Throw together some old Portugal, contemporary China, old and new Vegas, a white Brooklyn bridge and you’ve got Macau. This eclectic region of China, an hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong, attracts hundreds if not thousands of tourists each day, many attracted to the family friendly packages offered by the casinos. I’d read about Macau and its Portuguese heritage and was eager to see it for myself.
My first impression of Macau was not good. I was almost trampled by fellow passengers very keen to get off the ferry. Surely they weren’t that desperate to get to the casino! When I reached customs I realised why – the lines were very, very long. Obviously my fellow travellers had been here before. Despite the long lines it did not take long to get through customs and I was soon on a public bus and on my way into town.
While I was not interested in visiting a casino, the bus ride to the town centre and back gave me some great views of the old (think Vegas 1950s style) and new casinos and the many, many more under construction. It also gave me some idea of the size and reach of the gambling industry in Macau.
It was the old section of town that I’d come to see and I was not disappointed. Many of the beautiful old Portuguese buildings sit around Largo do Senado, the large town square, or on the streets that run off the square. In the roads and lanes behind the square were the more contemporary Chinese high rise buildings and smaller shops. It was fascinating to see the mix of old European and modern China and in the distance the ultra-modern and huge casino buildings. There were many tourists out shopping; some were loading up entire suitcases with bottles of body lotion and tubes of toothpaste from Watson’s, a store very similar to Priceline. I’m not sure why – I can only guess that these items are very cheap in Macau.
Around lunchtime I stumbled across Travessa da Se, a small street off the square, one side of which was lined with people selling bowls of curry. Each vendor had a range of meat, vegetables, offal and tofu threaded on bamboo skewers and stacked on their counter. Customers were given a bowl and asked to select which items they’d like in their curry. The food was then cut off the skewers with scissors into a pot of boiling water to cook before being dipped into some meat stock, placed in a takeaway bowl and the curry sauce ladled over the top. I couldn’t resist buying one. It was delicious and cost the equivalent of about $8 – a bargain. They were extremely popular and the small street was packed with people buying the curry bowls for most of the day.
Getting back to Hong Kong proved a little more difficult than it should have been. I arrived back at the terminal to be told that my ferry was leaving from Taipa, a nearby island. I had no idea where that was but was given a ticket with the name of the terminal in English and Chinese and told to get on the Venetian casino shuttle bus. When I reached the casino, I showed them the ticket and was told I’d need to walk through the entire casino to another entrance where I could catch a bus to Taipa. The second bus came eventually and I made the ferry just in time.