Travelogue Hong Kong 3: Macau

MACAU
25-27 March 2014

It was a very early start for us to get to the airport for our 07h55 flight. Fortunately, our timing meant that the roads were pretty empty (but we still had no trouble flagging down a taxi on Xinyi Street even at our 05h15 departure from Honey’s flat.

When we got to the check-in desk, the attendant told us the flight was full. I readied for a fight as we’d even pre-booked specific seats online… I was surprised and delighted when it was revealed that the implication of the overbooked flight was an upgrade for us to Business Class. Winner!

It was such a blessing as we were bushed from our jam-packed  weekend and early start, so being able to make the seats into an almost horizontal bed – and being given a real pillow and duvet – made for a very comfortable snooze on our flight back to Hong Kong. 

On arrival, we had to catch a bus from the airport into Hong Kong to get the ferry to Macau at 12.15. The ferry ride is an hour and every boat while we were there seemed to book to full, with boats every 15 minutes around the clock. That’s a lot of traffic! 

Arriving in Macau, it was the old routine: draw local currency from an ATM, find the tourist desk, get a map, call a taxi. Easily done and soon we were off to our hotel, the Regency. We’d chosen this hotel specifically for its location, on the coastline at the Taipa end of the bridge that connects the island to mainland Macau. This would provide us a central location with easy access to Macau to our north, Taipa around the hotel and Coloane to the south. 

Taipa and Coloane were previously 2 separate islands, which have now been connected with an expanse of reclaimed land that has been named Cotai. Not only does this provide more land and the convenience of being able to move between the previously separated islands, but they’ve also added the Lotus bridge to Zhuhai Shi city in China for easy access to and from there as well. With the inevitable dependence of islands on mainland for supplies this no doubt is a big win for the Macanese. Also, 94% of the population is Chinese – although you’d never say such a small percentage are foreigners  since all signage is in Chinese and Portuguese as standard (and often in English and French as well on advertising messaging). After checking into our hotel and getting settled, it was already 3pm, so we decided the flight path to be a taxi to drop us at the very southern tip of Coloane, where we’d have a bite and then wind our way back up, catching a bus or taxi whenever made sense.

The drive showed us a lot of 2 things: construction and casinos! It looks like there are lots of massive developments on the go, with enormous  hording and flocks of cranes. The casinos were plentiful, stupendous and garish with outsized statues, fountains, columns etc and the promise of enough neon to make nighttime as bright as day. It was like being a Lilliputian in a very kitsch Gulliver Land.

The taxi dropped us at Cheoc Van Bay, where we expected to see a row of beachfront shops and restaurants. There was nothing of the sort. A pleasant stretch of beachfront, a public pool, a tea house and (fortunately) a terrace café overlooking the sea, where we had a great bacon and pepperoni pizza (not very traditional, but very necessary).

With a new lease on life, we took a walk around the western peninsula and into Coloane Village, which is little more than a few houses, a small town square, some stilt houses… and Lord Crow’s Bakery, where we indulged in locally-famed Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese egg tart). Catching the bus was easy as it was right outside the bakery and almost all routes went past our hotel. It was only 4 Patacas (about R6) each for the journey, a bargain at the price as it slowly wound around the side of the island we’d not yet seen, so doubled as a tour (including great views of China across the channel). The taxis aren’t expensive either, costing us less than R50 to get from the pier to the hotel and less that R40 to get from our hotel across the full length of Taipa and Coloane. The currency is completely interchangeable at 1:1 with Hong Kong Dollars (you can pay in HK$, but will only ever get change back in Patacas) and everything is marked with the $ sign, even though they mean Patacas. 

We got off the bus earlier than planned, jumping off at Sam Po Temple for a sunset walk around Taipa Village, and to scope out prospects for dinner. We’d set sights on Rua de Cunha, which the tourist brochures had all earmarked as the foodie street, but it was all bright neon, too many people and a bizarre number of the same bakery chain stores a few doors apart from each other (like 7Eleven does), all selling the same things. Having decided against eating there and noticing pubs conspicuous in their complete absence, we meandered back toward the hotel.

We found a brilliant Korean restaurant at which to have dinner and tucked into a feast of roasted pork belly, smoked and glazed duck and a deliciously rich tomato and onion beef stew. We had ordered everything together, but it was served as courses, which worked out rather well!

Wednesday was dedicated to exploring Macau. The historic centre includes the oldest western architectural heritage on Chinese soil today, interspersed among Macau’s traditional Chinese architecture and traditions. Historically, Macau has been an important gateway through which western civilisation entered China over 500 years ago, when Portuguese navigators in the mid 16th Century and developed it into an international trading port. For almost 3 centuries, until Hong Kong was colonised in 1842, Macau’s strategic location at the mouth of the Pearl River offered unique position to the South China Sea, serving as the hub of maritime trade – and bringing people of all sorts of nationalities, which have left their marks in and around the old city.

The tourist maps made the plan quite simple, with 25 “must see” points of interest winding their way on a manageable course from the south (at the other end of the bridge that run from in front of our hotel) up as far as the middle of the island then cut across to Guia Hill, which was conveniently adjacent to the ferry port so we could book our tickets back to Hong Kong and then conclude with sundowners on the Fisherman’s Wharf.

We set out at 11am and spent 3 hours exploring the 12 churches / temples / cemeteries, 4 fortresses / old city walls, 3 squares, 3 buildings of interest, a library, a theatre and a garden. While some points of interest are more points than interests, it’s a manageable walk following a logical route, so worthwhile seeing the lot. We did finally get in a gondola ride (after 2 false starts with both the Lantau and the Taipei ones closed for maintenance) – and a bargain at the price of 3 Patacas (R5) each for a return ticket. We ended up ditching the return as the walk down from the lighthouse at the top spat us out neatly at the Pier, as we’d planned.

We were able to pre-book our ferry to Hong Kong for the next day (for the princely sum of 159 Pataca (R230) each, so the wheels were in motion to move on the next day at 10.

Our traipsing had worked up quite an appetite so we headed over to the Fisherman’s Wharf, having decided that a Portuguese seafood meal would make the most sense in context (and provide a break from the fare of late). Easier said than done. We were shopping between conventional mealtimes and all the kitchens were closed! We found a Thai restaurant open though and had a lovely red curry duck and pork with morning glory and rice sticks (noodles), run on the water’s edge overlooking the wharf, bay and bridge.

We decided to see what all the fuss was about, so caught a taxi to Cotai to the Venetian, which had been recommended to us by the Aussie on Elephant Mountain in Taipei. Everything he had said paled when we experienced the real thing. New words have to be created to describe the enormousness, the stupendity, the opulescence of the casinos!  They are each and all buildings grandiose beyond belief, clustered with ridiculously mammoth adornments and ?goliath features. A complete sensory overload. Like Vegas + Times Square + Dubai. In one place. At one times. 

Then you go inside.

And everything’s multiple volumes.

With marble floors and chandeliers. 

It’s like Liberace has been reincarnated into a suburb!

And it is a suburb because all of the casinos interlink with passages and walkways, seamlessly taking your journey from game floor through food courts, through world label shops (lots and lots of watches and diamonds, must be the impulse purchase if choice for gamblers) and fancy restaurants and hotels and, um, gondola rides. Back at the Venetian. Time to go home. Not getting tangled in this web.

Dinner was a far more modest affair. We found a diner called Brilliant Gourmet close to our hotel and had a Seafood Baked Rice (al forno cheesy seafood number with rice instead of pasta) and Christian a super-legit beef curry. No ambience whatsoever in the restaurant – no music, bright lights, laminated menus and enlarged food pics on the walls – but an amazing meal, with Tsingtao to wash it down. 

Macau? Glad to have seen and done it.