Friday, 21 November 2014

Macau day trip

My wife has a habit: no matter whether we are at home or on holidays, invariably she would be the last person out of the door whenever we need to go somewhere. It was the same again when we were readying ourselves to buy our turbojet tickets to Macau in March this year. We were staying in Sheung Wan and I had to hurry her out of the hotel early enough to have our breakfast before walking over to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal. Once the tickets were bought, we were on our way.

The one-hour journey was smooth and uneventful, and soon we arrived at the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal. And immediately, we hit a problem: hardly anyone we met outside the Macau Government Tourist Office at the terminal spoke English, and with us not speaking Portuguese, Cantonese or Mandarin, our only course of action was to arm ourselves with one of their tourist maps so that we could point and gesticulate to the destinations we wanted to go.

So what's available in Macau that could interest us immediately? When I was younger several decades ago, I had already known that Macau was the centre of legalised gambling in this part of the world. In the same breath, whenever Macau's name was mentioned, visions of roulette tables, blackjack tables and slot machines would spring to mind. The Casino Lisboa was practically the face of Macau from the 70s till the 90s. It's that famous, see?

In 2001, the Macau government eased restrictions on casinos operating here and today, I've been reading that there are as many as 33 casinos in this Special Administrative Region.

Unfortunately, I've never been a gambling man and my forays into casinos anywhere have always been out of curiosity than anything else. Same as in Macau, the only casino that we wandered into briefly was the Casino Lisboa and that was only because it was located down the road from the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. But I'm sure that many other people would have found entertainment inside the many other big-name casinos here.

So there we were, we hailed a taxi at the ferry terminal and pointed out to the driver that we wanted to go to the ruins of St Paul's. Well, maybe not exactly to the ruins itself, but maybe, just drop us off a distance away so that we could walk and have a look around one of Macau's busy commercial centres. We got off at the Avenida do Infante Dom Henrique, got our bearings correct and strolled to where the Largo de Senado (Senado Square) was.

The direction to the ruins couldn't be any simpler to ascertain. We simply had to follow the crowd. Everyone in the square was practically heading in the same direction as us or they were heading back. But actually, if we were just to walk directly to the ruins without stopping to observe the culture and activities around us, we would have missed a lot about everyday Macau street life.

Obviously, we weren't interested in the big business outlets with their branded goods; they were more or less the same everywhere. Instead we were more curious about the little mom-and-pop shops along the way: the little shops selling souvenir items and the little shops selling tasty snacks like dried sweet meats, meatballs on a stick, grilled pork chops in crispy buns, almond cookies and of course, their famous Portuguese egg tarts, It would be unforgivable to leave Macau without eating two or three or even more of these egg tarts!

Macau is actually much more than the casinos or the ruins of St Paul's. As my wife and I were only there on a very crowded day trip, we never got the chance to move far from the Senado Square or the ruins. Nevertheless, we did manage to visit the St Dominic's Church, the nearby Na Tcha Temple, the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau building and Mt Fortress.

We came away from our brief trip to Macau convinced that next time around, we must stay here for a couple more days. After all, Macau is an amazing place, both historical and modern, and visiting this place can be a great experience, especially if your first visit was short or incomplete or if you haven't been here before.  So if my wife and I were to visit Macau again, what will we be doing?

First thing is to explore the Macau historical centre again which incidentally, is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Apart from the ruins of St Paul's, there are so many more attractions such as the St Joseph's Church, the St Laurence's Church, Dom Pedro V Theatre, Mandarin's House, A-Ma's Temple and the Guia hills.

But history and culture aside, Macau has other modern-day attractions. I'm talking casinos now. Yes, the casinos. We'd certainly like to step foot into the casinos - yes, really visit them intentionally - not to gamble but to enjoy the side attractions like the gondola ride at the Venetian Macau and the Wynn Macau's water fountain show which I hear is rather spectacular.

And above all, there are also equally charming tourist alternatives such as the wine museum, the Macau Grand Prix and the grand prix museum, Fisherman's Wharf or the Macau Tower with its bungee jumping attraction, not that I'm game enough to try it (but my wife may want to).

In the early evening as we took the same turbojet ride back to Hong Kong, we looked back at this former Portuguese colony and saw Macau's newest casino, the Sands Macau, fading away into the background. Hopefully, we'll be back in the foreseeable future to explore more of this place.


Melvin Paul said...

It nice to have a spouse that loves travelling as well! :) All the best to the both of you :)

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