What surprised me in Macau

Macau is referred to as the Vegas of the East, did you know? And it really lives up to that depiction with its showy casinos. But the city is much more than that, it is a fascinating mixture or European and Chinese culture and traditions.  We started our Christmas visit to Hong Kong with two days in Macau, a Special Administrative Region of China. It is convenient that you can take the ferry to Macau directly from the Hong Kong International Airport. Many nationalities are free of a Visa requirement. On the way there we chose the Super class option of the TurboJET ferry:  it was located on the upper deck and included a green tea or coffee and some rice snacks. The cost one way is $ 326 per person and the trip takes around one hour and fifteen minutes.

And here we are, in Macau. I’ll introduce certain things that, well, didn’t necessarily surprise me big time, but a little bit and in a delightful way.

First, it was warm, more that twenty degrees Celsius during the day. In December. During our day stroll I got to take my leather jacket off. The Poinsettia Christmas flowers were blooming. A peculiar thing was that many of the locals had dressed their small dogs in these warm quilted jackets. Couldn’t understand why and felt a bit sorry for the small furry fellows.

During the Xmas holiday season there was a proper Christmas Market, Feira de Natal, with pandas wearing red and golden reindeer horns, the traditional Nativity Scene, a sea of red Christmas flowers and stalls selling everything from caramel peanuts to bric-a-brac jewellery.

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Second, the Portuguese impact and legacy. I learned that Macau was administered by the Portuguese Empire from the 16th century until late 1999, a long time. You can see the Portuguese impact in the architecture, in arcs, white pillars and pastel colours and also for example in the traffic signs. The city is a mixture of Portuguese style and Chinese life, details, temples and shrines.  One place exuding Portuguese heritage was the St. Michaels Cemetery (2A, Estrada do Cemiterio). It’s a thing for me to visit the cemetery when I am in a new city. In the center of this beautiful cemetery stood the turquoise St. Michaels Chapel. The cemetery is a peaceful place in the middle of the lively city. The names, photos, memorial phrases and flower compositions on the graves show the merging of the Chinese and Portuguese cultures.

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The Portuguese impact could be tasted in the cuisine as well. For our Christmas dinner we enjoyed some codfish in the form of a fish cake at the restaurant Fado (No. 2-4 Estrada da Vitoria). Though the most delicious dinner was not Portuguese inspired but Singaporean: a small and simple place near the Mercado Municipal Horta. We sat right by the street and shared a rich chicken curry. The friendly owner lady gave us some good Macau tips.

The city was bigger than I had expected but yet compact. All of the central sights are within a walking distance. The most famous of the sights is the Ruins of the Church of St Paul. All that is left of the church now (there was a fire in the 1800s) is a majestic facade and a broad stairway. During our visit the place was packed with tourists, school groups and families having a lunch break or a photo session.

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The monument with its statues, skillful details and pillars is definitely worth the visit but it is rather quickly seen. It would have been beneficial had there been an information board about the ruins explaining a little bit about the symbolics of the inscriptions. When you head away from the ruins along the small and narrow streets there are several opportunities to try the dried meat which seemed to be a popular snack among the locals.

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The casino experience. You can’t really talk about Macau without mentioning the big and imposing casinos. I didn’t find a gambler deep inside me so a quick round in the game halls was enough for us. Furthermore many of the slot machines were rather difficult to comprehend: there were no easy-to-understand fruit games. But  that’s alright, I’ll save my game money for a cocktail, I thought, wishfully, dressed in my shining little black dress. It turned out that you have to make quite a walk in the casino area to find an elegant cocktail bar, or any cocktail bar really. But Rolex shops were ubiquitous: you could find one behind every corner. They were as frequent as the bridal shops downtown.

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The most interesting aspect were the parts of cities built inside the casinos. The Venetian had the canals and gondolas and the Piazza San Marco and right outside the Parisian there was an illuminated and dazzling copy of the Eiffel Tower. Must admit, I was a little doubtful that the casino scene would be as dazzling as the Vegas comparisons promised, but it was.

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One place that deserves a mentioning is the lobby of the Grand Lisboa Casino (2 Av. de Lisboa). There is a lot of antique and art on display from a private collection. The amount of gold and detail is stunning and stupendous.

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I would say that Macao is a good destination for a day or two to be combined with a visit to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong on a budget: affordable luxuries and joys

Hong Kong is exciting, luxurious and awesome. And expensive. Or lets put it this way, it can be very expensive. I put together my tips for affordable to-do’s in Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than willing to invest a lot in my travels, but I find it only sensible to balance the bit more costly pleasures (such as the super delicious fine dining Beijing duck dinner) with joys that are a bit more lenient to one’s wallet and travel budget. And as I am constantly planning my next trip being budget-aware pays off and in its part makes the future travels possible.

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As a general tip, plan your day. At least roughly. Plan the course of your day trip and the route and when and where you can stop for a lunch break. If you’ll be gone for several hours for example when hiking on a mountain, take some high energy snacks with you. This way you’ll be the same joyful travel companion as in the beginning of the day and you won’t have to pay an overtly steep price in the possible only kiosk of the area.

And then to Hong Kong experiences. My favorite boat trip is the ride on the Star Ferry. It is unquestionably the cruise with the best quality-price ratio: the cost is 2.50 HKD for an adult and you get to see the skyscrapers, mountains and the city’s coastline and in the late afternoon the view that turns slightly hazy, soft and all so captivating. The boat ride from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central takes less than fifteen minutes. Highly recommendable.


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My favorite hike is the climb to the peak, the Victoria Peak, the highest point on the Hong Kong Island. The views that open from the top are dazzling; one answer to the question why I love to travel. There is a Peak Tram that can take you all the way up, but I prefer to hike my way to the top. When we passed the start point, the queues to the tram were really long and not tempting at all. The walk from the ground level to the summit takes approximately an hour and fifteen minutes and along one of the routes you can marvel at the old tram stops on the hillside. We went in to the anvil shaped Peak Tower for the best views: the admission to the sky terrace for two people is 96 HK$.

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If hiking is your thing you might also enjoy the climb to the Tian Tan Buddha on the Lantau Island. There is a cable car going to the Buddha but you might already have guessed correctly, we chose to go by foot. Around three hours later we arrived to the 23 metre high bronze Buddha, after passing by a few monks and heavy weight buffalos (yes). It was a bit funny: the other hikers we saw along the way had proper outdoor gear and wandering sticks. And then there was me, equipped with a leather jacket and some sweet mango juice.

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Tempels: there are several ambient temples in Hong Kong that are worth the visit. The air is often heavy and sweet of incense coming from the incense coils hanging in the ceiling and there can be fortune tellers offering to tell your fortune and future. Tempels worth visiting are for example the Taoist Man Mo Temple (124-126 Hollywood Road) and the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple (at the Metro stop Wong Tai Sin). What slightly surprised me was how popular and bustling the temples were. The latter temple is also a venue for Taoist weddings but this time we didn’t manage to see a wedding ceremony.

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One place nearby that definitely deserves a mentioning is the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden (at Metro stop Diamond Hill). This place is beautiful with shimmer of gold, skilled wooden architecure, ponds with lotus flowers and carps and a peaceful, carefully planned and well-kept garden. It is a tranquil oasis in the middle of the tall apartment buildings. The entrance to the temples is free of charge but one can support them with a donation to the metal boxes next to the altars.

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Are you getting hungry? Lets head toward the Temple Street Night Market (the Metro stop is Yau Ma Tei): from the countless stands you can find electronics, decorated chopsticks, waving gilded cat statues, bauble jewellery, anything and everything really. The followers of the Kondo cleaning philosophy might just faint. There is also an abundant selection of street food from noodle soups to delicious dumplings and dim sum. So, shopping and supper in one, if you like.

What else? About accomodation, I would recommend staying on the Kowloon side: it is bustling and vibrant especially at night. Enjoy and take the city!

Afternoon tea in Hong Kong

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The setting for Christmas holidays this year was Macao and Hong Kong. It was exciting, beautiful in many places, both hectic and tranquil, new and familiar, strongly Portugal influenced in Macao and tasty, of course. I’ll post my tips and best do’s soon. Now it’s time for a tea tip.

An English style afternoon tea was something I wanted to include in our travel program. Many hotels offer an afternoon tea in Hong Kong. We desired a savory experience in a beautiful setting, for a sensible price. We went for the Hullet House and its restaurant The Parlour (1881 Heritage, 2A Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, HK).

The milieu of this boutique hotel is pleasant and tranquil. The building with its white arcs and pillars is colonial in its style and the space exudes historical vibes. We sat on the terrace overlooking the hotel garden. We got to see  glimpses of a wedding photo shoot of a newlywed couple and the garden view in the soft afternoon light.

The tea menu included a selection of sweet and salty delicacies: finger sandwiches, scones served with whipped cream and jam, small cakes and biscuits. And a pot of tea: the jasmin was rather good. The cost of the set for two was 418 HKD (excluding the two glasses of prosecco).  Note that a service charge of ten percent will be added to the price, like in many places in HK. You can find more expensive tea’s as well, but that shouldn’t come as a surpise when in Hong Kong. The  hotel advices to make a reservation beforehand.

The old Hong Kong Afternoon tea (found on the hotel’s website), including local delicacies, sticky rice dumplings, wife cakes (?) and egg tarts, sounded interesting but was not available during our visit. The tea and the treats were tasty and it was a delicious experience.  The scones could have been a bit fluffier and maybe there could have been something sour in the selection as well to give it a little edge but all in all the combo worked.

What else? The terrace is wide enough if you come with a stroller. Next to where we sat there was a wedding planning  office: all in all the amount of wedding stores and wedding related services was very high both in HK and Macao.

I can recommend the tea experience for one afternoon’s program of the trip, for example between the days of hiking to the peak (the best climb ever) and to the mountain with the Tian Tan Buddha on the Lantau Island.

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