MACAU: A Macanese Affair to RememberMy first visit to Macau dates back 30 years to the time I backpacked through Asia with a well-worn bible - the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guidebook. The ferry service from Hong Kong was by a Boeing Jetfoil powered by two jumbo jet engines that made the 60 km crossing in 45 minutes for the outrageous price of HK$45.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
My first visit to Macau dates back 30 years to the time I backpacked through Asia with a well-worn bible - the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guidebook. The ferry service in those days from Hong Kong was by either a Boeing Jetfoil powered by two jumbo jet engines that made the 60 km crossing in 45 minutes for the outrageous price of HK$45 (we opted for this service) or the slower hydrofoils that zipped across in about 70 minutes for all of HK$30.
Back then we stayed just two nights in Macau and hired old pushbikes on our full free day to visit the dingy back alleys, quaint Portuguese restaurants, Monte Fort, the ruins of St Paul and the Temple of Kun Lam. It was all done with a backpack and on a shoestring budget – my trip in 2013 would be a different affair.
Macau is the oldest European settlement in the east, a fascinating place steeped in history, a far longer history than it’s younger, more vibrant brother Hong Kong. Portuguese galleons were dropping anchor here in the early 1500s and in return for ousting a few pirates in 1557, the tiny enclave was ceded by China to the Portuguese. In later years it became the principle meeting point for trade with China.
On our arrival at the Macau Tower it was raining steadily on the streets 233 meters below where we stood. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the AJ Hackett bungy jump from the Macau Tower as the world’s highest and from where we stood it certainly looked a very long way to the ground. The Macau Tower itself is 338 meters from ground level to the top of the mast (Auckland’s Skytower is 10 meters shorter at 328 meters to the top of the mast). Of course there is also the Skywalk and Tower Climb if you want to take all three ultimate challenges in an adrenalin-fuelled action packed day?
Dinner on our first night in Macau was a fine dining experience in the Military Club, which is housed in a resplendent pink and white trim building built in 1870. The Clube Militar started life as a place to congregate, not just as a meeting point but also a place that housed a library holding military, scientific and other books on various subjects, as well as newspapers, army games and other pastimes allowed by law. Old black and white photographs line the interior walls and staircases showing well-heeled military personal and their female companions dressed in fine silk gowns during festive parties. Today however, diners come here to enjoy sumptuous Portuguese meals accompanied by fine Portuguese wines.
With the rain showers clearing we began our walking tour of Macau. Our first stop was to visit the small but well developed Macau Museum and Monte Fortress followed by a visit to the famous ruins of St. Paul’s and Na Tcha Temple. The buildings along with many others are located in the Historic Centre of Macau, a World Heritage Site listing since 2005. St. Paul’s façade is all that is left of what was once called the Church of Mater Dei built between 1602-1640. It was eventually destroyed by fire in 1835. Like the Monte Fortress they were constructed by Jesuits and nowadays the ruined façade functions symbolically as an altar to the city.
For lunch we were in for a truly Portuguese tasting treat in the quaint and quiet South China seaside village of Coloane. Set in a modest two-storey, tiny Macanese village house is a the Restaurante Espaco Lisboa where authentic home-style, rustic Portuguese food is served up. I’ll describe the place as warm and cozy with both downstairs and upstairs dining including three white-linen clad tables on a tiny balcony. Our meal consisted of individual dishes including lobster bisque, monkfish and prawns rice served in a earthenware pot, fish of the day stew served in a Portuguese copper pot, prawns with garlic sauce, clams in white wine sauce with herbs and chorizo-style grilled Portuguese sausage. Our lunch ended with a tasting of cherry infused Grappa! I could have stayed all day it was that good! Arguably the best meal we had tasted in Macau.
The evening was reserved to visit the City of Dreams where the spectacular House of Dancing Water show is staged nightly. This is a HK$2 billion production that’s supposedly a love story set to a watery backdrop – if you can imagine elements of ballet and ice skating routines, hire-wire trapeze and circus juggling, a Seaworld theme park, Cirque de Soliel, Chinese opera, a clip of the Waterworld movie and some Michael Jackson Thriller zombies – then you’re part way to knowing what to expect!
Following a wonderful dinner at the Wing Lei Restaurant in the Wynn Casino we were escorted to a private room to watch a water fountain display known as Performance Lake that seems to dance in rhythm or moods to the different styles of music played - a choreographed water routine that is free entertainment in this nighttime city of neon lights.
Another day and another walking tour . . . actually this is a city that is very easy to walk or ride a bike around. So off we trotted around St. Augustine Square and wandered inside St. Augustine Church before walking across the street to enter the photogenic Dom Pedro V Theatre. It was then onto St. Joseph’s Seminary and Church and a short distance away the St. Lawrence Church followed by a tour of Mandarin House and the incense-laden air of A-Ma Temple.
One of my biggest shocks visiting Macau after an 18 year hiatus was not the new Hong Kong International Airport terminal (I’d previously landed at the old Kai Tak Airport with it’s runway sticking out into the harbour from Kowloon) and the ferry baggage check-through straight to Macau. It was the sight off on the horizon where they are constructing a new 50 km road that includes a 29.6 km bridge over the Pearl River that the authorities have been building since December 2009. The Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge will link the west side of Hong Kong to Macau and the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province.
The long bridge section over the Pearl River will cut down travel time between Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai significantly. It is expected to be economically beneficial to the three regions. The bridge is scheduled for its completion by 2016 and is expected to cost HK$10.7 billion.
Each year there are well over 20 festivals and events held in Macau. Four of Macau's 25 much treasured UNESCO World Heritage sites are soon to play key roles at this year's 27th Macau International Music Festival. The 15th Century-founded St Dominic's Church, the 1860-built Dom Pedro V Theatre, Mandarin's House, the 19th Century home of Chinese philosopher Zheng Guanying, and the dominant 17th Century Mount Fortress will be among the six venues to host performances by artists from around the world.
The Macau Tower and the Macau Cultural Centre will also host shows for the month-long festival from October 2 to November 3. Among this year's guest performers from as far afield as Europe, Asia and North America the USA will be the famous Vienna Boys Choir from Austria, the Dresden Philharmonic from Germany, the Terem Quartet from Russia, the Latvian National Opera and the Iberian Jazz All Stars from Portugal and Spain.
Even if you’re not a fan of music, motorsports or marathons you’ll still find something to enjoy in this former Portuguese enclave. Macau delivers some old world European charm that makes this Asian destination worth visiting time and again.
Wander the streets and soak up the culture and you’ll find yourself immersed in a Portuguese side of life that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.
Sofitel Ponte 16 Hotel
T: +853 8861 0016
AJ Hackett Bungy Jump
T: + 853 8988 8750
W: W: www.ajhacket.com
T: +853 2871 4000
Mount Fortress and Macau Museum
T: +853 2835 7911
Restaurante Espaco Lisboa
T: +853 2888 2226
City of Dreams and House of Dancing Water Show
T: +853 8868 6688
T: +853 8986 9966
MGM Water Aurora Exhibition
T: +853 8802 8888
Sheraton Macau Hotel
T: + 853 8113 2058
Shane Boocock travelled to Hong Kong and Macau courtesy of Air New Zealand. Go to: www.airnewzealand.co.nz
Ground arrangements in Macau were courtesy of www.macautourism.gov.mo
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