Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Day Trip to Macau

It is an easy ferry ride over to Macau (or Macao) from Hong Kong and we were excited to check out this former Portuguese colony.  The ferries run regularly all throughout the day and night, though sometimes they are in high demand.  We had to wait about an hour going over and would have had to wait longer on the way back, but paid to upgrade to first class so we could get on the next boat.  It is a quick and comfortable ride.  The weather was very grey (typical in this climate) so there wasn't much of a view, but fortunately it was only rocky when we were docked waiting to leave.
Arriving in Macua, you see the many casinos on this side of the island.  Gambling is illegal in mainland China, so this is the nearest mecca for gamblers and immensely popular.  You have a lot of the usual players, such as Sands and Wynn along with more unique spots like the Grand Lisboa.

View as ferry is docking in Macau
We grabbed one of the tourist maps and located the various sites we had hoped to see.  We decided to take a cab over to the A-Ma temple, from which we could walk to the historic center easily.  I had also found a couple recommended restaurants near there so we could enjoy a tasty Portuguese lunch.  (The ferry terminal is not very accessible via walking so taxi or bus is probably the best way to start out here.  If you're going to a casino, they all offer shuttles as well. You will see the women in various casino uniforms waiting outside to guide you in that direction.)

A-Ma seemed to be a recurring theme on this trip as I had been reading a lot about this goddess of seafarers (Matau) in a local memoir and we were located by the Tin Hua metro stop, which is the equivalent goddess in Hong Kong.

It is a very old and well-known Taoist temple and is believed to be where the name Macau originated.  Supposedly, the Portuguese sailors asked the name of the place upon arriving and approximated the goddess' name Matau in to Macau.      
Inscriptions and incense cones
After visiting the temple, we walked up the road to locate one of the restaurants.  It struck us how this was such a unique mixture of Portuguese and Chinese.  Many of the side streets reminded us of small towns in Spain.  We located O Porto Interior restaurant and tucked in to a feast.  We refreshed with some iced tea (served with simple syrup to sweeten it--yum!) and dove right in to an appetizer of clams and garlic bread.  The clams were unbelievable, with a broth you couldn't stop sopping up with the rolls.  The garlic bread was made with the same rolls, but spread with gobs of butter and fresh garlic...really good, but we scraped off a little of the garlic as it was a bit too much for all but the most ardent garlic lovers.  Bryan had a great steak, while I went with the traditional cod fish.  Everything was so tasty and fresh, it left us longing for a trip to Portugal.

Well fed, we were energized to make our way through town to the historic sites.  The historic center of Macau is dedicated as a Unesco world heritage site for its unique history, with over 20 locations representing the culture heritage of the area. We saw Senado Square, St. Augustine's Church and the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral along with the many historical buildings throughout the center's winding streets.  Once again, the coexistence of the European heritage along with the Chinese was striking.  We walked through tight crowds with various shops, Chinese restaurants and scenes you would see in Hong Kong or China, while rounding the corner to see an old European church or former government building.
Ruins of St. Paul's

We made a quick stop (overcoming the large lunch) for the famous Portuguese egg tart at one of the many bakeries along the way.  They absolutely did not disappoint--eggy, sweet and with a buttery, flaky crust. I could have eaten more, but two was probably sufficient.  Egg tarts are seen in many of the bakeries in Shanghai, but from what I have tasted they cannot compare.

We also ducked in a few shops, but mainly enjoyed strolling and viewing the architecture with the crowds.  We then began to make our way back towards the ferry side, via the casino area.  No gambling for us today, we simply enjoyed the casinos from the outside.

We thought we would walk back to the ferry, but began to get tired (and realized it is a bit hard to approach on foot if you don't know exactly where you are going) so we stopped at a Metropark hotel and took advantage of their shuttle.  We thought we'd try the "we're staying at a Metropark in Hong Kong" card, but they didn't even ask.  Relief for the feet!

It was a much better view leaving Macau in the evening and arriving back in to Hong Kong with all the lights.

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