MACAO Sands Cotai Central has transformed a swamp into a high-spin entertainment and leisure zone

Hey, here's pudu kotai, I delightfully exclaim, secretly amused with my word play in Tamil. The four other Tamil-speaking journalists acknowledge with a nod and a tired smile (at the end of an unexpectedly long journey to Macao).

It's not for want of words, but out of wonder that I find succour in my native tongue as we alight from the coach at the Sands Cotai Central, built on a geography-defying scale on the once-a-swamp Cotai Strip. As I take in a 360-degree view of the sprawling structure that cloaks uber luxury in a traditional Chinese architectural façade, I hear my stomach growling, and mutter under my breath about a vegetarian's frustratingly few options in a Chinese city. The dainty young girls crowding the reception area throw a collective blank look in response to our queries in English , but I am glad they got my south Indian surname right on the media tag.

Dream project

The integrated resort is another mega dream project of casino czar Sheldon G Adelson (chairman of Las Vegas Sands), who has given business and leisure tourism in Asia a new spin with Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Venetian Macao, and now, Cotai Central. And each property's talking point is its design theme. At Marina Bay, it is the infinity pool atop 55 storeys, Venetian Macao replicates Venice with its architectural icons, canals and gondolas while globally-acclaimed hotel brands Conrad, Holiday Inn and Sheraton co-exist in the 13.7 million sq. ft., 5,800-room and 39-floor opulent new address of the Sands in Macao.

The entertainment, dining and retail areas at the Cotai Strip are not just about commerce, but reflect the design aesthetics of the region and combine world cultures.

Nearly 400 chefs with their culinary wisdom serve Chinese, Portuguese, Thai, Malaysian and Indian delicacies, besides pizzas, pastas and tiramisus. “The restaurants celebrate the ubiquitous Chinese flavours with classic and contemporary cuisines. The highlight, of course, is the raw seafood bar, featuring a selection of fresh sushi and sashimi,” says executive chef Kenji T. Salz.

The sumptuous and diverse spread at the resort's inaugural was ample proof that food is an integral part of Eastern hospitality. Anxious Indian vegetarian guests happily tucked into puri-chole, dal-rajma and idli-sambar!

Once a sleepy fishing port, Macao has now turned into a bustling gambling destination — small wonder the Himalayas-themed casino is a top draw at the resort. However, paintings of the serene snow-capped mountains on the pillars appear incongruent in the cash-to-splash zone.

Nouveau riche duo

First-time gamers, a friend and I try our luck at the slot machine and are thrilled to be richer by 10 Hong Kong dollars.

The nouveau riche duo then decides to explore the mini-town and almost gets lost walking through the huge convention space, ballrooms, spas, health clubs and numerous stores that abound with international brands. An air of grandeur permeates Cotai that includes a 16-ft tall, 5,500-pound god of fortune statue made of polished bronze with 24-carat gold leaf accents.

The 89-year-old ambitious Adelson, the “maker” of the Strip and Sands, doesn't evidently believe in minimalism.

He developed the lavish Cotai that combines the names of the two islands in Macao — Coloane and Taipa from a barren piece of land. Well, he does not build castles in the air!

(The writer was at the integrated resort at the invitation of the Sands Cotai Central)