Days: 4-5 (12 June 2017 – 13 June 2017)
Total distance travelled: 17,753.17 kilometres (11,026.81 miles)
Our post light show morning we were up early to skies of patchy blue and ever darkening grey.
We had a purpose for such a fresh start, as we were going island hopping… well, sort of.
Given how close we were, we’d decided on a day trip to Macau, the former Portuguese island territory that like Hong Kong, was only recently returned to the Chinese back in 1999.
It sits only 65 kilometres to the west, and to be fair, we actually knew little about it, other than its former Portuguese possession and that it was a huge casino destination (certainly not an attraction for us).
Roughly two hours after our departure, we made port in Macau’s Outer Harbour, ready to begin our explorations and hopeful that we might be able to find ourselves some authentic Portuguese Custard Tarts in the process!
It had been hard as we’d bounced across to sea, to appreciate what the weather was doing.
Spray hitting the windows with regularity made it impossible to tell whether there was any rain, so the only certainty we had was that any blue had long since disappeared and that the sky we could see, was one solid sheet of dull.
As we disembarked, it was apparent that what we’d assumed from the hydrofoil journey was indeed correct, and in addition to our grey ceiling, there was also a fair whip in the wind.
At least the present humidity ensured it wasn’t as cold as it may have otherwise been.
We’d landed on the older, more historic part of Macau, and while it did feel a bit older (think run down), we certainly weren’t getting any historic feels just yet.
Most of the grand and luxurious casinos were further afield on an island that also housed the airport, and around us stood mostly aging apartments and a few equally worn hotel casinos.
The skyline was dominated by a gold leaf that thrust itself into the air, the crown of a more lavish looking casino (albeit, clad in that horrible gold glass we’d seen in Hong Kong as well), the Grand Lisbon.
We’d need to pass it on our way to the more historic areas we sought, so it was a good early landmark for us to use as a navigational beacon… until it disappeared!
The cloud had suddenly descended, and with their arrival, came the rain. Really. Heavy. Rain.
With Sarah clad in only a light summer dress, and I in shorts and a T-Shirt, we were particularly vulnerable, eventually seeking shelter under the covered walkway of a pedestrian overpass footbridge.
Not alone for long, we were shortly joined by a few random locals also caught out by this downpour.
It wasn’t a really long time we waited, but it was long enough that we were getting itchy feet.
We also had to chuckle as we watched a nearby security guard hose down the entrance to what looked like a construction lot… all while the torrential rain fell around him!
Talk about a redundant exercise!
Eventually the rains abated and the Grand Lisbon returned to view, and unsure of what was still to come, but aware that we only had the day here, we began to move again.
Our route was not a direct one, as to do so would have meant climbing over a seemingly impassable (at least to us) hill, but we eventually reached a point where we could swing back towards the old part of town we sought, and as such, we began to encounter much prettier, colonial era constructions.
The Jardim de Sao Franisco (400+ year old colonial gardens), Clube Militar de Macau (a former 19th century nilitary club, now upmarket restaurant) and the Colegio de Santa Rosa de Lima (a girls high school) all appeared in quick succession
Our ultimate goal was the Ruinas de Sao Paulo (the ruins of St Paul’s church), the only other thing we really new about Macau and the image that usually adorns most promotional pieces.
Our route took us past a variety of brightly painted, yet seemingly closed Portuguese era buildings. Most with balconies or terraces, shuttered windows and the like.
We also began to spot some tourist signs, pointing us in a variety of directions, each sporting the UNESCO World Heritage logo (the Historical Centre of Macao forming its own listing).
For us, always a comforting sign that we’re onto something good and/or significant.
The roads, or perhaps boulevards is a better description here, began to be more and more pedestrian friendly, with little or no vehicular traffic allowed, and it wasn’t long before we found our way to the Ruinas de Sao Paulo.
It was certainly more of a tourist mecca in these parts, and we’d started to see more of the dreaded Starbucks around as well… but it wasn’t all bad either.
We’d spotted several shops sporting the sign ‘Pastelaria‘ as well, a heartwarming sign that we’d be able to get our fill of Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts) soon!
Ruins looks like something of a misnomer upon first arrival, as really, all that appears to be left of the church is its façade, the rest destroyed by fire back in the 1800’s.
Still, despite the people, it looked pretty cool.
You could even actually pay to climb to the top of the ruins via a series of stairs attached to its rear, but we baulked at that with its entrance fee and the crowds.
Instead, we opted to take a peek at the adjacent Monte Fort, an old Portuguese fortress built atop a hill, that was also surrounded by a park.
In truth, there wasn’t too much to see in the fortress area itself. Some blotchy brickwork walls (blotchy from that grimy, tropical wear you get in hot parts of the world) and an array of old cannons pocking out through its crenelated walls.
What we could see from there, were some nice views across the city, with us able to look roughly 270 degrees thanks to its elevation.
Hopes that we’d get some nice views of the ruined church below were dashed by a row of trees, but you can’t win them all!
We returned to the main promenade starting to think about some lunch, but were finding that particular area riddled with those tourist trap type eateries and nothing that really appealed, so we began to explore some back alleys and laneways instead.
It proved a sound decision.
Immediately we were removed from the crowds, wandering a warren of narrow streets, just us and the occasional local.
A small temple provided some distraction. They’re interesting these places.
Not in a religious context, at least that’s not what I mean here. For despite the obvious reverence for their gods and religion, places like this are often crumbling, nondescript locations.
A place for quiet prayer and reflection I suppose, as there’s certainly no space for a large service like one might see at a church back home (not that we’d ever be attending such, but you catch my drift).
Anyway, it was on one of these narrow streets we spied a narrow door and small window. The sort of place that has a low ceiling, but opens up as you descend a couple of steps within.
It was actually a local eatery, and we figured it looked as good as anywhere.
We fumbled our way through the order, and somehow managed to score ourselves a sensational lunch of rice and crispy, roasted duck!
To say a welcome surprise, would be understating how much we enjoyed it!
I miswrote earlier, in saying we’d exhausted our known sights that we’d hoped to see, as there was one more of which we’d read.
This was the fittingly named Street of Happiness (I’d say fitting as it was at one time all brothels).
We came not for carnal delights, although we did read that the odd service could still be procured, but rather because it was used as filming location for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (if you know the film, those scenes at the start where they escape the club in Shanghai)!
Sure, it’s not Star Wars, but without doubt Sarah would pick it over them any day!
We walked our way back towards the harbour, realising that there was still time enough in the day for us to check out the more grandiose casinos and hotels further afield.
Distant though they may be, we had no need to try an walk this one, with the various establishments running courtesy shuttles from the harbour… just one way to try and funnel you in, so they can win your cash from you!
For us, we were never going to be tempted, as it just doesn’t hold any interest (we didn’t even have a flutter on a slot machine in Vegas!), so we well and truly used the service for our own benefit.
I can’t honestly recall if we picked at random, or if it was deliberate. It may have even simply been the first available departure, but we ended up at The Venetian Macao, literally one of the biggest!
By now, the skies were again a dark shade, seemingly rain being in our not too distant future, so it was a timely opportunity to get indoors… and there was plenty of indoors to see!
I’m not suggesting that it was a place of quality, but its sheer scale was something to behold.
We’d seen similar a few years earlier in Vegas, so there was an odd sense of the familiar to some degree.
This place however. It was just so big (we later learned it’s one of the largest buildings in the world)!
For all that, the place was pretty hollow, at least for us.
A grand shopping mall, stocking only high end brands. Jewellers with more gold and diamonds you could ever feel comfortable wearing. Fashion labels that if I donned their gear, I’d frankly look like a dickhead!
Being a casino, there were few of them, but through an occasional window, we could even spy the Eiffel Tower, absurd as that may sound.
Turns out it was needed to indicate that below it sat The Parisian Macao. Everything really does need to be bigger in
Still, given how much these grand palaces represent the nature of modern Macau, it would certainly have been remiss of us had we not at least checked them out.
We remained staunch in our efforts at resisting the lure of throwing any money into any of the establishments, so figured it would be a suitable time for us to head back to the harbour and find our way back to Hong Kong.
Shortly after reaching the ferry terminal, you could say events took an unexpected turn…
Had this thing just sprung up out of nowhere?
Why had their been no advice at all during our outbound journey?
It’s quite possible there had been plenty of notice and we simply hadn’t been paying attention.
The reality was, after discussions with a variety of staff who likely had far better things to do with their time, than field the same questions we’d already asked one of their colleagues, we weren’t going anywhere.
At least not until the morning at the earliest.
We weren’t yet cold, but if our lightweight, summer clothing wasn’t damp, it was at least very clammy. Rain was on the horizon (shit, a bloody typhoon was set to hit us shortly), and we had nowhere to stay!
A separate board in the ferry terminal listed flights for the nearby airport as well (no surprise, all cancelled as well), which reminded us that we were supposed to be flying home the following evening.
What if we were unable to get back from Macau in time?
Still, our first priority had to be finding somewhere to spend the night before the weather took a real turn for the worse!
Working under the belief that time was pressing, we set off to see what we could find.
The first place we passed, we didn’t even bother entering (the waterfront Legend Palace Hotel looked a little out of our price bracket), another, well, we had issues finding an entrance.
Just like Goldilocks, the third was just right… okay, so it wasn’t just right, but we could at least find our in… only to find that we’d entered via the casino floor lobby, and would need to exit again, walk around another corner, and enter via the hotel entrance!
But hey, we’d found somewhere, the hotel Casa Real.
That evening, settled in our room, we couldn’t even be bothered ordering room service for dinner.
Without fresh clothes to change into, we showered, sat on our bed in the supplied bath robes, and dined on six pack of Portuguese Custard Tarts we’d purchased earlier that day, intent on taking them back to Hong Kong with us (and possibly home).
Dinner may have been sweet, lacking in nutrition, but at least it was delicious!
We rose the next morning, without memory of crazy winds or a storm to remember, but to be honest, the last time we’d experienced a typhoon, we’d spent half a day walking through it, blissfully unaware that it even was one!
Clad in our sweaty, grimy clothes from the previous day, we checked out, and back at the terminal received the welcome news that the typhoon had indeed passed and that services were to shortly resume.
The storm may have blown out, but the winds most certainly had not, making for one hell of a bumpy ride back to Hong Kong!
I’m surprised there weren’t queues for the bathroom, but perhaps the local passengers were used to such conditions.
Despite the couple of hours feeling somewhat longer, we did eventually find ourselves disembarking in a wet and dreary central Hong Kong.
A few minutes spent watching a wall of rain fall (we sheltered by one of Hong Kong’s many covered walkways) prompted us to abandon our usual mode of transportation which in this instance was going to be a combination of harbour ferry and our legs, and actually used the cities fast and efficient subway system.
It definitely got us back to our hotel for a quick clean and a change of fresh clothes sooner!
Given the conditions (wet, but not at all cold), we thought it prudent that we grabbed ourselves some protection, and we were soon sporting a nice bright yellow, compact pop-up umbrella.
Now, I don’t think it’s rated a mention until now. In fact, as the years are passed, we’ve found them less and less reliable or as good a quality, however, in preparation for this short adventure, I had purchased us a Lonely Planet Hong Kong guide book.
It was about to come good, as we found a recommended eating option nearby, when we’d decided some warming noodles would hit the spot nicely.
Walking through the drizzly streets didn’t feel ideal, and despite this, within the restaurant the air conditioning was quick to turn those damp clothes cold, but damn were those noodles sensational!
We’d a few hours still to kill before the need to depart for the airport and our return flight home, so we wandered a little further to an area we’d not yet explored, but apparently was home to a sizeable flower market.
Not at all what we expected (we’d thought of a large open or covered bazaar type affair, when reality was, it was a number of shops along a specific street), we took a peek in a few, noticing the majority still sporting taped windows to help them limit potential damage from the typhoon.
It was mainly decorative stuff, more like a series of large florists, not really a wholesale or growing plant affair.
A bird market was also close by, as well as Tung Choi, or Goldfish Street, although in fairness, the fish sales weren’t limited to just Goldfish, but any sort of pet fish, all hanging in little plastic bags, ready to be bought up.
The themed streets/areas for selling specific goods, was certainly somewhat akin to what we’d seen in Hanoi many years ago.
All interesting enough, but with the weather set in, not all that much was happening.
Essentially, that wrapped up our slightly longer Queens Birthday weekend in Hong Kong (and that unexpected overnight diversion in Macau).
Utilising the Mass Transit Railway return airport fare we’d purchased on arrival, it was a smooth ride back, although we neglected to make use of the downtown baggage check-in, figuring we had the time when we got there anyway to do so at the terminal.
We cruised our way past the port facility where a myriad of cranes stood with their arms stationary and aloft, as if in salute to our farewell (of course they weren’t, but I’m allowed to get a little poetic in hindsight and they were without doubt all vertical), and in short time reached the airport, ready to make our return home.
In a very Asian show of affection at processed, tinned meats, we chuckled at a duck display made entirely of the stuff, and to kill some time I tried my hand at counting the number of Cathay Pacific tail fins I could spy, with it being their home airport.
For the record, I didn’t keep a tally, but from our location near our gate, there would have been more than half a dozen for anyone interested.
The flight itself was uneventful, with us primarily grateful that we were actually able to make it and not left stranded in Macau… rational thinking after that event would suggest if the typhoon still raged to the point where the boat could not travel, it was also unlikely the planes would be flying!
A beautiful sunrise back over Australia greeted us just before our approach into Melbourne, below, the landscape covered in patchy fog suggesting we’d left the warmth of the the Northern Hemisphere well behind, whilst home, it was back to work and Winter…
* Our return flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong were FREE utilising Sarah’s boss frequent flyer points.
* MTR’s Airport Express set us back $174HKD per person for a return fare.
* A ride on the Star Ferries cost us $3.40HKD per person one way on the weekends, or $2.50HKD weekdays (we later learned it was cheaper still on the bottom deck).
* Our Turbojet ferry from Hong Kong to Macau cost us $164HKD per person one way. The return journey the following morning cost $153MOP each.