Macau, Part 1…First Impressions

The arrival hall of Macau International Airport (MFM), very late in the evening.

The arrival hall of Macau International Airport (MFM), very late in the evening.

We took a late night budget airline flight to Macau, and by the time we arrived at the Macau International Airport, the arrival level was pretty much desolate save for our fellow passengers. Only one carousel was spinning, and beyond that point everything was quiet. Fortunately it didn’t take long for cabs to appear outside, and then off we were to see the Vegas of the east.

The arrival level taxi stand

The arrival level taxi stand

Macau is the last of what I would call as “the four faces of China”, that I have visited – the other three being the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Each one of the previous three had an interesting story to tell, and I was endlessly curious of what story Macau had in store for anglaagan.

I had always thought that Macau’s story would be the most unique among “the Chinas”. Having been a Portugese colony until 1999, the territory composed of a peninsula and two islands spent the longest time under foreign administration…even longer than Hong Kong.

Macau, in more recent times, also gained fame (or notoriety) as the only place in China where gambling is legal. The gaming industry is perhaps, more so than any other, responsible for keeping this small strip of land relevant in the world map, but it also brought with it all the dirt that gambling carries. In the past few years however, Macau has made a determined push to clean up its act and transform itself into a wholesome holiday destination for families.

Most of China is on an upwards swing these days. Hong Kong and Shanghai are on a race for the title of most glamorous city in the East, while Beijing is asserting itself as the capital of one of the fastest growing economies. Taipei, on the other side of the strait (and political divide), is still punching above its weight as the capital of a small island that seems to make a bigger footprint in the world than its total land area suggests. But what about tiny Macau? Well…I heard it’s turning itself into one big resort.

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We arrived at our hotel in the late hours of the evening, but it was not yet exactly midnight so we decided to head out and go around a few blocks. It was winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but weather in Macau was just comfortably and pleasantly cool, perfect for a “sweatless” but not freezing evening walk.

Even as the clock struck 12 while we were strolling around, Macau was still pulsating with life. Shops and restaurants were still open, and there were still a lot of people walking around. It was like 7PM in other, less lively cities. While Macau may not be a “city that never sleeps”, it certainly does sleep very late.

Rua de Pequim, Macau

Rua de Pequim, Macau

Hotel Lisboa

Hotel Lisboa

The Wynn Macau hotel and casino

The Wynn Macau hotel and casino

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Grand Lisboa hotel and casino

Grand Lisboa hotel and casino

Grand Lisboa hotel and casino

Grand Lisboa hotel and casino

A Macau Icon...the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino

A Macau Icon…the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino

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Like neighbouring Hong Kong, Macau wakes up late as well. As we strode out of the hotel a bit past 9 the following morning, almost everything around us was still shut. It’s a different story though as you approach the touristy areas, like Senado Square. Nevertheless, I found mornings an ideal time go around, as crowds are thinner and the whole environment feels less hectic.

Macau sleeps late, and it wakes up late too. Shops don't normally open until past 10am.

Macau sleeps late, and it wakes up late too. Shops don’t normally open until past 10am.

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Like in many Chinese cities, scooters are a favorite mode of transport.

We stayed at the Metropark Hotel along Rua de Pequim in the peninsula, several blocks away from the area where the Wynn and the Grand Lisboa could be found. The hotel itself does not have a casino, and there’s none in the immediate vicinity either, so while the hotel is not exactly gambler’s paradise, it’s a nice reprieve for those who don’t go to Macau for the gambling, like us. It’s also a short bus ride away from the Senado Square, and from the Macau Grand Prix Museum (or you could walk if you feel like burning a few grams of fat off). And since Macau is a pretty compact place, you could get to all the other places you fancy without too much trouble.

By Macau standards our room’s price is already at the lower end, though it’s still not exactly cheap. However, everything in the hotel seems to fit into what we’ve come to expect in a three star place. We’ve paid less for the same quality in other countries, but then again no two cities are equal. If you are not too picky, there really isn’t much to complain about. It is comfortable, and a good place to retire to after a whole day (and night) of roaming around. I would recommend this hotel to anyone planning to go to Macau.

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The view from our room at the 22nd floor.

The view from our room at the 22nd floor.

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Transportation in Macau is relatively easy, even for a visitor. The simplest of course is through taxi cabs. There are quite a good number of them running around, and by our experience the drivers are honest and well mannered. However, as most travelers who value convenience over everything else also use the taxi as the main means of transpo, hailing one could be a challenge in some touristy areas, and that’s when knowing the bus routes and fare system would useful.

It may not be the simplest thing in the world to understand, but if you can figure out something like Singapore‘s bus system, you can figure out Macau’s too. All stops are written in Chinese and Portugese, so even if you don’t know a single Chinese character, the Portugese name can help out a lot. Just try to google the nearest bus stop to your destination, and you should be okay. Macau however is a complex maze of narrow streets that could congest easily, so it’s good to know the best places to transfer from one route to another. To maximize the efficiency of your travelling time, use route planners available on the net, like the one from bus company Reolian (www.reolian.com.mo). Some bus routes also have less frequent intervals than others, so it’s good to factor that in your routing. They have stored value cards that you can tap into payment terminals inside the bus, much like Hong Kong‘s Octopus, Taipei‘s Easycard or Seoul‘s T-money, though if you are staying for only a few days, paying by coins are perfectly okay. In our case, since there’s only two of us paying (our 3 year old still rode free), we just changed bills for coins at our hotel’s desk each morning.

A lot of people, especially those arriving by ferry from Hong Kong, also use the regular shuttles deployed by the major hotels to the ferry terminals. However, once you start trudging the “roads less travelled”, the usefulness of the shuttles start to diminsh.

Lastly, if you are staying within the peninsula, the fourth option is to walk. They say there’s plenty to see in Macau, and that there’s rarely a boring moment while walking, and judging by the couple of days we roamed around there, they could very well be right.

A typical Macau city bus

A typical Macau city bus

A typical Macau bus stop

A typical Macau bus stop

Inside a Macau bus

Inside a Macau bus

A typical Macau taxi cab

A typical Macau taxi cab

For our “food experience” in Macau, click here.

For more of our Macau trip, click here.

* The Metropark Hotel is near the bus stop “Rua De Pequim/Holiday Inn”, which is served by no less than 10 different bus routes. Bus fare to and from the airport (and the rest of Taipa and Cotai) is MOP 4.20. Bus fare to an from within the Macau Peninsula (including the border gate and the Terminal Maritimo) is MOP 3.20. The hotel also has a shuttle to and from the ferry terminal (Terminal Maritimo), leaving every half an hour.

* For more information on Macau bus routes, visit the Macau Public Bus information website: http://www.dsat.gov.mo/bus/en/bus_stop_search.aspx

* We were in Macau last December 2012. Photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.

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