How to Spell Macao

Kit (and quite a few other hospitality consultants) and I took the jet ferry from Hong Kong to Macao, another “special administrative region” of China. As Hong Kong used to be a territory of the U.K., Macao was run by Portugal (for over 400 years), and it was also handed back over to China (in 1999; Hong Kong was handed back in 1997).

Macao has long boasted one special feature: gambling — so much so it was often known as “the Las Vegas of China,” but it really fell behind the decadence of Las Vegas. Until recently.

Until a few years ago only one man had licenses to run casinos on Macao, Stanley Ho. But licensing has recently opened up to others, and now the money is pouring in. The Sands was one of the first big Vegas operators to dash in, building a 229,000 square foot casino with a mere 51 ultra-luxury hotel rooms. It opened in early 2004, and is rumored to have broken even just seven months later. (More info in Wikipedia.)

Insider Tour

No one is going to ignore that sort of payback. Sands quickly started building another hotel casino, the Venetian Macao. Based on the Las Vegas Venetian, this multi-billion-dollar hotel complex is an all-encompassing experience, with (Chinese-built) Venetian gondolas gliding through canals built to run inside the building.

It opened a few months ago. But even before it did, Macao passed Vegas in gambling revenues; both yanked in about US$6 billion last year.

Our group got a behind-the-scenes tour of the US$1.8 billion Venetian building, conducted by the chief of construction. Or, I should say, we got a tour of parts of the building, since we didn’t have a full week.

It’s the largest hotel in the world — 10.5 million square feet of space all under one roof. The only building larger is a tulip bulb growing facility in Holland, one of the staff said.

And soon both of these buildings will be outstripped: the Sands has already started on yet another hotel and casino complex across the street from the Venetian that will be larger!

One statistic that caught my ear: they used a full ton of gold leaf in the construction. You can see a bit of that in the photo, right, which shows a small portion of the lobby:

Lobby of the Macao Venetian hotel. Click to see larger.

For more info and statistics on the Venetian, see this Wikipedia article.

Meanwhile, Stanley Ho, the man that used to have a monopoly on casinos in Macao? He’s not sitting on his hands either: he’s also putting up a huge new hotel (pictured next — the theme is a golden lotus flower, which you can see taking shape), and other operators such as MGM Grand, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Virgin Group, and more.

Building boom in Macao.

It will certainly be interesting to see if there’s enough gambling activity in the Far East to support it all. Scores of billions of dollars are being spent. (Another statistic: During the height of construction, the Venetian was going through $100 million per month — with Chinese, not union, labor….)


The scale of the Venetian was astounding. We toured a ballroom big enough to seat 6,000 people for dinner. We saw some of the 1.2 million square feet of convention space, 1.6 million square feet of retail facilities, 550,000 square feet of casino space (the largest single casino in the world), and the 15,000-seat arena for entertainment sporting events, pictured next — I particularly like the way they use bamboo for scaffolding. It’s quite common here:

Venetian Macao arena, with bamboo scaffolding.
Venetian Macao arena, with bamboo scaffolding.

After five hours of taking in all this luxury and unprecedented investment activity, we jumped back on the jet boat for the hour ride back to Hong Kong.

And at the end, I definitely understood how you spell Macao: m-o-n-e-y.

(And, in a more practical sense, yes: in English you’ll see both Macau and Macao. The O ending seems more common.)

We’ve now moved to another hotel, and the This is True readers joining us for our tour have started to arrive. I’ll be posting updates to the blog as I get Internet access.

11 Comments on “How to Spell Macao

  1. How do most Chinese people spell Macau? Aomen.

    Seriously, that’s the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation for Macau’s Chinese name 澳門 in Hanyu Pinyin romanization. And of course that’s just the most widely used system; there’s half a dozen other romanization systems for Chinese in use so you may see it romanized as Aumen or something else.

    Oh, and it’ll be pronounced and romanized different in the other major Chinese languages such as Cantonese, Hokkien, Shanghainese and Hakka just to name the big ones. Then there are dozens of other Chinese languages in use.

    And by the way, 澳門 is how it is written in Traditional Chinese. In Simplified Chinese it would be written as 澳门.

    Is your head spinning yet?

    I’m still sticking with “money”. -rc

  2. Randy, if you get tired of Chinese food, there’s a great American restaurant called Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill. There is one located at Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong (a mall I highly recommend visiting). Just take the MTR to Kowloon Tong and you are literally at the mall.

    After three days of soy-covered-crap, I literally cried when they brought out a cheeseburger! And it was really good!

    Actually, I haven’t had what I consider a Chinese meal yet — every meal seems to be a combination of “American”, European, and Asian foods. I imagine that won’t change until I get into mainland China…. -rc

  3. Amazing that you’ve come to Macao, where I am living. I have subscribed to This is True since 1995 (at that time, it was This Just In, right?)

    For the spelling of the city’s name, originally it was spelled as Macau, because this is how it was spelled in Portuguese. But after the takeover by China, the Chinese officials wanted something different, at least to differentiate from another city in Brazil with the same name. So it is now called Macao. However, the city is still full of existing road signs and also people have got used to the old name, so both names will coexist in the near future.

    I changed the name in April, 1995. Thanks for the details on the U/O change — I was wondering! -rc

  4. Bamboo for scaffolding – yeah, looks good – until it collapses! There was a multi-story construction a few years back with bamboo scaffolding which gave way. I forget how many workers were killed and injured.

  5. A TON of gold leaf? Wow! When I was teaching chemistry years ago, the only elements were earth, air, fire and water. A little later, I came across an unverified factlet that the entire supply of gold in man’s possession could make a cube about 50 feet high. I wonder how much of that was used in the Chinese Venetian. Great trip, Randy, Kit!

  6. From my experience in Asia, I would say there will be no problem getting plenty of gamblers to keep those casinos in business.

    Clearly, the casino operators think so too. Pretty astounding! -rc

  7. I have seen bamboo scaffolding 30 stories high in China! Amazing!

    If you want Western style food when you are back in Hong Kong go to Ned Kelly’s Last Stand at 11A Ashley Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui. The hamburgers there are better than Dan Ryan’s, plus you get to listen to Dixieland music as played by a Chinese band led by an Australian. (I was there one night when the entertainment manager and staff from the QEII came in, plus, they were joined by half of the QEII band which played for us.)

  8. Note to Jim: According to the World Gold Council, all the gold ever mined amounts to 140,000 tons, so this is a sizable chunk of the entire world’s gold supply, but not as much as it seems at first.

  9. I really enjoyed this Macau blog since I have been there several times because of having lived in southern China. A good place to eat there Is Pizza Hut. The selections are much better than they are in the U.S. I also lived in Hong Kong, and it is possible to get a small apartment there for less than $200 USD per month. A very inexpensive price to pay in order to live in such a great city.

  10. Just a note, Randy, you mention that the only building larger than the Venetian Macao is a tulip-bulb growing facility in Holland, yet the Wikipedia article on Sands mentions that Boeing’s Everett facility is the largest building in the world (and the Boeing Everett article supports this). Now, I know Wikipedia might be prone to outright bad info due to the anyone-can-edit nature of it, but, tulips being what they are and Boeing jets being what they are, I tend to believe the Boeing Everett facility is the largest (I’ll reserve my judgement on the tulip place, though, until I know more about it.)

    I still have not been able to get into Wikipedia since I’m still in China — it’s blocked. One of the people in Macao told me about the tulip building in the Netherlands, but I haven’t been able to do any decent research to confirm that myself. So I’m sure what you’ve found is correct. -rc

  11. If the chance arises, the Peninsula was (is?) a grand hotel in the British style. We went for a buffet, and the amount of food they spread out was incredible (the more so, considering the hungry people/refugees in British HK (this was about 1980).

    My feeling was that HK was a great place to live if you had money, under the Brits; it was Hell if you didn’t.


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