I think one of the standard Hong Kong day trips is a visit to Macau – another special territory of China which was under Portuguese control until 1999. And the easiest way to get to Macau is by ferry.
Ferries leave every 30 minutes from the China Ferry Terminal in Kowloon, and every 15 minutes from the terminal on Hong Kong Island near the Star Ferry terminal. However, the Kowloon terminal was much closer and more convenient for us, being a 15 minute walk from Tsim Sha Tsui metro station. Fortunately my sense of direction appears to be better than John’s, who did not seem to have any idea of the direction we needed to go.
We’d tried to go early however the earliest ferry we could get a ticket on was for 10.00am. It takes about an hour. There are windows selling tickets, but hawkers with massive piles of tickets confront you before you get there trying to sell you tickets. I wasn’t entirely sure of the legitimacy of these, and as the prices were basically the same as at the offices we decided against risking it.
The ferry was surprising comfortable. We’d chosen economy class, and the seats were far bigger and more comfortable, with far more room, than your average plane seat. We’d got seats by the window, although there really wasn’t anything to see. It only takes about an hour before you arrive in Macau, with customs on both sides uncomplicated. The disappointing thing was that Macau, like Hong Kong, chooses not to stamp your passport – they just give you a little ticket. I was especially sad about this as I’ve got a brand new passport, and it’s completely lacking in character. It needs some stamps and some beating around.
We had no idea where the ferry terminal we arrived at was in relation to the rest of Macau. We got a free map and went outside and after craning our necks managed to read that we were at the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal, on the other side of Macau to where we wanted to go. So, it was walking time. It was hot and humid just like Hong Kong, and it was quickly evident that the two places have little in common other than years of foreign occupation. Macau was dusty and dirty. Everything was grimy and rubbish littered the streets. And there were motorbikes everywhere. Until seeing them in Macau I’d not really noticed their absence in Hong Kong, but I was soon acutely aware of it. It was the first place in Asia I’d been where motorbikes didn’t outnumber cars exponentially, and once I realised this it just felt weird.
Eventually we found our way to the ruins of the church of St Paul, the most famous landmark and image of Macau. Signs led us up cobblestone streets, and we stopped for delicious gelato partway there. The narrow streets lined with shops were so different to Hong Kong, and one of the reasons was that you could feel space. The buildings weren’t as high, and many were only 3-4 floors. The sky was far more present and open.
All that is left of the church is the facade, and while it looks Western and traditionally Christian at first glance, a closer inspection shows many Chinese influences. The fusion of east and west in the church facade is fascinating and demonstrates the melting pot of culture at the time.
Unfortunately we’d arrived at the most unfortunate time for photographs – the light was terrible.
Stuart liked the church too.
Just beside the church ruins is the Macau Museum, with a pleasant escalator to take you up. The old building is gorgeous and the collection inside varied and interesting. I think John mostly appreciated the air conditioning, but I found much of the exhibit fascinating. They had a section on the top floor about chinoiserie in France, which had a number of absolutely gorgeous pieces.
We had a wander through the back streets on a mission to god-only-knows-where, which was rather pleasant. After a while aimless wandering turned into a desire to find Senado Square. We found it, and I was shocked at how absolutely European it felt. It could have been practically any town square in Europe.
After Senado Square we took a bus to A-Ma temple in the south of Macau. Leafy trees shaded the courtyard before the entrance, and the small entrance seemed to have a line of people waiting to have their photo taken. A-Ma temple is the oldest and most famous Taoist temple in Macau, and while very simple it is quite charming.
Locals mingled with tourists – mostly from Hong Kong or mainland China – and the smell of sandalwood wafted through with the breeze.
Unfortunately, John was not able to walk comfortably through much of the temple.
Stairs led to little shrine enclosures and spirals of incense burned quietly, littering the ground below with soft piles of silver ash.
We were so exhausted by the heat by the time we left A-Ma temple that we decided to get on a bus to the casinos and check a few out. I wasn’t overly attracted by the casinos. I’ve never had any interest in gambling. Plus, during the day the buildings don’t look so impressive – old, tacky and decrepit. We went into one, which was covered in gold-coloured glass [revolting!] and walked through the gaming rooms. We had a game each on one of the pokie machines [which, bizarrely, only accept Hong Kong currency] and came out about HKD $11 ahead. We gambled in Macau and won!
The lobby was so elaborate and ostentatious that I didn’t really know how to react. It was so over-the-top it seemed a little ridiculous. We tried to visit another couple of casinos – one was obviously geared towards less-wealthy tourists, and another we couldn’t get into. Exhausted, we went back to the first casino to take their free shuttle bus back to the ferry terminal. We just had to ask one of the dealers at a gaming table for the shuttle bus ticket and we were on our way.
We’d bought a return ticket in Hong Kong and were told we could take any ferry back, but it said 10.30pm so we were a little concerned. Fortunately what we were told was correct and they let us onto the next ferry.
Arriving back in Hong Kong, we went straight to the Peak to check out the view at night. We took the Star Ferry over, enjoying the beautiful view of the city lights across the water.