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Macao: A cultural and historical gem with casinos to rival Vegas

Five, four, three, two, one…….and there goes my stomach, as I hurtle towards the concrete below, praying the elastic ropes around my legs can bear the strain of the extra muffin I had for breakfast.

It was a feeling alien to a bungee jump virgin like me, but if you’re going to start anywhere, why not with the highest commercial bungee in the world, at the Macau Tower?

Rising high above the skyline of this captivating region, the tower stands 338 metres tall, providing jaw-dropping views of a gambling mecca that now rivals Vegas for its glitz and glamour.

The eye-catching neon lights of Macao (3067991)
The eye-catching neon lights of Macao (3067991)

And while I like a flutter, I certainly felt the odds were against me as I was perched on the edge of the bungee platform, 233 metres above the tiny stick people below.

Luckily, I was given little time to contemplate my untimely death and within seconds was attempting to withhold obscenities as I plunged headfirst towards the ground.

The jolt of the elastic knocked some sense back into me and I was able to half-enjoy the second and third descents until I was lowered onto a huge inflatable that I hoped had never been put to any good use.

It was certainly an experience to remember, and one of many I had during my fleeting visit to the Far East.

Because beyond a bungee jump that only the most fearless and courageous of people would dare take on (yeah, that's right) is a list of must-dos you’d struggle to have time to complete.

Taking the plunge at Macau Tower (3068116)
Taking the plunge at Macau Tower (3068116)

Before my trip I knew little of Macao, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China just an hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong – a journey time that will be cut when the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge opens and carries visitors over the Pearl River.

The formerly quiet, one-time Portugese colony is absolutely booming and thrives on its reputation as the gambling capital of the world.

Casino receipts now surpass even those of Vegas, with billions of dollars of foreign investment funding illuminated gambling palaces on almost every corner.

The names are familiar – the MGM, the Wynn, The Venetian – and they truly are a sight to behold, especially if you arrive in Macao at night.

But it’s not just gambling on offer, with a host of shows making Macao's entertainment scene one of the best on the planet.

Macau Tower dominates the skyline (3068021)
Macau Tower dominates the skyline (3068021)

One not to be missed is House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams, which will have you on the edge of your seat for 90 minutes.

It’s a truly mesmerising experience, and no expense is spared on one of the most lavish sets you’ll ever see, with $250 million pumped into the production.

Elsewhere, the Studio City casino is home to the world’s highest figure-eight ferris wheel - the Golden Wheel - offering equally stunning, but slightly less nerve-jangling, views as the Macau Tower.

But away from the 24-hour razzmatazz and neon lights of Macao’s gambling hub is its historic centre, which is like stepping into another land.

It dates back 450 years and in 2005 was awarded Unesco World Heritage status.

Macao has a vibrant centre (3067997)
Macao has a vibrant centre (3067997)

A comprehensive display of its history is on show at the Macao Museum in the observatory of the Mount Fortress, which provided defence against Dutch invasion in 1622.

Nearby is the ruins of St Paul’s – all that remains of the Church of Mater Dei, which was built in the early 17th century but destroyed by fire in 1835.

The ruins are a tourist hotspot but also hold huge cultural and religious significance as evidence of the history of Christianity in Asia.

Other highlights include the A-Ma Temple, which existed even before Macao did, and the beautiful Lou Lim Ieoc Gardens, where you can catch sight of hundreds of turtles swimming in the flower-lined ponds.

With all the sight-seeing you’ll be sure to work up an appetite, and Macao has it all to offer with an amazingly diverse culinary scene.

The ruins of St Paul's (3068126)
The ruins of St Paul's (3068126)

I ate at three restaurants during my stay, and each offered its own gastronomic experience.

First up was Antonio’s, which has won plaudits the world over since it opened in the heart of Taipa Village in 2007.

Run by the larger-than-life chef Antonio, it offers authentic Portuguese dishes with a modern twist and is an absolute must-visit, as much for the friendly atmosphere as the food.

Be sure to try the grilled black pork fillets and the Portugese crab.

A little more formal is The Eight, at The Grand Lisboa hotel, which has a mind-boggling three Michelin stars.

Cascading water at its entrance and a grand décor really set the mood, with the customer service like nothing I’ve experienced before.

The Hotel Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 (3067993)
The Hotel Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 (3067993)

The food itself is largely Cantonese and beautifully hand-crafted with attention to detail that has to be seen to be believed. It’s well worth the trip.

To try true Macanese cuisine – considered the world’s first fusion cuisine - you have to visit Restaurante Litoral.

Try the African chicken with minchi – a curry-like offering which is bizarrely considered a national dish.

Because like a lot of Macao not a whole lot makes sense, and that's part of the magic.

So for a truly unique experience - literally unlike anywhere else in the world - take a punt on this Asian gem that really does have something for everyone.

FACT FILE

Our trip was hosted by the Macao Government Tourism Office. For more information about Macao visit www.macaotourism.gov.mo.

We stayed at the delightful Hotel Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 on the waterfront, which had one of the best beds I've ever slept in. Visit www.sofitelmacau.com.

We flew direct to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, which also offers connections to Australia, New Zealand, south east Asia and north east Asia from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.

For an extra special treat, book yourself into their First and Business Class Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3.

Visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk.

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