Thursday, 8 November 2012

A day trip to Macau

We'd spotted a leaflet advertising the old Portuguese colony of Macau as a day trip destination. The leaflet showed photos of quaint colonial properties and a large temple complex, and further reading in the Hong Kong Lonely Planet guide revealed that the old centre of Macau is a world heritage site.

We decided to take the plunge and use one of our remaining days in Hong Kong to make a daytrip to Macau, but instead of taking the 11 hr organised tour we thought we'd make our own way there and set our own agenda.

After a jet lag induced fuzzy start to the day we made it down to the harbour pier to catch the fast ferry to Macau. $260 secured us two return tickets (or so we thought - more later) and we quickly cleared Hong Kong customs before boarding the madly swaying "TurboJet" ferry. Thankfully, once we were up to speed the catamaran/hydrofoil glid over the choppy seas and made for a smooth 1 hr crossing to our destination.

On arrival, we realised that our Lonely Planet guide might have been a little out of date when it said that Macau was becoming a popular gambling destination as before us lay the SE Asia equivalent of the Las Vegas strip. Garish neon lit hotel/casino complexes were multiple, and in true Las Vegas style there was even a "greatest wonders of the world" theme park complete with Roman coliseum and fully functioning volcano (erupts twice a day like clockwork; why can't the real ones be so predictable?)

We exited the ferry pier (via Macau customs and a new stamp in the passport) and ignoring the casino touts set out on foot. We cam across the entrance to the bizarrely empty theme park, and with no entry fees walked in an wandered around the exhibits.

With mad dog and Englishman enthusiasm we set out on foot from here under a blazing sun hoping to reach the A-Ma Temple using the tiny street map in the rear of the Lonely Planet guide. With sweaty brows we stopped in on the plush looking Cultural Museum and picked up a better tourist map and cooled off in their air-con.

We walked on to lunch in the Macau Tower - home to the highest bungy jump in the world (764ft!) which i was partially tempted by before quested off again on foot to the temple. This was probably 1.5miles of walking in total, and we would have got a cab if it wasn't for the strange state of affairs Macau seems to have found itself in. There seems to be a huge amount that has been spent on infrastructure, but very few occupants so we were able to walk along plush dual carriageways with hardly any traffic disturbing us.

Eventually we arrived at the temple, where Caroline was harassed by a green Chinese dragon and both our clothes absorbed large quantities of strong smelling incense smoke. The temple itself was a strange mix of Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu deities and carvings, but all based around a folk story of a storm lashed fishing vessel finding safe harbour in the bay below the rocks and the ships survivors raising a temple to show thanks to the spirits that has sparred their lives. 

Coils of incense at the A-Ma temple.
The neighbouring maritime museum was an interesting, and cheap way to spend an hour (entrance fee $10 = 80p/each) before continuing the walk along to a large Mandarin house that had been recently renovated. This thankfully turned out to be the start of a honey-pot of different World Heritage sites and a hugely pleasant change to the hideous mock glitz of casino world.

Throughout the afternoon and evening we wandered freely through the old town before coming across the piece de la resistance the remains of St. Paul's church, of which only the front wall is left standing.
The remainbs of St. Paul's in central Macau - busy!

Walking back out of town we sampled numerous slices of sweet cured pork/beef jerky which was advertised as "the number one souvenir from Macau" before our legs couldn't take anymore and we hopped on a bus back to the ferry terminal. The bus route took us back via many other casino's we'd not seen earlier in the day, confirming that Macau is now the centre of gambling for all of  SE Asia before we got back to the ferry pier.

Here, it turned out our return tickets were in fact singles and we were forced to fork out another $260 to get back to Hong Kong, before we eventually arrived back at our hotel a short while before midnight.

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