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Hong Kong Good, Macau Bad

If you are laughing a little bit at the title of this post because you know that I am loosely referencing the Brainwashing scene in Zoolander we are likely really good friends.  If you haven’t seen Zoolander I am not certain that you are going to enjoy the clip or even get it. You might even judge me … negatively. Zoolander is one of my favorite movies and when I tell people that I tend to get some very strange looks.

Hong Kong & Macau have separate visa requirements

This was something that I didn’t know until we were looking at visiting both of these. In fact when Hong Kong first came up in conversation we both thought that because Hong Kong was a part of China and we didn’t have our visas to visit China we’d be SOL. Turns out because Hong Kong is a SAR (Special Administrative Region) of the Republic of China it has different visa entry and exit requirements. Macau island is also a SAR with it’s own set of visa regulations. Both regulations gave us plenty of time on just our passport so getting into and out of each of these areas was really quick and simple.

Here is where Hong Kong is located. I must not have paid must attention in map class or whatever because I am learning where cities and countries really are on almost a daily basis. For reference Hong Kong is roughly 1,000 miles from Bangkok. Hong Kong is 7,700 miles from Chicago.

Here is where Hong Kong is located. I must not have paid must attention in map class or whatever because I am learning where cities and countries really are on almost a daily basis. For reference Hong Kong is roughly 1,000 miles from Bangkok. Hong Kong is 7,700 miles from Chicago.

 

Small image, I know, but this was my favorite to give you an idea of the layout of Hong Kong and Macau islands. We took the ferry – one hour each way. Ferries run very 24hrs a day from Hong Kong and back.

Almost everyone takes a ferry to Macau from Hong Kong island. There are flights from Hong Kong and other international destinations but my understanding is that it won’t save you a ton of time and will set you back a pretty penny. Perhaps not an issue for a lot of the wealthy Chinese gamblers, but for a couple of gringos on a budget we unfortunately were not going to be able to take the private helicopter from Hong Kong to Macau. The ferry was a great alternative. One way ticket is $25 USD per person and the trip takes about an hour. From the ferry terminal there are buses representing all of the major hotel and casino properties waiting to take any guest to their hotel for no charge. We used this to get downtown and then walked to some of the old parts of Macau.

Macau is not like Vegas

I love Las Vegas. The gambling. The drinking. The dancing. The shows. The food. The lights. The music. The pools. I love it all. I’ve been hearing facts like “Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia” and “Macau is 7x larger than Las Vegas” and “Macau is home to the worlds largest casino’ for a few years now. I have always been intrigued and wanted to check this place out. How could something be 7x bigger than Vegas? And would that mean that I would like it 7x more? If so that would be incredible.

Well I hate to the bearer of bad news but these comparisons are just not fair. Macau is boring, capital B boring. After having been there I really can’t imagine a scenario where I would ever recommend someone going. Let me explain.

  • Gambling is strictly business – The #1 game here is baccarat. A game that isn’t very popular in Las Vegas. Just about everyone on the casino floor is either sitting or hovered around a baccarat table. It’s very serious. There is not the ringing out the slot machines, no cheering – really almost no joy or entertainment factor. Everyone is taking their gambling very, very seriously.
  • No free drinks – No wonder all of the publicly traded gaming companies are racing to build the biggest and the best gambling floors in Macau – all they have to do is collect money. Everyone is dead-sober on the floor. We didn’t even see a bar at the Hard Rock casino and the ONLY bar in the worlds LARGEST casino, The Venetian Macau, was not open in the afternoon while we were there.
  • The table minimums are extremely high – I was not in the mood to learn a new game like Baccarat without a few Bacardi and diets in me so my next mission was to find my familiar friend, the blackjack dealer. Problem was there were not many of them. A few. Maybe five in total and we visited 4 casinos. The minimum at the cheapest table? 300 HKD, or at the time of writing this just over $38 USD per hand. We didn’t gamble.
  • No entertainment – The Venetian Macau has one regular show called The House of Dancing Water. Supposedly when all the casinos opened they had your typical Cirque de Soleil and what not but nobody was attending the shows. Because they are all at the baccarat table. Gambling lots of money. Very seriously.
  • It’s really expensive – Part of what makes Vegas great is the fact that once you are there you don’t have to – if you can’t or don’t want to – spend a ton of money. Cheap buffets, comped drinks, reasonably priced rooms off the strip and table and slot minimums that fit any budget. Not so much in Macau. The Holiday Inn was over $150 USD per night for a random weekday in the beginning of December.
  • It’s really spread out – The casinos are not located by each other. Some are grouped together in little hotel/casino villages on the coasts of Macau island. Some of bundled up in what could be considered the “downtown” and others are being built still in other parts of the island. We went from the downtown area (where the Wynn is located) to the hotel cluster where the Hard Rock and Venetian are and it was a 25 minute cab ride. It’s not walkable.

My conclusion is that if you like Las Vegas you will almost certainly not like Macau. End of story.

Macau isn’t all bad

If for one reason or another you find yourself in Macau here is the best Macau has to offer. Not a terrible way to spend a day all things considered, but it’s just simply not fair to compare Las Vegas to Macau — way way too different.

Christmas is big in Hong Kong and Macau. This was a really pleasant surprise for Lindsay and I. It felt a little bit more like home. The decorations were really quite nice, especially in the old quarter that has a sort of European style to it due to Macau being under Portuguese rule for so long.

We popped into a local hole-in-the-wall joint for a very interesting bone-in pork chop sandwich and some soup. Nothing really special happening in this picture. Except take a look if you can at the decoration on the wall. The restaurant bought the frame and didn’t replace the piece of paper that comes inside the frame that has the details (30 cm x 30 cm) of the frame it. The entire restaurant was decorated like this.

The main road in the old quarter is lined with shops pitching all different kinds of foods and gifts. Portuguese egg tarts are really popular snack. They don’t sound or necessarily look that good but I have to hand it them – these things were tasty. Salty and savory, not sweet.

Beef jerky lovers take note. They are serious about this business. There must have been 20 or 30 shops all selling their recipe of beef and pork jerky. Spicy. Sweet. Hot. You name it they have it. The vendors stand outside near the sidewalk with scissors cutting off samples for you as you walk by. Sort of like their version of Costco. Not bad in my book. Pretty darn good jerky too although a little different than the kind we’re used to getting in the states. This beef jerky was much more moist and easier to chew.

This is what is left of St. Pauls church. The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church is the most popular site in Macau. Only the front or the facade is left today. Definitely worth a visit to get a picture if you’re in town.

And of course you can’t visit Macau without visiting the worlds largest casino – The Venetian Macau. Setup exactly like the one in Vegas, but just larger. And with many, many many less restaurants and bars.

Of course they also have the gondolas that you can ride and the captain will serenade you the entire time. This particular guy was a really good singer and was taking any request the kids could throw at him. This was the highlight of our trips to the casinos here.

Hong Kong is cool

At one point while we were planning out our stay in Hong Kong I was looking traveling straight to Macau and spending two nights there and then traveling to Hong Kong island for a few nights. Lindsay saved us some money, time and disappointment by steering us into 4 nights and just taking the ferry for a day trip to Macau. We ended up staying all of our nights in Kowloon – a part of Hong Kong that has a really good share of authentic Hong Kong lifestyle and within walking or train to most of the popular tourists spots. We both liked Hong Kong and were glad we spent the time there.

By far the most popular (read: best) thing to do in Hong Kong according to all that we read was the skyline. This made me a bit skeptical. But once you see the skyline at night it is really incredible. Most of Hong Kong is protected and as such the land that can be built on has all been built sky high. We soaked in the nightly light show on the buildings from comfy chairs in the Intercontinental Lobby Bar. Live music, stiff drinks and 30ft floor to ceiling windows made the $25 per drink (Lindsay was drinking a cosmo – light pink, I was drinking a manhattan – dark brown) price well worth it.

Wind was bringing much more pollution from mainland China than normal during our stay so the conditions were less than ideal to view the skyline, but it was still really good. The Ritz Carlton has a bar on the 118th floor that has fantastic views of the skyline but when we went up there we really couldn’t see anything in the haze of pollution.

Another popular destination for tourists that is well-worth the wait in line is a tram ride up to Victoria Peak to see the city from one of the highest points. Again, the pollution made this not as clear as it could be, but was still really nice.

Sometimes our willingness to try new things in foreign countries can back fire a little bit. On this night we popped into a random “hot pot” restaurant for dinner. Not speaking any of the local language – and definitely not reading it – we ordered something. With chicken (meat and “parts”) in a large pot that was hot. We ate it. I think had we been with someone who knew what they were doing we could have had a kick-ass order, but we weren’t …so we didn’t. Next time hot pot …next time..

If you’re in Hong Kong on a Wednesday do not pass up the opportunity to bet on the ponies at Happy Valley Racecourse. It’s fascinating to visit this gigantic racecourse in the middle of the city with all of the green grass the horses run on. We bet a few races but came up empty. The beers weren’t too expensive and it’s less than $2 USD to get in.

Another great escape for the hustle, bustle and crowds is the Nan Lian Garden. A small botanic garden set in the middle of the sky scrapers. The park is small and only takes 20 or 30 minutes to walk through but it’s really quite relaxing.

And what better way than to end your evening with a little live music. The Wanch has been around forever I guess and has live music just about every night. This place is really small so could be tough to have a conversation. We went on open mic night and this multi-national band was darn good.

4 thoughts on “Hong Kong Good, Macau Bad

  1. Sharon

    We are thinking to do 4 nights I Macau purely to relax at the galaxy and enjoy the pool maybe tats too long? Would you do hongkong again ?

    1. Jeff Post author

      For a little rest and relaxation you should be fine. 4 nights might be long for us, but I’d hate to steer you in the wrong direction. I would go back to Hong Kong, yes – we had a great time there. Enjoy your trip!

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