The Real Macau is Still There

by MaryLou Driedger, Dec 9, 2008 | Destinations: Macau / China
The Temple of Lin Zexu who led the fight against British sales of opium

The Temple of Lin Zexu who led the fight against British sales of opium

The Temple of Lin Zexu who led the fight against British sales of opium
The famous facade of St. Paul's Cathedral
The home of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, China's first President
Fernandos, a Portuguese restaurant you don't want to miss on Macau

You have to look a little harder, but the real Macau is still there. We traveled to the island of Macau for a short holiday. We had been there four years before and my how the place has changed!  Macau has turned into China’s Las Vegas. Dozens of flashy neon casinos monopolize the landscape and more are in the process of being built. Gambling is illegal everywhere in China except special areas of the country like Hong Kong and Macau.  Hong Kong corners the gambling market when it comes to horse racing. Small shops where you can place bets on the day’s races are found in every neighborhood.  Macau is the hotbed for casino gambling. Banking on business from millions of visitors from Mainland China the big Las Vegas casinos like MGM and The Sands have embarked on massive building projects in Macau.

We visited the Venetian casino that opened this last August. Our purpose was to attend an exhibition NBA basketball game being held in the Venetian’s 15,000-seat stadium. We couldn’t help but be awed by our surroundings as we walked through the golden halls of the $4.5 billion dollar casino and hotel.  The rotunda ceilings were adorned with Italian fresco style paintings. Four canals wound their way through the Venetian and we watched visitors travel down them in gondolas manned by singing gondoliers. There were 350 high-end stores in the Venetian selling name brand fashions and jewelry. We had to look for a while to find a restaurant where we could afford the food, but eventually we did.  The actual casino gambling area of the Venetian holds 870 gaming tables and 3,500 slot machines. As I rode up the escalator to the Venetian’s second floor I looked back and the gamblers below stretched out as far as the eye could see. A half a million people visited the Venetian the first week it was open.

The day after the basketball game we left the casino strip in search of the ‘real Macau’, the relaxing, quaint little island that until 1999 was under Portuguese control. It’s still there.

We took a public bus to find the temple of a mandarin named Lin Zexu famous for his dedicated fight against the British sale of opium to the Chinese people in the early 1800’s. We went to visit the home of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, China’s first president after the age of the emperors ended. The doctor’s family lived in Macau while he was busy dealing with China’s affairs.

We wound our way through alleys and up and down hills to the Macau Protestant cemetery to see the grave of missionary Robert Morrison who first translated the Bible into Chinese. We had our picture taken in front of the famous façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I poked around in the little antique shops in the old section of the city for unique Christmas gifts for friends and family. We ended the day by taking a long taxi ride to Fernando’s, a Portuguese restaurant on the beach. It had been recommended by friends and had a charming outdoor patio. The food was amazing, hot sausages, succulent shrimp, spicy chicken and huge loaves of crusty bread served with cheese, olives and a heady sangria.  Sitting in Fernando’s grape vine arbor and listening to the ocean waves made the busy Macau casino strip seem very far away. 

You have to look a little harder to get past all the Las Vegas glitz and glitter that seems to be taking over Macau, but if your determined to find it, the real Macau is still there.