Monday, May 17, 2010

Macau - Not just the Vegas of The East

Hong Kong was an absolute blast, so the city following Hong Kong on our trip, Macau, was going to have to pull something pretty special out of the bag to try and compete. Jenni and I were somewhat excited about seeing Macau as we had heard it described as the 'Vegas of the East' and were looking forward to seeing some spectacular looking casinos. However, not being big gamblers ourselves, we figured that after seeing the outsides of the casinos, there wouldn't really be much else for us to see.

Booking an actual hostel in Macau proved to be a problem since there are none.  Because the city's main tourist attraction is gambling, I imagine that the people running the accommodation business don't get too many requests from backpackers with moths in our wallets like ourselves - mum and dad, I'm just exaggerating about our lack of funds, you don't need to send us any money because we have run out.... yet :) Thus, we got our accommodation at the Casa Real Casino hotel. We got a fantastic deal on the accommodation ($87 AUD per night, opposed to over $250 AUD per night at all of the other hotels in Macau). We think that the reason why we got such a great deal is because there are some renovations being done on one of the floors and, every now and again, we could hear the faint sound of a drill or hammer. After staying in the room in Beijing that lay directly facing the Beijing railway station with cars using their horns 24 hours per day, this didn't bother us in the least. 

We travelled to Macau from Hong Kong via the ferry which proved to be very cheap and convenient as a ferry leaves Hong Kong every 30 mins from a dock which was only a few blocks walk from our accommodation. The ferry only took about 1 hour and 30 mins to get there. Being a bit of a pussy when it comes to riding on boats, I was a bit anxious as I didn't want to get sea sick, but to be honest, the most choppy part of the trip was actually in Hong Kong harbour, caused by the large amount of traffic in the water. 

We had a total of 2 whole days in Macau to see the city. The first day we lazed around in the hotel in the morning, unwinding from having a couple of busy days in Hong Kong. That afternoon, we thought we would go out and see the red markets, but were redirected into the centre of town upon the recommendation of the hotel concierge as he claimed that they sell the same stuff in town, but the place is much nicer to walk around. The architecture in Macau's town centre is heavily influenced by the Portuguese and is absolutely beautiful. During this outing we discovered that the entire city of Macau is littered with beautiful churches, graveyards, parks, fortresses and old military installations.

Because Macau was so heavily influenced by the Portuguese due to their merchant-explorers visiting the town and settling there back in the early 1550s, Macau is home to an interesting mix of both Portuguese and Chinese culture. The catholic church has had a very big influence over the city as many missionaries were sent into the area to convert the people of China and many churches can be seen throughout, the most notable of which is the ruins of St. Paul's which lies near the town centre. St Paul's was built as the Church of Mater Dei between 1602 and 1640 by the Jesuits. In 1835 the church was damaged by fire and beyond repair. All that was left of the church was the front facing that you can now see today. It is a spectacular sight at the top of a set of steps that lead down to the winding market streets in the town centre. Flanking one side of the steps is a beautiful flower garden and beyond that, a spectacular fortress that over looks the town centre and the city bay. Behind the ruins we were able to walk down into some crypts and into the Museum of Sacred Arts which houses some paintings created by Japanese artists in the 17th century.

After seeing how spectacular the town centre was, the following day we decided to do a walking tour that would take us from one end of the city and into the centre of town, passing all of the major sights. We started our day by walking around to the opposite side of Guia hill to the cable car station. Along the way we got a good view of the Macau Grand Prix tower and seating area which is next to the bay. By the time we got to the cable car and took it to the summit, we were already dripping in sweat due to the high humidity. The hill is more like a plateau, flat at the top and covered in lush jungle gardens, with jogging trails winding their way to the top, passing flower gardens along the way. At the top of the plateau we found old military anti aircraft bunkers which were built in the 1930s. At the peak of the plateau stands Guia fortress. 

Originally built between 1622 and 1638, over the years the fortress was transformed to house a lighthouse, cannons and anti aircraft guns. Under its hill we walked through a bomb shelter that has tunnels that connect the fortress to the other major military installations found along the top of the plateau. At the top of the fortress, we were at the highest peak in Macau and could see right down into the bay and across the entire city. From here we had a great view of all of the fancy-looking casinos, the most spectacular of which was the Grand Lisboa which is in the shape of a lotus flower. On the other side of the hill we could look down into the city and see from a bird's eye view some of the churches, parks and graveyards we were planning to visit on our walk, later that day. With the surrounding jungle foliage and military equipment throughout, this fortress was one of the most spectacular places we have visited on this trip. I have played my fair share of videos games and I am convinced that some of the action games I have played (Farcry in particular comes to mind) have had sequences in the games based on such a place as this. It is absolutely breathtaking. 

We made our way back down along one of the jogging tracks and started heading towards St Michael's cemetery. The cemetery has a chapel in the centre and many graves with lots of elaborate headstones. The oldest graves that we could find dated back to about 1850.

From the cemetery, we made our way towards town to the Mount Fortress that over looks St Paul's ruins. Atop of this fortress, we could get yet another fantastic view of the city, this time a bit more up close as it is only a short distance from the city centre and all of the major casinos. While sitting down and having a rest at the top, we were treated to fantastic entertainment, compliments of some of the local puppies who were having a great time running around to greet all of the people and wrestling with each other. 

The Mount Fortress not only has things to see at the top, but also houses the Macau museum. Visiting the museum was very interesting as it had many exhibits contrasting western and eastern cultures. It also had a lot of information about the sights we had already seen around Macau. Because Macau was historically one of the main cities where the Europeans traded with the Chinese, there were many interesting exhibits that explained the various trade routes, the relationships between the Chinese and European traders and displays of all of the various wares that were traded. We could see that even 100s of years ago, gambling was still a big thing in Macau, especially when it came to gambling on cricket fights. Apparently the best crickets were treated like heroes, fed a special diet and upon their death, even graced with little cricket coffins or tombs and a funeral.

After the fortress and museum we went down the hill, back to St Paul's to take a couple of photos, as we did not bring our camera the previous day as we did not expect to see anything worth taking a picture of. Before heading back into the city centre, we headed around the back of St Paul's ruins, past St Anthony's church to see the Casa garden. This large park looks like it was built around some of the ruins of the old city walls and is a maze of winding paths that go up along the sides of hills that are rich in lush greenery. At some of the shaded platforms, groups of old men were gathered around others playing Chinese chess, while on the flat grassy areas people played badminton. 

After a quick pit stop in the garden to have a read of our books and sample some of the local specialities, sweet dried pork and Portuguese custard tarts, we made our way back into the centre of town. Along the winding streets, we stopped to take a peek into St Dominic's church which lies right in the middle, next to the Senado Square, the same town square where we visited the previous day. The town square is flanked by old Portuguese-style buildings, one of the most noticeable was the Holy House of Mercy. Even McDonalds had set up shop in one of the Portuguese style buildings, making itself look more like a fancy cafe from the outside.

We still had a bit more time up our sleeves before we needed to grab some dinner, so we ventured even further into the town, up through the winding streets to see St Augustine's Square, with the adjacent St Augustine's Church. The church had some people outside it, with a desk setup and flanking posters advertising a performance that evening. At first we thought we had stumbled across the Dom Pedro Theatre instead of the church, but upon looking around a corner, we managed to find the theatre, but with the gates closed. We can only assume that the church sometimes doubles as a theatre, as when we peaked around the people at the front, we could see a rehearsal going on where the alter would be.

By this stage of the day, we were completely exhausted so we walked back into town, grabbed a bite to eat and started to make our way back to the hotel. Before jumping in our taxi, we figured we should at least grab a snap shot of some of the downtown casinos, just to prove that we had been to the 'Vegas of the East'.

The following morning we, left Macau via ferry to travel back to Hong Kong so we could get a flight to Hanoi in Vietnam where we were planning to meet a couple of friends of ours the following day. Although we didn't partake in any gambling at all, I can happily say that we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the 'Vegas of the East'. It was definitely one of the most amazing places we have visited on this trip so far. If you ever go to Hong Kong, make sure that you take the ferry across to visit Macau. Don't be tempted to just sit in one of the casinos as this city has SO MUCH MORE to offer!

1 comment:

  1. Could almost mistake one of those photos from the top of the steps of the ruins of the church at Macau as being taken at the Spanish Steps in Roma!!!
    mum mcg xx