Last week I was lucky enough to have my mum and sister come to visit me in Hong Kong. I did have to work some of the time, but I sent them off on excursions without me, and joined them on my days off. Naturally, I had seen many of the things on their list already – such as the Peak and the Big Buddha – but I also made sure to use the opportunity to visit a few places I had yet to go to. The first of these isn’t even in Hong Kong; we spent a day visiting Macau (sometimes spelled Macao), another SAR in China, just a hop, skip and ferry ride away across the water. This does involve passing through immigration again, but it’s pretty straightforward. While Hong Kong was owned by the British for a time, Macau was in the hands of the Portuguese, so there’s a clear influence on the city. And although Macau is not as big as Hong Kong, it is home to several big casinos, some of which are the sisters to casinos in Las Vegas. Colonial Portuguese buildings and modern Vegas-style casinos – Macau is certainly interesting!
Our first stop was the old town area, located in and around Senado Square. It’s pretty easy to get around Macau, as the casinos all run shuttle buses for free. There’s a handful of casinos near this part of town, in Macau proper, which put you a 5-10 minute walk away from the square. The bigger, newer casinos are to the south, on the Cotai Strip. The walk from where we were dropped off was quite interesting too, as it took us past the Macau Tower and some of the casinos – the Grand Lisboa is probably the most memorable one, due to that… interesting architecture. I can’t say I’m a fan to be honest! When you reach Senado Square though, it’s as if you’ve been transported straight back to Europe! Cobbled streets, colonial architecture and the bright yellows and oranges of so many buildings in the Mediterranean. It was strange for us, as Europeans, to see something so familiar on the other side of the world. In Europe, this square would be nice but nothing special, whereas here it is so unique and pretty compared to the surrounding streets.
Most of the buildings are shops – many of which can also be found in Hong Kong! – but the standout sights include the Santa Domingo church and the Ruins of St Paul. The ruins have hundreds of people milling around and taking photos from every angle on the stairs. They are understandably pretty interesting – there was once a whole church here, but a fire burned the whole thing down except this facade. At the top you can see remnants of the original structure and tombs, though there’s not much to see. It would have been a pretty impressive building mind, if that one wall is anything to go by. And even the detailing around the area, like the street lamps and hanging baskets feel Portuguese! Although I can see clear British influences on some things in Hong Kong, there’s not much in terms of colonial architecture, or at least not condensed in one area like this (it’s usually the odd buildings scattered here and there). Yet there is still a Chinese influence within the old town too, as a glance down the smaller side streets will reveal a myriad of neon signs in Chinese characters. It’s certainly one of the most obvious instances of East meets West I’ve seen this year! Or perhaps I’ve just gotten used to Hong Kong’s East-West mix, and this feels more obvious in comparison.
From the old town, we walked to the Sands casino, which has a shuttle bus running to the casino we were most interested in visiting – The Venetian, located on the Cotai Strip. There were a couple of reasons for this choice; firstly, my sister is underage, so while she couldn’t access the casino floor, she could still explore the rest of the building; and second, it’s a big building to explore! It’s modelled on its sister casino, The Venetian Las Vegas, but actually dwarfs the original. At 10.5 million square feet, it is the seventh largest building in the world by floor area, and the largest casino in the world. While we couldn’t go into the casino area, we did see glimpses of it and it certainly looked massive! Most of the hotel’s interior is lavishly decorated, with gold and white everywhere, and so much detail in the ornamentation, from glowing chandeliers to these stunning ceiling frescos. We even saw someone dressed up in a Venetian carnival costume for people to take photos with. Much of this area is the hotel, with over thirty floors of rooms, so we only explored some of it. The Cotai Arena hosts various shows, though there was nothing on during our visit, and we got a glimpse of a colossal looking ballroom through the open doors.
The biggest draw though is the shopping area inside, called The Grand Canal Shoppes; a 1 million square foot replica of the canals of Venice. All the shop fronts look like Italian buildings, the ceiling is painted to look like the sky, and the canals even have gondolas cruising along them – if you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of the gondoliers singing to his clients, as we got to see. Of course, an indoor replica can hardly compare to the real Venice, but this is staggeringly impressive. The ceiling is a particularly good touch, as when combined with the sheer size of the area, you could almost forget you are inside a hotel casino! The shops are mostly big brand names, most of which I find back in Hong Kong too, but if you look above them, to their beautifully designed facades, you can pretend you’re in Italy for a while – and after spending the morning surrounded by Portuguese buildings, Macau gives you quite the tour of Europe!
The bus ride back to the ferry terminal allowed us to see a few of the neighbouring casinos, including Studio City, Galaxy, and the construction of the newest addition, The Parisian, with the Eiffel Tower’s top just visible. Top tip for Macau visitors from Hong Kong though – although your return ferry ticket is valid on any sailing before the time you have listed, you are only guaranteed a seat on the sailing at your time. To get on an earlier one, you have to wait in the stand-by queue, and won’t get on if the boat is already full. We didn’t know this and waited in line for several boats that we couldn’t get on, before eventually upgrading our tickets, since the next class up from economy wasn’t full! A slightly irritating end to the day, but overall it was a good trip. I definitely still prefer Hong Kong over Macau, and wouldn’t be rushing back, as I feel I saw a lot in the day – unless I was able to go back and do it in the luxury style, staying in one of the casinos, but it’ll be a long time before I can ever afford that! – but it’s certainly a good choice for a day out if you’re looking for something very different to Hong Kong.