Our end of term school break came around this February and we decided to take another trip. We have always wanted to visit China but have found that visiting the mainland is very expensive for Americans due to Tourist Visa costs. However, we discovered that both Macao and Hong Kong are both considered “Special Administrative Regions of The People’s Republic of China” which allows us to get tourist visas for free. Even better, we can fly to Macao from Utapao airport in Pattaya and the flight is just under three hours. Once in Macao you can take the Turbojet ferry to Hong Kong in just about an hour. This is what we did!
We flew from Utapao airport on a Tuesday to Macao International Airport. We secured a Hong Kong / Macau SIM card and got a taxi to Hou Kong Hotel in old Macao. At first impressions, coming from the Taipa area, Macau’s casino side seemed like an asian Las Vegas. The buildings were huge and over the top, lacking any real cultural character. Lots of flash and decadence. However as we approached the old city portion of Macau things started to morph into the Portugese / Chinese / Macanese feel as far as architecture and the color schemes of the buildings.
After checking in, we walked a short distance and found “Cafe De Novo Tomato” which is supposedly rather famous in the area for its traditional food like portuguese chicken, beef curry, and bacalhau as well as portuguese beers. It was a nice inexpensive lunch.
Just next door is a small buddhist temple that we found a bit different from those in Thailand and other parts of SE Asia.
After lunch we made our way towards one of the big attractions on the old city, The Ruins of St. Paul. On the way I had to stop and try a Portugese Egg Tart. It tasted like a sweet quiche.
The streets became more and more congested with people as we got closer to the ruins. There were street vendors everywhere clipping pieces of sweet meat jerky with giant pairs of scissors, trying to get you to purchase a slab. We eventually made it to St. Paul’s Ruins and it was quite beautiful. There were people everywhere snapping pictures and selfies and children running up and down the steps. On the other side of the stone pillars were tombs.
There was a beautiful green space next to the ruins so we made our way that direction only to realize there was a stone fort in the middle of it. The fort is called “Monte Fort”. We scaled many steps to the stop where there were sweeping views of Macau and old cannons sparsely strewn around. This would have been the lookout spot many years ago. It reminded me of St. Augustine, Florida.
After the ruins we made our way to Senado Square. The most memorable part for me was the ornate tile that is laid everywhere in Senado Square. There were still many different sculpture and inflatable pigs left in the center of the square from Chinese New Year celebrations just a week or so prior to our visit.
By the late afternoon our kids were feeling tired so we made our way back towards the room. We ended up walking down Rua de Felicidade, which translate into “Happiness Street”. It was an interesting small pedestrian road that felt untouched and well preserved for many years. It was like something out of a movie.
Wednesday morning we woke up in not the most pleasant of ways. Somehow my wife’s phone screen had broken while we were sleeping and when we got out of bed we accidentally broke a glass in the room. Cleaning glass off of tile when you tend to also only wear flip flops was a challenge. Not the best start to the day, needless to say. Anyhow we had to walk to a random phone repair shop in the old city and pay about $650 MOP to fix it. This was also while carrying our luggage, in the rain. While the phone was getting fixed we grabbed a bite to eat at Jollibee for breakfast.
Once all the phone situation was sorted we decided to catch a zen moment and went to the Lou Lim Leoc Garden in the middle of town. This place was just what we needed after a stressful morning. It was lush and full of mandarin oranges, flowers, birds, fish, turtles, and interesting rock formations. There were people doing tai chi and even playing traditional folk music. In the center of the garden was an art space exhibiting wood-block prints which was interesting to see.
We spent about an hour there before making our way to the Turbojet ferry for our trip to Hong Kong. We looked forever for a taxi to Macao Outer Harbor to get to the ferry terminal!! Probably the hardest taxi hailing experience we’ve ever had.
The Turbojet ferry was an interesting experience. It is a hydrofoil boat which goes VERY fast, yet very smooth. The seating inside the boat was similar to being in an aircraft. The entire trip took about 1.5 hours to get to Scheungwan, Hong Kong.
Upon arrival at the Shun Tak Centre ferry terminal in Hong Kong, we took a taxi to the Queens Central road area and checked into our AirBnB. This place was in the middle of everything! There were high end restaurants, hip coffee shops, art galleries, office spaces, small mom & pop dim sum shops, fresh markets, and everything in between. There was a mix of backpackers types, businessmen, tourists, etc. It was a real melting pot. I loved the street art everywhere as well. Even better, we found good Mexican food, margaritas, and Micheladas! In Hong Kong! HA.
After dinner we walked up the steep incline steps of Ladder Street to Upper Lascar Row, which was a side street parallel to Queens Central that had so many interesting things.
They also call the area “Cat Street Flea Market”. Piles of “junk” had old playboy magazines, jewelry, bibles, glasses, bullets, watches, more than I can name. It was like going through your grandfather’s attic in China.
We wandered these back streets taking in the sights and sounds. The area had such a cool vibe! We ended up sitting at open air restaurant/bar called Blue Supreme for a couple of beers before heading back to the room.
From our room we decided to purchase some Big Bus sightseeing tickets for the following day. These buses are double-decker buses with open air seating on top. It allows you to ride along different routes throughout Hong Kong and hop on and off whenever you like. This allowed us to get off, take our time, and then catch another bus when it came around. Even better, there was recorded audio you could listen to while riding to inform you of interesting facts along the route. Once we purchased the tickets, we had difficulty viewing them on the app so we needed to print them, however we had no access to a printer. So, I went walking through Hong Kong asking hotel desks and even random people if they knew a place to do this or where a print shop might be. I eventually ran into a young blond guy who said his girlfriend might know of a place. The two of them were Dutch and they both walked me to a spot they had used before but it was unfortunately closed. Upon realizing this they offered to print my tickets from their office. We walked about a block further and they were kind enough to let me use their printer to print the tickets! WOW! So kind. I normally wouldn’t just walk with any stranger to their office around 9pm at night but I got a good vibe from this young couple. We chatted about musical festivals we’ve been too and about Thailand. COOL PEOPLE.
Thursday morning, went to Man Mo Temple which is located on Hollywood Road. It is a temple for the worship of the civil or literature god Man Tai / Man Cheong and the martial god Mo Tai. It was supposedly built in 1847 and is a cool sight set amongst the modernity of Scheung Wan. Upon first steps in, we were struck by the low-lit smokiness of the temple. This is because there are countless spiral-shaped incense cones burning everywhere! We did a quick walk through and marveled at the ambiance.
After about 20 minutes in the temple, our Big Bus tour arrived at the temple which was one of the “hop-on/hop-off” points. We boarded and made our way to the top of this double decker bus to get great vantage points of the city. They also offered headsets to plug in to your seat in order to hear recorded audio commentary that was synced to our location on the tour. Our kids loved it!.
We rode the Big Bus to Victoria Harbor, where we walked towards the classic Star Ferry. Our Big Bus tickets included a round trip pass on the Ferry so we took it over to the north part of Hong Kong, Kowloon. The entire trip took about 15 minutes. I was amazed by the views of the two sides of the city but also struck the amount of smog hanging in the air!
Once in Kowloon we hopped back on the Big Bus tour and went to Ladies Market, which is in the Mong Kok district. It was overwhelming with all of its t-shirts, watches, belts, electronics, tourist kitsch, etc. We had to stay close to each other as one could easily get separated and lost amongst the huge crowds and labyrinth of shops and stalls.
The majority of our time in Kowloon was spent seeing everything from above while riding the Big Bus. It allowed us to see so much that would have been impossible on foot or even with a taxi.
Our last big attraction we wanted to see was Victoria Peak which is back on the south Island where we were staying. So we hopped back over on Star Ferry to take us back towards Scheung Wan. Once there the Big Bug took us to Victoria Peak.
Upon arriving we queued in line for a funicular train that took us up the peak. Once there, you take a series of what felt like 10 escalators even further up until you’ve reached the Skywalk. From here, you have amazing views of Hong Kong. People even skydive from up here! Me? No. We took our obligatory family photo and made our way back down in order to head towards our AirBnB to freshen up and get some dinner.
For dinner, I just had to try real Dim Sum in Hong Kong. We found a place that is rated the Best Dim Sum in Hong Kong! We sat down and ordered an array of things. This is what I have to say about it. It tasted good, but the texture was off-putting. I like food that has a little crunch to it but all the dim sum was simply soft and gooey. Hey, maybe it wasn’t for us.
We ended up leaving after giving them all a shot and had lebanese for dinner instead. Our kids loved it!
Friday morning, we woke up and checked out of our AirBnB in Hong Kong and set out for breakfast. At a communal table at the restaurant we met a husband and wife who were shellfish farmers and the owners of Saltspring Island Mussels in British Columbia. They were the sweetest couple and discussed their travels around the world with us. It was so random but wonderfully welcomed.
After the breakfast we headed with our luggage back to the Turbojet departure dock to head towards the Taipa area of Macao. Taipa was much different than the Old Macao. It was opulent and to me lacked the character of Old Macao. Our first and only stop that day was at The Venetian. This mammoth-sized casino/hotel/mall/art space/kids playground was GRAND and dwarfed our family of four! We were amazed by the intricate paintings on the ceilings and the giant archways. There is one room where the sky in painted onto the ceiling and there is a moat and gondola that you can ride throughout the space. There are high end restaurants, cheap eats, luxury stores, and of course the casino.
After spending quite a while in The Venetian roaming is expansiveness we tried to find our way out. We actually had to ask for directions to find an exit! Ha. No offense to The Venetian, but I was craving some character after that so we headed to a cool street in Taipa called Rua de Cunha. In the midst of all the hotels and casinos is this pretty hip street filled with eateries, touristy kitsch, and cool art. It had a wonderful Portugese vibe that slightly reminded me of parts of Miami. While there we had to try a popular meal, the Pork Chop Bun. It’ exactly what it sounds like, a pork chop.. on a bun. It was alright except for the fact that I though it would be boneless and I bit straight into it, luckily not breaking a tooth! Still tasty.
Rua de Cunha was our last top before heading towards the Grand China Crown Hotel for a night of rest before an early departure back to Pattaya. The Grand China Hotel was dated, not close to anything too interesting, but was LITERALLY right across a small street to the airport which was very convenient. We caught a nights rest and we were back home in no time! We enjoyed our trip to the two places and would recommend it to anyone!