Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hong Kong: Day 5 - Macau




Another exciting day in Hong Kong. Or perhaps I shouldn't say "in Hong Kong", because today is the day we visited Macau. Again, this was a tour organised through Splendid Travel, and splendid it was indeed. We were picked up from our hotel and transferred to the ferry terminal where we boarded our vessel for the crossing to Macau, the ex-Portuguese colony, now another of those Special Administration Regions, lying about 60 kilometres west of Hong Kong.
The trip on the boat was fast and comfortable. The seating is airline style, and passengers are encouraged to stay in their seats at all times as the vessel moves very fast across the water. Staff come around offering tea and coffee, and so it was great to just sit back in comfort and drink a cup of tea while crossing to that island lying just off the mouth of the Pearl River.
On arrival in Macau we were taken first to a promontory jutting out into the water, and then along a small walkway to a chapel. It's sort of hard to miss as there is, on top of the small, extremely beautiful, lotus-shaped chapel, an enormous statue of Kun Lam, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Unfortunately, the day at this time was very hazy and so a photograph of the chapel and statue was disappointing in the extreme. However, on entering the meditation chapel we were delighted to discover a smaller version of the lovely statue, and I'm sure you will agree she really is quite beautiful.



Following this visit, we had a coach tour of the lovely colonial district of Macau. Some of the buildings really are absolutely stunning, and you could think that you were anywhere but the Far East.  One building we saw, painted in the very popular bright pink, looked very official. Whether it is actually the embassy, or consulate, for the People's Republic of China I can't say - the coach was buzzing with oohs and aahs, and our tour guide was kept very busy answering a million questions and so we didn't get the chance to ask. It's a great looking building, though, isn't it.





Ah, now we come to the stunning ruins of Saint Paul's Church.  The tourist brochure tells us that "this is a sermon in stone", and I think that is a very fitting description.



The church was built by the Jesuits in about 1602 utilising the skills and local artisans and craftsmen, and the detail is incredible. After the Jesuits were expelled from Macau the building was used for various purposes, including as an army barracks, which was unfortunate because a fire in the barracks' kitchen in 1835 destroyed the barracks and most of the building. 


Just stunning ruins.

What was left is what we see now, this beautiful, quite perfect "sermon in stone". This facade, now backed by a museum (which I think is quite a good idea), is, for me, somehow far more special than the completed church, with all its ornate interiors and opulence, could ever have been. I think it's quite amazing.




And so was this steep steep road leading up to it. Look at those lovely coloured buildings down the bottom though. Fantastic. We knew we were in for some real architectural eye candy here.




And here it is - Senado Square, the main shopping square/mall in the centre of the city.  We had lots of free time here to wander at will, have lunch, shop, and just enjoy the atmosphere and the colours.





I know that there is so much of the Orient about it, but really don't you think you could actually be in South America?



Or Portugal perhaps? What a fabulous, wonderful blending of cultures and architectural styles. 




It's fantastic, isn't it.  And check out the lovely Saint Dominic's, built way back in the 1590s. There was a service on in the church as we were there, and lots of ladies with beautiful lace covering their heads made their way into the church. 




After all this, we were taken for a bit of retail therapy. First stop was a clothing outlet - of course - where I think all and sundry filled bags with fantastically priced polo shirts and kids' clothing. We picked up some real bargains, and after umpteen washes those polos which we bought there have held their shape beautifully. We then piled into the coach for a short trip to a workshop where beautiful jade and amber items were produced. A few of the (more obviously wealthy) people in the group handed over beaucoup beaucoup dollars in exchange for trumpeting elephants, crouching tigers or roaring lions in deep moody amber or cool jade. Not my thing, definitely, but interesting to see the handiwork nevertheless.

Now, what is Macau mostly famous for, other than those wonderful custard tarts of course? Casinos. Wow, wow, wow. I really can't remember the name of the casino we visited (not really into them all that much), but suffice it to say that it was ENORMOUS.  I think that one massive chandelier was probably the size of a five story house. Every table was filled with punters, and the mood was serious gambling, so different to the staggering drunks which our casinos seem to be filled with.  We enjoyed a couple of drinks and watching people - mainly from the Mainland - seemingly nonchalantly losing pots of money. A few of our group did have a flutter on one of the tables, but mainly we were a pretty staid and sober bunch.

After this it was time to head back to the ferry terminal, but not without a brief stop at Macau's Fisherman's Wharf. I wish we had had more time to really explore the place, but at least it gives us a good excuse to come back again.



 


It's a really large project, on the outer harbour, offering shopping, entertainment, dining and accommodation, and would appeal to me far more than those casinos.

Lasting impressions of Macau? What a fantastic, fascinating place. I really wish we had planned our holiday so that we spent at least two days here because I think there is so much to explore, and such colour and history to take in.

The difference between here and Hong Kong is quite staggering. Here you are not weaving in and out of BMWs and Mercedes, or watching stunningly elegant women whose sole purpose in life seems to be to shop for Gucci or Prada. Macau is obviously - despite the casinos - a place much less affluent, a place of Toyotas and Nissans which are years old, and which anyway are vastly outnumbered by thousands and thousands of small-engined motorbikes and motor scooters. The travel information tells me that the population of Macau is about half a million. I'm sure we saw two million motor scooters on the roads and parked - with not an inch between them - lining every footpath.

It really is somewhere we have to return to.


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