A weekend in Macau

on Sunday, November 30, 2008

November 28, 2008
I arrived here in Macau at about 9:30 pm. The flight wasn’t bad, it only took about 1 ½ hours to get here. The Macau International Airport is small and easy to navigate through, but their passport stamps are not very cool. Thus far, the best passport stamp I have seen is actually Taiwan’s.

I feel that I should probably recant some of the negative expectations I expressed to a few people prior to coming here. From the things I had read about Macau and the pictures I had seen on the internet, I expected that it was going to be just a knock-off Asian Vegas. However, I must say that Macau is way cooler than Vegas.
Macau is a city that is similar to Hong Kong, in that it was leased by another country for a time. Though, unlike Hong Kong, which was leased by the British, Macau was leased by Portugal. It looks an awful lot like what I would expect Italy to look like. It really is a beautiful city. Driving into the city, toward my hotel, I could see the lit-up ruins of an old Spanish style church on a hill and it looked way cool, I’m going to try and visit there tomorrow.
My hotel is about as bad as I expected. It’s located kind of tucked back into a dark alley. In fact, when the taxi driver was taking me to it, I thought that he might just be taking me someplace where he could murder me and steal my stuff. The room has paper thin walls, no windows, and it’s about the size of a big walk-in closet. However, it is pretty clean (as far as budget Asian hotel rooms go), and it has its own private bathroom. The staff is a little less than cordial. When I walked in to the lobby there was no “Hello” or “Welcome to the East Asia Hotel.” Just simply, “Give me your name, passport, and 100 Macau dollars for your key deposit.” I’ve never seen a smaller elevator in my life. It says that the maximum capacity is 8 people, but really it's only about two.
I walked around a little bit to try to find something to eat, but not too far, I didn’t want to get lost in a strange, foreign city at night. Just a couple streets over is the Ponte 16 Resort and Casino. I ate dinner at the restaurant there, and it was pretty good.
It seems colder here than it is in Kaohsiung, but I’m not sure if it really is.

November 29, 2008

I woke up today around 8:00am, and set out to explore the area near my hotel. Macau seems to be a great place for exploration by walking, there’s tons of cool stuff to see.
The architecture of the buildings here greatly differs from the rest of Asia, because of the strong Portuguese influence; it’s all very European looking. Also, unlike other big Asian cities I’ve been to, Macau actually smells really good. It smelled like a bakery everywhere I went this morning.
I started out by exploring the weekend markets that are near the hotel. Stuff is more expensive here than in Taiwan, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the economy or because they know they can get more out of tourists.
It’s fairly easy to navigate through the city, because all of the signs have Portuguese written below the Chinese. I don’t speak Portuguese, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to decipher than Chinese characters. Also, another thing that made it easier is that on about every corner, in addition to the road signs, they also have a post with signs that point to popular sight seeing destinations in Chinese and English.
The first thing I saw was the Church of Santo Domingo; it’s right at the end of Senado Square (which I am told is a popular entertainment/ shopping spot). It’s a pretty, yellow, Spanish mission style church with a “treasure” museum inside of it, but that wasn’t open when I stopped there.
I then followed the signs along the road until I came to the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral (about a 5 minute walk from Santo Domingo’s Church). I have to say, this was pretty cool, definitely my favorite spot of the morning excursion. All that’s left of it is the façade and the stairs. I met a group of elementary school kids here, who wanted me to participate in a survey about what things I like about Macau. They were cute kids, so I consented.
On the eastern side (at least I’m pretty sure it’s the eastern side) of the ruins is the Monte Fortress, which was pretty cool to see. Not much to describe about it, It’s made of stone, and it’s got a lot of old cannons (some of which are now pointing at big hotels; it looks pretty funny). Also, from the top of the fortress is a pretty impressive view of the city in almost every direction. I then walked back down the street, stopped and talked with a few people from different countries and went to some traditional shops and looked around for a bit.

It’s a beautiful day today, the sun’s out and it’s not too cold. However, it’s definitely jacket weather. You could get by without one, but it wouldn’t be very comfortable. I’m going to take an hour nap and then go out for the rest of the day. As a side note, as poor quality as this hotel is, it’s hard to beat the location.

It is considerably more crowded and busy here in the afternoon than it is in the morning. I went back to the Senado Square, and it looks like a completely different place than it did in the morning. More shops opened and more stands with people selling just about anything you can imagine, and about 4x the amount of walking traffic. So as for sightseeing advice: go and see the monuments and such in the morning, before noon. For shopping: go in the afternoon, and I’m willing to bet that just like the rest of Asia, in the evening there are probably even more little shops that open, but I guess I’ll have to see.
I went to the Macau Cathedral, which I thought was going to be a cool museum type place, but it’s actually a fully operational Catholic church. Lonely Planet said that it had really cool stained glass, but I saw nothing that great about it. It looks like every other Catholic church I’ve seen; it is pretty but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, after seeing it, I’m not too sure what constitutes a cathedral. Because this one is actually pretty small, and I’ve always been under the impression that cathedrals are supposed to be rather large.
I underestimated just how much money it would take to get me through the weekend. I was gauging what my expenses would be like by how much I needed for Thailand, but I failed to remember that the transportation and food was already included in the tour fare on my trip to Thailand. Also, Thailand is a lot cheaper than Macau. It’s about 7.56 Macau Pataccas to the US Dollar here. In Thailand and Taiwan it’s about $33 to the US Dollar.
The big money saver in Thailand and Taiwan is food; it costs next to nothing in those places. $30 TWD (less than one US dollar) can get you a full meal in Taiwan. Here in Macau, the cost of food is only a little less than the States, it might be cheaper if I could find a food market but there are none in the vicinity and taxis here expensive.
I brought the equivalent of about $100 USD with me here thinking that it would be more than enough, seeing as I barely spend that in month in Taiwan. The taxi from the airport to the hotel was about $13 USD, I got to the hotel and had to put another $13 down as a key deposit. I haven’t seen any recognizable food establishments and so I’m forced to eat at nearby resorts’ buffets. The one last night was about $24 USD, I’m still used to converting from Taiwanese dollars, so at the time it seemed like $187 was an ok deal. For some reason my debit card will not withdraw from the ATMs here, I’m not sure why, because it’s supposed be valid thru this month, and it worked about 2 hours before I left Taiwan. At any rate, there’s probably not going to be any souvenirs this trip, I’m just hoping I can make it home. Next time I will be smarter.

I went to dinner at a buffet and walked all around downtown. I am pleased to say that I only ran into one prostitute that tried to seduce me on this trip, and unlike Thailand she didn’t jump on me, so that was nice. I guess there’s a brothel about 2 blocks from my hotel; I wouldn’t even have noticed it was there if the girl hadn’t banged on the window to get my attention. She called me over across the street like it was an emergency and then when I got across, she started kissing the glass and yelling “we give very good massage.” Needless to say, I didn’t stick around to find out how good it really was.

I walked back up to the ruins and the Senado Square to see what it looked like at night, and it was pretty cool.
It’s been a pretty good trip, and Macau is a great place to visit, but I really think that a weekend is enough to see what there is, that is worth seeing.
Oh yeah, and I found out that most of the ATMs are down because of a recent typhoon.

November 30, 2008
I started out this morning by going to the Macau Tower. All I really have to say about it is that it’s vastly overrated, and is not an essential destination when visiting Macau. This ticket to the top was $85 MOP (about $11.30 USD); way too expensive for an elevator ride and a view of the city through smudged, fingerprinted glass. On the taxi ride back to my hotel, I spotted the church that I saw on top of the hill when I was coming into Macau, so I had him take me there. It’s called The Church of Our Lady of Penha, and it was pretty cool. There wasn’t any one thing that stood out to make this a really cool place to visit. There architecture of the building itself was nothing particularly breathtaking and neither were the grounds, but when you put them together and combine them with the location perched on top of a hill that overlooks the city, it really is a cool place to be. Because of there not being any one thing that really stood out, it was rather difficult to express the atmosphere there through photography. So, I just took a picture of the church as kind of a “prove I was here” type of thing.
From there, I wandered my way through side streets, in what I guessed to be the general direction of my hotel. I had no intention of walking all the way there, mainly because it was about 3 miles from the church, and not to mention I didn’t actually know the way. However, after about 2 ½ hours of zigzagging through small neighborhoods, I came through a narrow alley that put me across the street from Senado Square. I went around there for a bit and watched them set up the gigantic nativity scene that is at the entrance to the square; that looks like it’s going to be pretty cool.
I went to an underground fish/meat market while I was there, that I had never noticed the other times I had been there. I took the escalator down and there where little stalls set up with boxes and cages in front of them, filled with various live sea creatures and fowls, which they would slaughter and prepare for you on the spot. I got a couple pictures of them and I wish that I could have purchased some of that stuff, because they had some odd looking creatures that they had pulled up on their fishing lines.
After the market I just walked the 5 blocks or so back to the hotel, picked up my bags, and caught a taxi the Macau International Airport, where I have been sitting for the past 3 hours. You see, I misread my departure time (it’s all in military time) and I arrived here 4 hours before I can even check in for my flight (as a side note, check in time for international flights is two hours prior to departure. Assuming that my flight leaves on time, I will have spent a grand total of 6 hours by myself in this airport, four of which were completely unnecessary. Well, I guess this concludes my adventure. As for some final remarks: the thought occurred to me today as I was walking through the unfamiliar backstreets on my way from the church to my hotel, that I have never felt unsafe during my travels. Even when I’m walking through dark alleys at night, I don’t feel like I’m in danger at all.