Thursday, June 27, 2013

Macau : The Must-Visits

Being in my line of work, most of my trips are just spontaneous, last minute decisions. My recent trip to Macau with mum early this month was no exception. We had wanted to visit Macau during our previous trip to Hong Kong, but couldn't do so due to the typhoon, so tempted for a short getaway, we decided to fly ourselves to Macau via Tiger Airways. Last minute ticket fares are not cheap definitely and I dare say, I had seen air fares at least 10 times cheaper than what I had paid for this time round.

Macau, dubbed as the Vegas of the East is most well known as China's gambling hotspot. But multitudes of casinos aside, from the super grand to those backstreet make-shift gambling tables, Macau definitely has more to offer even to non-gamblers like us. Macau is really not a very large place and it can be explore in a day but spending 3 days 2 nights there certainly gave us ample time to explore and appreciate it's uniqueness without rush. Geographically, it consist of three main parts; the Macau peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane, which are now connected by landfill forming the Cotai Strip. We decided to stay at the Macau Peninsula but it is very convenient and easy to travel around the whole of Macau without having to pay a single cent for transportation and I'm gonna tell you how in my post.

Tiger Airways currently flies from Changi airport terminal 2
After about 3 and the half hours flight from Singapore to Macau, we finally got a glimpse of Macau city below. And the sky was just so beautifully blue
The taxi and bus terminal right outside the airport. Most of the major hotels around Macau provides free shuttle buses from their hotels to the airport (or ferry terminals) and so, do check with your hotel if they do provide such a service. The hotel we stayed in, Sintra however do not provide free shuttle bus from the airport. But instead, we took the free shuttle bus to the Grand Emperor hotel which is the hotel right opposite Sintra (2 minutes walk). It is totally legit to hop onto any shuttle buses even if you do not stay at their hotels as the shuttle buses are a mean to attract people to the casinos in their hotels, hence they are open to the public and not restricted to hotel guests only. And that's how you get around Macau FREE of charge anyways; the hotel shuttle buses. Most of the major hotels are located close to tourist attractions and some even provide shuttle service straight to certain hotspots

Macau International Airport is located at the Taipa island side and from there, it took us less than 30 minutes to reach our hotel which is located at Macau Peninsula. We were a little disappointed when our hotel told us that we had to wait another 40 minutes before we could check in although it was rightfully after the check-in time but still, that did not stopped us from excitedly stepping out to start exploring the beautiful city. Abandoning the check in, we made our way to the first landmark of Macau, the Senado Square (Largo do Senado) where it is the most happening place in Macau to look for good food, Chinese antiques, Portuguese wines, liquors and perhaps a typical souvenir or two. It is about a 10 minutes walk to the square from our hotel. The General post office is located right beside the square while the Leal Senado building (a pretty white building where the Macau government seat during the Portuguese colony) opposite it.
The very happening Senado Square even in the hot afternoon
Much more cooler and photo friendly towards the evening
Don't you just love it when the sky is so blue? I definitely do ♥
The rows of shophouses along the square
The St Dominic's church that is within Senado Square itself. It is a late 16th century Baroque-style church that is also a UNESCO World Heritage site
The interior of the church
From the square, we then walked on to the next landmark of Macau; the Ruins of St Paul's Cathedral. It is in fact the most popular landmark and historical site in Macau and it's literally a tourist crime to be in Macau but not to the Ruins of St Paul's. Signage are readily available around Senado Square to direct you to the ruins
My favourite shot. The front facade of the Ruins of St Paul's Cathedral up close. A beauty in itself, the facade is all that remains of once the greatest church in Macau designed by an Italian Jesuit in the early 17th century. The original church caught fires in 1595 and 1601 respectively and the reconstructed church caught fire the third time in 1835 after a violent typhoon hit Macau. The ornaments, sculptured motifs and bas reliefs of the facade is a fusion between the eastern and western cultures
Another gorgeous shot of the Ruins of St Paul's credit to my mum who painstakingly took this
The front facade and it's grand stairs stood there so proudly, being the symbolic altar to the city
A jump shot on the slope down the ruins
Oh wait, that's not all. Here's a side shot of the ruins
And a back shot
The bustling crowd at the Ruins of St Paul's

Mount Fortress, adjacent to the ruins is located on the hilltop and thus, needs a bit of a climb. It really amazed me to see so many women climbing up the hilltop in their 3 or 4 inch heels. As much as I love heels, there's no way I'm gonna climb up hills in them. The fortress which once solemnly guarded the city now sits the three-level Macau museum and is a great spot that offers a central view of the landscape of  Macau Peninsula. 
All the panting up the hill was worth it with view of the landscape of the Macau peninsula so clear and beautiful from the fortress. The most outstanding building of the Macau peninsula is no doubt the Grand Lisboa hotel which is shaped like a giant golden lotus flower that caught our attention from everywhere in Macau
Oops, a canon directing towards the Grand Lisboa?
The museum of Macau

It was towards dinner time by the time we finally got enough of the ruins and fortress. We walked back again to the main entrance of Senado Square (where the fountain is) and from there, we head a little downwards to Rua da Felicidade which is also known as Happiness Street. It's just a few minutes walk but it wasn't all that easy to find the street and to be honest, pedestrians in Macau ain't too friendly in giving directions especially if you do not speak Cantonese but we managed to chance upon it with assistance from a grumpy direction giving young woman. The street, with all it's shop houses having their doors and windows painted in red is also part of the movie scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Doom. Now known for their eateries and as a shopping street, our sole purpose there was to fill our stomach with food (which I will blog about in my next post). 
Happiness street 福隆新街- Aside from restaurants, the rest of the shops were already close by 6 pm
Walking past the square again on our way back to our hotel from Rua da Felicidade and decided to stop by taking in the pretty view of the Senado Square at night
The central post office
Only in Macau you can find poker cards, ingots and casino chips made from real gold

From our hotel, we decided to do a little walk to the cluster of super colorful and striking casino hotels of the Macau Peninsula that is located nearby. Honestly, there are aplenty of super grand casino hotels with their extraordinary architecture around Macau that even to non-gamblers, there is nothing to lose in visiting these casino hotels to savour their beautiful architecture and soak in the gambling atmosphere. Competition must be so strong between these casino hotels giants that all of them try to make their hotel as unique as possible to attract visitors. I think the Grand Lisboa win hands down to be the most outstanding and prettiest casino hotel in Macau Peninsula. 
The Grand Lisboa, shaped like a giant golden lotus flower coming alive with it's blend of colours at night. It's casino offers 800 mass gaming tables and 1000 slot machines it can easily accommodate more than a 1000 visitors at one time
The Casino Lisboa, equally colourful but much smaller in size, also owned by the same company as Grand Lisboa is consider to be the granddaddy of casinos in Macau. The Grand Lisboa is an extension to the Casino Lisboa and is located right next to it. Being the older casino hotel, it's interior really does look much older and the casino much smaller 
The Wynn Macau, looking really elegant with it's bronze exterior is the first Las Vegas style integrated resort in Asia. Aside from casino, they also have designer shops like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Hermes to name a few, spa and a 'Performance Lake'
Panaromic shot of the cluster of pretty and grand casinos of the Macau Peninsula
A replica of Dr Stanley Ho, Macanese and Hong Kong business magnate.  He is also known as the King of Gambling and is the wealthiest man in Macau. He is the man behind Casino Lisboa and it's extension, Grand Lisboa. On display at the Casino Grand Lisboa is a 218.08 carats diamond which is the largest cushion shaped internally flawless D-color diamond in the world. The diamond is really very very dazzling in real but can't really be seen in the picture

After a night rest, we woke up the next morning ready to explore another part of Macau; the Taipa Island. The easiest and quickest way to get to the Taipa Island from Macau Peninsula was none other than hopping onto the free shuttle buses provided by the many casino hotels on Taipa Island. We choose the Galaxy Hotel shuttle bus as they are the only one that provides shuttle service to Rua do Cunha (Old Taipa Village), also known as the food street of Taipa. If you had not already heard, a few eateries along this street is very popular among locals and tourists in Macau. 
My ideal wedding car. Nothing beats getting married like a Disney princess in a real carriage :)
You'll just have to look out for men/women holding board like this to know where the shuttle buses stops are. Alternatively, you can always try asking your hotel reception/ manager where is the nearest shuttle bus service stop and they might be able to direct you there like our hotel manager did. However, do take note that most of these free bus shuttle services only starts after 10 am in the morning (till somewhere around midnight), hence if you are rush for time and in need to start your day early, then you can take the public buses or cabs instead
From Galaxy Hotel, we switched to a smaller Galaxy shuttle bus no. 8 to Rua do Cunha. This is the drop off point into exploring the narrow pedestrian street rich with food and foodstuff "souvenirs". This is actually also the town centre of Taipa Island, the Vila da Taipa
This really cute and colorful shop at the entrance to Ruo do Cunha is Macau Creations,  Macau's first designer- brand store to celebrate the work of it's culture and artiste. A pretty cute shop worth checking out
Such a adorable Starbucks
There is this other souvenir shop here call Macau Stamps where you probably can get the cheapest souvenirs in Macau. Being a gambling hotspot, typical gambling associated souvenirs are of course common sightings. Now, casino chips anyone?
Or feeling too lazy to decide what to do for the day? Let these 'deciding' dice help
The angry, surprised and happy pandas from Macau Creations
There is an ongoing flea market at the Ruo do Cunha for the whole month of June but varieties really ain't much and things are not exactly value cheap either 

After spending an hour or two around Ruo do Cunha (food in next post), we hopped onto the Galaxy shuttle and went back to the Galaxy Hotel. Well, imho, Galaxy's outlook is probably the most magnificent and stunning in Macau. It's golden glass panes reflected the shining sun turning it all very glittery and beautiful to look at.
A lists of Galaxy shuttle buses service
The wishing crystals inside the Galaxy
They are so many of them and all so pretty
The bright sun further enhances it's grandiosity
A night shot- yes, even at night, they exude such glittering beauty

Well, after a short tour around Galaxy, we took the shuttle bus to the Venetian Macau, another luxury hotel and casino resort owned by the Las Vegas Sands located just next to the Galaxy Hotel. Yes, it's in fact within very short walking distance between the two hotels but it was just so hot in the afternoon and we were making full use of the free shuttle bus service to not walk. The Venetian Macau, opened in 2007 along the Cotai Strip, is a tourist attraction in itself. It's casino is the largest in the world and their mall filled with luxury duty-free shoppes is a mini replica of Venice so much so there is even a Venice 'river' with gondola rides and singing gondoliers available. A lot of those popular Macau food have also open branches within the Venetian Macau, so it's really really convenient to just spend an entire day at the Venetian enjoying shopping and dining.
Simply love how Venice-like the shoppes are and how the whole mall really exudes the Venice vibe
The Grand Canal
My, I just love this place 
Well, me and mum decided to bring our 'Venice' experience to the max by going on the gondola ride!
Our singing gondolier who sang us 3 very beautiful ballads as we rowed down the grand canal
Our gondolier was certainly very entertaining
It was a really short and sweet 15 minutes ride bringing us memories to treasure 
Photography are NOT allow in casinos but I managed to get a sneak shot of this largest casino in the world
The man who can't be move
A side profile of the Venetian at night- looking very chic and modern
From the Venetian, we took their free shuttle to the Sands, another casino resort owned  by the Las Vegas Sands, thus bringing us back from Taipa Island to the Macau Peninsula. Yes, at times, the queue can get so long just waiting for the shuttle buses. Thankfully, the shuttle buses are pretty frequent hence making the waiting time short. The Sands Macau is located within walking distance to the Fisherman's Wharf, Macau's first theme park. The Sands concluded our casino hopping for the day and the irony of it all was that, we did not gamble at any of the casinos at all
The Sands from afar
The Macau tower. Another popular activity in Macau is of course bungee jumping off the Macau tower, acclaimed to be the highest bungee jump in the world or skywalking around the tower. However, we skipped the Macau tower altogether this time, saving it for next time
Hotel Sintra, the hotel we stayed in this time round with it's rather non grand and old looking exterior
Accommodations in Macau certainly is not cheap and even for a non casino hotel like Sintra, we paid around RM 350++ a night. Nevertheless, their hotel room was pretty satisfactory; pretty spacious and clean and all the basic amenities provided. The location is also super strategic. Although they had caused us a delay in our check in, but their staffs are really friendly and helpful and the best part, understands English decently well. Do not be surprise that a lot of Macanese still do not understand English well and are not exactly friendly to non-Cantonese speaking visitors 
Sintra's lobby

The sign says it all
The Casino Lisboa in the day
A final picture at the Grand Lisboa, the iconic casino hotel of the Macau Peninsula before bidding Macau goodbye

Quite apparently, a large part of our time were spent casino hopping seeing the differences between each casinos in Macau and even though we did not one bit tried our luck (never really had much luck gambling anyways) at any of the casinos, I was stopped for ic checked at the casinos and that was enough to make my day. Yup, being identified as looking young is of course very pleasing news to us girls at any time at all. Another huge part of our time is of course spent hunting for food. So yes, we are not exactly bidding goodbye to Macau just yet. I'm gonna post about all the great (not so great) places to eat in Macau next. Tll then, stick with me. :)

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Great article. I am planning to visit this place next two months. Thanks!