1Up Abroad: Hong Kong Part 3

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This is part 3 in the 1Up Abroad: Hong Kong travel blog. For Parts 1 and 2, click the numbers. Ooh fancy links…

After a couple of days in Hong Kong things were going pretty well, and I was feeling in control of things. However come Saturday as I was planning to go on a day trip to Macau, things didn’t go as smoothly. I didn’t end up bloodied and broke outside of a casino, but I could have executed things a bit better. With the exception of airplanes, I’m used to being able to just rock up at a transport terminal and jump on. Trains, busses, trams, even ferries in the past I’ve found this method to work just fine. So my plan was to walk over to the China Ferry Terminal at 9am and be on the next ferry at around 9.30, or 10 at the latest.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

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Trent’s Protip #1: If you don’t book your ferry ahead of time, rock up early and assume you might have to wait a trip or two, especially if you ignore…

Trent’s Protip #2: Don’t go to Macau on the weekend unless you really like crowds.

I ended up having to wait until around 11am to catch a ride, which would end up killing a lot of my time to explore Macau. Although I could have still hit quite a few areas of interest from midday onwards, I had tickets for the 5pm performance of House of Dancing Water, and I was paranoid about getting there late, so I wanted to allow enough time to get over the bridge and find the City of Dreams.

So there are a lot of prime tourist and sightseeing spots I ended up missing. Oh well I guess, any exuse to have to go back. The good news was I didn’t miss the performance, which is good, because the House of Dancing Water made the trip worth it in of itself. I’m not the most culturally refined person but I’ve been fortunate enough to take in some fascinating performances in my time. Whether it’s big budget stage shows, great portrayals of Shakespeare in the Park, the sheer absurdity of the Shinjuku Robot Restaurant or even the ear crushing renditions of pop songs from my friend Matt. But I can safely say that nothing I’ve previously seen can match the pure awe inspiring spectacle that is House of Dancing Water.

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It’s Cirque du Soleil on an acid trip with the volume turned waaay up. It’s basically about a typical smiling hero and his attempts to save a water bender from the evil queen (so yes it could easily be translated into a Disney movie) but the way they use the space to tell the story through movement is incredible. I had seen pictures of the stage – where the performance area was flooded with water and sailing masts were sticking out as people weaved their way through it and instantly was looking for the ‘purchase tickets button’. I thought that must have been ripping off Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End for their finale as people fight on top of the ship.

That is basically the first thing that happens, and the show only gets more impressive from there…

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I don’t want to spoil some of what you see in case you ever get the chance to witness it live, because I went in not knowing too much and was left in awe several times (though it did then explain some of the weird things they were selling in the merchandising area) and I think it’s best that way. But to give some more advice if you ever find yourself in Macau and think about going

Trent Protip #3: When they say the first couple of rows ‘may’ get wet. That’s a joke. There’s no ‘may’ about it. You WILL get wet. They offer you a poncho (which I found hilarious) but between the special water effects and several actors blatantly throwing water at the audience for laughs the splash zone is real.

Trent Protip #4: The seating construction is basically a three quarter circle. I was in the second cheapest section, and I would safely recommend that. The V.I.P seats are the best seats in the house by the looks of it, but the benefits probably aren’t worth the price differential unless you’re fairly comfortable in your financial situation (And there were parts where my area probably got the best views). That said, the cheapest section will miss out on some stuff. All of the ‘spectacular’ parts of the show you’ll see no problem, but there are some story based parts that occur in an area the cheap seats would find hard to see. If you can only afford the cheap seats by all mean it’ll be worth it, but sections 200 and 400 are the best bang for your buck.

I’m not joking, if you’re ever in Macau, or hell Hong Kong, go see House of Dancing Water. It’s 90 minutes of pure bliss. They threw a metric tonne of cash in the production of the show and its dedicated theatre and you can see why. Top tier performers (who I don’t envy, spending the entire show wet and getting blasted with water) and a mesmerising stage that is constantly shifting and changing from a pool to raised tiers and everything in between. I nearly went straight to the ticket box to try and secure tickets for the next show just so I could see it all again. Oh, and one more

Trent’s Protip #5: Go to the toilet before hand. Now I know I shouldn’t need to say this, that’s obvious for any movie or show you go to, but seriously – go to the toilet beforehand. There is so much flowing and running water throughout the performance that if your bladder is on the full side, it’ll basically be one 90 minute call to the wild.

But while I was late into Macau and the main reason I was there was for HODW, that wasn’t the only thing I actually got to do. The ferry ride over and back took about an hour (ironically I got the first ferry back when I rocked up that night, though getting through customs took forever) and it is a little bumpy going over the South China Sea. If you’re prone to sea-sickness, this probably won’t be a fun ride for you. But the Turbojet offers free Wi-Fi (I caught Cotai back, which didn’t so shame on them) and you can get some nice views on departure and arrival if it’s daytime.

From there you have two options. You can pay for transportation, or you can take advantage of the many casino shuttles that run around for free. Depending on where you’re wanting to go they prove to be a great option. For example, if you want to go see Senado Square and The Ruins of St Paul (and of course you do, because you’re a tourist and that’s just what you do) you just just jump on the Large Lizzie shuttle and once it drops you off at the casino it’s just a short walk there.

Trent’s Protip #6: If you’re travelling with kids, you may not be allowed on this shuttle, as it literally drops you off IN the casino, which of course is restricted to anyone under the age of 21 (not 18 like it’d be in Australia, so keep that in mind young’uns). Not all do this, The City of Dreams drops you off as the front door, but you’ve been warned.

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I’ve not been to Las Vegas, so I can’t really compare how the ‘Vegas of the East’ stacks up to its older brother, but the casinos in Macau are really something. If you needed a visual representation of extravagance, these would serve as a good example. Spread across either side of the bridges in Macau are a bounty of imposing buildings of various shapes and sizes demanding your attention and money. Some like the MGM take a very classic Vegas appeal, while others like the Venetian and Sands draw upon foreign architecture to capture your imaginations. And then there’s Large Lizzie.

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This monstrocity is the Grand Lisboa, the largest casino in the world and boy does she know it. If you arrive on the ferry from the Macau side you’ll see her just about everywhere you go. Never let anyone say big can’t be beautiful, because Lizzie is spectacular. Once you get through the casino after the shuttle drops you off and stand outside it, you really appreciate just how big she is. I don’t know how they fill up that building with casino, but they do and it is magnificent.

So while I had screwed up by coming on a weekend when everyone else goes over, it did have one advantage. Once outside of Lizzie there wasn’t any signage to tell me which street to walk down for Senado Square. So I literally just followed the mass of people, who ended up acting as an arrow to the famous spot. And then follow that crowd along the pathways to the Ruins of St Paul. The streets are fairly narrow so you’re basically in an eternal mosh pit, but it saves needing a map to get around.

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Trent’s Protip #7: This isn’t a place for fancy shoes. Outside of the casino bring solid walking shoes, especially if you want to go up to the top of Fortaleza do Monte next to the Ruins. The walk up is a little more arguous than other tourist spots (though basic fitness levels will serve you fine and there is a longer sloping alternative).

The view from the top of Fortaleza is definitely worth it, and a nice cheap alternative to climbing to the top of Macau Tower (plus you won’t have to worry about being talked into bungee jumping off that thing like a maniac). You get panoramic views across all sides as well a nice museum and plenty of canons to pose by. There’s also some shaded areas if you need to cool down after the climb.

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Back to Senado Square and The Ruins, they really are fantastic spots, and it is understandable as to why so many people flock to the area. The mix of old Portugese architecture and cobblestone walkways through Senado help to transport you back a hundred years (as long as you ignore the Macdonalds and other modern shops staring you in the face) and the St Paul facade at the top of the steps instantly catches your eye and your breath, as well as the camera. Yes it’s the touristy thing to do, but there’s a reason for that, and even among the immense weekend crowd it was easy to take it all in and appreciate the architecture. Especially compared to Hong Kong, exploring the streets around Senado where the Portguese influence is at its most obvious (before you are surrounded by casinos) is a nice change of pace.

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Trent’s Protip #7: Watch out for the modern decapitation tool: The Selfie Stick. You will end up in all of the selfies while at the Ruins of St Paul (and elsewhere, but especially here since the prime area for photos is fairly tight). So why not make the most of it. Practice your photobombing skills and give the other tourists something to remember as you ruin their shot with your person. They’re taking like 50 photos from the same spot anyway, what’s one or two interrupted ones…

One of the other bonuses of the area around and between Senado and the Ruins is the food. The walkway up there is a cramped little street, but there are a lot of food vendors, and there are often samples for you to try. You can fill up pretty well going from store to store ‘sampling’ if you wish, but while you’re there you have to try the Portugese Egg Tarts. I had heard they were good before going, and they totally are. Cheap too, at just under $2 Aussie Dollars. Speaking of money…

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Trent’s Protip #8: This is mentioned quite a bit if you’re planning your Macau trip, but you don’t need Macau money. Just about everywhere will accept Hong Kong dollars and the beauty is that you don’t even need to recalculate the prices if you’re doing so, it’s a 1:1 exchange. It was the same for my day trip into Guangzhou actually, although the exchange rate was different.

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I had wanted to see a lot more of Macau, even my original planning had me missing several key areas but once I was delayed getting there that was even more the case. I didn’t get to see the A-Ma Temple, or Fisherman’s Wharf, or explore the older areas of Taipa and Cotai where the City of Dreams and other casinos sat. Still, in spite of my errors, it was a great day trip. Macau is a beautiful place during both the day and night, and while it is very casino heavy (Vegas of the East is not a cute nickname) you don’t have to be a gambler to make it worth a day or even two there. Just keep my protips in mind and you can make your trip even better than mine!

I got back to Hong Kong safe and sound, ready to tackle Hong Kong Island itself. I went on a trek of media tourism which covered Central, SoHo and Victoria Peak. Did I find what I was after? One way to find out, and that’s to go to Part 4 of 1Up Abroad: Hong Kong.

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