Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Wed 30 Nov - Macao to Hong Kong

Well, after 3 nights at the Venetian, it was time to leave the small ex-Portugese enclave and go back to Hong Kong. The way to do that is of course to take the tri-cat across the water, the "Turbo Jet".

This time, the border processes were very fast and in fact so efficient with shuttle bus and immigration that we were on our way on the "turbo jet"  1 hour after having checked out from the hotel - even with currency exchange, ticket purchase, passport control and boarding. Nice.

The trip across only takes an hour and was pretty uneventful. You don't really see that much until you approach Hong Kong and its outer islands.

Again, we were through immigration in no time, 5 minutes max, and went down to streetlevel and took a taxi to our hotel, Rosedale on the Park, which is at Causeway Bay, just opposite Victoria Park. We asked the taxi driver a few questions and he pointed out that cars with 2 number plates are allowed to enter and drive in mainland China. When we asked whether he has been to mainland China, he said once a long time ago, and was not keen to go back because he was worried about the food! He had read bad stories about what they might eat.  We thought this was funny coming from a HK chinese man.

As the time was around 1pm and check-in is normally 2pm, our room wasn't ready for us just yet so we left our luggage and went for lunch. And again, the same rule worked, look for where the locals go and we found a little hole in the wall with lots of people (no whities), and had some very nice curry and a pork omelette.

Wednesday night seems to be race night at Hong Kong Jockey Club and it is a great event - and we misread the information and got there about 3 hours before the first race. So, we wandered around the area and noted that this is an area of preference for ex-pats. There were lots of white kids and babies being nursed by what largely looked like Filipino or Indonesian nannies. Of course, these little fair kiddies were favourites by everybody there and were fussed about all the time, especially the really elderly people in wheel chairs.

At 2 hours ahead the gates opened and we wandered, took heaps of photos and drank some good german beer- Hoegarten.

HKJC is huge and the stands go to 7 levels.  We explored nearly all of it and also took some time working out how to bet.

Our horses in Race 1 were "lucky turbo" (number 3) "huge profit" (number 6) and "lucky ball" (number 8) largely because we liked the names and also because "lucky turbo" was ridden by Darren Beadman, an Australian, and was favourite for the race.  Good decision - he won by about 2 horse lengths after racing 1000 metres. We made a modest "profit" of about $KH65 - or less than $10 - but better than losing the $HK150 we had bet initially.

We knew nothing about the horses but Di was handed an English race guide by a strange man and after reading it we were even happier with our random bet selections. 

You can't see our horse winning - he's ahead of this group - 7 and 10 came second and third. 

Our good Australian jockey was already slowing down before the finish line but still way ahead... 

and the winner is... 
Our winning ticket.

We saved our winnings by catching the tram back to Causeway Bay at total cost of $HK2.30 each (less than 40 cents)

At 8.30pm Causeway Bay is chaotic. 

We do a quick walk around looking for "light" dinner options and find a congee and noodle place for rice noodle rolls. Then onto Wellcome supermarket for breakfast supplies and home to Rosedale hotel.

Time for a good night's sleep.  The room is very quiet and has everything you would want - of course it's not the Venetian.  In fact, it is probably about the size of the bathroom of that suite but we're happy with the location.

Very tired and lights off by 10.30pm...

Some final pictures from the Venetian..

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tue 29 Nov - Macao

Today we started with a visit to the gym on level 8. Managed by a Kiwi, it had lots of new and modern equipment and we spent almost an hour there. Breakfast was tea and sort of leftover bread and cookies that we had in the room.

We had decided to continue our walking in the centro of Macao, but this time a bit more off the beaten track.

Just after 10am, we went downstairs and decided to jump on any shuttle bus that would take us to town. As a bus just came in and then immediately started to load, we jumped on it and ended back at the wharf from yesterday. We crossed the street and a strong smell hit us...

Fish was hung out to dry from a number of shops and was being cleaned by others. We seem to have a knack for ending up in the dried seafood district in various cities!

Anyway, this time, we headed north and ended up at a nice park and garden, immediately next to a lovely old building and the old protestant cemetary.

We found out that the lovely Old Protestant Cemetary had a Swedish connection among all the old seafarers who perished long before their time.

Here is the grave from the first swedish consul to Macao, with enscriptions in both English and Swedish (2 sides in each language)

Di kept pointing out that people died young in those early days of Macao.  Either as children, in their 20's or else for some reason at age 54 (Hans' age - not trying to suggest anything...).  The Swedish consul and an Australian man were the few who died in their 70's.

We sort of got lost but found a lovely chinese park, Jardin Lim Loc where rocks had been put together in formations to create various pieces, we saw Big Bird for example.  They had a building in the centre of the park which had a Macao photography exhibition with some stunning pictures. Very impressive indeed. BTW, the security guard had his lunch while we were there and right of a sudden his rear let off a very loud... echoing throughout the room. Nice.

Lunch at a "hole in the wall cafe" so popular with locals we had to queue to share a table. There was no way that Di was going to let anybody queue jump. Misunderstanding, she accidentally stopped a lady who was picking up her take away lunch...

And here is the menu...

Anyway, Hans ended up with a Chicken Curry and Di had an interesting and popular mix of noodles, soup, thinly sliced pork chop and... smoked sausage very similar to bockwurst or kransky. Both VERY good and very cheap. No wonder that joint was popular.

This hole in the wall was just downhill from Guia hill fortress and lighthouse, the highest point in Macao, so we wandered up there after lunch.  The lighthouse is still operating today and they also use the hill to signal cyclone warnings to the locals. There was some history of cyclones in Macao with the worst still dating back to 1874 when 5.3 metres of water almost wiped out the whole city.

Guia Hill is a lovely place. No tour groups is buses and there was a wide surfaced walkway all the way around the top, with joggers and runners etc.

A few pictures from the Guia hill fortress and lighthouse.

Now, we then tried to come down the hill a different way and closer to the strip around the ferry wharf to grab a shuttle bus home. Almost impossible to get down as a pedestrian - no path nor steps existed. We came down halfways to a major road, but then had to walk along that road quite a distance away from where we wanted to be. No footpath - literally on the road surface (which looks like it's used for the grand prix track).

Anyway, eventually we came down to the water and had to backtrack, but decided to check for shuttle buses at the Macao Ferry Wharf as well as logistics for getting back to Hong Kong tomorrow. All good and easy and in no time we were back at the hotel.

Pool time for an hour, with Margarita and Carlsberg, then massively over-cheesed pizza in the food court before we went to the theatre on level 1 to see Cirque de Soleil.

A bit unfair to see something like that just after House of Dancing Water, but it was still a spectacular show, with lots of interesting props like a massive floating dragon over our heads and some jawdropping and beautiful acrobatics. And they had 2 clowns while HoDW only had 1. The cast sometimes came into the audience and things flew over our heads. We even got snowed on. Lots of fun and some beautiful moments.  We had great seats and for approximately $70AUD each it was a lovely evening.  Back to the room afterwards to wind down.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Mon 28 Nov - Macao

Today, we decided to explore Macao proper during the day.

As The Venetian hotel is on Taipa, south of Macao’s old town it is not really walking distance between the two islands and few (or any?) of the 4 or 5 bridges provide pedestrian access, the hotels and casinos provide shuttle bus services.  One problem only, first shuttle bus from Venetian into town is quite late at 10.20am (must be the Portuguese heritage).

So, when we rock up there to be “shuttled” at 9am, there were no bus and no people waiting for the bus. One option really; Taxi to the intended drop off point – Yuet Tung Pier.
Macao is much nosier than either Hong Kong or Guangzhou (bar construction noise). The reason is simple, motorbikes and scooters. They are everywhere. This is easily explained as a large tract of the old Macao centro consists of windy and narrow streets and lanes, up and down the hills.

Macao is a world heritage town and there is a walking trail taking in 25 buildings and monuments that we wanted to do. We had decided to start at Senado Square, by the middle of the trail which was easy to get to.
There was another reason too. We hadn’t had any proper breakfast yet as anything consumed at the hotel is three times as expensive as anywhere else (at least $HK100 for anything for breakfast) and sometimes a bit too overcomplicated to get.

We found McDonalds at the square, for another “healthy” start of the day.  Getting sick of it already and only been there twice!

We started our walking tour by checking out some of the buildings around Senado Square before walking south, up and down the narrow streets and hills. Easy to get around as street names are in Portuguese, so “ Rua Centrale” is pretty easy to follow. We worked out “Largo” means square or place too.
Some interesting Portuguese old buildings were inspected and there was a pole with text in various languages to explain them next to each of the buildings, which turned out to be very useful and interesting. Some dated back to 1400 or so.

Some lovely restored churches… 

Modern day is also fascinating. We found this guy mounting what looked like a rack to hold an air conditioning unit on the wall of one building. All normal perhaps for that the guy was standing on the rack, while fixing it to the wall, on the 3 floor or so. No photo unfortunately. There was a “team member” on the ground, and I asked him whether I could take a photo, and got a very determined no back. This was probably not legal even here.
The standout of the day was the Mandarin House, a sprawling complex that fell into disrepair a couple of decades ago, but had now been taken over by the Government and restored. Mandarin House was the ancestral home of Zheng Guangying, a philosopher (and economist) at the time, who had written a key book in 1859 about building the strength of the country through united prosperity, that inspired Mao and President Sun Yat Sen. He lived here with brothers and sisters with families over some 4000 square meters.

This concept of moon gates appeared in a few places:

We walked up to the top of the hill, one of Macao’s highest points, to Penha church. Great views. The photo shows Macao Tower and one of the many bridges between the 2 parts.

A couple of guys with Google Streetview lookalike equipment (mounted cameras pointing in all directions on a harness) were on top of the Penha Hill. They said that they were mapping 180 degrees of Macao, not working for Google.

Heading down the hill, we passed the upmarket homes of the local rich people – all cars in the driveways seemed to be Lexus, Mercedes or Audis! 
The road brought us down near a lovely old Chinese temple built into the side of another hill called Barra Hill – on about 7 different levels.  Very popular with Chinese tour groups, with so much incense burning we were nearly choking in the smoke.  Incense was even in the form of big spiral cones, all alight and hanging everywhere.

From here, we re-joined our walking trail and within a few metres reached the famous Koo Kei Bakery.  They were making the lovely local cookies and offering samples, we ate about 3 each. We also bought 2 Portuguese custard tarts which were still warm and the best we’ve ever had. Now if only we could find a coffee! No luck but a nice morning tea with water anyway.
BTW, we reckon that Koo Kei is a "bastardisation" of cookie. Maybe?

And here is their van:

There was a funny moment in a 3 street intersection right in the middle of the old centro. One of Hotel Venetian’s shuttle buses tried to take a corner and… Loooong queues while he was driving back and forth, motorcycles physically moved to make space etc. A copper arrived, but he didn’t seem to help the situation very much.
We left after a while, and the guy had still not made the corner, but a looooong queue had built up.

Lunch was as per the locals, pick a few sticks from a variety of food stuff, put them in a bowl and give to the “chef” to cook in boiling water(?).  Put in a cup, add hot or not curry sauce, and Bob is your uncle. Find a bench to eat or eat as you walk.

Our trail took us into the heart of the historic district to the ruins of St Pauls (very famous and Heritage listed) and the Fortress on the hilltop.  The crowds here are incredible; this area is where most of the tour groups end up.  So you walk via narrow streets all lined with shops selling the local cookies and other treats,  crowded with Chinese people all tasting free samples and buying. We were up the “Spanish steps” to the fabulous ruins.

The carvings on the fa├žade of the church are amazing. You can just take time to look up and study all the separate details - a Galleon on the sea, a skeleton, a Griffin and so much more – as well as the statues of the saints. Unfortunately the plaza also holds the tackiest Christmas decorations we’ve seen.

We wander around further and up onto the Fortress. We’ve been in this area before, when we visited for a day with Jeremy in July 2007.  At the time the temperature was much hotter and we were in a hurry to get out of the sun, so quite a different experience.  We think he would have much preferred the walking we have done today.

It’s now after 2pm and we’ve got a big night ahead with the “House of Dancing Water” show at 8pm. So we make our way down to what we believed was the shuttle collection point, buying some supplies of drinks on the way.  No luck with supermarkets and finding breakfast supplies though.  Unfortunately we get the shuttle pick up location wrong and waste about 45 minutes sitting around waiting.  It’s well past 3pm when we finally realise, as we’re about the flag a taxi, and we sit with the other people waiting to get the next shuttle around 3.30pm. 
Back in the room by 4pm and we finally locate the swimming pool details and head on down.  Fabulous pools (5 in total) at different temperatures. We end up in the 32degree outdoor pool, with a beer and a margarita and relax!

Yes, we did find out that there was a pool complex, not very to find, go to level 5, walk in corridors for 180m (it is stated on the wall), take another lift to level 1, which can't be the real level 1 because that's were the casino and the entry points are and there it is.
We’ve decided on “cheaper” dinner option at the Food Court and this works out well, with a good baked Portuguese chicken stew and chicken Fajitas. 
At 7.30pm we make our way through to the Theatre for the House of Dancing Waters show. 

Purpose built pool that holds the equivalent of 5 Olympic swimming pools but also turns into a fully flat stage within about 15 seconds and underneath has a temple, three masts of a ship and a range of other props which appear and disappear from the pool.
The show cost HKD$1 billion to set up, includes more than 50 performers.

The pool is also deep enough to cope with high diving stunts and the stage strong enough to cope with daredevil motocross bike riders (Di couldn’t watch). 

Yep, Truly amazing and we strongly believe that this is a must see show for anyone coming to this part of the world.

Well, what can you do afterwards to top that. Too bloody exhausting to do anything else than go to bed...

A few pics from our "entry level" suite: