Wow… it’s Macau!

Macau. It may sound like the call of the wild and, for many a lusty gambler, it certainly might be, but for others, like our latest and greatest Jaunt Magazine Contributor, Sarah Ivens, it’s just what the spicy Brit ordered.

It’s easy to imagine Macau, the Chinese special territory to the south of the mainland, as the Vegas of Asia. And it truly is. All our billionaire buddies from the Strip have invested here (MGM, Hard Rock, The Wynn), turning this once quiet island into a glamorous destination – a hedonistic holiday away from the hum-drum.

But there is another side to it too – a side that is worth exploring and can add a much needed breather from the 24/7 showiness of life in the big hotels.

Macau is a world heritage site, filled with tiny village squares, walled gardens and a plethora of temples that act as beacons for the locals among the craziness. The most charming of all is the A-Ma temple at Barra Point. The temple is dedicated to the seafarer’s goddess, a poor lady who was refused passage on the boats of the rich ship-owners. Only a lowly fisherman took pity on her and took her on board.

The story goes that a massive storm brewed and every boat was wrecked except the fisherman’s tiny boat. When the fisherman and his charge got to shore in Macau, A-Ma disappeared, reappearing as a goddess on the boulder-strewn hill where the fisherman then built her temple.

The temple dates from the early 16th century and is an enchanting maze of tiny gardens and moon gates, winding paths leading up the hillside to various places of worship. The Chinese believe that god is not jealous, and that you should take all the good advice and good help you can get your hands on. Hence the temples here encourage worshippers to give thanks not only to Buddhist and Taoist gods, but to your ancestors and nature too. It’s a wonderful way to view the world and the A-Ma temple reflects that. Visitors are warmly received and photos are allowed. You can buy joss sticks from the temple keeper to light and offer your own prayers. At weekends you can watch a Lion dance, when local dancers dress up and perform the ritual of warning away bad vibes from the temple entrance and bringing the good luck in. It’s enchanting.

Back in a less spiritual world, the best place to stay in Macau is The Venetian. It’s the second largest building in the world (only a flower market in the Netherlands beats it), with beautiful suites, a see-it-to-believe-it golf course on the roof of the 8th floor and of course the ubiquitous mini Venice, complete with Gondola rides. Every high end store you can think of have set up shop here, happy to help the high rollers spend their winnings. While women can get pampered in the spa (where a cosmetic surgery clinic is opening soon – they really have everything under one roof here), soccer-mad husbands can check out The Manchester United Experience, an interactive museum that propelled my husband into a state of bliss. The Cirque do Soleil are in residence, with a new show called Zaia: which offers its own message about respecting Mother Nature and being kind and decent to your fellow man.

Ivens, founding editor in chief of OK! Weekly in America, is the best-selling author of the lifestyle guides, ‘A Modern Girls’ Guide to…’ and the travel and adventure book ‘No Regrets’ (Broadway Books, $14).  A born and bred Londoner who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, we’re thrilled to have this high falootin’ travel babe on board!

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