If you are in Hong Kong on a China visa run and you have a day free, what do you do? See Macau. This was my situation last time I was in Hong Kong so I arranged to meet a Polish friend U at Macau’s ferry terminal at 10:00am for a day of fun visiting the sites in Macau.
Hong Kong to Macau by Ferry
The best way to get to Macau from Hong Kong is to take the TurboJet ferries that run 24 hours a day. The sailing time is 55 minutes, an economy ticket cost HK$151 and a super class ticket costs HK$291. You catch the ferry at Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan and get off at the Macau Ferry Terminal and Heliport on mainland Macau.
I took the MTR to Sheung Wan station and used the D exit which leads straight to the ferry terminal a few minutes walk from the ticket windows. The next available ferry with an economy seat did not leave for over 90 minutes and if I bought a super class ticket, I’d be leaving in 10 minutes. I could not make my friend U wait that long so forked out for a super expensive ticket.
The actual ferry ride was nice, great views, very comfortable seats AND a complimentary breakfast. Maybe there is more to travel than budget back packing!!!
Arrived around 15 minutes and found U waiting patiently outside the customs gate. We grabbed a couple of brochures from the tourist booth and spoke to the staff who were very helpful and gave us great directions. There is bus stop outside the terminal with public buses and courtesy buses for various hotels and casinos in Macau. We jumped on the Hotel Lisboa bus and headed into town.
Hotel and Casino Lisboa – Built in 1970 the Casino Lisboa is one of Macau’s original and most famous casinos. Walking around the casino you get the feeling that it is old and has better days. The casino floor is in a round area at the center of the building with shady and slightly worn tables and prostitutes (mostly from Mainland China) patrol the area outside the casino floor. This is the only casino in Macau where you can see gambling and prostitution so blatantly hand in hand.
Hotel and Casino Grand Lisboa – Built in 2006 the Grand Lisboa is right next to the Lisboa and is Lisboa’s modern replacement. The Grand Lisboa is new, glitzy, has hundreds of gaming tables and slot machines and is housed in Macau’s tallest buildings. Very impressive but sterile, lacking in atmosphere and does not have the character of its aged predecessor.
After visiting the two Lisboa’s, we got a little lost but eventually made our way by foot to the old area of Macau.
Old Area, Churches & Fortress
The historic centre of Macau or the Old Area is where the Portuguese first settled in 1557 when they made Macau a colony. It has loads of churches, squares, lane ways and European architecture and walking through the old area is one of the pleasures of visiting Macau. The old area was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, making it China’s 31st heritage site. There are over 20 sites in the old area and you could spend a whole day there basking in the history and feel of the place. U and I visited the highlights listed below.
Lou Kau’s Mansion – Built in 1889 this was the family home of Lou kau, a very successful merchant. This style of mansion is common through out most of China’s old town with many examples in Anhui province’s Hongcun Village. You’ll be in and out of there in 10 minutes at the most.
St.Dominic’s Church – This is Macau’s oldest church and was built in 1587 by Spanish Dominican priests. Considering Spaniards and Portuguese were at each others throats for much of the 15th and 16th centuries, this church has a very interesting history. The outside of the church is interesting and the inside is gorgeous.
Ruins of St.Paul’s – This was originally the St.Paul’s College and Cathedral of St.Paul built by the Jesuits at the end of the 15th century. It was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835 and is now Macau’s most famous tourist site. Only the façade is left standing now and it is an interesting place to visit even in the rain. You can also see bones of the Jesuits in the crypt ad the back of the site.
Mount Fortress – This was a fortress built by the industrious Jesuits between 1617 and 1622 and it did a good job at prevented an invasion attempt by the horrible Dutch in 1622. You can see plenty of battlements and cannons when you climb to the top and the views of the surrounding city are great.
By the time we finished enjoying the old area of Macau it was around 1pm so we jumped on a public bus and headed of for Macau Island. U heard that there was a casino called The Venetian, a must see Macau hot spot. The island also has a temporary ferry terminal with ferries back to both Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
Macau Island and Casino Cities at the Cotai Strip
The Venetian – This hotel and casino complex is enormous and feels like a miniature city when you are in there. To give you an idea of the size, it is the 6th largest building in the world in terms of floor space and it is the world’s largest casino. It is so insanely large that there is a series of canals on the top floor used for gondola rides and they have painted the ceiling to look like a cloudy sky on a sunny day. An effect that is both impressive and creepy. The ground floor has art work on the ceiling very reminisce of the Sistine Chapel that adds to the formal feel of the hotel.
We were there for a couple of hours checking out the gambling floors, wandering through the upper floors that had corridors the size of streets and stopped for a late lunch. Considering the quality and price of the hotel, lunch was cheap. Most likely subsidised by the millions lost daily by gamblers.
City of Dreams – This is another hotel and casino complex that is opposite The Venetian. It is smaller than The Venetian has a much more modern theme which gives it a very different feel and atmosphere. The gambling floors are much more active and this is the casino we saw people having the most fun with their gambling. There is a members area on the main gaming floor that has the higher stakes betting. We saw a young punter there with approximately 3 million Macau dollars (pataka) in $200,00 and $100,000 betting tokens. Watching him blow away $200,000 in one round of cards without blinking was the highlight of the day.
Back to Hong Kong
After that high stakes game we left the City of Dreams and caught their courtesy bus to Macau’s temporary ferry terminal. I was in luck and caught a ferry back to Hong Kong with an economy seat. U had to wait a little longer for her ferry back to Shenzhen.
Tips for Visitors to Macau’s casino’s and Historical Sites
Dress Code – There is basically no dress code and anything goes but you may want to dump the shorts, sandals and t-shirt to wear something a little more formal.
Timing – Macau has enough tourist spots and places of interest to keep you busy for at least 3 or 4 days BUT 1 day is plenty to see the highlights.
Don’t Gamble – Unless you have iron self control, don’t gamble. These places are designed to part you from your cash and if you start gambling you are likely to be broke before you know it.