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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.