best things to do in macau

Macau: A hint of Portugal?

Through the planning for this trip, whenever we got to southern China and Hong Kong, we both started talking excitedly about Macau. Not for the world’s largest casino, but the Portuguese influence, so a day trip from Hong Kong was in order.

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Passport now reacquired from the Vietnamese consulate in Hong Kong (which provided a marvelous 3 day service (dropped off Monday collected Thursday am) for a regular tourist visa at the cost of HKD500 per person), we took the bus to the Turbojet ferry terminal at Central.

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By 10:10 we were getting our seat assignment, and by 10:30 we were firmly sat in our seats, unable to see through the dirty windows, setting sail for the journey to Macau. 90 minutes later, we were stood in a 45 minute line to get into the Special Administrative Region.

It’s easier if you’re older. There were two specific immigration lines for those who were over 60, disabled or pregnant. And trying to adopt an older person in the line didn’t work. However, there were two lines right next to each other specifically for older people with a third person allocated to make sure that these older folks knew whether to go to the left hand line or the right hand line. At this point my hand slaps my forehead and looks at the length of all the other lines, while Nigel goes off at a time and motion studies tangent about how desperately, desperately badly organized the whole immigration line is. I can’t help but agree and seethe quietly.

We’re in Macau first of all because it’s there, so close to Hong Kong, but primarily because of the Portuguese influence, just like we’ll spend time in Goa when we get to India, to check out how much influence is left, and what was actually left behind. There’s a third reason. We want to see whether we can get some Bacalhau Com Natas and wash it down with a bottle of Super Bock Beer.

First stop is the Venetian Casino. No,not because I’ve got confused and we’re looking for the Italian influence, but because there’s a free bus from the ferry port to the casinos. We picked the Venetian because it’s the biggest casino in the world and also because it houses an outlet of the Lord Stow Bakery, but more on that later.

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Gambling is big, big business in Macau, and there are Casinos galore here, a new one being built was making news while we were here – the tycoon owner, Stephen Hung had just placed an order for 30 bespoke Rolls Royce Phantoms, to be gold plated, at a value of $20 million, making this Rolls Royce’s biggest order ever.. Perhaps we should have stayed there!!

The Venetian really is huge, our budget HKD$10 each for gambling turns into $92.30 on the 10 cent slots before we cash out and head for some egg tarts.

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The Lord Stow Bakery in Coloane (one of the islands here in Macau) is renowned for its egg tarts. It took a Brit opening a bakery in 1976, naming it Lord Stow (there is no Lord Stow involved), and churning our special recipe egg tarts to take the famous Portuguese dessert, add a Macau slant to it and turn it into big business, there’s an outlet at the Venetian and we blow our HKD$9 each on getting a taste while watching them make the next batch.

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Good, but just like egg custard at home. The budget is safe from egg tarts at least.

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There’s a free bus from the Venetian to the old town, so we line up for that in order to continue the free theme, but it’s a small bus, so we have to wait for the next one. 30 minutes later we’re wandering towards the old town.

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Everything we’ve seen so far is brand spanking new, but as we walk through some of the narrow streets, this is definitely older. The centre of the old town is the Largo Senado, where the Post Office is, where, too you’ll find the tourist information office, and well, lots and lots of shops. And lots of tourists.

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It was once the heart of Portuguese power in the city, the Largo Senado, with the centre being the Leal Senado – a white washed building, it was built in 1784 and it was where the Portuguese plotted their conquest of Asia, its now the Mayor’s Office and a library.

There’s a hint of Portugal here with the traditional stones used for the square, which remind me of Abrantes and Tomar, but so far, other than that. Nada.

From there we take Rua da Pahla, and the Rua Sao Paulo to reach The Ruin’s of St Paul’s. While being used as a barracks it was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1835 and all that remains now is the facade. Propped up and the object of many photo’s it provides a focal point for all the streets leading up here, and channels the tourists in the right direction. En route here are lots of stores selling meat products, with free samples. The caramelized pork is good, the Macau cookies are ok, we load up as stores hand them out to all and sundry.

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The Museum of Macau is close to the ruins of St Pauls, housed in the Monte Fortress, but we haven’t read up on it and after borrowing their air con for a while, we head up to the garden on the roof of the old Fortress. The views of the city are all encompassing if a little depressing. The best view I think is of the grotesque Casino Lisboa down the sights of a cannon. Oh for some ammo.

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The fort began construction in 1617 and didn’t see much action. Its cannons were only fired twice in anger. Once, the story goes, when a Dutch fleet arrived to invade. A Jesuit priest – apparently in panic, fired a cannon by mistake. The resultant shot hit the Dutch gunpowder ship, blowing half the fleet skywards and saving Macau. Perhaps it’s this same cannon…

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We’re determined to find some Portuguese influence, so we head down the tourist route to a couple of the old squares, that are “quintessentially Portuguese”, the Largo do Lilau for instance is supposed to be a hark back to small town Portugal.

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If you stand on one leg, and squint, perhaps. Disappointed we head for a late lunch.

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Now this we have researched. Many restaurants in Macau claim to have “good old fashioned Portuguese food”, many of these are on Coloane, one of the islands, that we’re not planning to head out to, as they come with reviews that start “Expensive, but worth the money…” and then continue with no detail as to what expensive means. Sigh. We head for the bizarrely named Ali’s Curry House.

Close to our ruinous project in Portugal is the town of Abrantes. Deep in this little town is a restaurant I don’t know the name of, but could navigate to with my eyes closed. It’s the home of what for me is the taste of home. A dish that when we have it, along with good local red wine and a green salad, just makes me sigh and relax completely.

Bacalhau Com Natas. Cod fish with cream. And potato. And a guaranteed food coma. I can feel my eyes closing and the smile beginning even as I type this a week after our quest.

We start with Sardinhas. Two of them grilled. Good, but somehow it’s not the same when you’re not sat in the restaurant in Praia de Mira right on the beach, having picked out your sardinhas, which you probably saw caught earlier. The cars driving past and the bickering American’s on the next table don’t help. We wash them down with a bottle of Super Bock and try the local Macau lager.

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Then the main event. Bacalhau Com Natas (BCN) here in Macau is a little different to Portugal. When it arrives, we both gulp, smile and prepare for food coma looking at the size of it. Digging in, it’s all a bit weird. Its like its cod fish, some shredded potato and well, its kind of like a strange souffle.

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More like the essence of BCN than the reality. Still, it’s as good as we’re going to get. And there’s no salad included, so we scrape the bowl clean, slurp the beer, and feel that we shouldn’t have built this up so much.

Macau is a disappointment. Not just because of the weird souffle like experience, but there’s too little old town, what we saw was just shops punting cookies and caramelized pork (which shouldn’t be sniffed at..), the front wall of an old church and well that was about it. The egg tart was good. The casino was a casino, but we get on the TurboJet back to Hong Kong feeling a little short changed and start to downgrade what we’re expecting from Goa when we eventually get there.

Still, it was a good attempt at BCN although, no, we wouldn’t try it at home, and Super Bock tastes like Super Bock even on the other side of the world.

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