In both the September and November of 2017, I made day-trips to the independent Chinese territory of Macau. A former Portuguese colony that was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999, it is widely known as the foremost gambling capital of the world. This city still has a strong Portuguese influence, and you can see it in the architecture of many building and squares, scattered between typical Chinese apartments and shopfronts. It’s a picturesque mismatch of cultures, from the European to the Chinese to the many opulent casinos dominating the skyline.
Macau Galaxy Casino
In September, I caught the high-speed train from Guangzhou South Railway Station to Zhuhai Railway Station, which is within walking distance to the Gongbei Port, or Border Gate, in Macau. From the border gate, it is possible to take a free bus to any of the casinos surrounding. I took a bus to the Galaxy Casino, which seems to be a central point for many other buses heading in all directions. I spent the day exploring the exquisite casino which is also a hotel and a shopping center, full of designer brands and opulent decorations.
It was a wonderful way to spend a hot summer afternoon, making full use of air conditioning, free wifi and various free vouchers offering discounts on food or products. There are many services provided for visitors of the city, most of which are designed to appeal to those who come to try their luck at gaming. It is very common for those from surrounding countries to visit for the day, bringing with them stacks of cash and a wonderful boost to the country’s economy.
Even if you can’t afford to shop luxury brands, as I couldn’t, you can still entertain yourself with window shopping, people watching and snacking. I walked a loop on each floor, admiring the chandeliers and gilded staircases, peering into shops that I could never hope to buy from, and drinking expensive coffee as I updated social media and relaxed in the calm, vanilla-scented atmosphere. After a good amount of time had passed in my quiet, cool retreat, I headed back through the Border Gate and caught another high-speed train back to Guangzhou.
China to Macau- best budget experience
If you’re coming from China, no matter how long you stayed there, you would have realized the bathrooms are less than stellar. Not an opinion, just a fact. So for the best experience on your day trip, eat in China before you leave, and go to the bathrooms in the Macau casinos, where everything is clean, finely decorated, and perfect for fancy mirror selfies if that’s your style.
Macau’s Historical Landmarks
In November, I took a different approach to this city of hidden gems. Instead of spending all my time inside one casino, a friend and I took a bus to Galaxy Casino, where we ate tradition egg tarts and drank Vietnamese coffee, my long-time favorite Asian beverage ever since my trip to Vietnam in 2011. Then we rode on to L’Arc Macau Casino and walked to Senado Square, a paved town square containing European-styled buildings and fountains, providing a picturesque glimpse into the past. Exploring the brick streets, ducking in and out of alleyways and breathing in the smell of traditional egg tarts, pork buns and ancient stone, it was the kind of urban exploring I’ve always wanted to do. It was like stepping into a Venice or Madrid with Chinese undertones. From there we found our way to the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, and further up the nearby hill, the Fortaleza do Monte, or Mount Fortress. Sitting in a rampart on the defensive wall, eating our lunch and observing a panoramic view of the mainland area of Macau, I felt a kind of peace that comes from enjoying nature and ancient monuments together.
Here’s a hot tip, though: don’t sit on the ramparts like we did. A man who was probably a caretaker told us in no uncertain terms to remove ourselves from our ancient stone seats. Don’t annoy the locals or accidentally damage landmarks by sitting on them.
We didn’t manage to make it inside the museum on site, as it was starting to get late and we wanted to visit more casinos before leaving, but we explored the gardens and bought some water from a shop run by a charming old lady who didn’t speak a word of English. Walking back the way we came and making good use of the free buses as we hopped from hotel to hotel, we made our way across the island and arrived at the Venetian Casino. This is the venue used by the Korean musician Psy, in his music video for ‘I Luv It’. Not knowing this at the time, we decided to bypass the casino and walk to the Parisian instead. This casino has its own replica of the Eiffel Tower out the front, which lights up as the sun goes down. Inside the lobby is a large fountain and atrium, giving it a modern French feel, and we wandered the white and gold halls, admiring the intricately painted ceilings and chandeliers dripping with jewels.
When we finally decided to head back, it was dark, and every casino on our bus ride back to the border was lit up beautifully. We went back to ‘Home Base’, the Galaxy, and used a dinner voucher to buy some American-style pizza from the international food court. Then we headed back to the Border Gate, tired and satisfied with our short holiday.
Next time I end up in this bustling, glittery city, I intend to visit The Venetian and Studio City casinos. The latter seems to be designed in a jazzy, art-deco style, with nods to the silver screen, which looks fascinating. The former appeals to my mischievous side, as I would like to film a silly parody video based on Psy’s original in the same location.
Another hot tip- Bring money! This may seem like an obvious statement, but even if you’re not intending to blow it all on the slots, it’ll be so much easier for you if you take out cash before you come. The ATMs are relatively easy to use, but sometimes cards don’t work or money takes it’s sweet time to make it into your account, so to be safe, take out cash beforehand and get it changed later. At the very least, you’ll be able to buy coffee without worrying about EFTPOS charges.