For years the most economic and colorful way to reach Macau from Hong Kong was on waterborne vessels. What the early traders once dreaded as an overnight ordeal of sail and waves evolved in modern times into a 1-hour ride on sleek crafts that departed from a wharf near the old Star Ferry terminal on Hong Kong Island.
Today, both are so closely linked and so dependent on one another that construction has begun on an ambitious 24-mile-long series of bridges and undersea tunnels that will permit automobile traffic between them. At an estimated cost of about $12 billion, it will be completed in four years.
Macau, once a backwater Portuguese colony, is a surreal blend of crumbling colonial ruins with more casinos within its 12 sq. miles than any other place on earth. Here, the Venetian brags about being the world’s largest casino and a blinding neon glow lures gamblers to familiar spots with names like The Sands, Flamingo, Wynn, etc.—all offering comparable rates to those in Las Vegas.
December figures for 2011 show that Macau’s gambling revenue was a whopping $3 billion, a 25 percent increase over 2010 and topping all other gambling venues.
Although Macau—an exotic destination that still manages to reflect a heavy Portuguese influence in both architecture and cuisine—lacks the vibrancy of Hong Kong, it has a wide choice of notable hotels away from the casinos, including the Pousada de Sao Tiago (saotiago.com.mo) and the Mandarin Oriental, Macau (mandarinoriental.com/macau).
The heart of Macau is Largo do Senado, a square that looks like someone filched it from one of the old towns in Portugal’s Algarve. Locals like to relax in the square just down the road from the city’s iconic ruins of the Sao Paulo Church, a temple that burned down two centuries ago. Gourmands are keen on the square’s outdoor eateries, known as Dai Pai Dongs, which dish out delicious and low-priced Chinese snacks and are known for the high quality of their exotic dishes.
Those who manage to tear away from the gaming tables will also find good beaches. The most popular one is Hac Sa Beach, a 2-mile long beach on Coloane, an island off Macau. Nearby is Fernando’s Restaurant, considered to serve the best Portuguese food outside the home country.
Hong Kong remains the same beehive of commerce and savoir-faire that it’s always been, but adding to its vibrancy is the world’s highest hotel in its Ritz-Carlton (rates range from about $350 per night, dbl to more than $10,000 a night for its most luxurious suite), a modern jewel on the 108th floor of the new International Commerce Centre (ICC). It offers the world’s highest bar and the world’s highest swimming pool, etc.
Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay is known for having some of the best and largest shopping malls in the world and for streets choked with shops hawking everything from eyeglasses to electronics.
There are markets galore—the Jade Market, the Bird Market, the Ladies Market, the Fragrant Flowers Market—all worth visiting if only for the colors, smells and noise.
Hong Kong Disneyland, on nearby Lantau Island, is now a firmly established family destination, and the choice of hotels in Hong Kong is extensive, as befits its status as a world-class city.
The attractions of the SAR’s twin destinations are legion and no trip to Asia can be called complete without at least a brief visit to each.
In fact, both Macau and Hong Kong are so closely yoked that It’s rare to find tour operators that don’t offer both in their itineraries. China Discoveries (866-979-2369; chinadiscoverytours.com), for example, will customize an attractive package for both destinations. Land-only prices range from about $450 to $530 pp dbl, depending on the season.