Las Vegas and Macau, two sides of the same chip. Let’s compare the two gaming destinations.
Round-the-clock indulgence, opulent suites, five-star restaurants and A-list entertainers are all part of the Las Vegas experience, but for those who want to experience it all, Las Vegas is only the beginning. Turn your attention to Macau – a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China – which offers a uniquely Asian version of the Las Vegas experience with even more gaming tables, restaurants with a delightful mix of Cantonese and Portuguese cuisine, and historical sites that date back to the 17th century.
Leave The Fast Food Behind
Leaving our Midwestern city filled with chain restaurants and filling but unremarkable diner food, we found Las Vegas to be one of the greatest restaurant destinations in the world.
Grabbing an incredibly luxurious suite at the Venetian for a bargain price in August opened the door to some of the best French cuisine I’ve had outside of Europe. Daniel Boulud’s dbBrasserie didn’t disappoint with an excellent wine list and an exquisitely prepared confit de canard, although to my great regret chef Daniel closed the Las Vegas restaurant this year, and I will have to wait until my next trip to London to enjoy this cuisine again. Meanwhile, if you’re at the Venetian and need that French fix, award-winning chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon is a first-class choice with a great Sunday brunch and an oyster bar as well.
After a night on the town enjoying Cirque du Soleil, we enjoyed a late breakfast at the Grand Lux Café in the Venetian mall. The Belgian waffle was perfect and I had it with fresh strawberries, and to their great credit, these guys know how to make a mimosa! Back home, the Hoosier version of a mimosa is frozen orange juice with bottom-shelf American “champagne,” but Grand Lux puts that to shame. It’s made with fresh orange juice, and just the right amount of Grand Marnier. I don’t know what type of champagne they used for the mimosa, but I want it for my next party.
In Macau we stayed at the Hotel Sintra, a reasonably priced but nonetheless elegant hotel on Avenida de Joao IV, right in the heart of all the best casino action. We enjoyed the weekend buffet spread – especially the ice-cold fresh oysters on the half shell – and an incredible freshly-made sangria that I have not been able to replicate anywhere else in the world.
There are two things in Macau a first-time traveler has to try out – a dim sum restaurant, and a Portuguese egg tart. Both Macau and Hong Kong have plenty of dim sum restaurants, and the great thing about them is that you don’t have to go to an expensive place on the strip – in fact, the out-of-the-way little places where the locals hang out, read the paper, spit on the floor and chat are often the best. And of course with dim sum, you don’t even have to speak Cantonese to order, all you have to do is point at the ones you want and enjoy.
Macau’s most famous dessert is the Portuguese egg tart, which can be found in booths and sweet shops on every corner. Always freshly-baked, with a delicate flaky crust and sweet interior with just the right amount of caramelized custard crust on top, it’s a dessert to die for, and the best places run out quickly so get in line early. The most famous is Lord Stows Bakery in Coloane Village, but if you’re staying at the Venetian on the Cotai Strip, there’s a Lord Stows there as well. That said, I’ve never had a bad egg tart anywhere in Macau.
More Than Just Cards and Dice
Going beyond the Las Vegas strip – or the Cotai strip in Macau – gives you an opportunity to see what’s there for local and tourists who are a little more in the know.
In downtown Las Vegas, Fremont Street casinos have lower table stakes and some great non-gambling activities, essential in my case since my wife had me on a tight gambling budget. We visited Banger Brewing on Fremont Street, a friendly little brew pub with excellent handcrafted beers, and an “all you can drink” single-price wristband that let us test out each of their many hoppy concoctions. And if you’re planning on buying souvenir shot glasses, tee-shirts or post cards, buy them on Fremont Street, where they will be half the price of what they are on the strip.
Once you get off the beaten path in Macau you may find communications limited to anxious pointing and gesturing unless you speak either Cantonese or Portuguese. Between my wife and myself we speak five languages, none of which are commonly spoken there, but we managed to make it work. We took a taxi to see the greyhound races, and couldn’t make the driver understand what we wanted until my wife started barking like a dog and running in circles.
Take a little time away from the roulette wheel and baccarat tables to explore the history of these two destinations. Yes, Las Vegas – even though it is barely a hundred years old – has a fascinating and somewhat checkered history, which you can see at the Mob Museum, where they have the actual brick wall from the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Macau history goes back much further, so take time to visit some of the more interesting sites that reflect its colonial and pre-colonial history, including the Ruins of St. Paul, and the A-Ma Temple.
In either city, the casinos are lively and the table action is always fun, but you’ll find that the powers that be in both destinations have been expanding the sites to include plenty of non-gambling destinations as well, which makes both Las Vegas and Macau a worthwhile trip, even if your gambling is limited to the penny slots.
About The Author: Roman Kowalski, Vice President of Marketing for TravelGearLab.com, has enjoyed sampling everything from fermented herring in Sweden, to red ant eggs in Thailand. His favorite cities in the world are Krakow, Bangkok and Macau, and he currently lives in Indiana with his wife Lula and their French bulldog, Pola.
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