As travellers, we tend to favour local experiences over the glitz of branding. Indulgence is fine, and often well-deserved, but at the end of the day it’s the deep dive into the heartlands that matters. However, from the moment I boarded the flight to Hong Kong, I was met with the antithesis to this formula: a tsunami of shimmering, exciting advertising. You know, the otherworldly kind that makes your fingers twitch and anti-capitalistic tendencies falter ever so slightly. My colleagues joke that I’m becoming the magazine’s ‘casino correspondent’, and that a trip to Macao was inevitable. But instead, The Venetian Macao had invited us to test out the allure of everything except the gaming tables, and off I went.
The Venetian is 39 stories of unapologetic splendour, and the largest single-structure hotel in Asia, double the size of its namesake in Las Vegas. I hadn’t researched its opulence beforehand—preferring it wash over me—but almost every transit point seemed ready with a memo. Cathay Pacific carouselled news of Art Macao, a five-month exhibit held across hotels and resorts; the Cotai Water Jet had a magazine where The Venetian’s chefs posed with cleavers; and my nap on the ferry was interrupted by David Beckham announcing how the upcoming Sands Londoner, a sister property, had his vote of approval. It seemed silly to resist a pot of gold dancing right under your nose, so by the time we walked into the grand lobby, my will had surrendered.
The reception area, abound with Renaissance art, operatic music and shutter-happy tourists, did not disappoint. Most were mainland Chinese, strolling in with suitcases to take back lavish hauls from the Grand Canal Shoppes. And the fashion? Straight out of Crazy Rich Asians. I, with my flea market palazzos, wanted to slink away behind the marble columns for good.
The journey to The Venetian’s 3,000-odd suites strategically passes through the casino area, luxury boutiques and impressive line of restaurants, allowing visitors time for mental notes on what they want to pick up later. I’d foolishly arrived with a fresher’s budget, not realising that being too thrifty could actually take away from the experience. Thankfully, the mukbang-loving millennial in me managed to find a humble convenience store on the premises. After some animated pointing and dancing around with Google Translate (its Mandarin, it turns out, is super effective) I stocked up on local treats—egg tarts, winter melon cakes, meat jerky and taiyaki (fish-shaped red bean cakes)—for midnight snacking. Let’s just call it an act of cultural appreciation, instead of pure gluttony. That comes later.
We put up in the hotel’s Premio Royale suite, newly refurbished with gondola-inspired furnishings and deluxe bathrooms that come with gold accents and Venetian blown glass. The 70 sq m room flows into a nighttime view of the Cotai strip—dazzling, beguiling—and a sunken living room with plush workspaces. The two 55-inch TVs—and the size of the room itself—seemed a bit much for a single suite. The Premio Rialto suite (170 sq m) is well-appointed for large friend groups, and the Famiglia suite (70 sq m) offers bunk beds and play areas alongside the usual king-size, plus a sweet rubber ducky for the bathtub.
Should you make it out of your room, know that The Venetian is one of the largest buildings in the world by floor area. Its signature space is the 15,000-seater Cotai Arena, which has hosted the likes of Adam Levine and Blackpink, but we made for the world-class restaurants that pool ingredients and delicacies from parts of China you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
On our first day, we were presented with chicken feet, osmanthus cakes, goose webbing and abalone, not to mention a special ‘Typhoon Shelter’ menu that reminds visitors of Macao’s geographic realities outside the hyper-focused hotel. The Michelin-starred Golden Peacock was our haunt for lunch, dishing out some of the best (and most delicate) chicken and rose kulfi I’ve had in my life, while we zeroed in on Canton for an upscale yet traditional Cantonese dinner with Peking duck (four ways!), scallops and crab.
Most tour activities at The Venetian tend to begin with visits to the Portuguese Old Town—Senado Square, the A-ma Temple and the Ruins of St Paul’s—but ours made an evening debut with a hands-on recipe in the kitchens of North, a regional eatery. The chefs taught us how to make Shaanxi’s belt-like biang biang noodles that require careful whipping, smacking and stretching until doused with chilli oil. Our collective attempts ended in a torn, unusable mess, but we appreciated the sentiment.
As one roams The Venetian, you eventually find the connection leading to The Parisian and Sands Cotai Central. As is obvious in the name, the Parisian’s interiors are a Francophile haven, complete with a 525-feet Eiffel Tower and the famous Pont des Arts bridge. Of the many fine-dining options at The Parisian, we learned that classical joint Brasserie was favoured by a certain King Khan. Bollywood had popped up at random moments throughout the trip, with a Chinese server, on noting my signature, even asking me if I was related to Rani Mukerji! I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The Venetian has been the longtime playground for the IIFA, as redundant as it may be today.
La Chine, built around the Eiffel Tower, offers delicious Franco-Chinese fusion (try the roasted cod and honey-glazed pork), but our unmistakable favourite was the stylish Chiado. With atmospheric lighting, impeccable Portuguese fare and an enviable wine selection, we just couldn’t stop eating. Tuna tartare tataki, octopus salad, lobster with rice, roast lamb, asparagus risotto, beefsteak with a fried egg on top...I think I teared up a little. Food aside, The Parisian’s French charm remains alive with a fairytale horse carousel (enthusiastically adult-sized), landscaped gardens with vintage-looking lamposts, and a Jules Verne-themed water park. If you’re walking past the pool area, watch out for the giant bucket. It topples every few minutes!
There’s always so much to see, eat and observe at each Sands property that it can get a little dizzying. The staff are excellently-trained—one drew me a map to a single store some 20-minutes away from memory—and the resort is a veritable township. If you’re visiting in February 2020, Japanese digital art collective teamLab will unveil one of their signature 3D worlds at The Venetian. ‘SuperNature Macao’ will feature immersive and beautifully complex artworks that’d be a crime to miss. But we won’t blame you if you do. This bough of plenty is sure to throw up other surprises.
The properties accommodate approximately 3000 suites.