Years of using Hong Kong as a layover for Pacific-bound journeys made me curious about Macau. “It’s just like Las Vegas”, everyone told me, as if that’s a good thing. It is just like Las Vegas in that every hotel either has a casino or shopping mall attached to the side, bottom or top of it. But if you’re not going there to gamble or to shop (both of which I could do much closer to home) then what else is there? Perhaps an interesting mix of cultures, given that Macau was taken by the Portuguese in the early 16th century? That makes it one of the first European colonies and, with its handover to China in December 1999, it was also one of the last.

The Mandarin Oriental stands 41 storeys tall on the corner of Nam Van Lake in Macau, yet it’s overshadowed by the up-lit, luminescent gold MGM standing only 50 metres to the East. Whether that’s down to the striking shape the MGM casts in the night sky, or the fact it spits fire, water and Shirley Bassey tunes out of the entrance once an hour is yet to be decided.

Opened in June 2010, the Mandarin Oriental offers a calming and stylish escape from the other Macanese hotels’ garish colours, gaudy chandeliers and gold-gilded walls. The hotel’s interior has brought a touch of Portuguese style and elegantly mixed it with Chinese tastes, a feat that not even the country has managed to master, with the “Old Town” being not much more than a shanty town, boxed in with 100-storey mega-Casinos.

Probably best described as a business hotel, the Mandarin Oriental offers rooms and suites facing either out towards Taipei or inland. The pool and gym are on the fourth floor, with the rest of the building towering above. Although it’s heated in winter and chilled in summer, it’s also closed in bad weather. 

The bar is a stylish space with double height ceilings, carefully laid out and split into areas for coffee, cocktails and champagne. The restaurant is situated on the same floor and is without doubt the most ‘Asian-themed’ area of the entire hotel. Dark woods, low light and alcoves and booths make what is a reasonably large restaurant seem small, quiet and private. The service, whether in the restaurants and bars, or reception and concierge is impeccable. With the Mandarin Oriental being one of the few hotels on the island that doesn’t have a casino or a heavily advertised restaurant, its lobbies, lifts and hallways are free of tourists and gamblers. Even if you find yourself on the island with no other purpose than to gamble, the ability to leave the casino to head “home” is invaluable; similarly, I do not want to see tourists or hear slot machines and chatter when I’m on my way to breakfast.

Should you find yourself in Macau on business, then the Mandarin Oriental is perhaps the best option. Smart, stylish and impressive, it’s a space where you can focus on work and quickly settle inside. If you’re there to gamble, then again, I cannot help but think that the Mandarin Oriental is still the best place for you. Hit the casinos, the themed restaurants, the water and fire shows and then retire to privacy and seclusion.