Macau - July 2017

30th June 2017 - Old Macau

Up at stupid o'clock to catch a 6:30am flight to Macau. Three hours later plus an hour of time difference and we touch down in a lovely sunny Macau. Most people come into Macau by boat from Hong Kong so the airport is small and quiet and I'm through in minutes. I dropped my bags off at my hotel in the Old Town and head out to explore.

Macau is famous for two things; its Portuguese colonial heritage and gambling. Today I wandered around the Old Town so prepare yourself for lots of pictures of churches. First up the Largo do Senado (senate square) - a colourful typical Portuguese style town square. This is the traditional heart of Macau. Pastel-coloured European buildings, most of them government buildings during the Portuguese era.

I climbed up to Monte Fort. It was built by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1626, the Jesuits keep cropping up in all things early Macau. The big thick stone walls enclosed quarters for soldiers and storehouses sufficient to survive a two year siege. The only military action the Fort ever saw was during an unsuccessful raid by the Dutch in 1622. Looking to take a strategic port on the lucrative East Asian trading route, the Dutch laid siege on the Portuguese at Macau. The Jesuits were heavily outnumbered and inevitably doomed until a Jesuit, Portuguese priest fired a lone cannon shot which miraculously struck a Dutch gunpowder storage. The ensuing explosion scattered the Dutch fleet and they fled. Officially this is the only time the cannons were ever fired in defense. The same cannons today now point at the ugly Casino Lisboa maybe someone should load them up and have a pot shot.

A bit of history. China gave Portugal the right to settle in Macau in the 16th century in exchange for clearing the area of pirates. Macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. It didn't became an official Portuguese colony until 1887, surprisingly late. Macau returned to Chinese control as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) on 20 December 1999 which ended over 400 years of Portuguese administration.

Probably the most famous sight in the old town is The Ruins of St. Paul's. The towering facade is all that remains of this Jesuit church. With its detailed carvings and engravings that effectively make up a ‘sermon in stone’ and a Biblia pauperum (Bible of the poor), the church was one of the greatest monuments to Christianity in Asia. The church was built by Japanese Christian exiles and Chinese craftsmen to Italian designs in 1602. It was abandoned after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1762. In 1835 a fire in the kitchen of the barracks which then inhabited the church destroyed everything except what now remains.

The old colonial streets of the Peninsula are lined with local restaurants, bakeries, and other food vendors – many of them offering free samples. Chinese tourists from the mainland make up the majority of visitors to Macau, and most of them bring home the special almond cookies, custard tarts and beef jerky produced here. The almond cookies are made by hand, starting with a mixture of flour, sugar, shortening, and ground almonds. They taste something like a shortbread biscuit, with a delicate flavor and a soft, crumbly texture. Alright but I won't be making a purchase. Macanese jerky is a version of Chinese “Bakkwa” and is not western jerky which is dry and very chewy. This jerk is sold in large square sheets in various flavours of pork and beef. There are samples to be had everywhere with them cutting off pieces to try. The jerky is moist, slightly salty, and sweet all at the same time and not that chewy. It has the sort of texture which makes you not want to know how it's made but it is delicious. I do think they are missing a trick though. Beautiful meat cut ideally to fit in a sandwich yet no one is selling jerky sandwiches. The small custard tarts, are apparently adapted from the Portuguese pastel de nata so I guess especially good here although I have seen these sold all across South East Asia.

The weather really was great today, hot but great so I just walked and walked. There were plenty of tourist sign posts to point me in the right direction just to make sure I didn't miss any of the important churches along the way; so here ate some. St. Lawrence's and St. Joseph's below but they sound far better in Portugese São José and São Lourenço.


Next up I visited the Mandarin House. It was the residence and family home of the late Qing theoretician and reformist Zheng Guanying (1842-1921). The house is 4000m2 in size and is/was amongst the largest family houses in Macau. It was built largely in Cantonese style but is noted for its fusion of western architectural elements.

The house has over sixty rooms and really mixes indoors and outdoors. Courtyards and balconies, big doors and windows makes the place seem really airy. Around 1950's to 1960's, the descendants of the Zheng's family moved out and the place became home to more and more tenants, up to 300 packed inside the complex and it fell into dis-repair. The government took over the property in 2001 and spent eight years renovating the building and it is now stunning (and free to get in).

It is a little off the main tourist route and I practically had the place to myself. The place is beautiful and its a real pity to place is so infrequently visited.

Time for another church, this time Igreja de Santo Agostinho (St. Augustine's). Macau is really small, walking around you come across places before you expect. You cover a few inches or the map in minutes. It really is easy to do the Old Town in a day. From St. Augustine's I surprised myself being almost back at the Largo do Senado thinking I was much further away.

It was now gone 3pm so I headed back to the hotel to check-in. Hot and sweaty from all the walking in the heat so time for a shower and a lie down. I planned to write my postcards and start off my website but I put my head on my pillow for five minutes and woke up five hours later!

It was only after I got back to the hotel that it dawned on me why all the paving looks like the paving on the beach front at copacabana in Rio. Brazil is Portuguese, Macau is Portuguese; obvious really don't know why it took me so long to figure it out.

I decided to head out and check out a few of the casinos in the Old Town. First up the MGM Grand. The picture above is just inside the entrance hall. The centrepiece is a huge aquarium full of fish and some beautiful rays flying through the water. I'm not sure what was going on with the flowers and bulbs though. I went into the casino which was huge and full of Chinese gambling away their ill gotten gains. I was surprised how little atmosphere there was in the casino though. There were a couple of areas lit up by the flashing lights of the slot machines but the majority of the hall was full of gaming tables and very little noise or action. Baccarat seemed to be the game of choice for most and minimum bets were high. £100, £200, £500, £1000 minimum bet tables! And this was in the main hall not the high-roller rooms. But it didn't seem like anyone was enjoying themselves much and there wasn't much excitement being shown. I know they are Chinese and more reserved and used to keeping themselves to themselves but come on guys make an effort. I think the main problem is that very few of them were drinking. This is definitely not a western style casino.

From the MGM I went to the Wynn and the Lisboa. Pretty much the same story in all of them; lavish entrances, art, jewels and branding everywhere. Casino areas rather subdued and the areas around the casino full of shops selling high end goods. Watches, shoes, hand-bags and jewellery. You'll be glad I went into three casinos had a few hours of entertainment and it didn't cost me a penny.

1st July 2017 - New Macau

After a lazy, slow start to the day I headed out for a wander around the streets of Macau turning down any street which looked interesting. My ultimate aim was to end up at the ferry port. Macau is quite a eclectic mix of styles. I first passed through the touristic old town again, then past some of the casinos and into the working part of the city. But along the way there were very Chinese looking streets, random colonial relics and garish tourist edifices the most strange of which was a Roman Amphitheatre, an outdoor 2,000 seat Coliseum at Fisherman's Wharf. Anyway after a couple of hours off hot and sweaty walking around I got to the ferry terminal, got my ticket for Monday and jumped on a free casino shuttle bus to the Cotai Strip.

First up The Venetian. The shuttle bus pulled up at the front and the area was like a massive bus station it seems all buses lead to The Venetian. It looked like more than half of the buses were coming and going from the Chinese Border Gate full of Chinese day-trippers looking to either gawp at the outrageous sale and opulence or blow their money in the casino and the shops. I followed the stream of gawpers towards St. Mark's Square.

The Venetian claims to house the biggest casino in the world and be the sixth biggest building in the world; it is a city unto itself. Corridors 100ft wide floored with the plushish carpets and walls with very expensive looking wallpaper and art. Row after row of the most expensive shops in the world, huge conference rooms and entertainment venues that can seat thousands. But I was on a mission when in Venice you head for St. Mark's Square. I followed the signs up and escalator which gave a glimpse into the casino.

Along one more massive corridor and there it was, St. Mark's Square. Whoa. The first thing that strikes you is the bright blue sky and wispy clouds. This is indoors, the sky is in fact a painted roof spanning the huge expanse. It is amazingly realistic.

I wasn't expecting the sky/ceiling and so it had a real real whoa factor; I was expecting the canals and gondoliers and I was a little underwhelmed. Not sure what I expected, but I expected more some how.

From here I headed to the Roadhouse Bar for the next couple of hours. Time to watch the Lions, more importantly the Lions beat New Zealand.

From Venice I headed to Paris or the Parisian to be exact. The two hotels/casinos/cities whatever I should call these great expanses are next to each other and walking through the huge corridors it feels like they occupy the same building. You only know you've stepped from one into the other as the wall decoration and piped music changes from a Austrian Venetian style to a French Parisian one. More shops, lots of waterfalls and running water and more shops. Who is spending so much money to keep all these shops in business? After what seemed like miles I hit my goal, The Eiffel Tower.

This Eiffel Tower is a half size replica which you can ride up to the 37th floor. From up there you can see the scale of some of the hotel complexes. You can also see the scale of the plots of land which I guess are going to house further hotels in the future. Much of the Cotai Strip is reclaimed land I guess the will keep reclaiming for as long as there are backers to build more and more.

From the top I saw that the hotels at this end of the strip are joined by walkways and one had an observation deck which would give a good view back to the tower so I headed off in that direction for one last photo of the tower before taking a free shuttle box back towards the old town.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped off at the Largo do Senado which looked great all lit up.

And I headed up to The Ruins of St. Paul's which I think looked better at night than during the day.

2nd July 2017 - Macau Tower and The House of Dancing Water

Macau can be very wet this time of year and I've been really lucky to have avoided it so far but this morning it rained and it rained heavy. I just used it as an excuse to laze around, write up my blog and generally enjoy the fact that I don't have to work again for a month. The rain stopped around lunchtime and the clouds lifted so I headed out to the Macau Tower to take in the view. Pay 135MOP (Macanese Pataca) jump in the lift and you arrive at the 37th floor with a 360 degrees view of Macau.

The picture above is looking back over Macau Old Town but it is dominated by the Grand Lisboa Casino. That building is like Table Mountain in Cape Town no matter wherever you are it always seems to be visible. Pity it's not as good to look at as Table Mountain. The picture below is looking out over the sea of casinos. They don't look half as impressive from up here.

As well as take in the view you can indulge in all A J Hackett has to offer. You can walk around, climb up or throw yourself off the viewing platform. I've done a bungy before and thought it a waste of money and it would especially be so here. Ten seconds of fun for £350, bloody expensive even if this is the highest bungy platform in the world. Climbing to the top of the pinnacle on top of the tower seemed a bit too strenuous. I considered the SkyWalk and probably should've done it but instead I kept my money in my pocket and enjoyed watching others taking part.

I like to think I'd have done the walk and pose for photos around the edge without too many dramas unlike the girl in the middle of this photo. She was petrified and shuffled around like she'd s##t herself, the poor girl even looks like she's wearing a nappy. She clung onto her friend all the way around I would've thought that would make falling off more likely not less.

This one had the right spirit. She was very reluctant to lean back over the edge and even more so to let go of the rope but slowly but surely she did.

Late afternoon I headed over to the casinos for another look around before going to a show in the evening. My show ticket gave me a discount on Batman Dark Flight. This is a 4D flight simulation. You start off in a holding area which is supposed to be Wayne Industries. You're told of Joker's prison break out. You're told various escape routes are blocked and soon Batman appears on the screen to reveal his plan to help you escape the building and you move on to the actual ride. The ride is a long bank of seats, you strap yourself in and off it goes. It rises up so your feet are dangling and the concave 3D screen fires up. You are taken through a fast moving flight through Gotham City. The chair moves around as the ride banks this way and that, wind blows in your face to give the illusions of speed, a light water spray as you go through a waterfall etc. The ride was only about 10 minutes which was a bit short but it was quite fun and I did feel a little queasy afterwards so it did its job.

But the main event tonight is The House of Dancing Water. This is the big show in Macau and the biggest 'water based' show in the world so it says. From its website: "The House of Dancing Water is housed in a purpose-built theater designed with many breakthroughs including a stage pool that holds a record-breaking 3.7 million gallons of water, equivalent to 5 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This state-of-the-art theater provides the setting for an epic love story and spectacular journey through time, showcasing dazzling costumes, special effects and record breaking acts never seen before in a theater."

There are three price bands of tickets £98, £78 and £58. With the prices dropping as you move away from front on to the 270 degree stage. But the front four rows can expect to get wet so I went for these as you get front on seats for £78 rather than £98. The front two rows get provided with pack-a-macs to wear and the next two towels to put over your legs. I was in the third row and barely felt any water at all.

The show was spectacular although as with these sort of shows the storyline was pretty pointless it really was just set-piece after set-piece to show off the talents of the performers and they really were talented. the main part of the theatre was a massive swimming pool but the floor was made up many blocks and parts or all of it would rise and fall as story story went on. Performers would come on and off 'stage' from the sides, from the ceiling and often from under the water. First up this massive ship rose from the water and the performers proceeded to climb up the rigging and jump/fall off in more and more exciting ways.

The performers were constantly in and out of the water, there were tumblers, acrobats and the practically compulsory clown who was very good. The scene below was a very wet take on Swan Lake. The ballet dancers had swan hand puppets and danced around in and out of the water and amongst the fountains which were lit fantastically.

Below are more swans. The show was so fast moving and the lighting every changing and quite dim so they were the easiest thing to photograph. There was lots of swinging around on ropes over the water, swing out over the audience and most strangely of all in what was ancient story of good vs. evil a segment where guys on motor bikes did jumps and tricks! In the style of the Red Bull X-Fighters big ramps were wheeled out and motor cross riders did jumps and tricks. They'd fly through the air and let go of the handlebars in mid-air, do a 360 and the last guy let go of the bike completely before grabbing hold in time to land on the other ramp. It was spectacular but so out of keeping with the whole evening.

The best part of the show for me was when they brought on giant swings on the side of the pool. Up to three guys would swing the platform forward and back and it could even go 360. Then they would dive from it way up into the air do a few twists and somersaults and land in the water. It really was spectacular especial with four swings on the go at once. They also had quite a lot of dancing on elevated bars and cages including a fight scene where they got knocked off one by one from a great height.

I would love to do a back-stage tour to see how all the mechanics work to get some much stage appearing and disappearing and how the performers exit and enter the stage from underwater. I guess there are access tube and they have breathing apparatus under water so they can time their entrances.

The ninety minute show was great and lived up to the billing. The grand finale was some dives from the very top of the hall into the water; the top was a very long way up. Then it was time for the whole cast to take a bow. They are an amazing set of performers a cross between great gymnasts, high-board divers, dancers and acrobats; true athletes.

Back to SE Asia - 2016-17 page