With the latest mega-hotel rising out of the glittering Cotai Strip, Macau is now for many people outshining other gaming cities around the world and has become the place to live the high life without stepping out of a casino resort.
Last month, saw the opening of the latest addition to Sands Cotai Central integrated resort - the Sheraton Macao Hotel.
This has the double distinction of being the largest hotel in Macau and the largest Sheraton in the world. The first of the Sheraton Macao's two hotel towers - Sky - is open for business, while the second - Earth - will open early next year, bringing the total guestroom count to 3,896.
The much-awaited opening of the Sheraton Macao Hotel also takes the city a step closer to fulfilling its ambition and defining itself as a world center of tourism and leisure, beyond its reputation as a gaming city.
Located on a strip of reclaimed land that connects Macau's islands of Taipa and Coloane, the Cotai Strip - where most prestigious hotels choose to locate - is Asia's answer to Las Vegas in the United States. Inspired by the glitz and excitement of the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, developers are spicing up the gambling hotspot with luxury hotels, Las Vegas-style casinos, a huge choice of dining, world-class entertainment and luxury duty-free shopping.
Last year, Macau attracted almost 25 million tourists, and some 27.4 million tourists will visit the city this year, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association's predictions, with the majority coming from China's mainland.
Five years ago, Macau surpassed Las Vegas as the biggest gaming city in the world, making it the wealthiest city in Asia.
Gambling and shopping are the main reasons Chinese mainland tourists visit Macau, yet the city, built on a fusion of nearly 500 years of a Portuguese presence and thousands of years of Chinese culture, is a charming destination. So step out of the hotel and uncover the treasures of Macau.
Heritage and culture
The Portuguese may be gone but they are not forgotten. They left their mark in architecture, culture, language, food and wine, and the best way to discover the city's Sino-European cultural identity is to explore the historic center of Macau by foot. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes to climb up and down the winding cobblestone streets.
The historic center is a collection of more than 20 sites that represent the architectural legacy of the city's cultural heritage. In 2005, this area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The walk starts at Macau's urban center, Senado Square, a paved area enclosed by the General Post Office, the Leal Senado and St Dominic's Church.
Follow the street signs to the ruins of St Paul's, the city's most famous sight, and a perennial favorite on postcards.
Built between 1582 and 1602, St Paul's Cathedral was one of the largest Catholic churches in Asia at the time but was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. The blaze also destroyed the adjacent St Paul's College, the first Western-style university in the Far East. Don't forget to climb to the back of St Paul's and walk along the remains of the city's 16th century defensive wall. To get away from the crowds at St Paul's and enjoy a tranquil moment, duck into Na Tcha Temple, a tiny gray and red temple built in 1888.
Walk back and reach Lou Kau Mansion, sitting pretty in a narrow lane off Senado Square. Built in 1889, this was the home of Lou Kau, a prominent Chinese merchant who owned several imposing properties in the city. The Chinese residence is a hidden jewel in the center of the old "Christian City," with architectural characteristics of a typical xiguan Chinese residence - an architecture style of southern China - its decorative motifs integrating Western influences.
A pleasant walking tour of the historic area doesn't mean you need restrict yourself to heritage sites. Step off the beaten track and you soon find yourself lost in quaint little lanes and exploring something unexpected. There are many corners, hidden lanes and lush gardens to check out while soaking up the authentic flavor of this multifaceted city. Wander far enough and you'll eventually find your way to the famous A-Ma Taoist Temple on the southwest tip of the Macau peninsula.
Other must-dos in Macau
Watch a spectacular stage show - Macau is home to various stage spectaculars. "The House of Dancing Water" is a must-see, following five years of development, two years of rehearsals, and with production investment running at more than US$250 million. Created and directed by one of the greats of grand theatrical shows, Franco Dragone - best-known for his work with Cirque du Soleil - combines theater, dance, gymnastics and high-performance diving in "The House of Dancing Water." Book in advance for better seats for Macau's biggest-budget show.
Bungee jump - Extreme sports fans flock to Macau's highest point, the Skywalk X, for an adrenalin-inducing bungee jump.
One of the world's highest bungee jumps, leaping from a 233-meter platform on Macau Tower will take daredevils on freefall at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour.
Check out Macau nightlife - Head to Sky21 rooftop bar of the AIA Tower where you can enjoy as drink against the backdrop of the Macau Tower, the island of Taipa, the spectacular Grand Lisboa hotel and the Macau peninsula. It's a chic place among locals and prices are reasonable.
China Rouge in Galaxy Macau is a high-end private club for night owls looking for something classier and more intimate. Designed by well-known Hong Kong designer Alan Chan, the interior draws its inspiration from Parisian cabaret of the 1880s and Shanghai's golden era in the 1930s, bringing these into a 21st century lounge, which accentuates the lavish yet mysterious nightlife of the earlier eras.
Spa indulgence - As quickly as Macau's skyline has been etched with resorts and casinos, the city has seen a tidal wave of spas added to the scene as well. Newcomer Shine Spa for Sheraton is the largest Shine Spa in Asia Pacific, offering 15 treatment rooms with five couple's rooms and a beauty zone and hair salon on the 3rd floor of the Sheraton Macao.
The treatments fuse Eastern and Western traditions and inspired by the Chinese Zodiac and the five elements of feng shui.
If you go
Where to eat
Macau is highly unlikely to disappoint foodies. The culinary scene is diverse, ranging from street food and local cafes, to top-end restaurants. The Portuguese influence in the city continues to manifest itself through the large number of restaurants serving Portuguese cuisine. The characteristic flavors of China and Portugal - along with many other influences - are combined in native Macanese cuisine. Signature dishes you should try include African chicken, stuffed crab Macau-style and Macanese sweet treat Portuguese egg-custard tart.
Clube Militar de Macau (795 Ave da Praia Grande)
This is certainly one of Macau's most atmospheric and historic dining halls, located in the Macau Military Club, built in 1870. The restaurant offers traditional Portuguese dishes accompanied by some excellent Portuguese wines. It's the place for those who are looking for a flavor of days gone by in Macau.
Henri's Maxim's Gallery ( 4G-H Ave Da Republica)
Situated on a quiet avenue facing the water, this is one of the best restaurants offering adapted Portuguese cuisine. Recommended dishes include stir-fried clams, African chicken and fresh crab curry.
Bene (inside Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central)
Bene is an upbeat and friendly Italian trattoria which serves traditional Italian "mama" dishes that the entire family will love. Bene puts on a show every night by preparing and serving a selection of signature items at guests' table, including salt-crusted sea bass, salumi and pasta carbonara in a cheese wheel.
Where to shop
Rua do Cunha
The narrow pedestrian street in the town center of Taipa is well-known for shops selling local delicacies. You can bring a taste of Macau home in the form of bags of sweet almond cakes and cookies, phoenix egg rolls and peanut candy. The best almond cakes and pork jerky can be found at Choi Heong Yuen and Koi Kei at the entrance to the street.
Shoppes Cotai Central
The latest shopping paradise is decorated with tropical palms and cascading waterfalls. It adds over 100 intimate boutiques and galleries, including some newcomers to Macau, to the myriad stores already offered by Shoppes Venetian and Shoppes Four Seasons.
Where to stay
Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central – The newly-opened Sheraton Macao is the largest hotel in the city, located right in the center of Cotai and nestled within Macau's newest fully integrated resort, Sands Cotai Central. A five-minute drive from the international airport, the hotel features stylish and welcoming guestrooms and suites, many with views of buzzing Cotai. The Sheraton Sweet Sleeper bed is designed to improve the circulation for a great night's sleep. Family suites in Sky Tower are created with the needs of families in mind, with child-oriented features including a 42-inch flat screen TV with Nintendo Wii, board games, and child-sized furniture. The hotel currently has a special opening offer which runs until the end of the year.
How to get there:
Air Macau offers direct flights between Shanghai and Macau. Alternately, stop by Hong Kong and ride the comfortable TurboJet ferry, which departs from Shun Tak terminus on the Hong Kong side. The gambling elite might opt for Sky Shuttle's helicopter rides from Hong Kong to Macau. Some 54 flights depart daily at 30 minute intervals and each flight is only 15 minutes.