Look out Vegas!

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Macau  ,
Friday, April 27, 2007

He Said:
When we made our original itinerary we didn't include Macau. As we reworked our route a few months ago we found a ridiculously low fare from here of $60 USD for the 4  hour flight to Jakarta, Indonesia as opposed to $500+ to fly from Hong Kong. With that kind of price differential we enthusiastically added this interesting destination to our itinerary. So we rode the rails from Yangshuo to Hong Kong and spent some time there doing a bit of shopping. A few days later we caught a high-speed ferry across the Pearl River Delta to the peninsula and islands of Macau.
Back in the 1500's the Chinese gave Portugal the right to establish a colony on Macau in exchange for clearing the region of pirates. Under Portuguese administration it flourished as a trading port until the British establishment of Hong Kong in 1841 forced Macau into a long decline as the English began dominating regional trade. Mirroring the recent history of Hong Kong, Macau was recently (1999) given back to China and they made it a SAR(Special Administrative Region) allowing the Macanese to retain a great deal of autonomy over their affairs (except defense and foreign policy). So like Hong Kong, Macau also has its own government, currency, passports, postal system, etc. It is a bit strange that we have been in China for the last ten days but have crossed two "international borders" by traveling from Mainland China to Hong Kong, then on to Macau. It certainly gets stamps in the passport fast!
The colonial legacy left Macau with a really strange fusion of East and West. The old part of town with its cobblestone lanes (bearing Portuguese names) and colonial architecture looks like it could have easily been transplanted from Europe. Actually it reminded me a lot of Malta, except the people here are almost all Chinese. Macau made a lot of its revenue over the past forty years by being the only place in the region where casino gaming was legal. Gamblers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest of East Asia flocked here to try their luck. With the dramatic buoying of fortunes in China over the past decade, and the easy accessibility of Macau to the Mainland, the demand for casino gaming has skyrocketed. Last year Macau's gaming revenue of $71 billion US dollars surpassed that of Las Vegas to make it the biggest gambling destination on earth. Today the territory is in the midst of a gigantic building boom with at least a dozen massive casino/resort projects underway (a few of which include: The Venetian, Wynn, MGM Grand, Hilton, and Mandarin Oriental).
We managed to consume most of our 30 hours here just walking around, sampling the delicious Macanese cuisine (which is an eclectic Portuguese/Brazilian/Indian/Chinese fusion), and checking out the colonial architecture. So tonight we are heading south to Indonesia to get back to the beach and the fascinating culture of Bali.
She Said:
Dare I say it... I think we are finally bargain shopped-out.  By the end of our marathon shopping session in Hong Kong, we started recognizing all the clothes and could just glance at a store and size it up in a second.  But I did find a nice pair of JCrew khaki pants for $4!
A short ferry ride took us across the bay to Macau, and the difference between Hong Kong and Macau was amazing.... Kind of like the difference between New York City and Charleston, South Carolina (if it had some casinos).  Even though there are some cosmopolitan parts of Macau, there are a lot of historic colonial Portuguese buildings and the pace of the town is much slower.  The Portuguese legacy here is really strange...many signs are in Chinese and Portuguese (despite the fact that less than 1% of the population actually speaks Portuguese), there are huge old cathedrals everywhere with the religious practice influenced by other faiths that are common in China, and chorizo and beans are popular ingredients in many otherwise Chinese-style dishes.
We splurged a bit and stayed in a really nice hotel that was built into an old Portuguese Fort at the tip of the Macau peninsula (which billed itself as "the ONLY small hotel built into an old Portuguese Fort in Macau" - as if there are others!).  We treated ourselves to an amazing dinner and actually felt like real, civilized people on a date!  So many nights at small street stands eating fried noodles are taking their toll... Anyway, tonight we are off to Indonesia and soon to the tropical paradise of Bali!  Yahoo!!!!!!!!!
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