Our little trip to Macau took me by surprise. I had been there a couple of times before but my memory of it was vague. All I could remember was countless touristy shops selling strips of flattened pork and countless enormous building sites, as ten casinos were in the pipeline, all set to transform Macau into the Las Vegas of China.
We were transiting through Hong Kong, and after looking at accommodation prices there, a trip to Macau, where food and accommodation is generally cheaper, suddenly became an appealing option (Macau is just an hour by ferry from Hong Kong).
Well the shops selling pork are still there but the construction has been largely completed and Macau is now an intriguing mix of a UNESCO World Heritage site (for the colonial Portuguese architecture) and gaudy over-the-top casinos. More than enough to keep us entertained for a couple of days!
Cheap guesthouses in Macau are few and hard to find, but they are there in the old part of town and what they lack in for in space they certainly make up for in character. We managed to find a very cute one with a little balcony that overlooked the old town and the Casino Lisboa – Macau’s original casino – sparkling in the distance, and just enough room to practice. Unfortunately the walls didn’t quite reach the ceiling and the floor below housed a brothel of moody Chinese ladies of the night who gave us sultry stares each time we passed them on the shared staircase – but these things can easily be overlooked when the price is right!
I loved exploring the rambling streets of the old town, eating Portuguese tarts and buying mangos and durian from the street market stalls. But I equally loved our visit to the Cotai Strip – the area of reclaimed land that is now home to the newest casinos. Maybe because I haven’t been to Las Vegas but I have always wanted to see the Venetian. I often find extreme tackiness appealing. While I don’t like gambling and find casinos – especially the slot machines – deeply disturbing, the sheer opulence of the interiors was memorising. The Chinese are serious gamblers, that’s for sure. We hardly saw anyone drinking anything harder than hot tea and opening bids on the tables were much higher than that of Vegas and other places (so I am told).
But probably the highlight of our visit was lunch at Fernando’s. Fernando’s is a long time institution in Macau serving rustic and hearty Portuguese food and many people travel from Hong Kong just to have lunch there (as I had done in 2004 with friends from Sydney). Torrential rain gave us no option but to have a long three-hour lunch savouring the simple favours of good olive oil, fresh tomatoes and very drinkable sangria!
So it seems it is sometimes good to give places a second chance as Macau turned out to an unexpected little gem. Macau has changed, but then again so have I.
I am realising as this trip is leading me to revisit many places, that seeing things through new eyes can be just as interesting as seeing new places.