China meets Portugal meets Vegas!
05.03.2007 23 °C
After a final lingering lunch date with YOSHINOYA it was all aboard Turbo Jet for the 65km journey to Macau.
Mac-where..? Exactly! If like me, your grasp of world geography is decidedly sketchy Macau is a tiny country situated on the Southeastern coast of China in the Guangdong Province. Turbo Jet (which deserves a mention in its own right) was part plane part boat. It had all the internal characteristics of an airplane - airplane seats, airplane seatbelts, a little fold away tray to use as you pleased & young, attractive ladies working the isles trying to flog you overpriced food, drinks and Marlborough Lights. But it is essentially a ferry and a fast one at that so after just 50 mins I disembarked in a whole new world.
I only had a couple of days in Macau which is all you need really as it only a small place, it has total land area of 27.3 sq km including the peninsula plus Taipa & Coloane islands. The whole country has a distinctively mediterranean feel and rightly so. Jorge Alvares became the first Portuguese to set foot in Southern China in 1513 and his visit was followed by the establishment of a number of Portuguese trading centers in the Pearl River delta. These were eventually consolidated into Macau, which soon wielded, with the permission on the emperor of China, a virtual monopoly on trade between China and Japan and between both nations and Europe. Today it is still a mixture of Chinese and Portuguese cultures harmoniously maintained and developed by its people.
In July 2005, 25 distinct sites in the historical centre of Macau were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. These are largely ancient stone fortresses, churches, Chinese temples and restored colonial villa's all scattered amongst tiny cobbled backstreets named by distinctive Portuguese blue enamel signs. Look to your left and you could be convinced you were in Portugal, to your right and you could be Shanghai.
Ruins of St. Paul Cathedral
Another World Heritage Site
I must admit I enjoyed ambling around these sites a whole lot more than I thought I would, infact the whole of Macau is one of those places which just oozes charm. Each street I ventured down had something going on, a group of old men playing cards in a shady corner of the park, old cobblers shops which look like they have been there forever and traditional chinese medicine and teashops. In the next alley there's funky clothes and souvenir shops and everywhere there are people zipping around on scooters, I haven't seen so many scooters since Vietnam. And that to me was what really appealed, a blend of the old and the new, the East meets the West.
The lads gather for a game of cards
But when the sun goes down on the history and the heritage the neon's soon come out to play. I wasn't aware of this but apparently gambling is illegal in Hong Kong so many people head over to Macau for a weekend of excess in Sin City. Now we aren't talking the strip in Vegas here but Macau is home to some 18 casino's which is rather alot for such a tiny place.
Cheeky school kids
I wanted to take some photo's of an old building but these kids appeared on the way back from school and wanted to be in the photo too
Usually I'm not much of a gambling man but I'm on my holidays and at this late stage in my trip I figured it was double or quits. Worse case scenario, I lose what very little money I have left and I'm on the next flight back to Heathrow. If I win big, its a quick call to the folks telling them not to expect me home anytime soon. Well.....either of the above happened and how can they when you playing the slots with pocket change..? But it was good fun all the same.
Grand Lisboa Casino
The scene of my flurry on the slots
And that, I suppose is the beauty of travel, you can rock up in some tiny country you know absolutely nothing about only to discover it is a real gem!