Tag Archives: Macao

A day tour of Macao

Extravagant, flamboyant, over the top. Casino

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could run a day tour of 28 sq km of Macao, but it was done. Our guide, Mario, picked us up from the Grand Emperor at 10am. He’s Portuguese, originally from a diplomatic family and he has lived in Macao (the Portuguese spell it Macau) for 33 years, so he knows his stuff. Macao is the tip of a peninsula, and was leased to the Portuguese in 1557. It was returned to China in 1999, but, like Hong Kong, it will retain its semi-autonomous status for fifty years. What will happen after that, nobody knows. Especially what will happen to the casinos. They are illegal in China, but the Chinese are known to love their gambling. It’s also a lucrative business. Somebody shall see what happens. It won’t be me.

We joined another 28 people who had come over to Macao for a day trip from Hong Kong. Pete and I waited on the bus while Mario collected them from the ferry terminal and herded them on board. Not only were there a few Caucasians amongst them – there were a couple of Australians!

First stop was the reason for the existence of Macao these days. It may have been the gateway to Guangzhou in the past, but now it’s a place to build casinos. It’s how Stanley Ho made his fortune. He still has a large investment. James Pcker is currently pulling out of Macao after some of his staff were arrested in China for trying to entice high-rollers to his casino, and a few of the Las Vegas establishments also have buildings here. There are currently 36 casinos on Macao, and six more will be completed this year. Each new building has to be bigger and better than its predecessor. There’s not room in Macao proper for more buildings, so the powers-that-be have filled in the sea between what had been two islands. That’s where all the new construction is happening.

Venice in a building

The casinos are huge, flamboyant, and ostentatious, designed to attract the Chinese high-rollers. Mario took us to the Venetian, one of the more recent casinos. Like its namesake in Vegas, it has a replica of St Marks square in Venice inside, complete with canals.

Pete managed to snap a shot of the gaming floor as we went up to St Marks on an escalator. As you can see, they’re big enough for people to get lost, which is precisely what happened to a couple of our Americans. Mario managed to find them and they were most apologetic. I cast no aspersions. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt hidden away.

After that we went back to Macao’s beginnings, a temple at the waterside dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea from whom the city gained its name. It is on multiple levels, built against the massive boulders. Worship requires incense.



From the past we went to the future, Macao’s Skytower, home of the world’s highest bungy jump. I got a few pictures of someone taking the plunge, and four of us (not Peter) paid extra to go up the tower to admire the view. This is where I took the photo at the top of my previous post. Mario told us this was simply normal Macao weather. He pointed out the point on the Pearl river where people swam across to escape Mao’s cultural revolution. Not all of them made it – which meant death. Those that did were shipped off quickly to Hong Kong, where they could escape to the West.

That tower with its head in the clouds is in CHINA!

Next we visited the old town with its European style buildings and the inevitable town square complete with fountain. The old parts of town were paved in tiny blue and white Portuguese tiles, fresco style. As well as casinos this part of Macao has churches and temples. We visited one Dominican church, and admired the remains of St Paul’s at the top of the city steps which resemble the Spanish Steps in Rome. The church burnt down in 1835, leaving just the façade. It’s a popular tourist attraction and a place to take photos.

We asked Mario to recommend a Portuguese restaurant for our last evening overseas. It was, as they always are, down an narrow street off the square, opposite the fountain with the Madonna. (Well… maybe not that bit) The waiter – and I suspect owner – might not have been born Australian, but he had an Aussie accent. He mentioned he’d grown up in St Albans in Melbourne. It’s a small world. We picked the set menu – carrot soup, shared the two mains of steak and chips with salad, and fish patties with salad and rice, followed by sweets and thick, strong coffee. Our new mate threw in a glass of port each. It was a lovely way to end the day and we meandered off to the hotel for a good nights’ sleep.

The next day we were off home, catching the ferry to the airport at Lantau. You check in your baggage and get your boarding pass when you leave the ferry. By far the longest queue in the large hall was for Qantas, which shared a desk with an Asian airline. Time was pushing on. When we were about three people from the front of the line, somebody grabbed a brain and picked out the people flying to Brisbane. We were first, but unfortunately for the people behind us, the girl had trouble finding my name It’s the spaces/no spaces thing. My name is van der Rol, but on an airline ticket it’s vanderrol. Anyway, we got there eventually. When we left to go to the terminal, the queue at QF’s counter was almost back to the exit from the ferry. Not a good look.

We got to Brisbane at around eight, collected our car from the long term car park as close to 9am as we could manage, and headed home to the clean air and spacious living at Hervey Bay. Neither of us are anxious to go back to Hong Kong.

Off to Macao

Taken from a tower through glass this picture shows most of Macao. Our hotel is next to the golden tulip-shaped building at mid-right. And yes, that’s smog.

Cruising from Hong Kong to Macao via Turbojet is just like getting a seat in an aircraft. You go through customs, get a little printed piece of paper for your passport, and off you go. The journey takes less than an hour, and cabin crew offer duty free goods if you want them. Nobody bothered to fasten their seat belts, so we didn’t either. By the way, Stanley Ho (he with the wife and three very good friends) owns Turbojet.

We’d caught an early boat, so we kicked our heels at the arrival terminal for a while before our lift to the hotel arrived. Macao obviously gets large Asian tour groups. Once again, we round-eyes were in the distinct minority.

I was surprised that Macao’s atmosphere was as smoggy as Hong Kong’s. It’s a much smaller place, with a population of around 650,000. Compare Singapore’s 697 sq km to Macao’s 28 sq km. (source) But I suppose some of that smog had drifted over from China, which here is just across the Pearl River.

Our driver took us to the Grand Emperor, close to the old town, and we checked in. Jacky Chan owns the place. It has a kind of British vibe, with two coaches standing outside on the pavement, and two pretend Grenadier guards standing at the entrance with guns Pete assured me were plastic. A not very good portrait of Queenie hangs in the lobby, along with a portrait of George III. Why he’s there I have no idea. The hotel has a Windsor Lounge and a Royal Kitchen restaurant. It also has five floors of casino, and eighty-eight gold bars with auspicious serial numbers set into glass niches in the floor of the lobby, each surrounded by cut jewels. Each 1kg ingot is real, but the jewels are not diamonds.

One of the two royal coaches

Queenie on the left, George III on the right, and gold bars in the floor around the fountain

Gold bar. This is in a display case and not surrounded by jewels.

We had a deluxe room (ie standard), well-appointed with a number of unusual free features. The room had a mobile phone for guest use, which could be used to call overseas free of charge. It also had access to maps and tourist information. The phone won’t work if it’s stolen, and there are charges if it’s broken. We could get free drinks at the Windsor Lounge on the 21st floor – we did go up for one drink after dinner, but it’s a disco that didn’t open until 8pm. Maybe forty years ago…

Although the room was generally fine, the bathroom was simply badly designed. The shower was over the bath and there was no way you could shower without water going everywhere it wasn’t supposed to. Dinner in the Royal Kitchen was excellent, if not cheap. We partook of a seafood buffet – prawns hot or cold, crab, fish, pippies, mussels, soup, lobster (which I would have called yabbies) cooked in one of three ways, and the usual accompaniments of veg, salad and the like. And sweets. Mustn’t forget sweets.

We wandered around the casino just to look. It’s a mug’s game, although we’ve been known to put a few dollars in the slot machines at home. There were some machines on one level, but most of the people were playing black jack, roulette – and dominoes. I don’t think I saw a single Caucasian player. And the Asians were playing for keeps. One fellow was feeding HK$1,000 notes into a machine at a black jack table. Note after note after note. The tables advertised minimum stakes – HK$300 per chip, or HK$500 per chip. That’s ONE chip. Wow. No photos I’m afraid. You weren’t allowed to take knives, guns, or cameras into the casino. Needless to say, there were security staff everywhere.

Tomorrow we were going out on our day tour of Macao. I’ll tell you all about it, promise.