A Visit to Macau in a Day
We hopped in a cab on our way to the ferry, but a few blocks later our driver needed to make a U-turn because I left my passport back in my hotel room. I pretended like it was an accident, but the truth was that I had no idea that we were leaving the country, especially since we were only taking a short ferry ride from Hong Kong to Macau.
Our friend recounted the time that her co-worker failed to bring her passport aboard the ferry, leaving her stranded in limbo between international waters until someone retrieved it for her. Even though I had originally imagined the casino culture of Macau to be similar to Atlantic City, and hence a waste of time, my interest was suddenly piqued.
I sunk my teeth into a Portuguese egg tart that we bought from a nearby shop at the ferry terminal, which bore a striking resemblance to the Asian egg tarts that are normally found at dim sum. That’s when I learned that these mini pastries actually made their way into Asian cuisine by way of the Portuguese through Macau.
I finally collected all of my thoughts and realized that I was standing on an island in southern China watching a display of contortionists with a group of tourists from around the world.
It all started around the 18th century in the monasteries of Portugal when the monks developed these French-inspired tarts and brought them along their missions to Macau. At the time, Macau was a trading port and colony for the Portuguese. The egg tarts grew in popularity and subsequently became a hit in Hong Kong. Now they can be found in practically any Asian pastry shop or dim sum restaurant.
The ferry took us to a shuttle bus and we then arrived at the heel of the Grand Lisboa casino where I looked up to see a massive, elongated orb reminiscent of Epcot Center in Disney World. It was sitting below a flashy, plume-like building that reminded me of traditional Chinese architecture but with a modern edge. I was taken aback because I felt like I was standing on the Las Vegas strip, and there were even some familiar names like Wynn, Sands, MGM, and the Venetian.
I’m not much of a gambler, so after a brief stint at the penny slots I spent most of my time sightseeing. The Venetian was exactly like its counterpart in Vegas, only bigger, since this particular location boasts of having the largest casino floor in the world.
I did some window-shopping as my friends hit the baccarat tables, which gave me a chance to reflect for a moment and people-watch as a few tourists floated by on the gondola ride while a magic show performed by contortionists drew a large crowd nearby. The open-air design of the Venetian added to the performance, because it truly felt like we were watching a “street show” with Cirque du Soliel-style theatrics.
I lost my bearings for a moment when roaring applause snapped me back into reality, and I finally collected all of my thoughts and realized that I was standing on an island in southern China watching a display of contortionists with a group of tourists from around the world while my friends were playing baccarat in the Venetian in a land that produced a Portuguese-Cantonese fusion culture.
We walked to Senado Square afterwards, which is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its history as a political hub for the Chinese and Portuguese leaders. Today it has transformed into a cultural center for concerts, festivals, and shopping. Thankfully for tourists like ourselves, the area is one big pedestrian walkway so it was easy to get around. As a bonus, the streets were laden with gorgeous, hypnotic tiles that are sight to see just by themselves.
I sat on the return ferry to Hong Kong that evening and immediately felt regret for having left so quickly.
I wished we had more time, but we were starving and decided to venture onto the Macanese side-streets in search of food and the non-glitzy side of Macau began to reveal itself. The dichotomy was instantaneous, and it was a nice change of pace because I went from feeling overwhelmed to simply enjoying a stroll down the streets.
The over-the-top casinos and commercial shopping centers were replaced by humble two-story shops and modest family-style restaurants. We chose a traditional Chinese restaurant and selected a few dishes for everyone to share: black-bone chicken soup, an array of dumplings, and lo ma gai (sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf).
I sat on the return ferry to Hong Kong that evening and immediately felt regret for having left so quickly because there was so much more to experience, like the fact that Macau has the largest bungee jump in the world, or historical sites like the ruins of St. Paul.
However, I’m glad that we were able to experience as much as we did in only a day, which was mostly due the the fact that the layout of the land was conducive to walking (in addition to public transportation options like shuttle buses and readily available cabs). The casino culture seemed to overshadow everything else, but there other aspects of Macau to explore.