From Macau to Hong Kong and back again
Macau Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
The Hong Kong to Macau ferry has been calling me for some time. I come to Hong Kong many times a year but have never once ventured to the old Portuguese trading port, now a Special Administrative Zone. So today I decided I would go.
From my hotel, the Ramada Hong Kong Hotel, it is a 15 minute walk to the Macau Ferry terminal. Parting with HK$150 to a very friendly chap at the ticket office I boarded the catamaran high speed ferry (built on the Isle of White - UK) having departed the SAR Hong Kong (don't forget to take your passport with you).
The predicted travel time was 1 hour and 15 minutes.
We pulled out into slightly choppy seas and headed out into the channel like an impatient dolphin - in a hurry - we zoomed away - leaving all the other vessels in our wake.
This was one of a number of firsts for me - I had never been on a catamaran and I must say that the up, down, side to side motion was odd but not unpleasing. Probably not advisable with a hang over though as it would be a sure way revisit breakfast!
The ferry is full with sleepers, chatters, cell phoners and eaters - where are they all going - after all it is Sunday morning?
We head out past bulging green tree-clad islands on the left and right, racing other catamarans and hydrofoils, speeding past small coastal trading vessels that ply their trade all over the region. Everyone on board seems to be in a good mood and I find it easy to strike up conversations with other passengers.
The crew come around with arrival cards that we need to fill in and this reminds me that to all intents and purposes we are going to another country:
Macau was ruled by Portugal for 442 years and it was a thriving trading post until it was handed over to China in 1992.
Larger ocean-going vessels now surround us and I gaze longingly at them and consider a way of life that includes a huge amount of ocean travel, but we quickly outpace these lumbering ships and head on to Macau.
I listen to Graceland by Paul Simon and it is a very agreeable soundtrack to my voyage. Spray is spattering on the windows from the speed of the catamaran, giving the feeling of being in a storm - it is wonderfully pleasing. A rainbow seems to be chasing us as the sunlight splashes through the spray created...it must be the fastest rainbow ever!
Rocky shores, backed by steaming jungle, identify large islands dotting the route from Hong Kong and there is evidence of very comfortable living in the form of high quality villas with clearer air than I have seen in days.
We pass a hydrofoil coming the other way - an odd sight with the hull out of the water and 4 knife edged blades cutting through the waves - clearly going faster than us.
Macau looms out of the haze like a brilliant wry smile - a huge elegant traffic bridge undulates across the bay and the catamaran coasts under it before docking at the very busy ferry terminal that teems with ferries and also with incoming helicoptors - ferrying in the very wealthy who just don't have time to come on the surface.
My first impression of Macau is good - we are processed quickly, efficiently if brusquely through immigration and my stamp indicates that I am able to stay until April 2008. The terminal lobby is buzzing with new arrivals being sorted into groups and then whisked off in the plethora of hotel and casino transport - I choose to walk.
The sights are bewildering. Sands casino dominates the vista and I am sure I wish to visit it at some point, never having been to a casino and having heard much of this one. Meanwhile there are plenty of other casinos and sights to been seen as I stroll along the water front. First is the oddly named "Casino Babylon" that is fashioned to look a little like the Forbidden City but is not as impressive. Next is the Volcano Casino. Built from tar and concrete with building models on the front I can only assume is meant to depict Vesuvius and Pompeii - perhaps to reassure us that our money is about to get the shock of it's life!
Then we have "The Fort" - I gave this one a miss as I had spotted "The Colluseum" - wonderous. A passable mock up of an ampitheatre - it looks like outdoor performances are common there - complete with Asian Roman soldiers as guards.
I then arrived at "Fisherman's Walk" and I had seen this from the ferry and was looking forward to wandering around the old European architecture. Disappointing then to see it is all modernly built to look old. It is a bit disconcerting. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the European frescoes, african villages, bright colours, shops, casinos and piped hispanic guitar but I suddenly needed to get out of there - I was being drawn to Sands Casino.....
Pausing just long enough to admire the wonderful fountain outside I ducked into the Casino not really sure of what I was going to find. Climbing the escalator upstairs into a vast space I heard a hubbub of human voices. I was searched (for what?) then asked to walk through a metal detector, but am not sure why as despite my camera, ipod, phone, pocket full of coins and large steel belt buckle the machine uttered not a peep.
I was amazed. I expected it to be quiet but it was heaving! You must understand that it was 11am on a Sunday morning and the hall (and it was vast) was full of mainly Chinese people. they were smoking, drinking, laughing, shouting, speaking on the phone, chatting with each other, listening to loud, live music and all were gambling. I wandered around for close to an hour just watching. HK$200 seemed to be the standard stake on the Baccarat and Poker tables, there were lots of tables with flashing lights that I simply did not understand. Not a penny was ventured by me (gambling is not my thing) but I really did enjoy myself.
Photography was not permitted in the casino so I went to the highest point in the Casino and took a photo. From nowhere a guard appeared and asked me quite pointedly not to take photos and to delete any I had taken.
I am amazed by all those people in there on a Sunday morning - I had not really understood how much the locals liked to gamble until I had seen this.
At this point I decided I would not stay until April but would head back to Hong Kong. I walked back to the ferry terminal and no doubt surprised the border official who stamped my exit stamp as the ink on the entry one was hardly dry. I was in luck however as the return ferry was actually a hydrofoil - another first for me.
Macau? You can keep it :)