No Money, No Friends in Macau Casinos

It is often said that Macau is the Las Vegas of the East. We have been to Las Vegas not one, not two, but three times, and we really love it! So we decided to complete the pilgrimage so visit Macau.  In fact, Macau has overtaken Las Vegas many times over in being the world leader in terms of revenue. So really, is Macau the Las Vegas of the East, or is Las Vegas the Macau of the West? Ooh controversial! (My view: LV came first so will always be the OG!)

First impressions of Macau was quite overwhelming – I had expected it to feel like Vegas, but it didn’t feel anything like it. Strangely it reminded me of Panama due to the thick jungle around, low lying cloud, and stifling heat.  It was also poorer than I had expected in terms of the housing of the local population, in contrast to the opulence and excess of the casino hotels. Like nearby Hong Kong, Macau is its own Special Administrative Region of China. And Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal, and coaches bring tourists from the nearby Chinese border straight to the casinos.

In fact many of the hotels are just like the actual Las Vegas – some almost replicas, or very similar. Macau Casinos are split into two areas:-

  • Cotai, which has The Strip, and most of the hotels you will recognise from Vegas – eg. the Venetian, Parisian, and other ultra-modern hotel/casinos, eg. City of Dreams, Studio City, Wynn Palace, and an MGM which opens soon. This is the more salubrious and modern side of Macau and has a very “resort” feel – many large hotels and swimming pools, buffet dining etc. Everyone here has come here to gamble / eat/ stay.
  • Central Macau, which is is in the middle of town. (The Old Town of Macau is another world entirely – more on that next time!) Here there is another group of Casinos with all the flashy bright lights that I imagined when I thought of Macau. Here you will find the Grand Emperor, Casino Lisboa, Wynn and MGM. 

Hotel-Casinos in Cotai

We spent ages exploring the Venetian, purely due to its size! It took the best part of a day to see all of it. Like the Venetian hotel in Vegas, it is a copy of Venice, complete with gondolas on canals, St Marks Square, and a very plush casino.

Next door is the Parisian – surprisingly, a copy of Paris, complete with Eiffel Tower (which lights up at night just like Paris!).  You can pay to go up the Eiffel Tower. We got a voucher to go half-way up this.

There are also living statues who move when you go near them to make you jump! Actors dressed in period costume from the Louis-the-15th era roam the halls for photo opportunities with guests. As we found from a previous trip to Beijing, queuing is not done very successfully in China, so we saw an amusing incident whereby a group of people all wanted a photo with the actors. The male actor tried to instigate a single-file queue but to no avail. Instead, many people would rush forward at once, pushing each other and even punching each other in the contest to have their photo taken first!! Absolutely unbelievable, but also very entertaining for us!

The Parisian is also where Psy (of Gangnam Style fame) filmed his last music video!

Studio City was modelled on old-style New York. It had an area called “Times Square” which looked nothing like it. My BF summed it up by saying “it looks like whoever designed it has never been to Times Square, but someone has described it to him over the phone” – which was pretty accurate! They also have a figure of eight big wheel – see photo below.

Studio City is paired with City of Dreams which is another very posh casino with a water show called the House of Dancing Water. This is pretty expensive (cheapest tickets are 580HKD – about £55! ) but the reviews online are amazing, so we decided to go. However it was closed (what?!!) when we went.

Across the road is the Sands Cotai Central, containing the Holiday Inn, Conrad, and Sheraton. These also contain casinos, restaurants and shops, and a curious-looking children’s theme park called Planet J, complete with a sizeable gift shop with life-size characters standing outside for photo ops! Opposite Planet J is a large toy shop called Kids cavern which is worth exploring if you have kids, or like toys, chocolate, and models!  It is also worth saying that ALL of these casinos contain massive shiny shopping malls, normally containing spectacular flower arrangements, sculptures, etc.

Wynn Palace has a fountain show to rival the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The fountains are dancing away continually, but they have special “shows” every 15 minutes. A gondola bubble hangs over the fountains. At first I was like “for goodness sake, what idiot needs to see the fountains from a gondola?”. Then I found out the gondola was free – so it turns out, This Idiot!! 🙂 It was indeed fun to ride over the fountains and this is a novel way to travel from street-level into the casino (but I would never have paid for it!) 🙂

And who could forget the Galaxy – another massive casino complex encompassing 3 large hotels and many many shops, restaurants etc. There is an exhibit in the lobby called the Fortune Diamond, where a fountain show starts, set to music, and then a giant diamond rises out of the floor. Next-door to galaxy is Broadway casino which, but we found this to be small and unexciting – more like a conference centre. There is a food-street at the back which may well be more exciting in nice weather but it was raining when we went!

Hotels/Casinos in Macau Central

We saw Macau Central as a day-trip from Cotai. This is the classic sight of Macau with all the lights!

In particular the Grand Lisboa is quite an iconic design and visible from all over the city.

The lobby of the Grand Emperor hotel/casino had gold bars built into the floor – as if to underline “look how rich we are!!”. They had even made a copy of the letter from HSBC bank in Zurich which they had received with the delivery of the gold bars. The wording of the letter said “you shall keep this letter safe and confidential”. So obviously they enlarged it, had a copy made of gold, and stuck it on the wall. however in contrast to the opulent lobby, the casino upstairs wasn’t to my taste – it was low-ceiling-ed and grey and resembled an office more than a casino. 

The Wynn was nice, and had dancing fountains outside. This was next to the MGM which had quite a special atrium in the middle, which actually made me gasp when I saw it. Large glass butterflies hung from the ceiling, and giant flowers grow from the floor with a sofa seat built into the bulb of the flower. There was also a large aquarium in the centre of the room. The effect was quite spectacular.

So did we gamble? Unfortunately not. We only gamble small amounts in Las Vegas, so although it sounds ridiculous we kind of forgot to gamble in Macau. It was only on the last day when we had a small amount of money left that I thought we should spend the remainder of our holiday money on the 1 cent slot machines — why not?! We only had about 60 cents left but that would get us 60 goes on the slots! Sadly it was not to be… the staff apologetically explained that they can’t change that small of money. They seemed very perplexed as well, as both the person in front of us, and the person behind us, in the queue were fanning massive inch-thick wads of 100 notes! So yeah, we ridiculed ourselves yet again…

Macau is certainly not short of shopping and spending opportunities. All the big western designer brands are out in force – Gucci, Chanel, etc etc. It is the only place i have been where I have seen people actually buying things from these shops. Where i’m from, and even in Las Vegas, Dubai, and Singapore, you see these designer shops but they are often empty or a couple of people browsing. In Macau every shop had people at the till paying for items, and often other people waiting to pay or browsing. The kind of money here was insane.

Which reminds me, I saw a lady with an incredible tracksuit here. In pink, green and head to toe, it was branded with the phrase “No Money, No Friends”. Love it!

Travel Tips:

  • Do take the leaflets handed out near the ferry terminal as these often contain discounts / coupons for free stuff – like a ticket to the Eiffel Tower or money off a buffet.
  • Free shuttle buses go from some hotels to other hotels, and to/from the airport or ferry terminal. There is a free shuttle bus from City of Dreams in Cotai to outside the Grand Emperor in Macau central. Just remember to find out the time of the last bus home!
  • Many places don’t accept credit or debit cards. We quickly ran out of cash and  had to get cash out of an ATM and pay the fees for this. Take more cash!
  • If you land at Hong Kong Airport and want to take a ferry straight to Macau, don’t go to the baggage carousel, and don’t leave the airport – instead follow signs for the ferry terminal within the airport. When you book a ferry ticket they will ask if you have bags. Give your bag ticket stub to the ticket person (we took a photo of ours first, just in case!) and they will collect your bags and put them on the ferry. Therefore, you won’t see your bag until after you get off the ferry in Macau, and it will be on a baggage carousel in Macau. I’m not normally comfortable with allowing other people to collect my bags, but I had to accept this is how it works there, and it worked fine for us. (Word of Warning – I understand that if you decide to leave Hong Kong Airport to collect your own bag, you can’t then re-enter the airport to use this ferry terminal – you would have to take the train into central Hong Kong to get to another ferry terminal to get that ferry to Macau.) This is just based on the online research we did beforehand – google it for more info on this!
  • It is possible to do a day-trip to Hong Kong – see my later blog (coming soon).
  • Although some people opt to see Macau as a day-trip from HK, we found 4 days in Macau to be just right (in order to see everything and take it at a leisurely pace, including some lie-ins, some laying by the pool, some swimming and some leisurely buffet-eating!).

next blog: Old Town of Macau

previous blog: How to Travel if you are Scared of Flying


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