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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

posted by Chuckmonster on Friday, 29th July 2016 11:56am
Wynn Macau

I just wanted to take a minute to share with y'all the long-form diary of the recent trip to Macau that I shared with Hunter and JohnH. I started typing this story out on my iPhone during the outbound flight 38 days ago, publishing chapters as quickly as I could during the trip. Jetlag be damned, I've spent nearly all of the last three weeks writing up the rest, posting the last chapter on Tuesday morning.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this trip is how Macau, in 15 years, has designed and built a bigger, brighter and in many many ways better version of Las Vegas. It's only 70% complete... in the next six weeks, two more megaresorts are opening - Wynn Palace and The Parisian. Three more are expected to open in the next 12 months - MGM Cotai, The XIII and Grand Lisboa Palace, with second and third phases of these and other resorts coming online shortly thereafter.

With the world getting smaller - via social networking, low fuel prices and cheap international airline tickets - Macau is a lot closer than one might think, in distance and expense.

Flights to Hong Kong for fall 2016 and early 2017 are ~$600USD round trip. Smart shoppers can find tons of non-stop flights from West Coast of the U.S.. Luxurious standard rooms in brand new hotels can be had for ~$150USD/night, with no resort fees. A full breakfast delivered via room service will cost $20USD. Blackjack pays 3:2, there is full odds on Craps, you'll fall in love with Sic Bo, enjoy the mystery of Baccarat and be fascinated by Fan Tan, the Chinese count-the-buttons casino game. Table game minimums range from $15USD/bet ($100HKD) on the low end to a more standard $50USD ($300HKD).

Whereas the Las Vegas Strip is controlled by two large corporations, racing to the bottom to institute anti-customer policies, defer maintenance (and pride), engage in fees and value gouging, Macau's gaming monopoly was broken by giving five other companies gaming concession licenses, and fostering their competition with oversight by active and empowered regulators. These six companies are racing to the top by providing guests with exceptional service, outrageous retail options, competitive casino games and dazzling resort amenities. All of this is set in a competitive skyline of buildings, designed at truly amazing scope and scale.

Beyond the casinos, Macau is a truly fascinating place, an bizarre and yummy intersection of Chinese and Portuguese cultures created over the 400 years that Macau was a colony of Portugal. The people of Macau are sweet, thoughtful, generous and kind. Just steps away from Macau peninsula casinos are UNESCO World Heritage ruins, ancient temples, the most breathtaking array of pawn shops and the best pork jerky you've ever eaten. The heat and humidity, while oppressive, gives Macau the feel of a urban, tropical, south east Asian paradise... chock full of true grit and enough grime to keep things honest.

I'm fully aware that - in these days of mobile phones, TL;dr and multi-screen-multi-tasking - it is nearly impossible to concentrate on anything for extended periods of time, particularly reading. I often check my phone while I'm in the middle of checking my phone. My MacauTripping diary definitely is a long read - 15 chapters - full of stories, travel tips, Macau observations, interesting people and lots of drama. Also, there are tons of high resolution photos.

I'm really proud of this collection of essays - a monster trip report, if you will - on Macau, and want to share it with all of you.

Start here:

Chapter 1: Be Prepared Chapter 2: Delirium Sets In Chapter 3 - The Dawn Chapter 4 - Majesty Chapter 5 - In The Center of It All Chapter 6 - Look Up Here, I'm In Heaven Chapter 7 - I'm So High It Makes My Brain Whirl Chapter 8 - I Can't Give Everything Away Chapter 9 - Heroes Chapter 10 - Sitting In The Chestnut Tree Chapter 11 - Eagles In My Daydreams, Diamonds In My Eyes Chapter 12 - Something Happened On The Day Chapter 13 - Take Your Passport And Your Shoes Chapter 14 - This Way Or No Way Chapter 15 - You Know I'll Be Free

Comments & Discussion:

Posted by parchedearth on Friday, 29th July 2016 1:03pm:

Exceptionally well done and what a great journey told through serialized multi-media storytelling. I followed along from pre-planning through your Shanghai surprise. Always looking forward to the next installment of photos, podcasts, tweets, and chapter reports.

Posted by RateVegas on Friday, 29th July 2016 1:36pm:

I've been thinking quite a bit about when to go back. Checking prices, etc...

I'm really excited about a return trip.

Posted by hail2skins on Friday, 29th July 2016 2:15pm:

You should be proud, Chuck. I really appreciate you and the other guys taking the time while you were there and upon your return to bring us along with you. Nice that you maintained a positive overall attitude about your experience, despite the hassles that you and Hunter had to go through in order to return.

Scary that its already been close to 40 days since you departed for Macau. Either time is going by far too rapidly, or I'm getting old......or both!

Posted by Thriftweed on Friday, 29th July 2016 3:20pm:

Having been to Vegas dozens of times and Macau once, the feeling I got from Macau was it'a a lot like Vegas minus the fun. The hotels are nicer and the service is exceptional and it even kind of looks the same but there's not much fun to be had, there's no drinking in the casinos and most hotels have only one or two bars that are almost always empty except for the odd English or Australian. The gaming tables are for the majority Baccarat, which I like to play but at super high minimums and with silent Chinese gamblers it's not the greatest fun to be fair.

Macau is visually amazing and a very surreal experience, it was fun to explore all of the new places as opposed to the well worn path of Vegas. I'm a vegas nut just like you guys, I've followed VT for years and know the town inside out but at heart I found Macau to be nothing at all like Las Vegas. It's a much more sedate and serious place, the exact opposite of a crackpot party town of vegas.

I'd go to Macau again but only from a Vegas nerd perspective to see what's different and what's new rather than to go purely to have fun and have a holiday.

I have loved reading your diary and followed your trip from the start, I've been to many of the same places and it was fascinating to revisit it again through your eyes.

Thanks for the ride.

Posted by Chuckmonster on Friday, 29th July 2016 4:01pm:

Thriftweed - if booze is your measure of fun, then you're correct. people are there to gamble and tempt fate with intense studiousness - not wandering around drunk. i wrote about this at length in Chapter 10. thanks for signing up and commenting.

Posted by talktobrent on Friday, 29th July 2016 6:35pm:

While I've never been to Macau, Thriftwood makes an interesting point. There are certainly negatives to the club and bar scene in Vegas, but as a casual gambler, the energy such nightlife brings to a property is a big plus in my opinion. I'm at the age where I'm too old to get too excited about a nightclub, but I'm also not ready to lay next to a bunch of families at the pool and go to bed before midnight. Let's face it, without the DJ's, big nightclubs and scene-y bars, Vegas would be a sausagefest. Whether the pool or casino, I've never been forced into a mass of douchery and I've always found places to hang out that match my mood.

Posted by Dave702 on Saturday, 30th July 2016 5:12am:

I've enjoyed this so much. It's refreshing to see honest, personal writing. We got to see a fascinating place through the eyes of a real human being, not a content generator.

Thank you for being honest with your readers and taking risks.

Posted by chesteronriver on Saturday, 30th July 2016 4:06pm:

A big THANKS for this compilation of your travels. As I get older I find the reading I do is more toward the less lengthy types of writing. But this........Last night I was so captivated reading it I could not stop. Finally, with the chapter showing 10, the clock showing 11:30 and my battery showing 2%, I reluctantly shut it down and fell asleep. The great thing was I sort of kept reading, as the dreams I had were of me exploring a place like Macau.....it really was an adventure! At breakfast this morning, I continued reading/viewing and finished on my third cup of coffee. Chuck, I so wish I had your command of writing skills.....you truly have a remarkable talent for taking an adventure and making it relative to many.

Yes, I would very much like to go to Macau someday. There are three things I really enjoy when I travel........1) People Watching 2) Looking at the non-human scenery (in Macau's case - the buildings/architecture) and 3) Experiencing the tenor of places, including food and service. Macau sounds like a great place to do these things. The aura really came through as I made my way through the chapters.

The other thing I must make note of is Gunther.........I was very happy to read the outcome. As one who relates to the average dog much better than I relate to the average human.....you and I both know what a "gift" they are in our lives. People can argue about where this gift comes from, but you cannot argue about what they do for us. Like you, I have been on the road while a pet passed at home.........even though the outcome would not have changed had I been there, I still have not fully forgiven myself for being gone. That is what happens when you pull an abandoned 2 week old kitten out of a roadside ditch.......it was just her and her "me against the world" attitude that I brought home that day. As they say in the end....it is debatable who got rescued.

I now know that in Macau, the room choices are staggering, the service level is what it should be in Vegas and the people watching is endless (and I also know I do not want to fly through Shanghai).....but the best thing I know is that in L.A., Gunther is good!

Posted by Devastazione on Sunday, 31st July 2016 5:25am:

I enjoyed every single word of this,great job guys. I'm speechless about the huge amount of food and booze you guys were able to consume,I mean,probably it would have killed me on the very second day. But I see you're big guys so everything goes...lol

Posted by toastcmu on Sunday, 31st July 2016 5:20pm:

I followed each of these as you posted them - the architecture and sights were the first things that interested me. As your trip went on, I waited patiently for each MacauTripping episode. Having traveled to Japan, this certainly would be another destination I would be willing to look into.

As a pet owner, I definitely could feel the heart strings in Gunther's predicament. That must have been a helpless feeling. Glad things worked out for him!

Posted by StudiodeKadent on Monday, 1st August 2016 6:36am:

"Whereas the Las Vegas Strip is controlled by two large corporations, racing to the bottom to institute anti-customer policies, defer maintenance (and pride), engage in fees and value gouging, Macau's gaming monopoly was broken by giving five other companies gaming concession licenses, and fostering their competition with oversight by active and empowered regulators. These six companies are racing to the top by providing guests with exceptional service, outrageous retail options, competitive casino games and dazzling resort amenities. All of this is set in a competitive skyline of buildings, designed at truly amazing scope and scale."

I really hate to be critical, but...

Vegas is more competitive by any measure than Macau. Macau is an oligopoly with six licenseholders and no market entry. Vegas, on the other hand, has MGM, Sands, Wynn, Caesars, Cosmo, SLS and various off-strip groups like Boyd, Station, M/Penn National (soon to enter the Strip) etc. PLUS it has open market entry, which means potential future competition is always a possibility; soon Genting, Lucky Dragon and Alon will be competing on the strip too.

Look at the profit margins; in Vegas they're much thinner than in Macau. Macau has far more hardcore gambling, far less intelligent gambling (i.e. far less players who can play by a reasonable strategy), and tighter comps, alongside substantially less competitive pressure. The only place main floor/mass market gamblers can get a free alcoholic beverage is the Wynn, or I think the Plaza but they have 500HKD table mins. And sure, the Blackjack in Macau is very good measured by expected loss; but its all CSM, and its a small game anyway (without many strategic players).

The reason Macau is so full of luxury hotels isn't because of "smart regulation" but because the destination is geared towards heavy-gambling junket players, and because the government wants to make an absolute killing out of Macau tourism and gambling (which it is). Regulation in Macau does not create competition; indeed the opposite is the case (and historically the idea that regulation is good to ensure competition is quite questionable; I'd refer you to the works of Gabriel Kolko (who pointed out that historically, big business has preferred interventionist regulation to stop upstart competitors) as well as the Public Choice Theory branch of economics).

Macau is the only place in China where the Chinese can gamble; a huge gambling culture is being focused on one point. Table mins can be substantially higher than Vegas, comps are substantially lower. If you look at the historical process of development, Vegas built itself off mass market tourists and a few small high rollers, whereas Macau exploded primarily at the top end of the market and only very recently is the mass market getting much substantial attention (and even then Macau has massive supply constraints relative to Las Vegas).

Look, Vegas has gotten worse value for money recently. I agree, and MGM's profit growth plan is making me relocate my gambling to somewhere else. But we can't blame a lack of regulation for Vegas' problems, nor can we say regulation made Macau awesome. If anything the exact opposite is true: Vegas is a much more cutthroat, low-margin, mass market which is precisely why Vegas guests are being nickel-and-dimed. Vegas is a massively contested market with savvy gamblers, incredible numbers of mass-market hotel rooms and relatively generous comps. The profit margins and ROIs are thin.

If you want Vegas to get better, blaming a lack of competition and suggesting more regulation as the solution is simply wrongheaded.

Posted by fudgewapner on Monday, 1st August 2016 10:09pm:

Thank you for sharing this trip -great writing and photos make a memorable experience. The Shanghai Airport disaster does not sound fun. My parents lived outside London while I was in college (in the U.S.) and one summer before going to Heathrow I lost my passport and had to wait two weeks at a friend's house in Indiana to get a replacement. My parents were planning an Ireland trip - I've still never been to Ireland, that was 20 years ago.

The food and energy of Macau look fantastic. Almost as awesome as your surprising beard and hair game.

Posted by Malibugolfer on Tuesday, 2nd August 2016 1:40pm:

So Chuck, while your memory is still fresh, perhaps you would give a $$$$ total of what you would have paid additional to avoid the return flight fiasco?
Including the costs you incurred and the mental anguish.
You really did seem to handle it well.

Posted by Chuckmonster on Tuesday, 2nd August 2016 2:47pm:

Thank you all for the great comments and compliments, I really really appreciate all the feedback and discussion.

Malibu... I'm not sure I understand what you are asking. I chose the Shanghai stop because I wanted to fly in to Macau International Airport and avoid the time/expense of a ferry transfer. (LOL). There are no non-stop flights to Macau from North America... the airport runway is too small to accommodate big airplanes.

Unless I have zero other options, I won't fly through Shanghai. JohnH had problems there as well as me and Hunter. Apparently, it has one of the worst delay records of any airport. Next time I go to Macau, I'm definitely flying non-stop to Hong Kong from L.A. and taking the ferry.

@Studio The proof is in the pudding... Las Vegas is a two company town. We're not seeing the full brunt of this right now because Caesars is licking their LBO/consolidation/spending spree wounds. There are minor operators in Macau. Golden Resorts operates two hotel/casinos in Macau (Casa Real and Grandview). There are others as well, but their names escape me right now. They're all small potatoes, but so is Treasure Island. Originally, Macao Studio City (now Studio City Macau) was being built by a non-concession holder that had subcontracted MPEL's concession to operate a casino. SJM does this as well. Pansy Ho was/is in talks to build a joint on Cotai as a sub contract from the partnership she has with MGM. The point of the concessions was to a) break the SJM monopoly and b) find deep pocketed people with experience to build a masterplanned casino & entertainment destination very quickly. They've achieved both of these goals. The Macau gaming concessions aren't in perpetuity... they can and will be revisited in the future. The Chinese and Macau governments are focused on nurturing a market with controls. This week, the gov gave Wynn 100 tables for Wynn Palace Cotai.... 100. As a result, Wynn is going to take 250 tables from their VIP sections on the peninsula property and move them to Cotai. This is definitely not a laissez-faire attitude. The Macau experiment is in its infancy, it will be interesting to see how it changes.

Posted by StudiodeKadent on Tuesday, 2nd August 2016 9:25pm:


Las Vegas is not a two-company town. The strip is mostly dominated by two big players (MGM and Ceasars) but not only are there other operators on the strip already (Wynn, Sands, Ruffin, Cosmo, SLS), other operators will be coming in soon (Genting, Penn National, Alon). Then you have to factor in the competition from Downtown and Off-Strip operators. No competent economist would describe Macau as more competitive than Las Vegas.

Yes, there are independent hotels in Macau, but all casinos need to be ran by one of the six concession-holders. Vegas doesn't have this restriction; it has open market entry on the casino side of things.

The point of the concessions wasn't primarily about breaking up the monopoly; that was a means to an end. Originally, the proposal was to replace the monopoly with a triopoly (three concession holders, which initially were Wynn, SJM and Galaxy, and only the first of these had experience in building spectacular megaresorts), however disputes over Galaxy's concession and Las Vegas Sands' getting involved with a Galaxy project (IIRC) meant that Galaxy's concession got split in two, and LVS got their subconcession. Wynn and SJM then got the right to do the same with their concessions; Wynn's subconcession went to Melco Crown and SJM's subconcession went to MGM/Pansy Ho (only to finally end up with MGM exclusively when Pansy left and returned to SJM).

The primary goal of Macau, effectively, was revenue-raising. Large-scale megaresorts are effective at "importing" tax revenues as well as keeping tax revenues within the country (through offering gambling opportunities within China) and creating more tax revenues from domestic citizens. Stanley Ho's monopoly created less-than-impressive casinos and thus many Chinese/Hongkongers went to Vegas instead, or simply didn't gamble as much, or gambled in private/underground games.

I agree it will be interesting to see how the Macau experiment will pan out. But I absolutely contest the idea that the Macau model is superior to the Vegas model due to the Macau model being more regulated.

Posted by Drake on Wednesday, 3rd August 2016 2:57am:

^^…and being heavily regulated by the Chicoms doesn't give me warm and fuzzy feelings inside, either. Coms can and will fuck up anything (see: Venezuela today, not to mention everything they "regulated" in the 20th century). The American operators there should keep in mind the Frog and the Scorpion tale.

And yes, it will be very interesting to see how things shake out in the years ahead.

That said, thanks Chuck for this epic recounting of your trip! It looks like a dazzling place to visit, although count me in with the folks who prefer more "party" with my gambling. I'm a lightweight in both departments, but I want my comped beers nonetheless, dammit!

Posted by Malibugolfer on Wednesday, 3rd August 2016 11:43am:

Thanks Chuck, you did answer my question. Although the ferry is an adventure in human sardine management almost unique to the experience of those of the western world, going to HK does make way more sense.

Posted by RateVegas on Wednesday, 3rd August 2016 7:27pm:

I did one round-trip ferry ride to/from HK so I have very limited experience but I did not feel like a sardine. We got the higher end seats which meant we sat in the front of the boat and had a separate lounge. They cost very little, at least in terms of US prices.

Honestly, riding on the boat was nicer than taking a United flight in the US.

Posted by StudiodeKadent on Thursday, 4th August 2016 7:54am:


The Chinese Communist Party is (these days) communist in name only. They're more accurately described as corporatist, or economic fascist. They're generally following the "Asian Tiger" model of export-orientation, cronyism, and regulation for the "public good" (which, not coincidentally, bears a strong relationship to the good of the government).

Its certainly not free market, but it isn't Stalinism either, and it has a much better record in terms of prosperity (although a lot of that prosperity ends up in the hands of the government and their cronies). But I doubt Beijing secretly plans to nationalize the Venetian or Wynn Macau; they still need foreign investment in China and if they started nationalizing that would deter investors very quickly.

Posted by Drake on Thursday, 4th August 2016 10:41am:


I hear ya, it's not the bad old days in China. Then again, Chavez said all the right things, too, before everything turned to total shit in Venezuela.

As for China, the need for foreign investment hasn't stopped it from being the world capital for copyright and trademark piracy and other such shenanigans. How much of that goes on with the tacit blessing of the political leadership, who knows. And while its record is much better in recent years, a regime change would bring a helluva lot more uncertainty that I'd be comfortable with, if I were a Wynn, Adelson, or Murren. There's a lot of leeway in what's considered the "public good," and a lot of very costly "regulating" that can be done short of nationalizing the casinos.

Posted by Dramman on Thursday, 4th August 2016 11:55am:

Two comments. One on the post, the other on the comments.

1. Chuck, Hunter, John, awesome and made me "homesick" for weeks. I also expect a full, effusive, and public apology for teasing me about the pork.

2. "Au contraire mom ami" on drinking/nighlife in Macau. The scene however switches around a bit. Also you may have to get used to Canto-pop (no easy feat, even if you are used to J-pop or K-pop). I think the bottom line is you have to looking for it, just a tad. The scene is not as in your face as Las Vegas. And besides if you really find nothing, Wan Chai or LKF in Hong Kong is only a short ferry away (I recommend Strawberry's Disco).

Posted by jinx73 on Thursday, 4th August 2016 1:22pm:

Enjoyed every word of your trip, very sorry to hear Gunther was having issues, and additionally sorry to read about the trouble in Shanghai, having only been stranded once in country and the challenges it presented, I can only imagine the frustration and anger you were experiencing.

Posted by Drake on Tuesday, 6th September 2016 6:19am:

Heh. Maybe it's a "plus" when your business partner can do things like this. Maybe it's a worry too.

Good regime/bad regime: Too hard to call!


Posted by wpsteel66 on Saturday, 1st October 2016 7:18pm:

Chuck, as always your writing paints a great picture of your adventure. These stories were filled with so many details along with you expressing your feelings/emotions. I enjoyed reading these daily stories...real bummer Wynn Palace was not opened...also a major disappointment about trying to fly home...could you imagine that with people leaving the US or even travel within the states?

Glad I am not the only one who check a gazillion times to ensure I have my wallet, credit cards, phone, iPad, glasses, and money.