Macau: A Taste of Europe…

It’s a time of great transition in Hong Kong at the moment. The weather’s slowly changing – we’re getting more grey, rainy days and less clear blue skies. On top of that, the streets are packed and the decorations are up in time for the Chinese event of the year. Indeed, the Year of the Sheep (or sometimes Goat) is almost upon us.

Capitalising on both the last of the good weather and the beginning of our Chinese New Year holiday, I decided to take the ferry over to Macau for the first time over the weekend. Macau, like Hong Kong, is a Special Administrative Region, which also sort of belongs to China but not quite. You have to go through all the usual immigration procedures to get in, though UK citizens (and quite a few others) can get in visa-free – just don’t forget to take your passport!

Getting there is easy and involves jumping on a ferry at Sheung Wan MTR (Exit D). The TurboJet ferry is the most popular and runs to Macau Peninsula, where the majority of sightseeing attractions are (though ferries do also run to the Southern parts of Macau where there are apparently good hikes and beaches). They run every 15 minutes and didn’t seem overly busy on this Friday morning. The price varies depending when you’re travelling but for a weekday daytime ticket it cost around $166 one way, though it only cost around $150 coming back. The prices increase if you’re travelling at the weekend or at night (usually after around 5.30pm). The ferry ride takes just less than an hour and the ferries are quite plush compared to the boats which go to the Outlying Islands in Hong Kong.

I had to find my way round Macau the old-fashioned way since my phone wasn’t working, so the first hour involved, of course, getting hopelessly lost. The roads outside the ferry terminal are not pedestrian friendly so use the walkway which goes right over the top towards the big reservoir. From here, I followed a dog-walking trail which got me into the city. I don’t think it was the ‘official’ way in, but it worked for me. There are also plenty of buses hovering round the ferry terminal. Money-wise, you’re fine to pay in HKD, though you might get your change in the Macanese currency which was great for me since I could add it to my ever-growing currency collection.

Macau flag at Guia Fortress

Macau actually taught me a very valuable travelling lesson – one which I can’t believe I’ve not thought of before: always start your visit in a new place by going to the highest point. In Macau, this was Guia Fortress located in the huge Guia Hill Park. The fortress is a UNESCO site and you can travel up by cable car, or simply walk up the winding stairs/walkways, which I chose to do. In the fortress, there’s a small museum which charts the history of the fort, and you can then climb up the fort for spectacular views of the city. I clocked at least two or three places I wanted to go and check out, simply from seeing them from this wonderful vantage point. Getting an early bird’s eye view of the city was the best way to plan out my day.

One of the places I saw from my viewpoint was a fantastic, European-looking square. Since Macau used to be owned by the Portuguese, it means you get wonderful European squares and buildings dotted all across the city, nestling in amongst the concrete structures which make up the bulk of the city. Tap Seac Square, just across from Guia Hill Park, is particularly impressive with its vivid European buildings mixed with fountains, stalls and a plethora of decorations in time for the impending festivities. This was the most bizarre thing – seeing these familiar European buildings standing side by side with Chinese lanterns, colourful sheep decorations and oriental banners. It very much felt as if two worlds were colliding.

Colonial buildings in Macau
Colonial buildings in Macau

As you exit the ferry terminal, you can also turn left and head to Macau’s Cultural Centre which is a great place to wander round. It’s been designed to look like Greek ruins, with an amphitheatre and decrepid looking poles and archways. It’s a shame that some of it was being renovated when I was there, as the red and white barriers kind of took away from the charm a little bit. Still, it’s definitely worth a look.

I couldn’t possibly tell you how to reach Macau’s most iconic tourist spot, since it took my a good hour or so of just meandering round various streets to find it. I didn’t mind though, since Macau is a great city to walk round. Shabby in places, and then suddenly it will open up to a huge European square or a calm park. It’s definitely a lot more chilled out than Hong Kong. It’s busy without being claustrophobic. Eventually though, after walking round, I stumbled across the Ruins of St. Paul’s and, despite having seen it before in pictures, it did not disappoint.

The Ruins of St. Paul's
The Ruins of St. Paul’s

The place was packed with tourists taking selfies or being shown round by tour guides, but it still maintains its charm, with its black, Victorian-style street lamps, greenery and nearby park. And the five-tiered ruins themselves are a sight to behold. Either up close or from a distance, they’re a photographer and sightseer’s dream. I’m always ready to be disappointed when I visit an ‘iconic’ place but I’ve yet to be let down and this was no exception. It helped that the weather was so good – and warm!

Overall, I had a fantastic trip to Macau and, even if you’re not in Hong Kong for too long, I’d advise making the short trip over to soak in the chilled out atmosphere and get a little taste of Europe slap bang in the centre of Asia. I went during the day so didn’t sample any of Macau’s notorious casinos, which apparently make more money than the Strip in Vegas. But if you’re 21 and fancy a flutter, you can make a whole night of it here. It really does have it all!

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