It has often been said that Vegas is becoming a thing of the past and Macau will surpass it (if it hasn’t so yet), as the world’s top gambling destination. That topic can be debated for a whole evening without a resolution, but looking at what Macau has become today, you can see why such a comparison is being made.
The effort Macau has placed into garnering the top spot has been nothing short of spectacular, and they have moved mountains and seas, literally, in doing so. A massive reclamation project filled up the channel between the outlying islands of Taipa and Coloane, and what was once the sea became a stretch of land called the Cotai Strip (stands for Coloane and Taipa).
The Cotai Strip is home to Macau’s newest generation of Casinos, such as the Galaxy, the Venetian Macau and the City of Dreams, and it doesn’t stop there. As I’m writing this, the large Sands in Cotai was already open though not yet complete, and there’s still enough construction going on throughout the strip to make Las Vegas nervous.
One of the largest projects on the Strip was the Venetian Macau. This behemoth is the world’s largest casino, and one of the largest buildings made by man in terms of floor area, and the superlatives probably won’t end there. It is in fact far larger than the original Venetian in Las Vegas. The imposing structure looms over the horizon in Cotai with all the grandeur of a large palace, and it is at its visual best starting at dusk, when the lights start to paint the building with an attractive color.
Apart from the massive casino, inside the Venetian one can find a massive shopping “mall” with three indoor “canals” where one can ride gondolas for a (rather hefty) fee. Though really expensive for a ride that lasts less than 15 minutes, it still draws a lot of people – so much so that before paying, you will be warned of how much time it could take before you get your turn to ride. Even then it doesn’t deter a lot of people, and waiting times of up to an hour are not unheard of. Fortunately for us, it took less than half before we got our turn.
The gondola ride may be a tourist trap, but it’s one of the few that you shouldn’t mind falling into (by much). After all, the only other place in the world where you can have a picture of you taken in a boat steered by a singing boatman/woman is in the real Venice – and that will cost a lot, lot more.
The shopping area that the canals wind around is also very large and sprawling, I probably saw only one fourth of it after over an hour of going around.
Another grand project in Cotai is the City of Dreams. While not as massive as the Venetian right across the street, it is no less eye-catching. In contrast to the Venetian, the City of Dreams looks futuristic. The high point of its exterior is a large man-made outdoor waterfall, pouring down into a pond that is made to look like a river. It even has a series of fountains that reminds one of rapids.
Inside the City of Dreams (COD) is also another shopping “mall” (apart from the casino and the hotels, of course). Though much smaller than the Venetian’s, the shops in the COD seem even more upscale. I even found a Leica shop there (a very high end German camera maker), and the most I could do is drool.
Most people though (who aren’t checking-in or gambling) come to the City of Dreams for one thing…the House of Dancing Water. Held year round in an especially built theater inside the COD, the House of Dancing Water is one of those acrobatic shows with a storyline woven into it. If you are familiar with the likes of the Cirque du Soleil, then the show is similar, but with one unique characteristic. The stage is literally a swimming pool, and performers “fly” in the air and dive into the water as the story goes on. What’s even more spectacular is that the “stage” varies in depth from time to time. In one minute. it is a deep pool where people somersault and dive into, and in the next it would be completely dry with motorcycles running over it. The COD stage is one of things we could only describe as – an “engineering marvel”.
Located at the western edge of the island of Taipa is the Macau International Airport. However, only part of the airport sits in the island itself – the Terminal and the Apron. The taxiway and runway all lie on strips of land reclaimed from the see, making it one of the most unique airports that I know of.
Though not large by any means (in fact, it’s tiny compared the gigantic aiport in Hong Kong), the airport is can still be described as world class. The check-in and passport control areas are pretty well organized, and there’s a good – though limited – duty free selection. The only drawback is the lack of good food options, but overall there are some larger airports that I know of, that would still pale in comparison to Macau.
* The City of Dreams and the Venetian are right across each other and can be reached through bus stop “Est. Do Istmo/C.O.D.” if coming from the Macau Peninsula or Taipa, or “Est. Do Istmo/Venetian” if coming from Coloane. Buses 15, 21A, 25, 25X, 26, 26A and N3 ply this route. Look for these routes from your originating bus stop. Bus fare is MOP 4.20 from any point in the Macau Peninsula, MOP 3.20 from Coloane, and MOP 2.80 from within Taipa.
* The most convenient way to get to the airport is by taxi, especially if you have luggage. Macau is pretty small and the airport is coveniently reachable from any point within the territory. It is however also possible to take the bus. Take buses 26, 36, AP1, MT1, MT2 or N2 to bus stop “Aeroporto De Macau”.
* For more info on Macau bus routes, go to the Macau Public Bus information website: http://www.dsat.gov.mo/bus/en/bus_stop_search.aspx
* We were in Macau last December 2012. All photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.
For part 2 of this trip, click here.
For part 4 of this trip, click here.