In Hong Kong people really love to gamble! Wednesday evening and the Happy Valley race course is packed. The 12 wise men of the Hong Kong Jockey Club controls all the betting on and off the course, so for the serious gambler the only place to go is Macau. It is the only place in China where casinos are legal and as such, has a slightly Wild West and sleazy reputation!
However that certainly does not put off the good bergers of Hong Kong, no sir! Nor indeed a high roller such as myself! There are 75 jetfoil sailings, day and night to get you there. And these jetfoil are serious pieces of kit – they fly the 68 kilometres to Macau from Hong Kong in less than 60 minutes!
We arrived at the ferry terminal bright and early at 9.30am, not really realising just how many people wanted to go gambling! But as with everything in HK, if you are prepared to pay then the shorter the queue becomes! Standard class meant a 2 hour wait, Super Class equals one hour but Premier Grand Super Class was step this way to the next flight!
Within in minutes we were ushered to the head of the queue and into our special Swedish designed leather lined cabin. With some excitement I got my tray table ready to receive my Premier Grand Super Class High Rollers meal, only to be repulsed by the slice of warm Spam floating on what I took to be a bed of sick but was probably some form of dried egg! An inauspicious start to my new career as a gambler!
I’m not sure what I expected Macau to be, part Portuguese port and part fishing village. I was not expecting the huge brightly lit Las Vagas style casinos of the new town and the towering skyscrapers of the commercial district and somewhere nestled in between was the Portuguese old town and all in 29 degrees of heat and 85 % humidity.
Hopping on a local bus, we went to Senado Square, this is the heart of the old town. Getting out of the heat we discovered St Laurence’s church, a white stucco building that would not have been out of place in Lisbon! Climbing some rickety old wooden stairs we found three floors of assorted saints including a rather curious box of saintly bits or perhaps spares!
Following the crowds, the next stop on our tourist trail was the ‘Gateway to Nowhere’ or less interestingly, the ruins of St Pauls. Again more saintly relics to see before we could legitimately go for the main reason for our visit……Portuguese Egg Tarts Chinese style! There are shops every where selling the little bundles of deliciousness and people are buying them up by the dozen to take back to Honk Kong or mainland China.
The egg tarts!
As usual, I wanted to go to the maritime museum but also as usual my navigation skills left quite a lot to be desired and we ended up in the Artisan Quarter, a less than salubrious area where our progress was watched with some suspicion from doorways of the many bars we passed!
Catching sight of an ornately carved doorway, curiosity drew us in, only to find that we were in the Chinese Carpentry Guild Showroom. A real gem of a place where a helpful guide showed us how traditional Chinese houses are built!
Handmade wooden puzzles
Finding main the streets again we jumped on a bus for the old port and the Largo do Pargode da Barra and the A-Mn Temple. This we found easily from following the reek of industrial strength incense but did not linger too there long. Now onto the maritime museum next door and the mariner’s astrolabe which seemed to figure quite heavily in the displays for a reason I am uncertain. The astrolabe is a contraption that can be used to measure latitude but without a means for measuring longitude accurately (and at the time there was not!) it makes determining a ships position a bit of a guess!
Traditional Junk in the Maritime Museum
Culture almost done, it was time to head towards the casinos but not before visiting the Moorish Barracks where mercenaries where housed for a coup that never happened in the 1820s. And what was probably the highlight of the day, the Mandarin’s House. Build in the 1860s it belonged to Zheng Guanying, a writer, merchant and thinker who it is claimed influenced the ideas of Mao and Lenin! It was the largest private villa in Macau and still is! Being a bit off the beaten track it was a peaceful refuge from the people and heat!
The Mandarin’s House
However tranquility is only nice for a bit and it was back to the bright lights, air conditioning and free drinks of the Wynns and MGM casinos we craved! Straight on the slot machines we invested 20 Hong Kong dollars ( about £2) and soon winning big we were 4 dollars and 20 cents ahead and then equally quickly we lost it all again bar 1 HK dollar! The ‘house’ always wins! There was nothing for it but to take the the free bus service the casinos thoughtfully provide to take penniless gamblers back to the ferry and culinary delights of Super Class on the jetfoil!
But the ‘house’ always wins!