On our fourth day in Hong Kong we planned a trip to Macau, an easy and popular day trip. Macau, a former Portuguese enclave, offers a mixture of colonial charm, Chinese zest and glitzy casinos, just a short one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong.
It was easy enough to hop on a ferry from Hong Kong Island, where boats depart for Macau every 15 minutes. We were sailing through the open waters by 10:30am on a huge ferry that looked more like an airplane on the inside. There was no need to arrange a visa, we simply had to bring our passports along and we were swiftly ushered through to the departure lounge. Other passengers weren’t so smooth in their travelling style and experience. We overheard one exasperated immigration officer sternly scold a Filipino traveller: ‘next time, bring your own passport, no excuses!’
Macau is best known globally as the ‘Vegas of China’, and we discovered it is indeed a mecca of gambling and glitz. But the city is also much more than that, with a rich colonial history. Macau was once a Portuguese colony so it’s a city of blended cultures with street names translated in Cantonese as well as Portuguese.
We began by exploring the Historic Centre of Macau, which includes around 25 historic locations. This area was officially listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005 thanks to hundreds of years of fusion between European and Chinese cultures. It was packed with churches, narrow alleyways and beautiful tiling. We browsed the Macau Museum after admiring views of the city from the 400 year old Monte Fort. The Ruins of St. Paul was also another beautiful landmark, just a short walk from Senado Square, the urban centre of Macau.
We were slightly worried about what we would find for lunch in Macau as there wasn’t an inspiring choice reviewed on TripAdvisor. Luckily, we spotted some pepper buns similar to those we sampled in Taipei. But pepper buns aren’t hugely filling so when we strolled past some free tasters being offered at a local bakery we made a bee-line for the biscuits. This huge shop we selling a range of flaky pastries, tarts, cookies and sweet treats with everything available to taste for free. Who knows how they managed to make any money, as we weren’t the only ones scouring the shop floor for free morsels of food to pop into our mouths with no intention of buying anything. After some more sightseeing, we had a quick coffee break at Single Origin café (which we actually paid for).
We wanted to get our teeth in to the gambling scene Macau is so famous for, starting at Casino Lisboa. We could see this golden pineapple shaped building from the top of the fort and up close it was even more outrageous. The other casinos on our list were a little further away, requiring us to squeeze on to a very full bus. Macau was much bigger than we expected so as soon as we ventured away from the historical area of the city, we had to rely on public transport. Our SIM card wouldn’t work in Macau but there were plenty of free Wi-Fi hubs around to make getting around pretty simple.
We were driven towards a new development called ‘The Las Vegas Strip of the East’, home to the biggest casino in the world, the ‘Venetian Macao’. Busloads of Chinese tourists were arriving at the casino entrance to gamble, shop for designer brands and marvel at the elaborate little world that had been created inside the Venetian. We were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the complex. It was a maze of multiple floors that we could only navigate ourselves around with the aid of a map, but even then it was disorientating. It’s impossible to know what time of day it is once the Venetian swallows you up into their fantasy world as their ceilings are computer generated or painted imitations of the sky. The shop levels were decorated to mimic classical Venetian architecture. Complete with a Little Venice including gondolas, we felt like we were in a movie set, the Truman Show or a Disney Land for adults. So in one sense we absolutely hated the place and didn’t fancy spending long inside, yet there was something quite enchanting about The Venetian. It was fascinating to see such a beautifully unique bubble of the world, even though it was a monstrous creation.
We continued on to ‘Cotai Strip’ where more casinos lined the road. The Parisian and Studio City were just a handful of iconic buildings in the casino area, boasting a mini Eiffel Tower.
We’d had a jam-packed day exploring Macau and didn’t catch the ferry back to Hong Kong until 7:00pm that evening. We didn’t realise how much there would be to see in Macau so we were pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed our day trip!