Macau; or, how not to travel

I normally like to travel with an eye towards learning what it’s like to live like a local. We often stay in apartments, shop for groceries, walk around to get a sense of the neighborhood, and try to gain perspective on a different culture.

For our first trip to Asia, however, that’s completely getting thrown out the window.

Our first stop: Macau.

When I originally picked our flights, I deliberately chose a flight with an overnight layover in Hong Kong. The thought was to get a good night’s sleep instead of trying to sleep on the plane (something I’m getting terrible at doing).

Then, when researching HKG hotels, I stumbled across the idea of spending the night in Macau. That way, we could explore the nightlife scene, squeeze in another destination into this trip, and have a bit of fun before getting to Seoul (instead of just crashing at a random HKG hotel).

So, without really thinking too hard about this, I booked us a non-refundable room in Macau.

So stupid. Don’t get me wrong, we ended up having quite a bit of fun, but not without some worrying on my part first.

As I mentioned in my last post, the trip between the Hong Kong airport (HKIA) and Macau involves a ferry.  We arrived at HKIA on time, which meant we had a little time to kill at the airport before the next ferry to Macau.  So we picked up some coffee, surfed a little on our phones (I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE T-Mobile’s free international data plan!), and relaxed.  The trip to Macau was lovely: we were almost alone in the first class section of the ferry (the price difference isn’t huge and we had a great view in addition to privacy) and the lights of Macau as the ferry enters port are pretty spectacular.

We easily found our shuttle… except that I was under the impression that we could take either the Holiday Inn shuttle OR the Venetian shuttle.  Both hotels were part of the same complex, but I didn’t anticipate just how large each building was.  So we found the Venetian shuttle first, settled in, and saw the Holiday Inn shuttle pulling away from the ferry terminal first.  Oops.

No worries though: we ended up strolling through the Venetian on our way to the Holiday Inn, which was actually quite a bit of fun.  Lots of window shopping with very few people around.

We found the Holiday Inn’s registration desk (no small trick: the Holiday Inn was in the same building as the Conrad and the Sheraton), took advantage of my IHG status by using the (much shorter) Platinum line, and were soon settled into our room.

Which we barely used.  The plan, as you may recall, was to stay up all night, crash on the flight to Seoul the next morning, stay up during the afternoon and evening with my dad, and then crash again the following night.  So our Macau hotel room was basically a lovely place to shower (A+++ bath towels — it’s so rare to get bath sheets at hotels!), change out of our grubbly, travel-worn clothes, and store our luggage for the night.  Oh, and there was some fresh fruit in the room which made a lovely late-night snack.

After refreshing ourselves, we then headed back out to see what Macau’s nightlife was like.  We’re not gamblers (Chris has no interest and I think I have TOO much interest), but we do like to people watch.  We had drinks in the lobby to start, where Chris noticed a lovely lady in black looking for a mark.  (I didn’t see a thing.)

There are two major areas for casinos in Macau: one on the main peninsula and one on Cotai Island.  We were staying on Cotai, where the Sands mega-plex is located.  The Venetian, Holiday Inn, Conrad, Sheraton, and Four Seasons are all interconnected as part of the Sands empire.  By sticking to exploring these five hotels, we were able to charge all our spending to our room (which means more IHG points!) and essentially roam around in a cash-less manner.  Very handy!

We explored the shops (all closed, but great window shopping and at 3 a.m. there were no bothersome people!), the casinos, and the restaurants.  We ate quite a bit of dim sum at two separate restaurants, drank wine and tea, and just meandered.  We also left the mega-plex to try to find a dance club at the City of Dreams, but it was just too noisy and I wasn’t up for dealing with people sweating on me.  But at least we left the complex and breathed in some fresh air in Macau!

In the end, we still have no clue on Macau.  We explored 5 hotel/casinos (actually, 6 — we were also in the Hard Rock Hotel as a result of trying to find the dance club), saw a lot of David Beckham commercials for the Venetian, and walked around some rich (and some suddenly impoverished) people.  But I’d like to return to actually see Macau: there’s a history and a culture here that we just didn’t tap into at all.

And that is why I feel like this part of the trip was an instruction book on how NOT to travel.  Leaving without really getting to know anything about the place is just a shame.  I’m sure we’ll fix that someday.

The next morning, we hopped into a cab to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to the airport.  This trip made me nervous.  We had a very tight connection from the ferry to our flight (under HKIA’s rules, we only had about 10 minutes to spare) and if the ferry was delayed for any reason, I had no back-up plan.  This was unsettling and I don’t think I want to put myself in that position again.

But fretting about the worst possible outcome meant sweet, sweet relief when nothing went wrong.  We got to the ferry terminal in plenty of time, we got to the airport in plenty of time, and we had no trouble getting to our flight.  We didn’t have to wait long for the flight to Seoul to begin boarding. and then we were on our way to see Dad!

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