Close to Hong Kong sits a well-known Special Administrative Zone which is easily reachable by hydrofoil (not hydroplane!). It is in many ways reminiscent of every "Special Administrative Zone" globally that allows for gambling, and it is in many ways completely different.
Packing an overnight bag for Macau was not particularly challenging; I had one dinner to attend, 24 total hours in the SAZ, and knew well most of the attendees of the small entourage. I have spent many hours in casinos and was familiar with the (lack of) required formal attire. I must admit, what I did not understand was the many ways in which Macau is truly different from other cities focused on that sometimes-considered-immoral sport of gambling for money.
One cautionary note - even though Macau is physically, temporally and politically actually in the same country as Hong Kong, a passport and a long line of immigration both coming and going is required. Someone tried to explain to me why we needed to spend 25 minutes in line having our passports checked before boarding the boat, then 45 minutes when we landed (apparently they don't want me to lose all my money!) and then the same in reverse, but there is no sensical reason. Put it to a lot of history and political machinations of a reclaimed set of islands.
Upon clearing the second immigration / customs stop, we were finally ready to get down to business (at least in my view). Rambo (yes, I couldn't resist - his name tag prominently stated his given name as Rambo and he is gratefully pictured below) from the Wynn picked us up in a shuttle bus to take us to the Wynn; it was a mercifully short five minute drive (reminiscent of LVNV) from seaport to casino floor.
We checked into the Wynn (which has a striking lobby, again reminiscent of LVNV) and agreed to meet back down in the lobby in 30 minutes. By this time, it was nearly 4pm, and I was itching to try my luck at the tables.
However, when I returned to the lobby of the hotel (which was also, in its Vegas-ness "just this side of tacky" as one of our entourage noted), I was informed that gambling was not the first order of business here in Macau. We were going furniture shopping.
Faithful readers, I was certainly a bit jet lagged from my long journey, having only slightly more than 24 hours in Asia to get settled, and the boat and multiple immigration stops may have muddled my mind, but I heard correctly. Furniture shopping. Not at all like LVNV.
Before we headed to the antique-laden shops and what was dubbed "pork alley" by our crew (more on this later) we took a short taxi ride from the Wynn to the ruins of St Paul's (pic below) and the Fortress atop Macau. It is probably useful to buy a guidebook and get some of the history en route, but I didn't (hence my bewilderment as we scraped ourselves away from the shining strip of the gambling area), and since some rely on me for this very purpose, here is the short version:
Portugal:Macau as Britain:Hong Kong as France:Fine Dining. They took it over for a while and then gave it back. The cuisine of Macau (see below) reflects this. There are some churches there, they love them some Christmas (no "Happy Holidays" in sight, just lots of Christmas ornamentation), and they make a lot of "antique" furniture. Also, they built a pretty good replica of Las Vegas in about 5 years' time, and we still don't have a working third runway at O'hare. Helpful?
The St. Paul's ruins are actually quite striking, and sit at the top of a hill buttressed by an impressive fortress on one end and a slew of pedestrian-walkway streets (a very Spanish, or I suppose Portuguese, feel) on the other. Within these streets were dozens, nay, hundreds of "antique" (some real, many fake) shops. The prices were unbelievable. For a fraction of the price of any IKEA do-it-yourself kit, you can get handmade, high quality and antique (in appearance if not in provenance) furnishings. A must-do for any savvy shoppers on a trip to the region.
I was going to write a bit about the "pork alley" but I recognize this post is getting a bit long in the tooth and it is time to start another day here in Hong Kong, but needless to say there are a lot of street vendors selling pressed and jerked meats, along with custard pies (a Macanese specialty) in the alley below St. Paul's.
Now, for the morsel you have all been waiting for - where to eat? Predictably, the major casinos (and they are all there - Wynn, MGM, Venetian, etc, etc) have fine dining. I would say the Wynn's Red 8, on the casual side, had some GREAT late-night dim sum as I nurtured my gambling losses (reminiscent of LVNV). But the culinary focus of a trip to Macau should be to explore the Macanese cuisine: Portugese-influenced fare with heavy Asian inspiration.
Litoral (yes, that is the correct spelling) is a clear destination for anyone with food on their mind. The new restaurant (built as a separate location from the older, harder-to-find original spot) evoked for me feelings of a rural Greek family tavern. An open room with stucco and dark wood beams, a serving station directly into the cooking line, and large wooden tables to enjoy a family-style meal. Our native Macau experts took the lead on ordering a veritable smorgasbord of dishes, ranging from well-prepared and spiced seafood (garlicky shrimp, cod cakes, steamed clams and grilled grouper) to savory stews and meats (Feijoada, a dish with pork and beans; charcoal grilled steak). The service was attentive and the family style dishes were served as soon as they were ready, with steadily flowing wine to make sure no one was parched. The desserts (egg yolk souffle, chocolate mousse) were not particularly unique or in keeping with the Macanese theme in my humble opinion, but were quite tasty. I would highly recommend this venue for a great group dinner in Macau - and a real taste of the diverse cultural traditions in food on this island now primarily associated with gambling.
So, as I recuse myself to head on to the next adventure, please see a few photos of the magnificent "architecture" of the strip, as evidenced in the original Stanley Ho Lisboa and its recent expansion, the Grand Lisboa. And yes, I would go back. For furniture and for blackjack, but most importantly for a little Portuguese-influenced Asian cuisine with a group of friends.