Another country today, we go to New Lands as dear old Uncle Sepp would say. Our destination is another SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China, Macau. The former Portuguese colony was handed back to China in 1999, the same year as Hong Kong.
Macau is some 65Km (40 miles ) south west of HK and can be reached by regular fast ferries operated by Turbojet. Turbojet is a joint venture between the Chinese government and Shun Tak Holdings, the latter company is part of Stanley Ho’s empire. So even as you travel to Macau to lose money at the tables, you have already begun to give the “King of Gambling”money.
These ferries run on the hour, skimming across the water at about 45 knots and are hydrofoils. We travelled on the Tricat, a trimaran powered by gas turbines with a maximum of 320 passengers. Because we were pushed for time, only Superclass tickets at about £20 each way were available for the next sailing, but this offered good value with upper deck seating in great comfort and an “inflight meal” of sorts. We also got priority when disembarking. “Keep back, you B******’s !”
The economy of this small enclave is more than 60% tourism based and it’s growing very fast. It is rumoured to be overtaking Las Vegas in pure gaming revenue and there are in excess of 30 casinos. With the Chinese people’s love of gambling, Macau’s future growth seems assured.
On arrival in Macau, we have to resist the touting minibus guides who are both persuasive and devious. They play on the small difference between Macau and Hong Kong Taxis. Hong Kong cabs wil take 5 , Macau only 4 and we were 5 people. A taxi into town cost around $25HK. whereas our friendly minibus friver was prepared to “help us out” at a bargain of $300HK – no thanks pal, we will take 2 cabs. The downside of this is that our destination/rendevous the Corner tapas bar had actually closed 3 months earlier and we then discover that our phones don’t work. Luckily (and oddly) texting does and we reunite in Senado Square, the historic centre of old Macau. The paving is traditionally Portuguese and the colonial buildings remind Australia son of Brazil. It’s an odd feeling, echoed throughout the day, of two cultures, Portuguese and Chinese, linked so closely and uniquely.
Consulting the guide books again we set off on foot to try another couple of recommendations for lunch. They are both further away than anticipated and the areas we pass through are initially interesting but then become somewhat less than picturesque. After half an hour trudging through high humidity, everyone is really delighted to find that the two restaurants are closed between 3 and 6.30 pm, on a Sunday! A brief pit stop in the surprisingly upmarket coffee house, Cafe Bebe, and we take taxis to Coloane Island to the south to try the famous Fernando’s at Praia de Hac beach.
There are two islands to the south of the mainland where the old town of Macau is located: Taipa and then Coloane, between which lies the Cotai Strip. This huge area of land reclamation is now the site of immense hotel and casino development including the Venetian modelled on the Venetian in Las Vegas. Statistics for this 40 storey giant hotel would make a great winning card in the kid’s game of Top Trumps. Over 10 million square feet, the largest single structure hotel in Asia, 3000 suites, it’s own Cirque du Soleil theatre production…
There are a further six hotels open or about to open on this strip. As I write this, actually on the 15th May, the Galaxy opens it’s doors for the first time to add a desperately needed, further 1500 suites and more gaming capacity.
After the Cotai strip, the terrain becomes a little more rural and hilly and we soon arrive at the beach of Praia de Hac, a few low rise buildings behind the beach and our destination Fernando’s right in front of us next to a small gift shop.
This photo of Fernando’s Restaurant is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The restaurant itself is informal and feels more like Portugal then China. Cold Superbock beers arrive in cool jackets and we order from the menu. We choose a half portion of clams in a spicy garlicky tomato sauce, two lots of chicken and chips , some salt cod croquettes, sardines and a splendid beef stew with potatoes with a rich sauce flavoured with a hint of cloves. The ambience is relaxed, the food hearty and satisfying and the bill very reasonable. They even had table football outside for when the little ones get restless.
After the meal, we take a few minutes looking over the peaceful beach and sea before catching a fortiuitously arriving people carrier back to the old town and the Casino. The ride back was very exciting as the lights came up over Macau and it turns into an oriental Vegas. We are headed for the Gran Lisboa, a startling hotel soaring into the sky in the strangest shape.
Many of the games on offer in this casino were unfamiliar including Baccarat, Caribbean Stud Poker and Sic-Bo which is a table game involving betting on the various outcomes of 3 dice.We played small stakes on the roulette table and were soon behind, but watched incredulous as veteran locals begin to shower the table with a shotgun approach to the bets. Chinese gamblers, on the whole, are serious and focussed and seem to take little pleasure even in winning. Australia son played Texas Holdem poker and enjoyed some success whilst HK son kept his money, our stakes and then some on the roulette. So two out of three of us were winners – not a bad return.
We returned to Hong Kong again in superclass on the jetfoil, hailing a taxi on arrival to take us to The Globe pub to watch United effectively win the title by beating Chelsea. A good end to a fascinating and enjoyable day.