Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time in Macau for work and got a chance to know more about this small SAR state. It is not very large in size, approximately 29.2 sqkm, by comparison to HK – 1,108 sqkm. It used to be made up of Macau Peninsula + 2 islands, Taipa and Coloane, but the area between Taipa and Coloane was reclaimed and is now known as Cotai strip (on which sits the Venetian Macau). On my previous trip to Macau, I did not spend enough time to get to know the place and was better prepared this trip. I had several items on my wish-list and have ticked them all off.
1) Food – For reasons unknown to me, I had this impression that Macanese and Portugese food is very tasty. So during my visit, I actively sought out Macanese and Portugese food. The conclusion was not as expected… I was disappointed by the Macanese and Portugese food. Instead of dwelling on the not-so-nice, here are some of the food / places that I am able to recommend from experience:
- Serradura – This is a Macanese Dessert, made from vanilla whipped cream and biscuit crumbs. It is lip-smacking-licious. A must-try. You can find it at most bakeries, but the one sold at Grand Lapa Macau (formerly Mandarin Oriental Macau) is just nice, the right texture and sweetness. You will want more than one but remember it is mostly cream.
A very yummy dessert, found in Macau
- Grilled Afrikan Chicken (Macanese) – taste something like Nando’s chicken, only better.
- Afonso III, Rua Central, Macau Peninsula (Portugese) – It is a quaint, family-run restaurant, with a limited menu. The food was fresh and tasty and quite affordable (in the range of MOP 70 to 180 for mains). Portions are large, so sharing may be necessary.
- Le Bonne Heure, Travessa S. Domingos, Macau Peninsula (French) – by a French chef. I haven’t had much french food, so won’t comment how authentic it is. From the taste perspective, it was good. Price was affordable for the portion size.
2) Sights – It is easy to walk about Macau, I guess because it is small there is no risk of getting lost. Free maps are easily available at the ferry terminal and hotels. You may even find street maps in touristy areas. I found the following places, worth a visit:
- Macau Tower – I forget how tall it is but tall enough that you can see the whole of Macau Peninsula and most of Taipa and Coloane. In fact, I was able to see across the border into China. For no reasons, I was in awe of my first view of China !
- Taipa Old Village – It is quite possible that I didn’t actually find the old village and instead found the village that was made to look old. This is the original Taipa village before all the constructions. Most of the streets are narrow, able to fit one vehicle at a time. The buildings are not very tall, mostly 2 storey. This is as close as I could get to experiencing the original village.
- Senado Square and St Paul’s ruins – I’ve written about this in a previous blog entry, from my first visit. The view of St Paul’s ruin never fails to make me qawk everytime.
- Water fountain at Wynn Casino – I found this a wonderfully unique feature, from all the other casinos around it. It is a musical fountain that sways to the sound of music. The first time I saw it, it literally took my breath away… the waves were so graceful, almost human-like in movement and as-if to make a point, the climax in the music was accompanied by fire being shot about a meter high.
3) Interesting snippets I picked up:
- Grand Lisboa – this is the updated, grander version of Stanley Ho’s Lisboa Hotel and Casino. It is quite an interestingly shaped building. At night, the whole building lights up with neon words flashing across it. When I first looked at the structure from far, I thought it looked like a pineapple. But my observation was corrected by a local who explained that it is actually shaped like a Brazilian Headdress. I laughed when I was first told, it’s quite a mouth-full and who would have guessed!
- Portugese Language- Although Portugal colonised this state for a long time and gave it over to China in 1999, we hardly heard any portugese being spoken. There is however, a Portugese language radio channel, road sign and establishment signs are in Portugese but that is all.
- Macau PR and Citizens pay no income taxes. In addition to that, they all receive a bonus from the Government every year.
- Retail prices in Macau are similar to HK, which I thought is rather high for a small state. The only consolation is rent is substantially lower, thus making it affordable for the locals.
Inside Venetian's Retail area, made to look like a street in Venice. In case you're wondering, the "sky" is painted onto the ceiling
- Sunset view of the canals, outside Venetian. For some reason, the sky was pink that evening… this is natural.
I heard of /saw Cirque du Soleil a few years back, from a documentary on one of its production. The show was somewhat mysterious and captivated me. Unfortunately for me, all its shows then were showing in the West.
Luckily for us in Asia, Cirque du Soleil came to Venetian Macau with Zaia. The show has been running since Aug 08. Ticket prices start from MOP388 for the lowest category. I caught the show last weekend and it was an experience. The show is made up of different acrobatic segments and if compared with previous acrobatic shows that I’ve seen, these were not more different or better. However what made the whole experience a WOW was the lighting effects, the singing and sound effects, showmen/women floating or flying overhead. In short, the show engaged all my senses and made the experience, somewhat complete. The only thing that I found quite irritating were the 2 clowns… but then they were not for my benefit.
Here’s the Youtube video on Zaia:
We decided to visit Macau for the day on Boxing Day, thinking that it would be a working day, hence less crowd. Wrong assumption…. of cause everyone would take the day off, to enjoy a 4-day break. We arrived to the China Ferry Terminal in TST at the very early hour of 8am but earliest available ticket was 1030am. Ferry ride is 1 hr + queuing 1 hr at immigration, we were in Macau at noon and left at 430pm. Had a quick bite at a Chinese restaurant nearby, before walking to the tourist places. We only spent time in the Macau Peninsula and left-out the islands. All the tourist places are within a pleasant, walking distance.
Briefly, here’s our itinerary:
- Largo do Senado
- St Dominic’s Church
- Ruins of St Paul‘s
Mum's behind as she is climbing up the stairs. Too many people, prevented me from taking a "clean" picture of the facade
- “Donated” money to Lisboa Casino
- Macau Fisherman’s Wharf
Entrance to the Fisherman's Wharf, which is sort of like a mini amusement park + shops + mini museum
Do, do, do:
- Return Ferry Ticket – If you’re traveling from HK to Macau, there’s 2 ways to go, from Central or TST. Regular ticket price is HKD145/way. If you’re sure of your return time and date, buy your return ticket too. We made the mistake of not buying our return ticket from TST and ended up buying a more expensive ticket from Macau.
- Portuguese Egg Tarts – It’s a novelty to eat it here, although maybe it’ll be more authentic to eat it in Portugal (assuming they have it in Portugal). We tried the tart sold at 2 shops and they taste similar to the one, sold at King’s Confectionary in Malaysia. Only difference is it’s alot cheaper in Malaysia.
- Freshly baked Almond Biscuits – As we were walking towards the Ruins, there are lots of shops along the way, dishing out free samples of still-warm Almond Biscuits. Mum says it’s very good; it must be because she ate at least 6 pieces.
- Be prepared – an advice that I should have applied. I didn’t do my usual research before arriving and left out some of the must-eat places/food, like Portuguese or Macanese. Without the research, we didn’t have a planned itinerary and just played it by ear.
- Free Transport to Town – from the Ferry Terminal. All the major hotels offer free bus ride from the Ferry Terminal to their hotel. So if you’re smart, you’ll pick the hotel nearest to where you want to go. This is a one-way only free ride. To enjoy the return ride, you need to show proof that you’ve either stayed/gambled/spent at the hotel.
- Absorb their culture – Portuguese language is still actively used and most everything is mentioned in 3 languages – Chinese, English and Portuguese. Cantonese is widely spoken here and you might be fooled into thinking that you never left HK.
- Visitor Information – at the Macau Ferry Terminal. Be sure to pick up the free map and any information you might need, before leaving the Terminal.
- HKD is accepted in Macau – so don’t bother changing to Macau Pataca. You’ll even get change in HKD.
No, no, no:
- Motion Sickness – courtesy of the rocking, ferry ride. Mum vomited to and from Macau… I threatened to vomit several times, myself. Despite the ferry being full, it could not provide the stability against the raging sea. If you have a problem with motion sickness, take medication and be prepared with vomit bags.
- Long Queues – It seemed that most of our time was spent either queuing or waiting. We had to queue to board the ferry and the queue started about 1 hour before departure! Next we had to queue at the immigration gates, once at Macau-side and then back in HK-side. The queues were incredibly long and filled with irritated (i.e. screaming) babies and people shouting for missing relatives/friends. It was a symphony of noise.
- Unfriendly, maybe mute Taxi Drivers – in Macau, that is. We tried to strike a conversation with the taxi driver but either he was mute/didn’t understand Cantonese/was ignoring us, because he didn’t answer. So much for promoting tourism.
I consider this trip a preview and would like to return for a longer, definitely more organized trip.