Skywalking, bungee jumping, a touch of history, non-stop excitement at the casinos and endless shopping opportunities – Macau has it all
Photos: A young woman in front of the chapel of Our Lady of Penha. Photo by Sudipta Saha. Skywalking on the 61st floor of the Macau Tower; Shrekfast
When the Indian group steps out on the walkway, for the Skywalk, butterflies are dancing in the stomach. The location is the 61st floor of the Macau Tower. A stiff breeze is blowing and all around you can see the island of Macau – buildings, bridges and boats now reduced to matchbox size.
The width of the walkway is 5.8 feet. And as you saunter on it, you have this 288 feet drop on one side. But a Chinese helper, a youngster by the name of David, suggests a run followed by a leap into space. There are anxious cries of “No, No” from the women. The helper laughs and says, “Try it.” And it is indeed exhilarating, to say the least. To leap off the walkway, the legs going skywards, and then to be held back by the safety harness.
Right next to this is the bungee jump, the world's highest commercial leap, at 788 feet. And when you look down from the edge, have no doubt that your stomach will churn in fear and excitement. An 18-year-old Chinese girl, slim and fragile-looking, takes the jump with an insouciant smile. Here are some statistics: you reach a speed of 180 km/hour. However, the jump lasts only six seconds. But the adrenalin flow does not come cheap, at Rs 23,000 a jump.
All this excitement is taking place on an island, which is only 33 sq. kms in size and has a population of 5 lakh. Of course, Macau is world-famous for its casinos, with their 24 hour non-stop action on the tables: slot machines, baccarat, blackjack, roulette and poker, among many other games. Last year's annual gambling revenues were a mind-boggling $45 billion. Not surprisingly, education is free till Class 10, but their new university is only the size of a high school in India.
It is a place where the hotels, like the Venetian Macau, the Conrad, the Holiday Inn, and the Four Seasons will take your breath away by their sheer size and polish. And there is the Sheraton Macao Hotel, which is the largest, with 3896 rooms.
Near the lobby, there is a natural forest, with palm trees, reaching up to the second-floor, a free-flowing stream with pebbles, flower pots and green grass. Many guests stop to stare at the sight.
The Managing Director of the Sheraton Macao Josef Dolp has a smile on his face when he says, “Most of our visitors are from China, Hongkong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and India. There are 500 million people in the new middle class in India, China and Indonesia. We expect tourist arrivals to carry on increasing for the next several years.”
Much as the new Macau is dazzling, there is a charm to the old city. The streets are narrow and paved with coloured tiles. At the Senado Square, there is a striking wave-like pattern on the mosaic stones. You get clothes and knick-knacks at an affordable rate (1 Hongkong dollar = Rs 8].
And in the food shops, they have one unusual custom. Men will stand with trays, the straps around their necks, outside the shops. All visitors are allowed to have a taste of the Portuguese egg tarts, almond cookies, pork chop buns or egg rolls. In case you like it you can enter the shop and buy them.
At Macau, there is also a lot of history. Step into the Lou Kau Mansion, located at 7 Travessa de Sé, and immediately you are transported into the past. The house was built in 1889 and belonged to Lou Kau, who was a prominent businessman of his time. The two-storied house has gray brick walls, stained glass windows and wooden furniture. Thanks to the high ceilings, it is cool inside. This is natural air-conditioning, at its best.
Another historical place is the Chapel of our Lady of Penha. It was built in 1622 by the crew and passengers of a Portuguese ship which had escaped capture by the Dutch.
However, on a sunny November morning, there is a different scene outside the chapel. On the steps, at the entrance, sits Petty Tam, 25, in a white wedding gown, the helm lifted to her knees, to show off her legs. Photographers buzz around taking snaps.
Standing next to her is AO Allan, 28, in a blue suit. Allan met Petty three years and fell in love. Now he is working in Sydney as an engineer. And they are planning to get married, but this will take place only in March, 2015. “We are taking things slowly,” says Allan. “This is a photo shoot for our album.”
Other places of interest include the Formula 3 Grand Prix Museum, Wine Museum (where you get to sample three types of wine at the end of the visit), the A-Ma temple, the Ruins of St Paul's, and the bronze Kun Iam Statue, of the Buddhists, which reaches a height of 60 feet, and has a dome-shaped lotus base, with sixteen petals.
In Macau, the past and present are intertwined in a nice way.
This is held at the Urumqi Ballroom of the Sands Cotai Central. Inside, against the walls, there are turrets of castles, and giant water colour paintings of scenes from animation films like 'Shrek', 'Kung Fu Panda', 'How To Train Your Dragon', and 'Madagascar'.
During the breakfast, you can eat 'Kung Fu Panda' red bean buns, Shrek-shaped pancakes and waffles, and Princess Fiona cupcakes and muffins. Later, giant-size models from these films dance on a stage. And after that, you get a chance to take photographs with Hiccup and Toothless from 'How to Train Your Dragon', the penguins and King Julien from 'Madagascar', Shrek, Puss in Boots and Fiona from 'Shrek' and Po from 'Kung Fu Panda'.
There is a touch of Bollywood glamour at the Aruna Indian Curry and Cafe House. On the walls, there are photos of numerous celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan posing with the owner Aruna, who has lived in Macau for over three decades.
“Any Bollywood celebrity who arrives at Macau, comes to my restaurant, because they crave Indian food after a couple of days,” says Aruna. The food is typical: dal, chicken tikka, paneer and mutton dishes, along with nan and chappati, topped up by a dessert of gulab jamuns and ice-cream.
(Published in The New Indian Express, Thiruvananthapuram and a slightly different version in Indulge, Kochi)