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High stakes winner
(From top) A glimpse of the Macau skyline; A sculpture in Ice World; The A-Ma Temple; Tourists at the Ruins of St Paul’s

Think Macau and images of the spectacular Venetian Macao Hotel and gambling through the night are conjured up in one’s mind. But this off-the-HK-coast place has a lot more to offer beyond the gorgeous hotel and teeming casinos. I realised this as I visited the main Macau Peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane — spread over an area of about 30sq km. Be it cutesy pandas, water shows, historical monuments or clubs blasting Mandarin songs, there’s a bit of everything here.

Take, for instance, the Macau Tower. I was on an observation deck on the 58th floor, treading carefully on its glass floor. Cars zipped furiously far below. Even though I had been assured that the glass was stronger than concrete, it still felt distinctly scary.

Then there are the streets of Macau, dotted with old Portuguese-style houses — charming but narrow (Macau was a Portuguese colony). However, I gave history a miss and headed to more modern places the first day. It may have been kitschy, but what stood out for me was the Michael Jackson Museum at Hotel Sofitel at Ponte 16, earlier a harbour for boats to dock in. Here you can gaze at memorabilia like the rhinestone gloves and boots that the singer wore when he once performed the iconic number, Billie Jean.

But Macau has more show business on offer. The breathtaking dance drama-cum-water show, The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams, held me mesmerised. Played out inside a circular pit, the show’s sets rose 25m high above the water, while dancers climbed on to them and dived straight in. But just when we thought we had seen it all, the water suddenly disappeared — only to reappear again pumped in by jets. An outstanding dinner at Porto Interior, a Portuguese specialty restaurant, was a fitting end to an exhilarating evening.

The next day was a walk through history. I visited the A-Ma temple, Macau’s oldest temple that lends its name to it, the captivating Macau Museum and the Ruins of St Paul’s. Going down the steps of the crumbling façade, I entered the charming Senado Square. The cobbled streets were full of shops selling all manner of goods. Some shopkeepers even offered me almond cookies or sesame and peanut crunchies to taste.

Soon we were back at the Macau Tower, which also has the world’s highest bungee jump. Did I jump? Well, I’d just had a heavy lunch that I used as an excuse for giving this one a miss. Instead, I went for the greyhound races — where I promptly lost every bet I took.

The next day, I headed to Science Center, which was hosting a temporary exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. Replicas of the maestro’s paintings, war apparatus, levers and rudimentary robots filled the room.

But it was on a replica of da Vinci’s log bridge, built without a single nail to get armies across rivers, where disaster struck. I was coerced into crossing it — only to see it collapse under me, thanks to a misstep. I jumped off, gulped down embarrassment and went for it again — this time without a mishap.

Our next stop was The Macau Grand Prix Museum, whose display of cars includes those featured in Formula 3 races. It is one of Macau’s most popular events, held in November every year. Interestingly, the race circuit goes through the town.

Next on the cards was a visit to the Giant Panda Pavilion at Coloane. The two adorable pandas elicited some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, but they simply ignored their audience, chomping away on bamboo shoots and apples.

The pièce de résistance of Macau was, perhaps not surprisingly, the sprawling and gloriously over-the-top Venetian Hotel — where most Indian visitors, apparently, feel very much at home. I was scheduled to catch world-famous Canadian entertainment company, Cirque de Soleil’s latest production, ZAIA — and visit Ice World.

As I stepped inside Ice World, I insisted that the temperature wasn’t really that low — before the full blast of -15°C hit me. Before my fingers turned numb, I hurriedly clicked pictures of ice sculptures of the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty as well as of dinosaurs and horse carriages (talk about variety). Also, at the Venetian Macao, a gondola ride is apparently an absolute must. The gondolier, Ottavia, with her soprano voice kept onlookers and us passengers entertained through the half-hour ride.

So, lesson learnt: when in Macau, don’t just gamble the night away. Step out into the open if you want to know what this charming region is really about.

Ready reckoner

Getting there: Fly to Hong Kong and proceed to Macau’s Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal on a ferry. The ride takes 45 minutes. There is a ferry every hour for Macau.

Staying there: There are small guest houses and ultra luxe places like Hotel Galaxy, The Grand Hyatt and The Sofitel. If you’re looking for Little India, then Hotel Venetian is your best bet.

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