Day 132: MacauOctober 25, 2016 in Macao
Up a little earlier today despite my late night - we needed an earlier start as today we were heading across to Macau! Macau has a very interesting history, and strangely it's very different to Hong Kong despite being so close by. It had been settled by Chinese traders for hundreds of years, but Portuguese colonists arrived in the 1500s and set up shop. It was never conquered by the British, though it was briefly occupied by the Japanese during WW2, after which it reverted to Portuguese control (then handed back to China in 1999). This means the core of the city is actually very old, unlike Hong Kong which is basically a Victorian-era town.
So we managed to get breakfasted and out the door much earlier today - we got the 10am shuttle bus downtown which helpfully dropped us off right next to where the Macau ferries departed. After buying tickets and going through emigration (it's very weird that going from one part of China to another requires two separate border control and customs checks), our boat left just after 11am. Despite it being a "90 minute" trip from Hong Kong to Macau, we had docked and disembarked in Macau within about 65 minutes. Maybe they have an allowance for bad weather? The boat was very large and very fast, and quite heavily occupied too - probably 400 people.
Once we'd immigrated into Macau we set about orienting ourselves. The main thing we wanted to see was the historical centre of town which is UNESCO World Heritage listed. It was right over on the other side of town, so we caught a local bus which took about half an hour. Finally at midday it was time to start exploring! Stop number one was a Chinese temple that actually pre-dated the Portuguese colony, but has had several additional buildings and expansions since. This was quite nice, though very heavily touristed with big bus loads of mainlanders.
We spent the next few hours following the Heritage Walk which has 25 sites on it, and we made it to all bar one which was in a totally different part of the city. I'm not going to write an exhaustive list, but we had a great time exploring and following the trail. Thankfully once we left the first site, the crowds disappeared and we had many of the places almost to ourselves. There were quite a few different buildings - mansions of local notaries, churches, convents, Jesuit schools, a theatre, fortresses, the senate building, part of the old city walls, and the facade of a cathedral that had been otherwise destroyed by fire in the 19th century.
Along the way we stopped for another bakery lunch - it's amazing how cheap but filling these pastries are. We also had a couple of Portuguese egg tarts which are unsurprisingly very common here. And delicious of course!
Lots of beautiful places to explore, and very quiet once we left the first site. Both of us were actually reminded quite strongly of Rome - many of the buildings in the old city are of similar age (ie 400-500 years), densely packed, locals on scooters zipping about, and the way you can literally go one block from a crowded tourist attraction into a quiet residential neighbourhood, passing the occasional knowing glance at the rare other tourist you encounter.
We spent a lovely afternoon walking around enjoying the place, though as usual it couldn't last and we ended up at the main square which was heaving with tourists. Although it's difficult for us to tell, I think they were mostly mainlanders rather than Hong Kongers. Aside from the unwashed masses, this part of town just wasn't as nice since it had clearly been built far more recently but in the old style. It was less Portuguese Macau, and more Theme Park Macau, if that makes sense.
We didn't stick around and headed up to the fort on top of the hill, one of the highest points on the original island. Good view from up here, and you can see pretty clearly where new developments are being held in check by the old city.
But as it was coming on for dark, we wanted to go and see the new part of Macau - the enormous casino district, built entirely on reclaimed land. So we grabbed an Uber and headed over. It's honestly, ridiculous. The buildings are so huge, so gaudy, and so tacky it's hard to believe. Very much inspired by Las Vegas. We chose the Venetian casino mainly because it had a free shuttle bus back to the ferry terminal for our use later, then went in and had a look. The gaming floor is large, but honestly not that much bigger than Star City in Sydney. What was definitely bigger, was the enormous retail precinct directly on top, themed as if you were in Venice.
It's obviously copied directly from the Venetian in Vegas, but it's actually quite bizarre. All of the shops front on to canals where you can hire a gondola, there's facades above and around each shop to look like Venice, and the ceiling several storeys above you is lit and painted to look like clouds. The effect is quite convincing, but it floats pretty close to the uncanny valley effect for me - half of your brain believes the illusion, but the other half is screaming out that you're looking at an illusion.
The shops were all ultra-luxury brands - Audemars Piguet, Hermes, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and so on. These are all 100% aimed at mainland Chinese - luxury goods are taxed very heavily in China but not in Macau or Hong Kong SARs - so we mostly ignored the shops. Until I found a Manchester United store!! Plenty of stuff here that I could have bought, but sated myself with a t-shirt.
We found the fancy food court as well and figured since we were in "Italy" we should have pizza, so we shared a large pizza & garlic bread combo. Very salubrious. I was interested in trying the Macau/Portuguese cuisine from one stall, but it looked very dingy and was expensive to boot, so we passed.
By now it was getting on for 8pm and we still had a long journey home in front of us. So we hopped on the shuttle, which took us back to the dock, went through the emigration process and waited 30 minutes for our ferry which departed just after 9pm. Slightly over an hour again on the way back, where we disembarked and went back through the Hong Kong immigration process, by which time it was 10:30pm. Not feeling like going through the MTR, we grabbed an Uber instead which took a while to turn up. Finally back to the hotel after 11pm where we spent too much time stuffing around online after a very long, exhausting day.Read more