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Macau is a bit like Hong Kong's little brother - smaller, less developed but far more boisterous. It is however much older, having been founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and was handed back to China in 1999, two years after Hong Kong. It is run as a special administrative region of the People's Republic, allowing it to operate as a capitalist economy, which is certainly good news as the region brings in more gambling revenue than Las Vegas.

I took a trip to Macau on my grand Chinese New Year tour of early 2009, arriving by fast boat from Hong Kong. As it was the new year, Macau was absolutely rammed and even the cheapest hotel in town was a rip-off. I only stayed one night before walking over the border back into China proper, and heading up to Guangzhou.

Hotel Lisboa

The Hotel Lisboa is the classic casino of Macau, dating back to the 1960s, when Macau became the Monte Carlo of the east.

In recent years there has been rapid development; the completely over-the-top Grand Lisboa casino went up in 2007. Wandering around seeing places like this made me feel like I'd arrived in the bad Hill Valley, 1985...

Casino Grand Lisboa

Star World Casino

The Star World casino is another example of the modern excesses of Macau.

Not satisfied with their strongholds in Las Vegas, the big players are setting up shop in Macau now too. Here is the completed Wynn casino, and in the background the extended sections of the MGM Grand are going up. Over in the Cotai Strip, the world's largest casino opened in 2008 in the form of The Venetian.

Macau's Wynn Casino

Senado Square

Largo Senado or Senado Square is the centrepiece of old Macau. The lights were up for Chinese new year.

Shopping in Macau, note the patterns on the pavement which are just like the ones of Copacabana beach in Brazil.

Macau shopping

East Asia Hotel

I stayed in the East Asia Hotel, which was the cheapest place I could find, for around $70 US. There are no hostels - if you can't afford to stay in a hotel in Macau, they're not interested in you. This place was as good as it looks - like being in a timewarp - and my room didn't even have a window.

One of the many quaint colonial churches in Macau, just off Senado Square.

Church in Macau

Macau holiday crowds

Due to Chinese new year, the place was utterly rammed, in contrast to Hong Kong which was dead. I think the lure of the gaming machines may have something to do with it, attracting the gambling-starved Chinese from the mainland.

The facade of the ruined Sao Paulo cathedral in Macau, symbol of the region. It burned down in 1835 and only the facade has stood since then.

Facade of Sao Paulo

Macanese density

Looking from the facade of Sao Paulo back towards the urban density of Macau. It has the highest number of people per square mile of any country or dependency.

The view of Sao Paulo through the vines of the fort belies the business of the place.

Sao Paulo through the vines

Rua de Felicidade

Parts of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were apparently filmed here on the Rua de Felicidade. It used to be the local red-light district (until the PRC came into play) - no wonder they were all so happy.

Another quaint Macanese church in colonial Portuguese style.

Another Macanese church

Macau Tower

Macau Tower sits on the south end of the Macau peninsula, and stands over 1000 feet tall. There was someone bungee jumping off the top as I watched.

The southern islands of Macau are now artificially connected by the land reclamation of the Cotai Strip, and to get there you have a choice of three parallel bridges. This one is the Ponte Sai Van, which is far longer than the shortest route to the mainland, but as that's China, politics dictated that this bridge should come into being.

Ponte Sai Van

Penha church

Penha Church at the south end of the Macau peninsula, and the frankly ridiculous Grand Lisboa tower in the background.

Back in old Macau, and battling through the crowds on Avenida Almeida Ribeiro.

Avenida Almeida Ribeiro

Border to mainland China

I bought a bus ticket to Guangzhou, but still had to get out at the border and walk into mainland China, through the Portas do Cerco.

Over in Zhuhai, China, it was apparent just how close Macau is to the mainland. But it was nice to be back where there was a bit more space again!

Macau viewed from China

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2009