MACAU : EAST MEETS WEST
I didn’t really think about Macau much before I visited. I didn’t know any of its history or what it was like. All I knew was that it was about an hour Ferry ride from Hong Kong. Two friends went last year as a day trip when they were in Hong Kong, and I actually thought it was part of Hong Kong until recently.
Macau is just a short ferry ride away from Hong Kong
When I was looking for places to stay on my latest adventure, I found a nice hotel in Macau at a reasonable price, so I booked in for five days. I am really glad I did because Macau is a wonderful place and enjoyed my time there immensely.
I now know that Macau is very different from Hong Kong. Both are SARs (Special Administration Regions) of the People’s Republic of China, but while Hong Kong was a colony of Britain, Macau was a colony of the Portuguese. The Portuguese have been in Macau since the 1550s and was only transferred back to China in 1999. In 1557 Portugal established a permanent settlement, paying 20 kilograms of silver in rent annually to stay in Macau.
Macau as it used to be
In the 1400s, Europeans were eager to expand their trade as well as their culture, and they encouraged maritime navigation to the Orient. The Portuguese, having developed nautical science and perfected the Caravel and the Trade Ship, were the first Europeans to round the southern tip of Africa (1487), to reach India (1498) the seas of China (1513) and Japan (1543). Macau was perfect for the Portuguese because of its location to aid in the spice trade.
Nowadays, it was quite easy to get to Macau from Hong Kong. Ferries leave from Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and costs about HKD$160 (About $20 Australian) Macau also has its own International airport as well. Even though both are governed by China, going from Hong Kong to Macau is the same as going to another country. You need a passport, and get it stamped when exiting Hong Kong and one has to go through immigration when arriving in Macau. I was given a ninety days stay in Hong Kong when I arrived without organising a visa beforehand. I was given a one month visa in Macau when I arrived. In theory, you could stay in these two regions indefinitely if you desired. Stay for a month in Macau, catch the ferry to Hong Kong, stay up to ninety days, and then catch the Ferry back to Macau.
The view from the ferry on arrival
Macau has its own currency, the Macanese Pataca (abbreviated to the MOP) however all the places I visited, accepted Hong Kong Dollars and the Renminbi (RMB) the currency of China as well. The HKD is slightly stronger than the MOP, but the store owners accept 1:1 when you pay in HKD, so I would recommend getting some of the local currency to spend so you don’t short change yourself.
Casinos were everywhere
Even before you reach Macau, you can tell this place is going to be different. You see Macau is full of casinos. It overtook Vegas as the number one place for casino revenue in 2007 and accounts for over 50% of Macau’s revenue. Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal and is visited mainly by middle class Chinese nationals and residents of Hong Kong. If you are an avid punter, Macau is the place to visit.
The lights of the casino dazzle
From the Ferry you can see a casino that looks like a volcano and one that looks like part of the Great Wall of China. As you exit the terminal there is a row of Casino girls holding signs, enticing punters to their dens. After a quick line through immigration I see a stall for the hotel we are staying at and ask for the best way to get there. ‘We have a free shuttle bus service’, was the reply and directs us to the coach area. Every Casino seems to have their own bus fleet with services going to different areas. The Airport, the ferry terminal and other Casinos and tourist areas. All for free.
Lots of girls at the ferry terminal to greet new arrivals
While some parts of Macau are old and traditional others are full of neon and lights and not only do the casinos attempt to out-do each other, but also most of the shops have large flashing signs as well. The area looks very European in regards to the architecture, buildings with many small cobblestoned roads. Macau is made up of three main areas, Macau itself which connects to Taipa Island and Coloane Island via three large bridges. The whole of Macau does not seem very large and it would be rare for a bus or taxi ride to take longer than thirty minutes. From what I can gather there are two main things for tourists to do. Gamble or visit historical areas and markets. We did both while we were there.
Map of Macau