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Vegas ... in China? Macau mania

14:00 AEST Thu Apr 7 2011
Macau, along with Hong Kong, is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. The mainland peninsula and two islands on the western side of the Pearl River delta were a Portuguese colony with traders settling there in the 16th century. It was China's first and last European colony and was administered by Portugal until the handover in 1999, with the stipulation that it operates with a high degree of autonomy until at least 2049.

The Central People's government is responsible for defence and foreign affairs, while Macau has its own legal and monetary systems, police force, customs and immigration policies. Economy relies heavily on tourism and gambling and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing of textiles and toys. It enjoys the longest life expectancy in the world!

When Dermott Brereton told his mates he was going to Macau there were two responses — one mentioning gambling and the other about it being an exotic place where east meets west. They were both right.

Macau is a city with two faces. Portuguese fortresses, churches, architecture and cuisine have created a piece of the Mediterranean on the Chinese coast. The other face is the Las Vegas of the east.

The 64km journey to Macau from Hong Kong is covered by several fleets of high-speed vessels — jetfoils, turbo-cats, jumbo-cats and hover ferries. There are more than a hundred crossings throughout the day and evening, and all-night services by jetfoils.

Dermott wandered around the historic Senado Square area. It is a World Heritage-listed site with the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral its most famous landmark. It stands adjacent to the Mount Fortress and Macau Museum. The front facade and grand stone stairs are the only remains of the building built in 1580. Once east Asia's largest Catholic church, it was stuck by several fires and a violent typhoon, but there is strong evidence of the baroque facade with oriental characteristics.

The least developed island, Coloane, is covered in pine trees, eucalyptus woods and farming land. It's a peaceful place where locals go to swim, picnic and enjoy nature. They also eat loads of delicious Portuguese egg tarts. Nothing like the tarts served in Chinese yum cha, or those enjoyed in Portugal, the buttery, flaky pastry shells filled with rich custard found a convert in Dermott. Lord Stowe's bakery sells around 3000 of them a day.

Coloane and its sister island, Taipa, are colourful palettes of pastels and ordered greenery. The Portuguese influence is everywhere — cobbled back streets, baroque churches, stone fortresses, art deco buildings and lots of parks and gardens.

Dermott discovered the Cotai Strip, Asia's answer to Las Vegas. It's on reclaimed land connecting Coloane and Taipa and has all the excitement and glitz of Vegas, but a lot closer to Australia.

Las Vegas Sands owns most of the 3km Cotai Strip's hotel and casino infrastructure. It manages most of the space and its hotel partners manage their respective hotels. They're all there — Four Seasons, Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Shangri-La, Sheraton, St Regis, Hilton, Conrad, Fairmont and Raffles. Business is booming and more gambling dollars are being turned over in Macau than in Vegas.

Venetian Macau is the world's biggest casino. Costing $2.4 billion, the 40-storey resort has 3000 suites, a 15,000-seat arena, restaurants, shops and gondola rides along three canals. It has around 3400 poker machines and 800 gaming tables.

City of Dreams has four towers — one for Hard Rock Hotel, one for Crown Towers and two for the Grand Hyatt. There's a three-floor podium with a mega casino, more than 200 shops, 550 tables, 1500 machines and 20 restaurants and bars.

Two theatres — The Bubble and Dragone Theatre — provide world-class entertainment. Dragone features an enormous in-the-round water show.

Children haven't been forgotten. They have four playzones — Create, Dream, Excite and Explore. It for children between two and 12 years old and opens every day at 10.30am, closing at 9.30pm.


Macau on China's south-east coast.


Virgin Atlantic has flights to Hong Kong from:
  • Adelaide $1075
  • Melbourne and Brisbane $1080
  • Sydney $1011

Terms and conditions apply.

Freestyle Holidays' Ultimate Macau Experience costs $649 per person, twin share. Four nights at the five-star Grand Hyatt Macau, return ferry and shuttle service from Hong Kong Airport and breakfast each day are included. The offer is on sale until May 13, 2011, and valid for Monday to Friday stays until March 31, 2012. The first 20 bookings will receive a Macau City Tour and lunch. Book by May 13, 2011, and receive an upgrade to a Grand Suite King Room. Conditions apply.

Sea Express jetfoil between Hong Kong and Macau costs $17 one way.

Prices correct at April 7, 2011.

For further information

Virgin Atlantic Airways
Level 4, 7 Macquarie Place
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: 1300 727 340

Freestyle Holidays
Ph: 1300 880 268

City of Dreams Hard Rock Hotel
Estrada do Istmo
Ph: +853 8868 3333
Fax: +853 8867 3388

City of Dreams Crown Towers
Estrada do Istmo
Ph: +853 8868 6868
Fax: +853 8867 6888

Macau Government Tourist Office
Level 11, 99 Bathurst Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9264 1488
Fax: (02) 92677717

Visas: Australian passport holders do not require a visa for stays of up to 30 days.

Electricity: 220V at 50Hz using three square pin plugs.

Currency: Pataka. Hong Kong dollars are also accepted.

Time zone: GMT +8.

International dialling code: +853.

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