Back to Hong Kong for a night

Our flight to Tokyo leaves at 10:15 am on Monday so we decided to save ourselves some hassle by getting back to Hong Kong on the Sunday and booking in to an airport hotel. The best combination of rate and convenience was the Regal Airport Hotel, which is joined to Terminal 1 by a footbridge so would make for an easy journey on Monday morning. I booked it for around £130 – above our self-imposed nightly allowance of £100 but saving on early morning taxi transfer costs.

So it was that we said goodbye to Macau. We’re documenting the travels of Ishbel’s spangly guitar case for the nice people at Chapman Cases by getting a photo of it in every location. Usually it’s on its own but this time Ishbel was stuck with holding on to it while I took the picture. I love her rock star vibe in this.

img_3108 We were waiting at the hotel for the complimentary bus service to the ferry terminal to catch our transfer to Hong Kong. It duly arrived and we bought our tickets and checked the two suitcases and the guitar case. The mandolin and the camera case always travel as hand luggage no matter where we go.

The day was much clearer than Saturday so Ishbel was finally able to get a nice clear shot of the bridge between Macau and Cotai.

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We took the ferry to Hong Kong Island rather than Kowloon because it was a much shorter walk with all our luggage to get to the nearest MTR station. It meant we had to make one change on our route, at Central, but there was a trolley available there which was very helpful. Especially as Ishbel had just accused me of getting grumpy as we hefted our luggage along seemingly eternal corridors. And it was true. I sensed myself getting – grumpy seems a little mild – psychotic?

All was well once the trolley was snared and we took the airport express train, having first topped up our Octopus cards with exactly the right amount needed for the fare. We arrived at the Regal hotel and recognised that it was enormous. And there was an enormous queue for check-in too. It’s obviously the place where airlines put passengers when they’ve had to cancel their flight until the next day. And it really is very handy for the airport, as you can see tell from our view.

dsc_0030 We’d had enough of the hurly burly for the time being so we just had a burger and beer in one of the hotel restaurants then had an early night in anticipation of the next leg of the trip. Tokyo tomorrow.

 

The pretender to Vegas’ gambling crown

After our Friday exploration of Macau’s rich pre- and post-colonial history, we decided we should take a look at the activity for which this place is most famous: gambling. We’ve been staying at the Hotel Lisboa which is in the heart of Macau’s oldest inhabited area but there’s more to the former Portuguese colony than just the peninsula.

macau mapAcross the water, there’s the old settlement of Taipa and the area where there appears to be a concerted attempt to reconstruct the Las Vegas Strip: Cotai. We think of ourselves now as experienced Vegas visitors so we decided to head over there and see what all the fuss was about. There are a number of free shuttle buses that run between casinos in the same family group, so we walked over to Wynn (which is built to look exactly the same as its Vegas namesake) and hopped on the bus to Wynn Palace in Cotai.

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Ishbel’s hopes of spectacular shots of the Pearl River Delta from the bridge as we crossed were thwarted by a lingering humid haze. Arriving at the Wynn Palace, we spotted a cable car ride that went out over their (Bellagio-like) fountain show, so we took that to escape. To be fair, I rushed Ishbel on to it before she had time to think. Only when we were on the ride was she able to demonstrate her famously happy-go-lucky attitude to heights.

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We walked from there to the Venetian which was remarkably similar to the Venetian in Vegas, neither of which bear much resemblance to Venice. Not nearly enough of a smell.

Old school Vegas visitors will tell you that the Strip isn’t real Vegas and that it lacks the life and vibrancy of old Vegas. Having now visited Cotai, I would say that they’ve managed to replicate the Strip but have sucked even more soul out of the experience.

img_1301As we walked from the Venetian to the Parisian, Ishbel and I engaged in a lively debate about whether the Macau Eiffel Tower was bigger than the Vegas Eiffel Tower. It turns out they’re both roughly half the size of some kind of homage tower in Paris.

By this time, we’d had enough of dealing with these second or third generation pale imitations of what were in any case poor copies. We headed for the free shuttle bus from the Parisian back to the Sands. On arrival back in Macau peninsula, and since we were in the area anyway, we once again joined the queue for the custard tarts at Margaret’s Cafe e Nata.

img_1305Close inspection of this photo will reveal two things: one is my (relatively) towering presence at the back of the ridiculously long line; the other is the astoundingly cavalier attitude of Macau residents to electrical wiring, and cable management generally. So much so that it merited a close-up.

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In the evening we picked up our laundry, which we had dropped off on our first day here, and had a relatively sedate meal in one of the small hotel restaurants. We have necessarily become much more adept in our use of chopsticks on this journey than at any other time during our lives. It’s amazing what a little practise can do.

We leave from Hong Kong for Tokyo on Monday and had decided that we would stay near the airport on Sunday evening. We had hoped to be able to take the new bridge from Macau to HK, but there’s no way of doing that without transiting through China. We’ve already used up our single-entry China visa, so the bridge is a non-starter for us. We’ll be taking the ferry to Hong Kong tomorrow before our Japanese adventure starts on Monday.

Mandarins and Temples

We haven’t done much advance planning for our stay in Macau. We had been hoping that there may have been a poker tournament taking place that we could have entered but there’s an odd dynamic around poker in Macau, as compared to Las Vegas. The authorities impose a table cap on casinos which limits the number of gaming tables that each establishment can have operating at any one time. An open poker table counts against that cap, so casinos would prefer to have a real gaming table running than having to allocate ten or twenty tables to support a poker tournament where all they’re going to receive is the one-time rake against the entry fee (usually 10% – 15%). It also means they have no incentive to offer low limit cash games in poker, since they will rake more from each pot in higher stakes games. All this adds up to there being no poker for us here, so we started looking for alternative entertainment.

The Macau Tourism website was helpful in this respect and we picked a couple of their recommended sights to visit. First stop was the Mandarin’s House. This is a typical mid-19th century Chinese residential compound  that once belonged to a gentleman named Zheng Guanying, who was an influential writer on economics and political affairs.

The house is really interesting with a number of design elements that would eventually come to be featured in 20th century Western architecture as well as more traditional aspects such as a central atrium with a pool to catch rainwater to help cool the building.

dsc_0124 2dsc_0144There were many decorative features both internally and externally. Friezes were obviously a major theme of architecture during the building’s heyday, and we liked the way the clay drainage pipes were cast to look like bamboo.

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img_3993We spent quite a while wandering around the maze of rooms within the compound, and would definitely recommend a visit here if you find yourself in this part of the world.

Afterwards, we walked on to Barra Square (nothing to do with the Scottish island in the Outer Hebrides) to visit A-Ma temple, the oldest part of which dates back  to 1488, just 4 years before Columbus set off for the New World.  This appears to be very much a working temple as the complex was filled with supplicants praying and, presumably, making requests of the relevant deity. The incense smoke was fairly thick at the bottom of the stairs.

img_3092And it just got thicker the higher you walked and, presumably, the bigger the requests in the prayers became. The lampshade-like objects are all incense sticks.

And there must be a pretty big request associated with the telegraph pole sized joss sticks at the top of the hill. By this point, our eyes were starting to water and the air was catching in our throats with the overpowering incense smell so we descended and left the temple.

We walked back to the hotel but not quite directly. We decided that we would brave the queue at Margaret’s Cafe e Nata to pick up a custard tart as a little treat. The queue was long but it moved quite quickly and we acquired four of these tasty morsels for the equivalent of £1 each. And they were delicious.

That staved off our hunger for a while so we spent a couple of hours playing our instruments before heading out for dinner. We ate at a place called Ali’s Curry House. If it had been in the UK, the name would have put me off but it was actually very good food and they sold local Macau beer which was very tasty.

Despite the disappointment around the poker, we had a splendid day in Macau.

China to Macau

Thursday rolled around and it was time for us to leave China and the next stop on the itinerary was Macau. Advance research and planning for this part of the trip was a bit sketchy as information on how to get from Jiangmen to Macau wasn’t readily available on line. Not in English anyway. You may remember from an earlier blog that we had been down to the Shengli Bus Station earlier in the week but gave up on trying to garner any in-depth knowledge due to linguistic incompatibilities with the ladies at the ticket counter. However, we had the presence of mind to photograph the banners that we hoped showed the timetable.

img_6438Armed with our photos, we asked the hotel concierge to help us decipher what we were being told. The bottom section – starting at 6:45 – was the list of times of buses to Macau, costing CNY 40 one-way and CNY 68 return. All our worries were over.

We were awake early and decided to have a light breakfast at Starbucks next door to the hotel before leaving. Starbucks had, overnight, removed all of the Christmas decorations that had been in place and replaced them with a variety of Chinese New Year paraphernalia for the upcoming year of the pig.

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This company knows its audience no matter where it operates.

So it was that we checked out of the hotel at around 9:30, taking a last look around the lobby. Despite being a Chinese domiciled entity, they hadn’t yet been cynical enough to strike all their Christmas decorations so we were able to get a shot of its festive flavour.

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From here, we took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi cost, as always, about £2.50 and we bought our tickets for the 10:20 Macau bus for CNY 40 – about £5 – each. I have resisted including amusing Chinese signs despite the large number we have encountered, but I used the toilet in the bus station before we left and there was a sign in there that, I think, includes words by which we can all live…

The bus started loading about 10 minutes before departure and everyone was in place as we rolled out of Jiangmen and headed south along the Pearl River Delta. It was a completely smooth journey and nothing could have been simpler. Until we pulled into an underground bus station and everybody got off the bus.

Being clueless anglophones, we waited till the end to make sure we had to disembark. We then had to get our luggage out of the hold and, by the time this was done, nobody else from our bus was in sight. I had seen them pass through a curtain up ahead so we went in there, but all we could see was a range of bus stops with Chinese destinations on them. There was an opening up to the left so we went in there. Success! Arrows pointing to a shopping centre and Macau. We followed them, and they then pointed upstairs. Up we duly went, fully laden with suitcases cameras and instruments. On the second floor landing, there were two signs. One pointed upwards for Macau, and the other said “Staff Only”. I was in no mood to go back downstairs with all this gear so we went up one more flight and encountered an unpromising door. We opened it, and found ourselves in the lingerie department of a large department store.

We scurried through the underwear and out of the store into a corridor where we once again found signs for Macau. We followed them for quite a long stretch and, eventually, arrived at the Chinese emigration formalities. We passed through them and then had to go through Macau Immigration formalities. Another queue but we successfully negotiated this obstacle and were finally in the Special Autonomous Region of Macau.

There was a tourist information booth just outside immigration where we were able to establish that there was a courtesy bus available to take us to our hotel, the Lisboa. We once again loaded all of our luggage into the hold of the bus – everyone else was travelling lighter than us – and settled into our seats. Finally, we had reached our destination.

We had to check our bags as our room wasn’t yet ready so we went for a brief walk around Macau just to get our bearings. The most interesting thing we encountered was the huge queue of people outside Margaret’s Cafe e Nata waiting to buy Portuguese custard tarts. I’m a sucker for those things, so we will be joining that queue at some point over the next three days.

After our wander, we went back to the hotel and checked into our room, on the 14th floor and overlooking the signage outside.

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The blackout curtains in the room are, I’m pleased to say, highly effective.

An interesting border crossing today but we’re hoping to take some time to explore Macau tomorrow.