Monday, March 26, 2018

A Slice of Portugal in China. Macau. Part 1.

Senado Square, Macau.

We spent the day on the island of Macau making our way over by the highspeed TurboJET ferry from Kowloon.  Neither Bro nor I had ever been so exploring Macau was something I was very much looking forward to and Bro was as well.

IMPORTANT NOTE:   If you want to travel to Macau from Hong Kong, you will need to bring your passport, with the Hong Kong entry permit, as Macau is considered an international destination.  You should check for visa requirements on the Macao Government Tourism Office website.

Our day started very early this morning as we both had a great night's sleep.  We were so keen to get going on our day that it was barely 7a when we were out the door and down on Temple Street.


In the early morning hours, Temple Street is trash filled from the previous night but in no time, all the trash will have been picked up and removed.  There is someone always sweeping and cleaning the streets!


Temple Street is probably the only street in Hong Kong where you will see these colorful metal boxes.  I figured out that they house the electrical outlets used by the night market vendors.


My original plan was that we would grab breakfast somewhere and then make our way to the ferry terminal but once Bro realized that there was a 7:30a ferry leaving for Macau, he was determined we would be on it.  So our race against the clock began!  First we had to hustle to the Jordan MTR and get to Tsim Sha Tsui MTR.  It was rush hour so I was worried that the MTR stations and trains would be packed with commuters and the masses of people would slow us down.  But, this is efficient Hong Kong and there was not a single delay.


From Tsim Sha Tsui MTR, we actually left at the correct exit and once we were street side, fired up Google Maps and sped walk, almost running at times, in what we hoped was the direction of the China Ferry Terminal.  Luck was on our side because at one point, I saw the sign pointing to the terminal.  Then, things got a bit confusing for a few seconds because well, I was expecting to see building that looked like what you would expect a ferry terminal to look like - a free standing structure next to water.  If not for our pairs of eagle eyes, we might have easily missed the place because the entrance to the terminal was like an entrance to an office building or shopping complex.  I had expected a free standing ferry terminal.  In fact, the terminal is housed inside a hotel and shopping complex.

Photo from turbojet.com

 he next challenge was to figure out where to go once we were inside and again, thanks to our eagle eyes and decent signs, we hustled up the escalators up to the second floor where we found the ticket counters.  We spotted the one for Macau and just as we were nearing the counter, a man intercepted us.  He was selling TurboJET ferry tickets to Macau and had ones for the 7:30 ferry available.  I wasn't sure if he was a scalper or what.  But the price of what he was asking for a ticket, HK$171, was the same price that I had noted down when I was doing our trip research so he wasn't ripping us off.   He was selling tickets literally less than 10 feet from the counter so it seemed highly unlikely that he would be a scalper.  I don't even know if scalpers exist in Hong Kong.  But were the tickets legit?  We asked and he nodded.  In any case, we had to make a split second decision because time was not on our side.  So, we took the gamble.  Bro handed over the money and then we had to figure where the departure gate was.  The guy waved us off in a general direction.  It took asking one more person where to go before we made it to the gate.  We continued to scurry down the platform where a man looked at our tickets and then assigned us seats.  Once he did that, I could finally begin to relax as I realized we had made the 7:30a ferry.  Yay!  I would say we did that in record time - little over 1/2 an hour from the time we shut our apartment door behind us to when we sat down inside the ferry. 

Now, I was finally able to lift up my camera and take photos!



The economy class passenger cabin is very comfortable and for this morning's ride, not even 1/2 full.  Of course, once I was seated I realized we had not gotten window seats.  Under the circumstances, I could not complain but if I ever do this again, I will get the tickets online, in advance, and pick window seats.  It would've been nice to have a view.

There's also a food service area on board where you can buy food but I have no interest in overpriced, pedestrian ferry food considering we will have plenty of food options in Macau.



Approximate sailing time to Macau is an hour and that goes by fast, especially when you catch a bit of a nap 😁.  I was awake for the entire journey but Bro nodded off.


On the Macau side, the ferry terminal looks and feels like an airport terminal.  Albeit this is Chinese territory now, you get a feel of Macau's Portuguese side the moment you step off the ferry and enter the arrival terminal.  Every posted sign is in 3 languages - Chinese, Portuguese, and English.


Before leaving the terminal, Bro and decided we would go to the ticket counter and confirm return sail times for the ferry.  I don't know how it happened but we went off in different directions so even after I found the monitor displaying the times, I couldn't find Bro.  So I went off looking for him and eventually spotted him.  I don't know about him at times....went off looking for what???  In any case, we looked at the departure times which I took a photo of in case we need to refer back to it later.  We decided to aim for the 3:35p departure. 


Next, we had to figure out how to get to town.  Bro found the Information Desk and asked the woman how we could get to town.  Her response was the same as what you read in many of the guidebooks, including the one that Bro had.  Here's what they recommend you do. There are several large casinos in Macau that offer free shuttle rides to their establishments.  If you want to go to Senado Square, which is the heart of the old city, the casino that is closes to Senado Square is the Hotel Lisboa.  So you can take the free Hotel Lisboa Shuttle and once you reach the hotel, walk about 25 minutes or so to get to Senado Square.


The other option, which is not free though it is not expensive either, is to take a local, public bus into town.  Somewhere I had read about taking the number 3 bus.  I didn't know the exact stop for Senado Square til after we had already arrived there but it is M134 Almeida Ribeiro/Weng Hang.  You can get exact bus route and ride cost information from DSAT.

From DSAT

In fact, in addition to the number 3 bus, there are several other buses that have routes that include the Macau Outer Ferry terminal (Terminal Marítimo).   You can check for bus route information on the Transport Bureau of the Government of the Macao Special Administrative Region's (DSAT) website.

I somehow managed to convince Bro to go the bus route mainly because the idea of taking a free shuttle to a casino and then still having to figure out how to walk the rest of the way to Senado Square was not a very appealing option to me.   He agreed so we had to find the stop for the public bus which was a no brainer.  Exit the terminal and turn right.  Walk less than a minute and you'll find the stand.  On the sign are posted all the other buses that pick up and drop off at the terminal.


I had read that you can use your Hong Kong dollars to pay for purchases in Macau.  The exchange rate is just about 1 to 1.  You do lose a few cents if you pay in Hong Kong dollars but since we were only going to be here for a day and not planning to spend all that much money, it would not have been worth the effort to have to deal with Macau currency.

So, we hopped on the bus and away we went.   I had no idea where would have to get off.   The bus drove by several casinos before entering what I would describe as the commercial heart of Macau.  The usual shops, restaurants, office buildings etc.  Unlike Hong Kong, there are no really tall skyscrapers here.  In fact, some of the buildings very much look like buildings in Malacca, Malaysia.  No surprise as Malacca was also Portuguese territory for over 100 years.

I kept my eyes looking out the windows on both sides of the bus.  Then, I saw it!  Senado Square!  I recognized it from all the images I had seen on when I was planning this trip.  I immediately pulled on the rope to indicate to the driver to stop at the next stop which luckily was not far away from Senado Square.

We got off the bus and walked back towards the square.  We had made it!

On our walk towards Senado Square, we got sidetracked by a few shop vendors selling meat jerky.  I did not know that meat jerky is a Macau specialty but apparently it is.  Compared to the Cantonese version, the meat is not pounded as thin and they offer in a variety of different flavorings.  It was nice to sample but considering we had just arrived into the city, we were not ready to buy anything.  So, we graciously accepted samples, looked like we were enjoying our nibbles and then kindly decline to purchase anything.  Maybe later today was my reply back to several of the vendors.  But then again, may be not.....didn't say this to them but just thought it to myself.

Senado Square is so pretty and since it was barely 9a, pretty empty of tourists.  I loved the bright yellow colors of the buildings and the beautiful pattern on the stone tiled walkway.  It's not a big square but there's a very elegant look and feel to it.


A few shops were open, including ones selling Portuguese egg tarts (pasteis de nata) which everyone says you have to try.  In and around Senado Square, there is a chain pastry shop, called Koi Kei Bakery, with what feels like storefronts every 50 feet you walk so no need to worry but not finding a place to have those tarts though I'm not sure any discerning foodie would consider their's to be the best..  We didn't venture inside Koi Kei Bakery but did take a few samples of meat jerky.



Before we stepped another foot, we found a spot to sit down and Bro whipped out his guide book to get us oriented and offer up suggestions for what to see in Macau.  I told him I had only identified two places to go and those were Monte Forte (Fortaleza do Monte) and the ruins of St. Paul's Church.  We decided to head to the fort first.  On the map, it looks like it's quite a walk to get to the fort but in fact, it's not.  I would say it's just about a 10 minute walk or so.

The area in and around Senado Square is pedestrian only which makes strolling through the old part of the city and enjoyable activity.  Even more enjoyable when the hordes of tourists, many from cruise ships, have yet to descend on the place.

Our walk to Monte Fort took us past St. Dominic's Church which was established in 1587 by three Spanish Dominican priests who arrived from, of all places, Acapulco, Mexico. The church was built in a Baroque style and is noted for its mixture of European and local Macanese features in its design. This is demonstrated in the church's use of Chinese-style roof tiles and doors made of teak.


Unfortunately, the church was closed so we could not enter inside. We should've been here yesterday....for Sunday mass.


I loved the bright yellow and white painted facade - it reminds me of La Merced Church in Antigua, Guatemala.


I love the mix of Chinese and Portuguese influence in Macau.  You see it everywhere - even the street signs.


Sometimes though, it's all pure Chinese.



We had barely walked a couple blocks past the church when I just happened to glance down a side street and notice a bunch of people standing in front of a street side eatery.  I had to check it out.  It was two women serving up congee which meant this was a Cantonese food stall.  I absolutely love these no name places.  Here, it's all about the food - they only sell one thing but they make it well which is why they are so popular.

Indeed, they were doing a really brisk business serving several tables filled with patrons as well as folks buying carryout orders....okay, not carryout but carry away.  In any case, we needed breakfast and well, we love congee. 



So as soon as we spotted two available seats at the table, we took them!  This place is really popular.  Seats at tables were filled up as quickly as they were vacated.  A few seconds after we sat down, two women, who obviously did not know each other, took the seats across from us.  They placed their orders, so specific with what they each wanted, that I would say they are regular customers.


We ordered two bowls of congee.  Order process is to just look at the waitress and shout out what you want.  Pftt...who needs a menu?  Today, I went with another Cantonese classic - slices of pork kidney and pork liver.  Bro had my favorite of lean pork with thousand year old egg.  We also ordered up a plate of yau char kway to share.  Our bowls of congee were delivered with lightening speed to our table and they were piping hot!  I love congee and I love the fact that food is cooked fresh, made to order and you get it to your table within minutes of ordering it.


Cantonese breakfast is never about eating so much that you are too stuffed to move but your tastebuds are very happy when you leave the table.  For barely $3 USD for both of us, breakfast was very satisfying and also very affordable!!  We can now truly begin our day of sightseeing in Macau!