Nine days into our Asian tour, Mrs. Chicago and I landed in Macau, via ferry from Hong Kong. The Hong Kong ferry is quite convenient – about a $10 (US) or less taxi ride from just about anywhere in Hong Kong and a $17 economy class ferry ticket – you can be in Macau in less than an hour.
Macau was a Portuguese colony less than a decade ago, and the influence upon the Chinese administrative region is evident. The local currency is the Pataca (MOP) which has an exchange rate of 103.20 MOP to $100 Hong Kong (HKG). Everyone will accept HKG, and sometimes you’ll even get change in HKG; keep in mind you’re paying a 3% premium on the exchange rate.
We landed in the arrivals hall and had to clear immigration, collect our bags, and clear customs. All were done in a short time, and we headed out to the taxi stand with little fanfare. We directed the driver to take us to the Sofitel, which apparently is not info enough. The beautiful Sofitel hotel came to be just 2 months ago, so most still know it by its former name, Pier 16. Everyone else has never heard of it at all. The accommodations were beautiful, high-end, and accompanied by top class service. One limiting factor is the hotel’s location at the far west end of the Macau peninsula, but the whole region is small and transportation, cheap. Our ride to the hotel, from the eastern coast of the peninsula to the hotel was 40 MOP, or $5 US.After checking in and grabbing a great lunch at the hotel, we headed out for a quick tour of Macau. We walked through a fairly prominent square and tourist area on our way to the ruins of St. John’s Cathedral. The ruins are worth a visit, as only the façade remains where a large cathedral once stood. The walk to and from the site provided us exposure to the local commerce and throngs of tourists.
Next we hit a few of the casinos, starting with Stanley Ho’s latest incarnation, the Grand Lisboa. There were plenty of games that American’s would be familiar with – Black Jack, Craps, Caribbean Stud Poker, and Roulette (the European, single zero version). There are more Baccarat tables than you can shake a stick at. Then, there are several other games that are unique to the region, or at least this hemisphere. There was a game where three dice are thrown and one can bet on the cumulative roll being high (10 or higher) or low. There are also, of course, bets on specific rolls, etc, like Craps. There was a variation of Roulette with a smaller wheel (I think this is “Boule”). There’s also some crazy game with a silver cup, buttons, and some guessing as to the number of buttons captured (think jelly bean jar guessing).
After heading up a few levels, getting lost, and getting found again, we stumbled on the very smoky poker area. There were about 16 tables in the room, with four in use on this Tuesday afternoon. The area was cordoned off with ropes and a sign that indicated “Players Only”. Apparently they don’t like spectators. This is bad for business, in my mind. First of all, spouses and friends might want to watch, and players might avoid playing and alienating their traveling companion instead of getting in a few hands until their spectating companion get bored. Second, why not encourages newbies to try out the game by letting them get a feel from the rail?
The room manager at least let me in to observe the action at the moment, stack sizes, etc. Much like my experiences playing in Europe, the room favors smaller stacks of higher denomination chips, quite contrary to the North American custom, making it difficult to see how deep some of the players were.
We decided to continue our tour and delay the card playing until later. We hopped in a cab and traveled across the Bay of Pak On, bordering the South China Sea, to the Taipa Island side of Macau, and to the worlds largest casino, The Venetian Macau. The building was immense and housed six or eight separate playing floors, with all of the same games, except many more tables. We walked through two gaming areas and found that about ¼ to 1/3 of the tables were in use. There were a couple of non-smoking gaming areas, which generally consisted of one or two non-smoking tables completely ringed by throngs of gamblers smoking away at the adjacent tables. There was no escaping it. Mrs. Chicago and I grabbed a drink in the Bellini Lounge and rested our feet. Later we explored the high-end Canal Shoppes, which were completely devoid of tourists or customers.
I suggested we should go explore the Grand Waldo casino to see the Pokerstars Poker Room and the supposed “incredible” spa. We exited the west end of the Venetian and walked the city block length walkway out to the road. Glancing across some undeveloped land and a construction site, we could see two or three structures where we supposed the Grand Waldo should be, but all were dark, and none appeared to be completed projects. We bagged the GW and jumped aboard an arriving bus that was headed to the Sands Casino, which was conveniently on the Macau Peninsula side.
After about a twenty minute ride, we arrived at the Sands. This particular hotel and casino had several floors of gaming, as did most, but was somewhat small in gaming floor size (at least as compared to the biggies we had previously visited). The name Sands evokes old Vegas and the erstwhile Las Vegas property that bore its name. I was surprised by the scene, with music and ambience targeted at a much younger audience. We stomped the yard, and then headed over to the neighboring Mandarin Oriental Hotel for dinner.
At the Mandarin we had dinner at a Thai restaurant called Naam. The interior of the restaurant was simple, elegant, and quite attractive. From our table we had a view of the Mandarin pool area, which was also very nice. The service was friendly and attentive. The menu was broad and accessible. The food was disappointingly mediocre. Mrs. Chicago’s dish was seasoned by garlic, always welcomed at our table, but it wasn’t fresh, instead they had used jarred garlic. We didn’t expect that at a restaurant of this caliber. Worse, was my Phad Thai Pak. This dish is made by every chef who has ever claimed to make Thai food. This was one of the poorer iterations I’d experienced. This particular version was “vegetable” and featured carrots, peas, and corn. That was okay with me, except that they had clearly come directly out of a can, and tasted it. Ho, ho, ho Grean Giant faux pas.
After dinner, we headed out on foot, intending to return to the Grand Lisboa poker room...