15/08/2013 - 19/08/2013
While a typhoon battered Hong Kong, we arrived on the comparatively calm island of Macau, where lavish casinos loom over aging churches and humble stalls selling fish balls and pork buns. Dubbed the 'Las Vegas of the East', Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is actually a mix of Vegas, Portugal and China, represented respectively in the casinos, the main squares and the back streets. From the China-Macau border gate we took a free casino bus to the Grand Lisboa, where we were first confronted with the city's Vegas side, from where we made our way down the very European tiled streets to the main square, where the fountain and Leal Senado made us feel like we were in Portugal. But as soon as we turned down a side street towards our hotel, the hawker stalls and smells of rice and spicy meat took us right back to China. A disconcerting contrast to be sure, but a curiously endearing one.
On our first day, like most of Macau's tourists, we made a beeline for the casinos. We started at the Grand Lisboa, whose huge lit-up sign is visible from almost every corner of the city. John lost 500MOP at the Blackjack tables, and we swiftly moved on to the Wynn next door, which, while not as lavish as the Las Vegas Casino of the same name, is still an impressive building with a flawlessly shiny facade and a water fountain show every half hour. The MGM next door was my personal favourite however, with an under-the-sea theme that included fake seaweed hanging from the ceiling and even a cylindrical fish tank in the middle of the entrance hall.
That evening we wandered off the main strip into one of the older districts of the city, where old Portugese buildings are to be found around every corner. We started at the beautiful Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, where I would doubtless spend all of my time i I lived in Macau, then continued on to the Church of St Dominic, the Dom Pedro V Theatre and the Church of St Lawrence. We finished our night eating dinner in the Largo do Senado, feeling a lot closer to home.
A visit to Macau isn't complete without a trip to the Cotai Strip on Taipa Island, connected to Macau by a series of long bridges. The island used to be home to just a small village and its inhabitants, and retains the name 'Taipa Village', but in recent years it has become more of a mega-complex of extravagant hotels and casinos, all conveniently connected by air-conditioned tunnels. The Venetian is the most spectacular of these, dominating the prime spot on the strip with its Campanile tower and synthetic canal. Inside it only gets more ridiculous-the domed roof of the lobby is reminiscent of St Mark's Basilica , and gondoliers row bemused tourists up and down the second-floor canal.
We finished off our Macau visit with a trip into Macau's history, at the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral. Originally one of Asia's largest Catholic churches, St Paul's was destroyed by fire in 1835 and now all that remains, quite bizarrely, is the southern wall. From afar you can almost pretend the building is still complete, until you walk through the doorway and find the wall is propped up from behind by metal buttresses.
The next day we took the ferry across the small stretch of water to Hong Kong, for the last part of our round-the-world journey. I can feel the tears welling up already...