Aren’t we all getting a bit tired of the Hong Kong talk by now? I’ve been here for four months, and you start to realize how Hong Kong is the same no matter where you go. Malls all have the same stores. Restaurants have many of the same branches all over the place. This city really is a film strip on repeat.
So since we’re all bored of this place (for now), it’s time to head to someplace completely different. Macau! I have a few high school friends over for this Christmas season, and we all want to go on a small vacation but we don’t have much time. Luckily, Hong Kong is conveniently located in the middle of all sorts of vacation spots. Macau and China are pretty cheap getaways that don’t even require a plane ride. Taiwan is a bit farther, but still pretty cheap and quite popular with the locals here. Then there’s also the rest of Asia – Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore… seriously, everybody here has been to so many different countries, while I can only say I’ve been to many different cities. Because Canada and the US are so damn big. Despite this fact, it seems like I’ve still experience many more plane rides than most people I’ve met here. At this age, most people haven’t had the opportunity to fly around for vacation yet, while I’m taking two round trips between Vancouver and Toronto every year.
ANYWAY. (That was a far tangent). I took the day off on Thursday to go on this mini-vacation with my friends. Macau is just a short one-hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong, and it’s perfect for a one-day trip because the city is tiny (although a lot of people would opt to stay for longer). I think there are ferries that depart from both Sheung Wan and Tsim Sha Tsui, and they leave at like 15-minute intervals, so you can definitely get your ticket when you arrive at the terminal. Tickets range from $150-200 HKD for a one-way trip, depending on what time you depart and what day of the week it is. As for customs, Hong Kong residents with a permanent ID card do not have to bring any other documents; but I’m not sure about the rules for other countries.
The ferry ride was brutal. It wasn’t the worst ferry I’ve ever been on, but it definitely was comparable. The moment you step onto the boat, you can already feel the waves… and it was like that the entire way there. Be prepared with some Gravol! (I think I also have some new found appreciation for BC Ferries…).
Macau is definitely an interesting city. It used to be a Portuguese colony, so the main tourist attraction areas are filled with Portuguese-style buildings and culture. But then because it’s inhabited by Chinese, they also have their special cuisines and famous foods which are different from Hong Kong. When you get to the southern parts in Taipa/Cotai, where all the new casino hotels are being built, you have a futuristic city that looks ridiculously lavish.
First, we set out to the heart of Macau, where the Ruins of St. Paul is located. You’d probably recognize it if you saw it. There’s nothing much to do there, except for take pictures to prove that we were there. That’s what all the famous statues and buildings are for anyway, right?
It was about lunchtime at that point, so we walked all the way back down to grab some food. We had some famous Macau pork chop buns with steamed egg pudding for dessert. A delicious meal for around $30 HKD. What more can you ask for? (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you can use Hong Kong dollars in Macau. They might give you change in their local currency, but all tourist places accept HKD.)
After lunch, we went back out to the plaza near the city hall, which was all dressed up for pictures. They’re probably the nicest Christmas decorations I’ve seen so far, given that Hong Kong barely has anything. Of course I couldn’t help but take pictures!
We then headed back up the hill towards Mount Fortress. It’s located right next to the Ruins of St. Paul, and we could have taken the escalators up, but instead we walked up from the back entrance to the fortress. Clearly we didn’t plan this out. Oh wells… that’s the beauty of a trip led by each spur of the moment!
At the top of the fortress, you can see a 360-degree view over all of Macau. The truth is, it’s not beautiful at all! I was astounded by the countless ruins of old buildings in sight. I’ve only been to Macau once before, and that was almost six years ago, so all my knowledge of this city is simply from what other people say. They tell me about all the beautiful new hotels and bungee jumping and food. Nobody talks about the disgusting debris, the evidence of locals that make up the majority of this region. (Click on the panorama shot and zoom right in – you’ll see what I’m talking about).
We took our time with pictures, and then we went back down the smart way. There are escalators that go through the museum back down the the Ruins of St. Paul, and I actually knew about it before we walked up… I just decided to take us on a hike. The fortress isn’t really that high up anyway. It’s an easier hike than my walk home every day.
From here, we walked down into the street with countless souvenir stores. And when I say souvenir, I mean food. We ate so much on our way down! Every single store offers free food for you to try, and I ate almost everything I saw. That’s what sucks about being so avid towards new dishes… you always want to try them all.
The stores are almost all the same though, which makes them a bit lame. In Hong Kong, you’d see stores at least a block away from each other. Here, you literally have the same store across from each other. And the other thing is, we also have the same stores in Hong Kong (although some people told me that its a bit cheaper to buy them in Macau). It just makes you wonder how buying these souvenirs are special at all. Despite saying that, I still bought a few snacks from 鉅記 – simply because TVB just finished airing a drama inspired by the history of this bakery.
Aside from the sample foods, I also had a DQ Blizzard. I had not seen a DQ since leaving Canada in June, so you can imagine my excitement when I finally found a store to make me feel close to home. Besides, they even had Kit Kat flavour, which used to be my favourite until they got rid of it 😦 It was another spur of the moment thing, and I completely ignored calories for that bit.
There was a lot more food we saw (but don’t worry, I didn’t try them all). Roasted chestnuts. Egg waffles. Portuguese tarts. Just like Hong Kong, Macau is full of delicious local specialties. Make sure you go on an empty stomach!
At this point, it was around 4:30 PM, and we had bought tickets for the 7 PM ferry, so we didn’t have much time left! We still had all the hotels we wanted to check out, so we walked to the closest hotel, took a free shuttle bus to the Macau ferry terminal (which is like a five-minute ride), and another bus to the Venetian (which was in Taipa, about 15 minutes away). By the way, you don’t need to take buses or taxis in Macau to get around. There are free shuttle buses that take you from all major ports-of-entry to hotels, and even buses that run between hotels! I’m pretty sure none of them will take you to the city hall or the Ruins of St Paul, but Macau is such a small city that you can just walk there from the closest hotel.
When I got to Taipa, I realized that’s where all the nicest hotels were hiding. I was actually wondering why the hotels in Macau were so… average. The Lisbon looked old, and even the nicest ones like the Grand Lisbon and Wynn were nothing more than your standard Hilton or Fairmont. I don’t remember exactly how it looked like six years ago when I came, but I do know that the Venetian was already the top tier hotel around the area. This time around, it didn’t really seem all that special anymore. Instead, all I could do was stare at the Galaxy Hotel, which was like some crazy castle. We didn’t have time to go inside, but the exterior is enough to blow you away.
Of course the Venetian was still nice. As the name suggests, it’s a mock-up of Venice. I’d still love to visit the real Venice, but while I’m still saving up for that, this is a nice substitute. The first time I was there, I was amazed and pretty much in shock of how much it felt like Venice. But now, I don’t know why… it looks the same, but the feeling is no longer there. It’s not like I visited the real thing to compare. There’s something about 6 more years of life experience that helps you distinguish this fake Venice from the real one.
Right outside the Venetian, they had a very pretty winter wonderland scene set up. Christmas trees, a stage with live performances, snow-frosted signs… aside from the fact that it was fake, it was pretty nice, I guess.
Across the street from this scene were a bunch of other crazy nice hotels. We were super pressed on time by this point, so we just took a walk through the City of Dreams. If you’ve heard of the show “House of Dancing Water”, that particular hotel is where the show is held.
Their theme is very modern – completely different from the Venetian. I can’t compare to any place I’ve been before. It’s all just plain and simple designs, and it feels like I’m walking in an episode of Futurama or something.
At 6:15 PM, we finally hopped on a free shuttle and headed back to the Macau ferry terminal. We got there pretty early, but better safe than sorry! The boat left at 7, and we were back in Hong Kong by 8 PM.
I guess when I came here last time, I was still pretty young and didn’t have so much to think about. This time around, everything gets you thinking. I think about my disbelief that this same city contains both the historic heritage sites and the extravagant exuberant hotels… and all the ignored ruins in between. I think about how happy these luxurious buildings made me feel six years ago, and how sad I feel today… to know that this whole city is powered by greed. I think about the word ‘excessive’, and how much more it means to me now that I have a mental image of it in my head. People usually learn to be content when they see people with less. Today, I’ve learned to be content because I’ve seen people with more than anyone should ever need.
All in all, Macau is a great place to spend a short and cheap vacation away from Hong Kong. Above all the scenery, food, and abundance, I hope you let this place open your mind!