On Saturday, August 15, 2015 we started the adventure that we have been preparing for six months; our trip to Hong Kong. We left for Hong Kong to live and study there for no less than five months. This series of travelogues from Hong Kong consists of no less than seven parts. During this journey we made a trip to Macau, which we also wrote a travelogue about.
Macau – like Hong Kong – is a special administrative region in the People’s Republic of China. It therefore has its own daily administration, its own immigration and police, etc. It was founded in 1557 by the Portuguese and is therefore the oldest European colony in China. A fun fact is that “we”, the Dutch, have made several attempts to conquer Macau from the Portuguese. In June 1622, the ultimate attempt was made with several assault ships that the Portuguese were unable to cope with. I can hear you think now; has Macau ever belonged to the Netherlands? The answer is no. Apparently there was a less well-behaved Portuguese Jesuit priest who also happened to fire one cannonball. He accidentally hit the only and complete gunpowder supply of the Dutch (something with not carrying all the eggs in one basket?).
Of course, this is completely unimportant for this blog, as we were not planning a reconnaissance expedition for another invasion. No, we had very different reasons to visit this beautiful state. Macau is known as the Las Vegas of Asia. Gambling is strictly prohibited in most Asian countries, which means that many wealthy people travel to Macau to hand over their fortunes to the many impressive casinos. We can now report to you that Macau must be one of the most special places on earth. It feels like one big amusement park where everything revolves around entertainment and money.
The old part of Macau
On the north side of the island, which is divided in two, there is still a real Southern European atmosphere with Portuguese architectural styles, street names and restaurants. We have seen many beautiful sights. The most notable of which was the ruin of São Paulo next to Monte Fort which is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Only the facade remains, but the view is beautiful on a hill between the narrow streets of the authentic center. All these picturesque appearances only add to the contrast with the South of the island.
The new part of Macau
Here are the mega casinos and associated hotels that seem to come straight from the famous Hollywood movies. Correction: Nowadays a lot of movies are shot in Macau because it is equally or even more impressive than Las Vegas! One of the casinos is so big they recreated Venice inside, including rivers with gondolas! Another has built a floating Ferris wheel between two towers of the hotel. Another a lifelike and large Eiffel Tower (and we saw the real one in Paris!). Inside the casinos – some of which cost around 4 billion euro to construct – you feel like you are walking in another world with roads inside the buildings for all the logistics and shopping centers.
Fun fact is that 80% of Macau’s income comes from the gambling industry, and a stunning 28 billion (!) will be invested in it over the next three years. That is incomprehensible when you consider that Macau had only 566 thousand inhabitants in 2013! In short, whatever you can possibly think of; they have it. With all the glitz and glamor, you can imagine we were slightly afraid of being shown the door when we decided to walk into one of the casinos, with our obvious tourist looks and large backpack. Presumably the fact that we were Western helped a hand and we were able to keep going. After walking between the blackjack and roulette tables we decided to try a slot machine for 20 HKD (so a little more than 2 euros). And yes, after some volatile results we ended up at 30 HKD, after which we lost everything again haha.
The VIP experience in Macau
Once we had finished, we tried to take an elevator up for a nice view, but we were soon stopped as it concerned a V.I.P. elevator. When we found another (unguarded) elevator we went upstairs and arrived in a corridor between the hotel rooms. Soon a smartly dressed cleaning lady came to us and asked if she could do something for us. Cheeky as we were, we asked where we could find the inner gardens with swimming pools and bars. She showed us the way but just in front of the door she asked for our hotel pass. As we didn’t have one, we apologized for the stupid fact that we left it in the room and went back. He who dares, wins.. sometimes.
The rest of the day we visited several other casinos where, in addition to the Venetian gondolas, we saw so many unreal things. Ming vases of over a million euros which were displayed within arm’s length, a golden rotating escalator, (yes we know, all escalators are rotating, but this was an escalator with a horizontal curve!) and much more. It was a great day.
Night in Macau
In the evening we returned to the authentic center where we sat around a tree to watch performances for the light festival. Next to us were three women with a number of small children, one of the women was half crying and half angry, yelling at a police officer. The police reacted agitated and we tried to decipher what was wrong. After a while we heard sirens coming our way and we were convinced the officer had called backup because of the angry screaming lady. It turned out the sirens belonged to an ambulance and the woman had broken her wrist. Unfortunately for the woman, the ambulance could not get to her because of the festivities and she had to place her large body on a folding chair with tiny wheels, like that of inline skates. Moments later she was dragged to the ambulance by two panting ambulance attendants, bouncing over the beautiful cobbles of the steep Portuguese streets.
After several light shows and beautiful projections on the old facades of buildings, we went back to the high-speed ferry which “flew” us back to Hong Kong over the water.