Saturday 20 January 2018

Historical Macau - an amateur traveller's tips

After four months in Hong Kong, trying to settle in while coping with the extensive work hours, finally I managed to visit Macau last week. This was the closest place I could visit from Hong Kong without a visa (and a credit card). Still working on the photographs, I thought I will share some of my "visiting tips" while I still remember them.

What I was told and also read in a few places is that, if you are have your HKID card in Hong Kong, that should be enough to visit Macau. However, I am an Indian national and I actually needed my passport too.

Okay, starting on the tips now, though many of these would already be on the internet I am sure. These are just from my personal experiences from my first visit where I did not manage to go beyond the historic town centre, despite having grand plans for the day.

First a brief introduction to Macau. Since someone has already done the hard work on Wikipedia, I will just respect their effort by replicating the same here:
'Macau (/məˈkaʊ/), also spelled Macao and officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, is an autonomous territory on the western side of the Pearl River estuary in East Asia. Macau is bordered by the city of Zhuhai in Mainland China to the north and the Pearl River Delta to the east and south. Hong Kong lies about 64 kilometres (40 mi) to its east across the Delta. With a population of 650,900 living in an area of 30.5 km2 (11.8 sq mi), it is the most densely populated region in the world. A former Portuguese colony, it was returned to Chinese sovereignty on 20 December 1999.'

Now the introductions out of the way, I can get back to business:

Getting the ferry

Macau has two main entry points from Hong Kong - the Outer ferry terminal and the Taipa ferry terminal. If you want to visit the historic town centre, the Outer Ferry terminal is the one to go to, which I would definitely recommend for your first visit (but also depends on your preference - casinos, shopping, night life etc not covered here). The ferries leave from Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island and the China ferry terminal in Tsim Tsha Tsui (probably two more somewhere else, which I don't have much knowledge of). I got the one from Sheung Wan and hence can speak about that only.

The Macau Ferry Terminal

Once you exit the MTR at Sheung Wan through Exit D, you have to continue to the 3rd floor of the same building. Despite what Google map shows you, you do not have to leave the building (Yup, I did!). Take the lift or the escalators. I was confused, walking in and out of the building, and eventually asking the security. He told me to take the lift by indicating 3 with his fingers and saying a heavily accented 5.

Getting the ferry tickets

Of course you can get tickets at a discounted price on, they keep advertising. But you need a credit card for the same, or a Visa or a Mastercard or something! I only had hard cash.
Once off the lift, the first shop you notice is the Cotai Water Jet on your left. Unless you are going to Taipa, walk on. There are many ticket booking offices, around the floor who will keep calling you out. I ignored them but went in circles trying to figure out where the Turbojet ferry office was (they go to the Outer ferry terminal). Saw a big queue in a shop displaying Turbojet all over, and lined up. A guy came over and handed me return tickets for $350 for the 6:30 ferry back (Ticket prices change after 5:10pm to Night sailing price. Time varies through the year.) Too early for me. So he gave me an alternative at 7:45pm for the same price. I took it without realising what I was doing (the price was similar to what I had looked up, did not remember the actual amount). As I paid the money and got the tickets, the big group walked away, one of the travel agents screaming at them (all happening in Cantonese of course). I looked on, wondering what I had got myself into! Adding to my discomfort, only when the guy pointed me in the direction of the departure gates, did I notice the official Turbojet counters (yes, they are well hidden big counters with Turbojet splashed all over, located very conveniently just beside the departure gates. Apparently, you can't miss!). There was a big queue (means I would have missed the 10am ferry) and the tickets I got would have cost me $375 as well, so a win win situation. Was just a bit worried if the tickets were legal though, so had them verified at the ticket checkpoint and they were okay (phew). Talk about a mistake paying off.

Immigration check in Hong Kong 

At the immigration gates, I slipped in my Hong Kong id, watching it getting scanned and counting the seconds as the data got verified from the database. The glass gate opens and am stuck behind another one. Put my thumb and this time it was me who was getting scanned. Waiting with abated breath, the gates finally open. I am out of Hong Kong.

The ferry ride

At the gates they took my ticket and stuck a label on it. My seat number. It was not a window seat. I had no views. The ferry ride was for about an hour. The seats were comfy, and I slept.

Immigration in Macau

Off at Macau and I spot the familiar immigration gates as in Hong Kong. Was smirking at all the stupid people joining the big queue at the (wo)manned counters while the automatic gates remained empty. I swiped my HKID, nothing. Swiped again and it kept saying it could not read. Eventually I managed to put it the right way and was displayed the message that I am not registered and should proceed to the counters. Sheepishly, I find myself at the tail end of a very long line, but at least the queue was moving fast. At the counter I confidently hand over my HKID. 'Passport please' - more rummaging in the bag. I am asked to verify my name and I am through.

Staying connected

You need wi-fi and you need a map and you are good to go in a new city. Both were available for free at the terminal. I have always been in love with a physical map, though the GPS option is gradually spoiling me. Who doesn't want to know where they are.

Getting to the historic city centre

Pretty Chinese girls, all dressed up, were handing out leaflets of the various casinos (I don't envy their job). One of the girls told me to take the bus to Grand Lisboa to get closer to the historic town centre. The casinos run frequent free shuttle services and with good planning, you can travel around Macau for free. While standing in a queue for a few minutes, I was reading the map and figured out taking the public bus number 3 would be a better choice to get closer to where I wanted to be. So I cross back the road and queue up for the bus, along with a few other tourists and locals.

The currency

Though Macanese Pataca (MOP) is the official currency, they accept HKD which at 1.03 times gives the locals a better rate. The bus ticket cost me $3.20.

Visiting the Historic centre

This is from the official site
'On 15th July 2005, 'The Historic Centre of Macao' was successfully inscribed as a World Heritage Site, making it the 31st site in China to be granted this status.
The 'Historic Centre of Macao' encompasses architectural legacies interwoven in the midst of the original urban fabric that includes streetscapes and piazzas. These major urban squares and streetscapes provide the linkage for a succession of over twenty monuments. For details please visit:

I had no plans apart from visiting the ruins of St Paul's cathedral. After a tiring week at work, I was not feeling like much walking either. Moreover, as soon as I landed in the historic centre, I was drowned in a certain nostalgia of visiting an European city which slowed me down even further as I took my time to absorb the atmosphere. My plan was to visit the historic town during the day and then see the lights at night before I return. Starting at noon till about 5pm, these are the places I managed to visit, apart from roaming the historic town aimlessly and soaking in the sun. The night life had to be postponed for a future visit as at the end of my walking visit, I was exhausted.

1. Largo de Senado

Macau or Macao

2. St Dominic's church

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3. Ruins of St Paul's

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4. Na Tcha Temple

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5. Section of the old city walls

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6. Mount Fortress

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7. St Augustine's square and church (under repair under heavy bamboo scaffolding)

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8. Teatro D Pedro V (where a cello class was on, playing a haunting tune I fell in love with)

Macau or Macao

9. St Lawrence's church

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10. Mandarin's house

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11. Largo do Lilau

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12. Moorish barracks

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13. A-Ma Temple (on which Macau was named according to legend)

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14. Chapel of our lady of Penha, not a world heritage site, but recommended for the amazing views over Macau

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So, despite my leisurely day, 14 out of 20 historical sites isn't a bad count And given the number of churches in Macau, I must have walked past a few without even realising.

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The food

Internet says you should definitely try the Macanese food, a cultural mix of Chinese and Portuguese. I did not as I did not have the opportunity or the time. Bad planning. Internet also says you have to try the pork chop bun, which I did. Not because internet said so, but because I was walking past this shop with a big queue and a delicious smell in the air and a big picture of the pork chop bun. I got hungry later again but as I was walking down to the A-Ma temple, these were more residential areas with no shops at all. Was left tired and hungry. But some of the goodies the bakeries were giving out as tasters for free - was heaven!

Macau or Macao

Journey back to the ferry

Though my ferry was at 7:45, I decided to turn back at about 6. From the bus stop at the Maritime museum took the bus number 10, paying $3.20 again. The tourist map shows the bus routes too which is very convenient. From the bus I looked out at a different city, dazzling under the lights. The camera had been packed up, so here is a lone picture from the phone camera.

Macau or Macao

Taking the ferry back

I was in time for the 7:30 ferry (after another immigration check). I was asked to wait in the standby queue, was the first person to arrive so had an advantage. As the last passenger boarded, I was allowed to board and was moved to the luxury class. No bad at all to end the journey. Macau was glittering through the window and though I took a picture, the glass reflection didn't make it a decent shot so off it went to the bin. I slept again through the hour long journey back to Hong Kong.

For more photographs from the visit and other stories, follow me on Facebook Breaking Out Solo