To read about our New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong, click HERE. Macau things to do on New Year’s Day!? We started off with a box full of Maxim’s cakes before heading to the pier to get our tickets to Macau. Things have changed. I remember like in 2012 I started my New Year by getting up at 8 AM and jogging to Sainsbury’s to buy fruit and jogging back. Even though it was winter I wore shorts I remember. People looked at me. I wonder why that was, because the sun was out!

The sun was out here in HK too, and the day was simply beautiful. We visited the pier the day before as we anticipated typical holiday organisational issues. Unfortunately due to the size of the pier we walked in circles for a while, but we got to notice an interesting phenomenon: there were many groups of Filipino women (guessing from looks and language) just sitting on the ground with cardboards and blankets, sharing food, and dancing to funky music. Our thought was perhaps they came over from Macau to spend the New Year’s in HK, partied all night, and then just enjoyed their time before heading back to work. There are many Filipinos working in Thailand, and we saw many in Macau – so it seemed just like an equivalent of Polish in the UK! The ferry ride was super quick and we went straight to Macau Tourist information.

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I couldn’t help but post this!

First impressions:

The ladies at the information counter were super helpful: they gave us fold-out maps, explained which buses to catch, timetables, prices and how to get to the main attractions. We later found out that if it wasn’t for them, we would have struggled big time.

Our expectations were solely based on online reviews and comments, and the general image portrayed by Macau government’s marketing campaigns. We thought of Macau as a tiny piece of beautiful land, very expensive, very clean and organised, with casinos and Ferraris on every corner, and wine and Portuguese cuisine easily available. That’s only partly true.

Crazy buses:

We felt we travelled back in time to the Eastern Europe of 2005. Once you get on the bus, you will be pushed, so keep pushing until everyone’s in. And by everyone I mean the entire population of Macau – if it’s not full, you’re doing it wrong. Now I understand why Macau is famous for sardines.

You also have to put the exact bus fare into a tin once you get on the bus. No change, but you may pay more if you don’t have a smaller note. It’s a good idea to collect and carry small change when you buy stuff. The routes go in a circle and the fare is based on where you get on, for example if you get on in the city centre, within like 4 stops, you pay X. if you get on at stops 5-8, you pay Y. And if you get on at stops 9-12, you pay Z. it doesn’t matter how far you go, it’s the area where you get on. I think the highest fare was HKD 6.40.

Whilst you’re in the four-wheel sardine box, grab onto something…or someone. The buses look old, but they fly like crazy. They sound horns too, but not to indicate their presence for other drivers, just out of anger. And I think sometimes the driver didn’t stop to pick up the people waving at the bus at the bus stop. I would advise to print out or download the routes you’re planning to take, as the announcements are in Chinese (don’t know which one) and Portuguese, but Portuguese pronunciation was difficult for us to understand. I just remember the words they say before a stop (we heard many of these): “APPROXIMA PERAZHE!”

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It is VERY busy.

Currency:

You can pay with your leftover HK dollars, but they may give your change in Macau dollars. It’s a 1:1 ratio. As always while travelling, we found the foreign money so cute and exciting! It’s like a tiny challenge when the cashier says “$ 3.74”… You’ve been here a day already, and bought from the same cashier too.  It’s almost like you know each other a little bit so you want to show your competence by trying to find the exact change. You think to yourself, “ok, I know this is $1, this is 50 cents…”

You don’t want to hold up the queue, so you start feeling a bit anxious as it takes you so long to find the right colours and shapes and sizes from a big pile of coins in your hand. On top of that your girlfriend looks at your hand with the coins, clearly indicating that it’s taking too long and she would have found the correct change much quicker. You break a little sweat. You quickly hand the change to the cashier, they count… and this is the moment you’ve been waiting for: almost all coins are counted, and while the till is sliding out, the cashier nods their head – phew!

post-2843Walking and attractions:

Not advised to walk outside the city centre, as there are mostly big roads with crappy sidewalks, and Macau’s actually huge for a city. We did walk from the Venetian to the airport in the morning, as we didn’t want to risk taking a bus with little time to spare (the routes are not that obvious). Travelling in Asia has taught us to take check-ins and security checks more seriously, as there are sometimes unusual/unexpected procedures which can take more time than you wish you had.

The first time the bus dropped us off in the “city centre”, we were shocked: dirty buildings, rubbish on the street, old cars, very few people, it felt like being in a favela in Rio. Not that we’ve been, but that’s what we’ve seen! We walked looking for a supermarket – couldn’t find one. We walked looking for a coffee shop – couldn’t find one.

This is what we do when we’re lost: one of us says “I think it’s this way”, so we take “this way”. And usually one of us is right! A few streets, alleys, and stops to think later we reached something that resembled a city, with Christmas lights and everything.

The city centre is easily walkable and it has many small alleys, churches, European architecture and paved streets. Our Google maps printout showed free public toilets smack in the middle of the city centre – bingo! Bear in mind that the main road for tourist attractions (the one with most numbers on the tourist map) is always packed. If you are not familiar with the term ‘packed’, please read about the buses in Macau above.

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One evening we went to GALAXY Casino just to take photos of its grand exterior. It’s called Galaxy for a reason – it’s massive. Apparently the hotels in the casinos have thousands upon thousands of rooms, which explains it. Then we walked to The Venetian to “gamble” for a bit. I’m using quotation marks because we won like $1.50. We actually didn’t win, we inserted a $10 note into one of the slot machines, played for a minute, withdrew, and the machine printed a coupon for 1.50 hahaha. We kept it as a souvenir. Being in a huge casino as a non-gambler sucks. You have no idea what you’re doing, there’s no assistance, and you can’t take pictures. Just outside there were thousands of people queuing to get back on their buses to go home to China.

The poker or whatever other game tables seemed empty, most Chinese tourists were just napping or checking their phones at computer game stations. It looked kinda sad, nothing like you see on TV. It makes me think whether Las Vegas is the same in reality? We left the casino and walked around The Venetian. It’s basically a huge shopping mall with fancy colonial (???) interior and… the same old shops you see everywhere in the world: Accessorize, Zara, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Carlo Benucci or Zenetti and so on…

post-2797The cool thing about the Venetian was that the interior is designed in a way that makes you feel you’re in Venice. “Ohhh… so that’s why the name” you might think. It’s pretty awesome as the walls of the shops look like the actual buildings in Venice, all painted in different colours. The ceiling is made to look like blue sky, and there are bridges built for crossing little canals. Not only there are canals inside this massive construction, IN those canals there are little gondola boats that push off the bottom of the “river” with the stick, and take tourists around, WHILE singing opera. AND they’re wearing stripy black and white tops with little red scarves. Hand’s down for next level of shopping experience.

post-2855On our way back to the hotel we took a few minutes to just realise the size of the casinos, we contemplated how boring it is to actually play slots (there are no three cherries L ), and though about the writings on the scaffolding of new casinos being built – “behind these walls lies a new luxury experience”. We started discussing about how money CAN buy everything, exchanged our views on interesting movies about societies and so on. Also, it’s funny how we’re next to the border with mainland China. Another day was done: bath, wine, sleep (repeat!).

Read about Macau vegetarian food HERE.

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Cosy stay:

The one thing that we miss about Macau is our hotel stay. We had a good flight from Macau so we had to stay two nights. We just booked the one in a quiet area with OK’ish reviews, but apparently on Wikitravel it’s got “famous” next to it’s name! The famous Pousada de Coloane. This is a short excerpt from Wikitravel:

“Macau is very backpacker unfriendly. Due to government regulations there are no hostels in operation and the one YHA requires special permission for lodging. Therefore if you are a backpacker then it is better to stay in Hong Kong and come to Macau for the day, unless you’re willing to spend $190 per night for a bed with no facilities.

The bulk of Macau’s hotels are on the Peninsula and Cotai, although there are also many options – including high-end ones – on Taipa. Coloane, which offers fewer and much quieter options, has accommodation ranging from the famous Pousada de Coloane to Macau’s two beach-side youth hostels.”

The building itself seemed very old. Just like some hotels in England. We had a huge room with a fridge, aircon, a little balcony with sea view, and… drumroll… a bath! The bath was leaking big time, but hey, if they give you 6 towels you may as well make use of them. Enjoying a glass of wine in a bath really made our stay worthwhile, because we don’t have one back home. It was expensive (two nights = our monthly apartment rent in Bangkok!), but others were even more expensive. Breakfast was also another highlight – a western buffet with lots of cheese, breads and jams, fruit and coffee. On both mornings we took well over an hour to eat, I mean stuff ourselves.

post-2812Macau is worth visiting if you’re nearby or you love gambling. Right now I only miss the serenity and cosiness of our hotel in the south island. The infrastructure is there, the green areas are there. It’s just that the handful of supposedly “must-see” sites and busloads of people isn’t something we would prioritise. So here’s a round-up to compare reality with our expectations:

Tiny and beautiful – yes.

Very expensive – yes.

Very clean and organised – no.

Casinos – yes.

Ferraris on every corner – no.

Wine and Portuguese food everywhere – no.

If I were to describe Macau in a few words I’d say egg tarts, tourists, and casinos.