Instead of going straight into Hong Kong, we decided to spend two days in Macau, just a short ferry ride away. We learned immediately that it was going to be a challenge getting around with English here, as the former Portuguese colony speaks primarily Chinese. We somehow figured out the buses enough to take one out to Taipa, the region where our home for the night, the Grandview Hotel, was located.
It was a feeling of pure joy to lay down on my plush hotel bed, without any rowdy hostel guests to share the room with. A room all to ourselves–no shared bathroom, complimentary toiletries, no bunk beds, a TV, real bath towels, no need to lock up my luggage. Life was good.
We woke up late the next morning and took our time getting ready to explore the city. Eventually we took a city bus to Macau Peninsula and did a self guided walking tour of the old Portuguese areas. It took us past Senado Square, St. Dominic’s Cathedral, the Opium House, a historical pawn shop, St. Lawrence’s Cathedral, Mandarins House, and many others that showed the merging of Portuguese and Chinese cultures. On all the signs, there’s Chinese, then the Portuguese translation, and then English, since the Portuguese colonized Macau. We ate noodles with chicken, red bean bun, and traditional egg tart for breakfast.
There is so much similarity between Macau and Lisbon, at least in my opinion, with steep windy cobblestone roads, the European architecture, and the signature black and white tiles that decorate the streets.
We continued our walk to A-ma temple, the oldest in the city. We could smell the smoke from the incense before we entered and saw hundreds of Chinese locals and tourists praying and bowing with incense burning in sacrifice to each separate deity within the temple. Some Chinese tourists even asked to take a picture with us. We encountered very few other Caucasians and probably stood out as clearly foreign.
We made our way to the Macau Tower, the tallest bungee jumping location in the world (according to them). We could see little specks of people jumping way in the distance as we walked closer.
We tried to navigate the bus system to the Guia fortress, but struggled since English is barely spoken or understood. Eventually we made it to the base of the Guia hill and took the cable car up to the top. Up above, there were badminton courts, basketball courts, and a whole network of underground military tunnels built in the early 1900s. The main attraction was the Guia Fortress, used to protect and defend the island. It had an incredible view of the whole city. To the left there were countless casinos, flashing lights, and general commotion. To the right was the concrete jungle of residential buildings looking like they were in disrepair. It seems that the residents take immense care to keep their cars spotless, yet a majority of the housing looks like it’s crumbling and decrepit.
We rested at the hotel for a bit and then ventured out to see the casinos that rival those of Vegas. We stuffed ourselves full at the Grand Lisboa buffet, which served a mix of sushi, steak, veggies, and an abundance of cheesecake and chocolate fondue. We waddled over to the gambling area and gawked at the hoards of Chinese playing cards and sitting at slot machines. The most surprising thing of all was that instead of drinking alcohol heavily in true Vegas-style, they were sipping glasses of milk. The bars were empty and there wasn’t a single night club we passed. It seems as though Macau casino culture focuses only on the actual gambling and doesn’t include any of the drinking, dancing, or general debauchery that Vegas embraces. Without this whole other element to gaze at, we walked through The Wynn, and MGM Grand and decided we had seen enough slot machines. Later on we read that in Chinese culture, drinking is viewed as a mind numbing agent (which it is) and it will worsen their skill at gambling. Macau–the PG version of Las Vegas.
The next morning, we went to the Taipa flea market, which only consisted of a few booths selling jewelry and socks. The streets were crowded with people shopping as we walked past the pastry shops, brimming with customers buying sweets for the Chinese New Year. Very few places had any English, so we settled for a restaurant that had pictures of the meals. Luckily a family near us spoke English and helped us order an unusual meal of mystery meat, macaroni pasta, and an egg on top. Not exactly what I would have eaten for breakfast every day, but it was good and it kept us full for hours.
On our way to Coloane, another section of Macau, we walked through Cotai and wandered into The Venetian in a sea of Mainland Chinese tourists shoving and shouting. It was madness. The design was almost exactly like it was in Vegas, with the water canals and the buildings and sky painted to look like you were outdoors strolling along an Italian shopping street. They even have gondolas with people singing and paddling along the fake waterways. With all the pushy tourists creating an overwhelming situation, we tried to find the exit and finally succeeded after many failed attempts to leave the maze-like building.
Without any desire to see any more casinos, we walked to Coloane, and passed a construction site for MORE casinos and giant identical residential high rises. Truly a concrete jungle.
We reached the edge of the construction and development and found ourselves in the Giant Panda park, where we waited almost an hour watching a snoozing panda finally wake up for meal time. It was totally worth it, since I felt like I couldn’t leave China without seeing at least one panda.
The panda park connected to a long hiking trail that brought us high up on a mountain with what would have been a great view of Macau, were it not for the dense smog. At the top of the path there was a beautifully ornate temple with statues of various deities situated around the courtyard with clouds of incense smoke billowing around. There was even a cat roaming around the temple that let me pet it.
A little bit higher into the mountain was a giant statue of the deity A-ma, who looked over the ocean. The view was spectacular and we could see the distant casinos and the Macau Tower, but all enveloped in the smoggy haze.
By the time we walked back down and hopped on the bus back to the hotel, we were exhausted. Thankfully we both grabbed seats because at the next stop, a hoard of construction workers started banging against the bus door, swarming the entrance as if they were Black Friday shoppers fighting for the last big screen TV. Macanese feminists can rest assured that the women were pushed and shoved an equal amount as the men. We huddled on our plastic disks of refuge, keeping us just a few inches away from the madness. When we got off, we snacked on some street food after pointing to random balls of meat and unidentifiable veggies. We collected our bags from the hotel and made our way to the ferry terminal to cross the water to Hong Kong.
We were welcomed at our hostel by several posted signs explaining that the hostel was an illegal operation due to the building’s zoning laws. Sketchy, but we decided not to think much of it and checked into our tiny private room.