Glittering casinos, hotels and nightclubs combined with a rich colonial past are attracting millions of visitors to the coastal Chinese enclave of Macau, making it emerge as a major tourist hub in Southeast Asia.With tall glass edifices standing against the background of green hills, the island of Macau, some 60 km from Hong Kong, offers a unique blend of natural landscape and architectural marvels.
"I've been to Bangkok and Malaysia too, but those places are crammed with just casinos and clubs and have no character. Macau has a mix of ancient culture and modern-day indulgences," said Sahil Kapoor, a tourist from India.
There are an estimated 30 casinos in Macau.
Many like Kapoor are clearly mesmerised by the place and said Macau was on its way to becoming a contemporary tourist hot spot while retaining its history, especially its colonial heritage.
With a population of 552, 300 people, it attracted about 10.4 million tourists in 2009.
Macau, in southeastern China, is one of the country's two special administrative regions, along with Hong Kong. It was also both the first and last European colony in China, with Portuguese traders settling here as far back as the 16th century.
"We went on a sightseeing tour of the Portuguese colonies here and at night gambled at the popular casinos. It was a complete experience," said Todd Russel, a 23-year-old tourist from the US, who came here with his friends.
The latest addition to the coastal enclave is the 'City Of Dreams' (COD), an integrated entertainment resort that combines accommodation, international dining and designer brand shopping all under one roof. With hotels like Grand Hyatt, Hard Rock and Crown, the complex offers a medley of entertainment options. From its casinos to Kids City and Dragon's Treasure - an audio video multimedia show - to The House of Dancing Water, a thrilling water-based show, COD has something for everyone.
"The City of Dreams is a one of a kind destination. I have never seen shops, casinos and other forms of entertainment clubbed together. You generally have to travel across a city to savour all these but not here," said Asha Nahata, an Indian visitor.
A corridor connects the hotels to one another, with shops, cafes, casinos and restaurants on both sides of it providing the visitors plenty of choice to stay, shop and dine. The best time to visit Macau is between December and February.
There are no direct flights to Macau and travellers have to land at Hong Kong, from where they can either take a ferry or a helicopter. A helicopter ride takes just about 15 minutes, and costs around Rs.12,500 per person. One Macau Pataca is equivalent to Indian Rs.5. A much cheaper option is the high-speed ferries, which take around an hour and cost just Rs.700 per person.
Once in Macau, resist the temptation to spend your entire day at the casino, as the place has several beautiful areas like the Portuguese colonies, Macau Tower, Macau Museum, A-Ma Temple located on the southwestern tip of the island, and the ruins of St. Paul's (the remains of a 16th century complex what was originally the Cathedral of St. Paul).
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