it's been almost a week since i've been to macau, and i've finally found the time to write about my overall impressions from my trip there. it's a very nice place, roughly an hour from hong kong by a jet powered cruiser boat. since it is its own special administrative region of china, you still have to go through immigration and customs as you enter and exit. if you have a hong kong id there is almost no line as they swipe you in, but if you hold a foreign passport it will take longer as they require you to fill out the usual form and stamp passport.
macau was a portuguese colony from the 16th century until handover to china in 1999, so many portuguese elements and some settlers remain in the area. all the street signs and storefronts have portuguese and chinese words will be romanticized if not translated. it also has a lot of the cool portuguese architecture and you can get some rather delicious portuguese food, snacks, and desserts.
also widely known for gambling, it has recently surpassed las vegas for most gambling revenue in the world. but as tempting as it is to compare the gambling strip to vegas, it is completely different. while vegas is known also for resorts, touristy shops, dance clubs, drinking, etc, macau has none of that. it does share the attraction of great food and buffets (although not quite as world class as vegas yet), a few shows (on the cirque du soleil scale of quality), and grand accommodations, though. however no showgirls, sexual displays (or services offered), and even the hostesses at the casinos are conservative.
basically, the gambling is high class and it takes itself seriously. the gambling areas are sectioned off with strict control. barriers are enforced to prevent minors and check big bags for potential cheating devices. i'd say the main floors of the big casinos (venetian, wynn, mgm, etc) are bigger than those of their vegas counterparts, and even expand to a second level. the shops at floor level are all usually high class (think lv, gucci, prada, ferrari, etc). hostesses on casino floor usually push carts of hot tea or bring bottled water or iced milk tea. i don't think booze inside or while playing is disallowed, but i didn't see anyone really do it. there is some smoking inside, though.
and of course, the gaming is different. baccarat is big, roulette, dice games, horse racing. there is also blackjack and caribbean three stud poker as far as card games, and many slot machines (in chinese). i think there was craps, too. many women (i'd guess bored or rich housewives) on the card tables as well as slots. it's common to see large groups formed, watching over various tables for a long time where in vegas usually they surround exciting craps tables and then quickly disperse.
macau was also very picturesque for me as a photographer. the streets are wide and are not extremely crowded. there is variety of what you would want to shoot - the natural green and plant life, unique architecture, historical buildings (think old churches and fortresses), fancy casinos, local flavor and culture, etc. there is easy access to great views of city skyline, as well. there is also a panda exhibit, but i'm not crazy about non red ones so i didn't spend my sparse time to visit it.
all in all i had a wonderful time and would recommend a day trip if anyone were in hong kong or southern china, it's worth a visit since it's so close and different from the rest of the area.