After a pleasant few hours spent investigating St. Lazarus’s nooks and crannies (and, at Albergue 1601, ingesting some excellent steamed clams and crisp white wine), I’m unsure whether to mourn or celebrate the fact that the parish is practically deserted, especially compared to the commercial crush of Cotai. I’m lured into an old furniture shop called Firma Santa by the goods on display in its window: handmade wooden chests painted a luminous eggshell-blue and adorned with birds in flight. Inside, the air is rich with the scent of wood and incense. Perhaps hoping for a sale, the elderly proprietor is quick to tell me that she doesn’t get many visitors, even on weekends.
For better or worse, then, Macau will remain wedded to gaming and mega-resorts; the industry and the people it supports have come too far to turn back, and economic crisis or no, the massive population on the city’s doorstep will prop up arrival numbers for years to come. And Macau is poised to become even more accessible. By the end of 2017, the isolated concrete pillars that stand forlornly in the waters between Hong Kong and Macau will support a bridge, one of the longest in the world, connecting the two cities and Macau’s Mainland neighbor, Zhuhai. Speaking to the press at the opening of the St. Regis in Cotai, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson commented that the bridge, which should put Macau within a 20-minute drive of the Hong Kong International Airport, would in effect give Macau “a second airport, one serviced by 100 airlines.”
The lingering question is just what any new arrivals will want. Diversification may be the mantra du jour for civil servants and entertainment operators, but previous efforts to promote big ticket, non-gambling attractions have met with mixed results. In 2012, the legendary Cirque du Soleil pulled out of the Cotai Strip early due to disappointing ticket sales, while multiple high-profile nightspots, like the Tryst at Wynn Macau and the Sands Macao’s Playboy Club, have opened with much fanfare only to vanish without a trace.
Regardless, if the somewhat more reflective mood that is taking hold in some quarters—and that in others, never left—slows the headlong rush of development, channels attention toward less visited neighborhoods or venues, or prompts more celebration of Macau’s unique and checkered past, it will represent a victory of sorts. More than ever, it should become apparent that for Macau—and its visitors—there is more than one way to win.
Where to Stay
Now home to a Four Seasons, a Ritz-Carlton, a Banyan Tree, and seemingly every luxury hotel brand in between, Macau doesn’t lack for stylish accommodation. Among the newest lodgings are the gleaming St. Regis Macao (853/2882-8898; doubles from US$243) in Cotai, with butler-serviced rooms, a gorgeous spa, and a cocktail bar stocked with house-infused spirits and bitters; Studio City (853/8856-6868; doubles from US$175), which aims to be an attraction in its own right; and, in the city’s northern Areia Preta district, the Crowne Plaza Macau (853/2888-6888; doubles from US$165). Those looking for someplace with a bit more history should check in to Pousada de São Tiago (853/2837-8111; doubles from US$305), a 12-suite hilltop hideaway built into the remains of a 17th-century fortress.
Where to Go
8th Calçada da Igreja de São Lazaro; 853/2836-1601
31A Rua de São Paulo; 853/2836-5182
Old Taipa Tavern
21 Rua dos Negociantes, Camoes Square, Taipa; 853/2882-5221; no website
Cnr. of Av. Coronel Mesquita and Av. do Almirante Lacerda; 853/ 2853-0026
This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“How Now, Macau?”).