Macau (also spelled Macao, 澳門, Oumùhn in Cantonese, Àomén in Mandarin) is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China and one of the world’s most densely populated spots. Macau is across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong; it was a colony and then an overseas territory of Portugal until 1999.
Macau is best known as a major destination for gambling. This goes back to colonial times, when Hong Kong had tight limits on gambling—it was legal only at the horse racing track twice a week—but Macau had casinos. Macau overtook Las Vegas as the world’s highest revenue gambling destination around 2008 and now has a substantial lead; several of the major Las Vegas casinos have built new establishments in Macau to cash in on the trend.
Macau is by no means only a gambling destination and other attractions include gorgeous colonial architecture, some of it on the UNESCO World Heritage List, a lovely climate and some fine beaches, and excellent food and drink.
As the first and last European colony in East Asia, Macau has more visible colonial history than Hong Kong. The buildings and cobblestone or patterned brick streets in many parts of the city, particularly the center of the old city and Coloane, look much like somewhere in Mediterranean Europe. However, the people and the Chinese-language signage indicate Asia. The Portuguese and Macanese population continues to maintain a presence, but most of the population is native Chinese.
Macau is unique in many ways, but it also has many close cultural and economic ties with Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region across the border.