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During our recent stay in Hong Kong we decided to do a day trip to Macau as it has been on our travel bucket-list for years. The mix of the historic (the old town is a UNESCO listed site) juxtaposed against the glitz and glamour of China’s very own Las Vegas sounded like our kind of place to explore.
Macau day trip from Hong Kong by ferry
Easily accessible from Hong Kong, Macau is a semi independent area of South East China that was a territory of Portugal until 1999. We spent a day exploring Macau (although it would be easy to spend much longer) by jumping on a Cotai Water Jet from Hong Kong (don’t forget your passport!). You can also save yourself some money (to maybe use later in the casinos) by booking your Water Jet in advance directly with the ferry company (they offer online discounts), or via a third party such as Klook. The journey time from Hong Kong is just over an hour.
It is also worth noting that if there is space, you can easily board a ferry that isn’t the time designated on your ticket. We arrived to the ferry port in Hong Kong a little early and was allowed to board a Cotai ferry that departed half an hour earlier than the time on our ticket.
Day trip to Macau – how to get around
If you are on a super tight budget, it is possible to get around using the free casino shuttles (as we did). We figured out that the Wynn offered shuttles to, from and in between its two hotels so we visited the Cotai casino strip first using their Taipa shuttle, then their inter-casino shuttle (from the Wynn Palace to Wynn Macau), before returning to ferry terminal from Wynn Macau. Note a taxi might be quicker but we wanted to see if we could do it all using free shuttles – mission accomplished!
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Macau Old Town
Beyond the casinos that Macau (unfortunately) now seems to be more famous more, an outing here isn’t complete without a trip to the old town. A UNESCO world heritage site since 2005, and former Portugese colony, history oozes from the area (although it may be hard to see it for yourself, what with all the tourists clambering on historic monuments with their selfie sticks in hand) – your best bet is to dispose of your map and explore by yourself, and get lost in the quieter side-streets.
St Paul’s Ruins is one of Macau’s best known landmarks (as can be seen from all the magnets, key-rings and tea towels that feature it). These are the ruins of a 17th-century building including what was originally St. Paul’s College and the Church of St. Paul. Situated atop some steps, these are truly a beautiful (but busy) sight to behold – the steps throng with tourists posing for photos so if you are staying overnight, it might be best to visit first thing in the morning or late in the evening.
Macau Fortress / Fortaleza do Monte is situated on the hill next to the St Paul ruins, the fortress (dating from 1615 – 1625) can be found up a short (but steep) flight of stairs. These stairs also act as a deterrent from the tourist masses so you’ll find the fortress a lot quieter than St Pauls, plus incredible 360 degree panoramic views of the city (the Macau museum can also be found here).
32 cannons sit around the fortress walls and the jarring juxtaposition of the old walls with the new(ish) casino hotels dominating the skyline cannot be ignored. If you are hot after climbing all those stairs, there is a small cafe / snack bar run by two sweet old ladies at the main entrance way to the fortress.
Senado Square is the focal point for the historic old town and likely your first glimpse of the Portugese influence (other than the blue and white tiles dotted around the city), the pedestrianised square is pretty but also awash but lots of shops and the usual chain shops and cafes (Hello Häagen-Dazs!).
Egg Tart shops – no daytrip to Macau would be complete without tasting the famous Portugese egg tart. We tried a couple of different egg tart shops and they were quite different – definitely go for ones with a flakier pastry and charred top (more flavoursome). The other popular food-type seemed to be cured meat stalls and the main shopping treats had plenty of tasters available.
Casinos/ Cotai Strip
Known as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’, Macau has around 40 casinos at present (although judging by all the construction cranes we saw, this number will rapidly increase over the next few years). With all the big brands you’d expect from a casino strip (MGM, Wynn, Venetian), this is a gambler’s paradise and stems from historic agreements in the 1850s when the Portuguese government legalised the activity in the autonomous colony (similar to the arrangement between the UK and Hong Kong).
As Chinese people can only (in theory) participate in state-run lotteries on the mainland, the only nearby ‘legal’ gambling available to them is in Hong Kong and Macau, hence their massive popularity.
As we were only on a daytrip to Macau, and wanting to see the old town, we only visited a couple of the casinos properly on the Cotai Strip. Our decision was also aided by the fact that all the big casinos offer free / complimentary shuttle services from all the major ports, plus (bizarrely) at the time of writing, the top ranking No.1 attraction on Tripadvisor for Macau are the skycabs at Wynn Cotai Macau (how the heck can this trump the UNESCO listed old town?!).
Upon arriving at the ferry terminal, we got the free Wynn shuttle bus to the Wynn Palace hotel and proceeded to explore the casino (opulent and stunning, including an incredible flower windmill). We then hopped on the free Skycab and proceeded to trundle around the exterior casino site, oohing and aahing at the fountain display in the middle of the lake. We then jumped off half way around to explore other parts of the Cotai strip.
Be aware that there are two Wynn casinos in Macau and the skycab is part of the larger Wynn Palace site only – however, we also visited the exterior of the other Wynn hotel/casino near the old town and were treated to a equally radiant yet ridiculous fountain display (including fire) set to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding out for a Hero’.
No daytrip to Macau is complete without a visit to The Venetian – one of the casinos that recreate European streets (although the irony isn’t lost that they are recreating something that can be seen for real just a few minutes down the road in the Old Town). Looming large in the distance was the half scale recreation of the Eiffel Tower at the Parisian but we opted to view the Venice recreation at The Venetian.
Head to the third floor to see the Grand Canal (with gondolas galore!) and a scaled down version St Mark’s Square (complete with acrobatic performances) as well as the usual array of fine boutique shops (both the Ferrari and Manchester United stores seemed to be doing a roaring trade). For those on a budget, the ubiquitous McDonalds can also be found just a stone’s throw away from the Grand Canal (just like the real Venice in fact).
Thoughts on our day trip to Macau
We enjoyed our Macau day trip from Hong Kong but we wished we had planned better and arranged to stay overnight so we could enjoy the casinos at night, plus visit the Old Taipa Village, Coloane, Macau Tower and enjoy some Macanese cuisine. We definitely plan to return again one day!
Popular activities in Macau
Here are some links to some activities you might be interested in when visiting Macau as a day trip from Hong Kong:
Pocket WIFI rental in Hong Kong and Macau
Having unlimited portable WIFI was super handy during our trip. We pre-ordered a speedy 4G device from Klook, and collected/returned it at Hong Kong airport. The rental cost was US$ 5.751 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it in Hong Kong and Macau.
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