Though I stayed in Europe for more than 5 years and visited many countries, never got an opportunity to take my mom on a vacation. Hence, after returning to India, the first thing I wanted to do was plan was a foreign trip. Selecting a place was tricky with so many close-by places like Malaysia, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai etc. I wanted her to experience a modern city with tall buildings and to also get a hint of European flavor if possible. Hence, we finally settled for Hong Kong and Macau which was close to what we wanted.
Macau (also spelled Macao), is one of the Special Administrative Regions of China (like Hong Kong), lies in the South China Sea, about an hour cruise from Hong Kong. It is supposedly the most densely populated city in the world! Don’t let this scare you away though – it is still less crowded than any shopping street in India!
A former Portuguese colony, you could see lot of Portugal influence in architecture of the old city. The new city though is something like Las Vegas!
Due to some unforeseen delays, our tickets were only confirmed on Saturday morning for the next day. Travel agency handed over the tickets to my sister and informed her that the flight was on the Sunday night. With one full day to go, we were planning at our leisure. Later in the day, she forwarded the itinerary for my reference. When I looked at the tickets first hand, I noticed the flight is on Sunday at 1. That is, not Sunday night but Sunday early morning which was the same night! With less than few hours to go, we packed our bags in hurry and after quick trip to parlor by the ladies, we were off to the airport, casually laughing away at our oversight!
Some six hours flight later, we arrived at Hong Kong airport and quickly moved to the ferry terminal for a boat ride to Macau. A big red boat arrived which looked more like a speedboat than ferry. We boarded in and started cruising toward Macau. After a long, noisy and cramped flight, I fell asleep in the quiet and comparatively spacious ferry. An hour later we arrived at the ferry terminal at Macau.
After the immigration, we received on-arrival-visa and walked out of the terminal to the bus bay where our coach was waiting. It was a sunny day and was pretty humid. With no attractions in sight, the first impression was of an ordinary, silent, tidy Indian coastal city.
We checked into the hotel after a short ride in the coach and relaxed for a few minutes. While others were still unpacking, I went out to get some lunch.
With my sister insisting on fried rice, I got couple of packets of fried rice from a nearby restaurant. When we opened the packets and tasted the first bite, is when the feeling of being on a vacation in a foreign country came rushing to me! Don’t mistaken me – the food was bad (for our taste) and nothing like the fried rice we know. But that unfamiliarity was what I was looking for and started enjoying the meal, anticipating more such new experiences in the coming days!
After lunch, we got freshened up and went out for an evening walk. The city was revealing itself as we explored more. Tourist attractions like Fisherman wharf was very next door to our hotel and so was the golden lotus. As we were planning to visit these places the next day, we went past them and took a leisurely stroll to the Science Center.
We stayed close-by spending the evening relaxing next to the sea with the Macau tower and Statue of Guanyin in the backdrop.
Macau, for tourists, can be split into three – the main attractions, the old city and the casinos, which we will touch upon on day two.
We started the day 2 with a guided tour to A-Ma Temple from which Macau name is derived. This temple is located at the southern tip of Macau peninsula. Built in 1448, the temple is dedicated to Matsu – the goddess of seafarers and fishermen. It is said that when Portuguese sailors first arrived they landed at the coast just outside this temple and named the peninsula after the Goddess.
The temple is at the base of a hill facing the sea. The goddess overlooks the sea through a huge gaping hole supposedly keeping an eye on the sailors. After a quick prayer and a climb to the hill, we left to the next destination.
The next attraction was Macau tower, which can be spotted from almost anywhere in Macau. It is located close to the temple, again at the southern tip of the peninsula. It is a tower measuring over 1000 feet with an observation deck on top. A section of the floor on the deck is made of toughened glass, so you can stand on the floor and see the ground below. It’s scary at first but gives a unique thrill of walking in the air. The deck also offers the best view of the Macau city with the sea and bridges on one side and the casinos to the other.
The tickets cost around HK$100 each and it’s worth the view and the experience which I would highly recommend.
After the tower visit, one thing you shouldn’t miss is the view of Sai Van Bridge connecting Macau peninsula and Taipa Island, from the base of the tower. A walk across the shopping mall towards the rear deck reveals the beautiful arches of the cable stayed bridge. You can click some nice evening shots at the bridge just before sunset.
The next stop was Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the first cultural, themed and creative attraction in Macau. It is set on the waterfront next to the ferry terminal. Some part of the park was closed during our visit but the European village park was very much open. Split into a number of themed areas, recreating architecture from Old England, France, 18th century Portugal and Rome, you can fool yourself into thinking you are in Europe for a moment! Spending an afternoon or evening walking on the cobbled streets or having lunch in one of the restaurants or relaxing in the breeze from the South China Sea, is a total joy!
The entry is free and is a must visit in Macau.
Hidden behind a hill, a drive through a tunnel, reveals the old Macau city. As the city was a Portuguese colony until 1998, the old city has a lot of Portuguese influence. The main attraction and Macau’s landmark is Ruins of St. Paul’s, which is situated in this part of the city. Once a glorious complex with college, church and much more, is just ruins now, after a fire during a typhoon in 19th century. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ruins now consists of just the southern stone facade intricately carved by Japanese Christians under direction of Italian Jesuit. The entrance is free but have to pay for the museum inside.
After the visit we went around the crowded old city and did some shopping – mainly mementos.
Drive back via the tunnel to the present Macau and you will be greeted with extravagant buildings starting from the center the peninsula all the way to the Taipa Island. These are the world famous casinos from which Macau gets its main revenue (apparently even surpassing Las Vegas as the largest casino market in the world). The buildings look outright ostentatious with all the glitter and flashiness in the world!
Now that we have travelled so far, returning without trying our luck at gambling will be a shame. Hence, to get a taste of it, we entered one of the grander casinos in the middle of the Macau. Inside the casino, there were endless number of tables and slot machines stretching from one end to the other, with many gamblers looked to have settled in their seats for quite some time. After a walk, with no prior experience in gambling, I chose a modest slot machine. I inserted a $10 bill and pressed the big button. It gulped the cash immediately without returning anything! Wanting to win back, I played again and history repeated. As I seemed hopeless at it, I walked out and spent the rest of the evening in the colorfully lit shopping streets.
After our dinner in one of the local restaurants which also served a delicious Portuguese dish (by far the best dish I had in macau), we decided to head back to hotel ending our two day site visit. On our way back to hotel, we found a surprise gift - a street which is named after our very own state which was once a colony of Portuguese too...
--Signing off VBR