Hong Kong to Macau Ferry
One of the most popular (and affordable) ways of visiting Macau is to take a one hour ferry ride over. It turns out that there are two ferry terminals: one over on Hong Kong island (i.e. two glass cubes with external red structural supports, located near the main train station), and the other over in Kowloon (located in a mall down the road from Harbour City). The best description I got was that it was the entirely gold building. Another version is this: head down to Harbour City, then after the last of its entranceways, pass by 2 other shopping malls until it looks like you've reached the end of the road; the terminal is just around the corner.
After buying tickets, you'll need to pass through immigration. Technically speaking, Macau is a separately governed SAR, much like Hong Kong, so you're effectively transitioning from one country to another (the immigration documents for Macau that you fill out on the ferry have Portuguese as the alternative to English). Behind the immigration desks, there's a large "no stopping" zone with yellow markings on the floor and large signs everywhere. This may be to stop some of the tour groups of mainland Chinese congregating there, puffy fluro-coloured jackets, 5 overloaded rollercases, and all (though there were still plenty to go around inside the gates).
Beyond this, you head off into the waiting area. This was a slightly drab-looking (the colour scheme looked like a cross between a retirement home and that of any other generic corporate office) long narrow room/corridor with windows on either side. On one side, there was a neighbouring pier with art deco styling and a gleaming white cruise ship parked alongside. On the other, there were views of a few catamaran-type ferries bobbing around outside, tentatively jostling to take their respective docking positions alongside the wharf. There were two of them this morning: a dark blue one, and a red one (TurboJet covered in LukFook Jewelers livery). Inside, the terminal was jam packed with people, many carrying (or rather dragging) heaving mountains of luggage behind them. Most of the seating provided was already taken, as many of these passengers were either already seated, and/or had blocked the rest of the free space using their luggage. Consequently, it got quite stuffy in the room while waiting - a fact not helped by the number of people coughing left, right, and center.
Finally after a short delay, it was boarding time. Like vultures who've spotted their pray, passengers swarmed towards the gate. Fortunately, with several days of subway experience under my belt, and years of battle-hardened skillz (i.e. boarding and getting a seat on the Orbiter bus service @ 3:10pm outside BHS (vs standing in the doorway beside the stressed driver with creepy bloodshot eyes) or getting into the lecture theatre and getting a seat in the first few rows for EMTH171 for the 1pm session (vs getting into the room but without finding any more seats or not even getting into the room and having to return for the graveyard rerun session at 5pm after sunset and a lab. The 1pm session was in a mid-large size theatre, while the 5pm was in the largest theatre on campus... methinks someone in the timetabling bureau was playing a nasty practical joke on us that year...)) this kerfuffle was nothing a few "well placed" elbows and well timed "strategic positioning" maneuvers couldn't take care of ;)
The travel cases being towed by some passengers did cause a bit of troubles though, as quite a few got stuck between the barriers placed in front of the entry to the escalator down (which were there to stop these types of passengers trying to drag their boulders down with them, posing potential Health and Safety nightmares were they to "accidentally" lose grip of monsters). They would subsequently cause a bit of a logjam behind them as people rearranged themselves around the offender, and once again as he/she would be told (tail between legs) to trot over to the elevator at the far end of the waiting room...
To reach the wharf, you have to take an escalator down. Overhead, this has an old, semi-transparent, faded brown tubular roof with rounded cross sectional ridges; it is typical of the architecture from a certain era, though I'm not sure when exactly.
Once on the wharf, you are faced with a two-storey tall boarding platform structure. It essentially consists of two covered ramps/walkways, which have s-shaped bends so that the ferries aren't too far away from the wharf while keeping the ramp angle relatively shallow. For anyone not that familiar with getting on boats (or with some degree of reservations about being around large bodies of water), this ramp can at times be quite terrifying, as you watch this entire strange assembly and the boat docked beside it constantly bobbing up and down, shifting in and out from the wharf, and making rattling sounds as it does so. Then again, one of the ramps on a boat I took during my visit to HK as a 6 year old was even more scary, or so it seems in my memory, since IIRC it was essentially a giant mat of bamboo, with no handrails on either side and heaps of people walking back and forth.
We bought Premium/Super tickets for the trip over to Macau, for just over 100 HKD extra (~259 HKD or so IIRC). After squeezing down from the terminal and being welcomed upstairs upon boarding the ship (there were two levels - a main deck, and an upper deck), it was a relief to not be stuck/surrounded by those people and their luggage described earlier again for the rest of the trip. If for no other reason, the extra ticket price paid itself off there already. But it turned out that there were more goodies to come...
The seats were large and comfy black leather seats, with ample leg room (it turns out the ones below were also fairly decent, though being a bit smaller). In any case, I'd gladly take some of these seats on my next flight somewhere (hint hint airlines :P) - I don't mind a lack of lie flat, but I do mind narrow seats where my knees end up being firmly embedded against the back of another chair, especially when one leg starts getting a nasty "numb cramp" after just 1 hour of a 10 hour flight (with nowhere to move it to the left, forward, or upwards while seated to try and alleviate the discomfort).
Anyways, back to the story. Shortly into the trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the crew were beginning to prepare some meal trays, which were lined up along the little bar area up the front. These included several things, including a small fruit salad, a muffin, water, and the main attraction: a "pineapple bun" with "cocktail bun" filling (NOTE: both of these are distinctive examples of Hong Kong cuisine, which are nice enough on their own. However, pineapple buns (large and round with a crusty top and plain bun) tend to be more common than the cocktail buns (small and narrow, with sweet shredded coconut filling, and honey/glazed top) these days. I personally prefer the cocktail buns, since pineapple buns tend to get a bit dull after you finish off the top. Finally, someone makes a hybrid which shares the benefits of both!). They also had a little tub of Watsons water (NOTE: Watsons is one of the two main pharmacy chains, and one of the two or three bottled water manufacturers. However, we usually bought the blue Bonaqua ones. IIRC, these were also the brand of choice for the airline catering...)
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, an hour which passed quite quickly. After we had quickly sped out of Victoria Harbour surrounded by sky scrapers either side, we were soon slaloming (or so it felt) out to Macau. On the way, it was interesting to see that besides all the man made glass jungle in Hong Kong, the region still had a lot of forested areas, with large impressive boulders as similar to those found in Lyttleton harbour here (EDIT: I later found that the area around Hong Kong had been some kind of volcano, much as Lyttleton/Banks Peninsula here had been part of two extinct volcanoes). However, these soon faded into a white sea-fog mist, and the temperature in the cabin began to cool down to a more comfortable level. The grey-brown sea below would quickly bob in and out of sight as the boat kept slaloming along its path at high speed, so to avoid getting dizzy, I took a quick nap.
Arrival in Macau
One of the first things you see as you arrive in Macau are one of the two large spanning bridges which connect the two or so islands of Macau together. Before long, an interesting looking mound (resembling a "wild west" adventure fort comes into view on the left), with some Chinese styled gates beside it to boot.
Some of the interesting looking things just beside the ferry terminal
As it later turned out on the shuttle trip out from the terminal, these turned out to be part of just one of the many facilities built by the casinos to lure tourists. This particular theme park though seemed to be aimed at recreating all the wonders/civilizations of the ancient work in one place: apart from the wild west/Aztec/American Indian mound and Chinese forts, they also had a slice of Venice, a good ol' European-styled storybook village (i.e. white walls with dark brown wooden bracing, and thatch-tile roofing), Greek/Roman stadium, and more.
Stepping off the walkway, you are directed directly into the terminal. All around, there are more of the "no stopping" signs seen earlier... oops! Once again, there's another immigration desk to clear, but that quickly cleared with little delay (there are quite a large number of booths open, and spread out in a wide array).
Once again, this terminal is a slightly older building, though still relatively modern. It has a relatively clear cut colour scheme: white walls, ceilings, and exteriors, and azure-blue vinyl floors. After passing through immigration, you arrive in a spacious "fishbowl" atrium. This is three stories high (boarding via the second floor, and shops on the third), and a finely-gridded (white steel bars) glass dome roof.
Almost immediately after stepping into this area, the first of several salespeople pounced, and launched into a high speed hard sell of their tour package while clutching a map and pile of brochures in one hand, and a phablet in the other hand (showing some kind of stopwatch). I can't remember the specifics, other than the trip doing some kind of big loop around the place to quite a few attractions (cattle-herding style, probably 5 minutes per spot behind some flag waving type) and supposedly costing less than the corresponding taxi fares. Too bad for her, we already had an itinerary and guide ;)
Immediately upon stepping out from the terminal, the first of the contrasts to Hong Kong struck. For one thing, it was cooler... much cooler (apparently 11 deg C at the time), which is a much more comfortable temperature for a Cantabrian, but also drier and less humid. The air was also a lot lighter and crisper, with a somewhat sweet aroma to it (sorry Tourism NZ, but I really can't say the same about the air here, despite living here all my life). Oh, and things were a lot less high rise, though all the modern casinos were engaged in vertical upmanship...
On the shuttle heading out from the Ferry Terminal (left)
To get to our first stop, we took a complimentary shuttle service. This particular shuttle was a left-hand drive one, though everything else in Macau is right-hand drive like all the other sane places in the world! :P
Part of the ancient-world theme park (beside the terminal) - wild west mound...
Part of the ancient-world theme park (beside the terminal) - Roman ruins
Part of the ancient-world theme park (beside the terminal) - Ol'de Village Style
Part of the ancient-world theme park (beside the terminal) - outdoor amphitheater/show venue
As we started speeding away from the terminal, it quickly became clear that all my pre-trip notions of what Macau was were nearly completely ill founded and downright wrong. Despite the bus travelling at very high speeds (it seemed to be going even faster than the Hong Kong taxis, and that's saying something), it was really eye opening seeing all the glistening ultramodern buildings in a variety of styles sprouting up around the place. Wow! Someone had let the architects loose, and as a result, there were wonderfully creative buildings around everywhere, of great sculptural beauty but more importantly, grand in size. Yay!
A glistening new tower
Large buddist statue on beside the bay
Museum of Modern Art
However, due to the speed of the bus (and how it had a kind of high frequency bumpiness to it), it turned out to be quite hard to get decent shots of anything out the window. After a few failed attempts with the slower continuous shooting mode I usually use (since I usually end up accidentally taking double shots of everything with the higher speed), a line up then "spray and pray" approach ended up being the most productive...
Right - the arch of one of the two spanning bridges between the islands.
Along the way, we had to pass over one of the two spanning bridges linking the two islands. These are massive and long structures which loop up and down like a giant rollercoaster track. While one of these peaks in the middle, the other one swoops down to near sea level.
Middle section of the two bridges
Apart from the initial medieval fantasy theme park, the other thing which impressed me most was the Galaxy casino/hotel. This was yet another one of the massive themed casino+resort complexes which had sprung up around Macau in the past few years. Apart from being big in every aspect (from signage to buildings), pretty landscaping, and excellent visibility on the edge of a roundabout, the building designs were quite stunning too...
Galaxy - Twin accomodation towers
Galaxy - Detail of walls. Gold plated windows, strong leading lines and repeating units.
Finally we arrived at The Venetian. Upon arrival in the carpark, I was initially unsure of what exactly this place was. On one hand, the forecourt looked like a cross between a train station (with all its Victorian or so styled covered walkways) and a hotel (as some of the signs suggested where to go for the "check in" counter).
Heading inside the foyer only intensified the confusion...
The opulent foyer, with decorative ceilings in pastel colours
On one hand, there were people with luggage who looked like they were checking in to something, while others may have been checking out, or just hanging out. Meanwhile, some porters appeared to be moving trolleys full of bags. Yet further ahead, there were large black signs with yellow writing directing people towards shops...
Exiting the foyer to the right, turning the corner, and heading up the first of several escalators, you're suddenly greeted by a brightly lit series of stalls. On each side there are various tourist knick-knacks for sale, many with some gambling related theme. There were also one or two food vendors too, and one or more selling jewelery or other shiny stuff like that.
And, upon reaching the end of this little arcade, you're suddenly thrust into the middle of an absolutely expansive, cavernous, dimly lit area, with thick dark red carpet underfoot, complex golden chandeliers overhead, and surrounded... absolutely surrounded on each side as far as the eye can see, the supposed heart/main commercial reason why this whole facility exists: the gambling hall. (NOTE: this particular area is marked as no photography)
You see, The Venetian, is one of many new-style casino developments which have popped up over the past few years. Apart from having a particular theme to which they've dedicated some effort to creating some signature attraction for, they also feature miles upon miles of glossy high end stores, all spotless, resplendently shiny in their golden hues and high impact lighting, and all - without exception - completely devoid of any actual shoppers. On top of all this (quite literally), they've got an attached hotel, which operate from looming sheer towers above all everything else. All of this, apparently in a bid to lure gamblers to their complex (they're usually just across the road from each other, especially in the case of MGM + Wynn) in a bid to "get lucky" with a different theme which may just help them get their next lucky break </sarcasm>
Anyways, on either side, there were thousands of card-game tables with dealers just sitting idly, some chatting to their workmates beside them. And that's not counting the number of pokie-machines which followed, all with their glowing lights promising massive jackpots. Very eye opening once again, but not the reason why we were there...
Instead, after passing through all that, we took one final escalator upwards. This one was taller than the others, and was in a relatively quieter part of the building it seemed. But it's what came next which I was completely blown away by...
The Grand Canale...
About a year ago, I'd heard/seen on tv that a shopping mall in Macau featured a recreation of Venice, complete with a canal with gondoliers. This was it. Walking off that escalator and taking a few steps, you were suddenly thrust in this whole other magical world...
Grand Canale - Square one, looking down the canal. This is where you can get on/off the punting boats.
Apart from recreating buildings in this style, they also built a full functioning canal with smooth mouthwash-blue water, and a beautifully realistic sky ceiling dome.
Punting boats parked alongside the barriers. These are actually functional, and are used to take paying customers for a ride down the canal
Side entrances would lead off to other shopping areas. Among the tenants of these corridors were the ubiquitous "golden arches" (head down the corridor behind the spot where the first photo was taken).
"Golden Arches" sign down a side hallway
But that's not all. By a long shot...
Part 2 - On the left, a real restaurant, with lighting which really fits helps set the mood.
More looming buildings above a walkway leading to yet another stretch of shops... Around the corner and out of sight, a man dressed in gondolier uniform is singing.
View from on top of a bridge, in the middle of yet another square...
Details in the open windows with warm inviting lights glowing...
Lighting accents really help bring out the shapes of the buildings in St Mark's Square
Amazingly, the Grand Canale just kept on going and going. Square after square of fairyland buildings would follow on from the last; all fully enclosed and finely detailed. Usually with things like this, you'd be lucky to get even 1 full square or segment, let alone two. Even famous landmarks around the world often turn out to be quite small in practice, and are often surrounded by crowded and scruffy streets. But to have something of this scope and extent is just amazing. I was really blown away by this!
This is not the end yet...
There was still another square beyond this, but this was perhaps the last segment we walked around...
Four Seasons Hotel
In the warren of passages of The Venetian, at some point you mysteriously end up in the attached Four Seasons Hotel. There were some subtle differences in the decor (namely, a bit more salmon pink and milk chocolate brown) but other than that, the overall outlook was the same.
One again, there were heaps of stores for high end fashion brands. All were again devoid of customers, but would have 3-4 staff on duty in crisp black uniforms. There were also a few skylights, light the one below, with a cafe and seating area...
Cafe and seating area under a skylight
Leaving on a taxi
We caught a taxi from the hotel lobby below. It took a while for a taxi to show up (the bellboy explained to us how he had this little buzzer thingy that he used to call the taxi's in, and how he'd take down the plate numbers of taxis coming in - IIRC for the safety of passengers catching the taxis from there). Eventually one did arrive, but the driver booted us off after hearing where we wanted to go ("That's too far; I'm about to call it a day now. Get off!")
Waiting area outside hotel lobby. Initially I left wondering which of these vehicles was a taxi. It turns out that none of these were - instead, all of these needed to be moved off before any taxis could come in!
After that false start, a second taxi did eventually arrive. Taxis in Macau are dark blue Toyotas (much more modern than the ones in HK), with a rounded body, and a glowing sign on the roof. Finally we were on our way.
Exterior of The Venetian, from the other side of the building...
A competing "complex" still under construction across the road
Lunch at Fernandos
For lunch, we headed off to Restaurante Fernandos in Hac Sa Bay. This was located in a comparatively rural, hilly area, where there were still many forests and fewer residential dwellings...
Stray dogs on the roads in the hills. In many ways, the resemble dingos...
The restaurant is located at the end of a quiet little lane/car park beside the sea. Beside it there is a dairy/convenience store. But the restaurant itself had no easily visible signage (apart from a tiny plaque on a stick beside the door, with illegible text) on it.
The neighbouring dairy
The entranceway to Fernandos is through the curving opening close to the camera (screen right)
The main seating area had quite a rustic half-in half-out feeling to it. The walls had a light white cladding/paint on them, but you could also see unreinforced masonry (and the sky poking through too). Matched with the other decor such as some old copper pots and pans, and the walls of old and tattered bank notes added to the whole atmosphere of the place.
Out the Back
There is also a lot more seating outside, in the semi-rural environment.
Portuguese style food is served at this restaurant. It's quite different to what I'm used to, but is also quite interesting. Here are some of my favourite parts of the meal!
Fish Cakes (sorry no photo... they were all gone before I pulled the camera out). These were really tasty, and weren't the nasty mash up that these things often are.