Part of the visa validation process here involves having to leave and re-enter Hong Kong, so we decided to hop on a ferry for the day and pop across the Pearl River to the old Portuguese colony of Macau.
The ferry ride took less than an hour and we pulled up into the harbour under an enormous 2.5km bridge connecting the two main islands of Macau, and alongside what looked like a traditional Chinese fort and a volcano. Intrigued, we headed there straight after immigration and discovered it was a giant themed amusement arcade park, with a volcano zone, an ampitheatre zone, what appeared to be a war torn cityscape zone and surely countless others too (we went in the middle of November, so it was closed probably because it was out of season). Though many of the attractions were closed, the actual main ‘street’ was free to walk around and stretched along a fair chunk of the harbour side!
What first strikes about Macau is the sheer number and scale of the casinos. Whilst Hong Kong has developed into a banking and commercial centre, Macau is undoubtedly the casino capital of Asia, containing the top two and four of the top ten biggest casinos in the world, with casinos generating more than 40% of Macau’s GDP. It seemed that every road we turned into had at least one, and almost wherever we were we couldn’t miss the enormous 261m golden Grand Lisboa which eclipsed everything else in sight.
It was also obvious right away how architecturally different from Hong Kong it is; the Portuguese and Mediterranean influence was clear, with lots of cobblestone floors and colourful buildings, whereas many of the buildings away from the centrepiece harbour front in HK really aren’t much to look at and generally look pretty shabby.
The historic centre of Macau is also a UNESCO World Heritage site with many old churches, courtyards, old arches, and it really was quite spectacular. Particularly nice was not being dwarfed constantly by skyscrapers, which are always looming over you in HK.
We were lucky in that on the one day we were there, there was a carnival on the steps in front of the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, which added plenty more colour to the day. ‘Ruins’ is putting it mildly, as only one wall remains intact and stands serenely at the top of a hill, overlooking the city.
The other main UNESCO site is the old lighthouse (which, despite the lights and glamour from all the casinos meaning you couldn’t fail to notice land these days, is still working), but we didn’t realise it closed at 5 until we got there so could only take a photo of it from outside the grounds. Oops!
In the evening we headed to the largest casino, and the 6th biggest building by area in the world, the Venetian Casino. Modelled on its sister casino in Las Vegas, it has more than 3000 slot machines and 800 gaming tables, contains a replica of the Grand canal in Venice (with working gondolas!) and even had room for a cheeky Man Utd club shop in there too. It was enormous!
Alas all good things must come to an end, an on our return to HK work beckoned and my 3 month break was finally over!