here, which took place in the Macau Tower.
Pandas in Macau
As a nation, you know you've truly arrived in China's eyes when the Asian superpower presents you with a gift of giant pandas. When a male and female panda pair arrived recently from mainland China, Macau welcomed them with huge fanfare, building a state-of-the-art Panda Pavilion to house them (with plans of an entire wildlife park being built around it - a necessary measure, as the facility is packed every day) and holding a naming contest to determine what they'd be called. The winning names were Hoi Hoi and Sam Sam. Put together, the names translate to "happiness" in Chinese.
No matter how exciting the gaming, the shows and the name brands might be, at the end of the day, Macau is still a small port town that, 50 years ago, was distinguished by its fishermen and traders and East-West cultural mix. Walking down this historic street, you'll travel from the ancient Portuguese settlement, where many homes are converted into museums, to Chinatown, where bright and casual food stands sell Japanese curry and Portuguese egg tarts.
Macau Skyline at Night
The future is only getting brighter for this singular Eastern port city, and though Westerners still only know it vaguely, any forward-thinking entrepreneur or globetrotting business person would be wise to put it on their radar.