SARs attacks! Macau tipping

So there I was, Saturday morning in my hotel in Wan Chai, Hong Kong. It had been a long and fairly punishing journey and the sleep was much appreciated. But there’s no lie-in on the menu here; having gone to kip at about 2am I was up and about by 8.30am. Outside looked much as I expected: tall.

I’m on the 23rd floor here.

First, breakfast. The woman who had checked me in 7 hours prior reminded me I hadn’t paid for breakfast, but also that I’d been upgraded to an Executive room. Well, there’s free breakfast in the lounge a few doors away so I wandered up to there, gave my room number to the member of staff there, and started putting meat on my plate. Seconds later he came back and with very politely told me that I absolutely was not allowed to use this lounge: it’s only for platinum members of the Accor loyalty scheme, or people who actually paid for an executive room rather than got a lucky upgrade.

I offered to just leave my plate and disappear, because honestly I was kinda mortified at blagging this – but he said I could eat it, but remember not to come back later or on subsequent days. Well OK then. Thank you for the free breakfast to which I’m not entitled! I apologised again on my way out, and then laughed about it on the way back to my room.

After writing up my experience with Philippine Airlines getting here it was time to set out for the day. Along Hennessy Road to Wan Chai MTR station on the Island Line, I’m off to Sheung Wan.

The tube is really busy when I get on, but almost everyone gets off at Admiralty. At Sheung Wan I make my way up the escalators inside the Shun Tak centre, avoiding eye contact with the countless people shouting at me from all the different travel agents offering boat tickets. My first priority here is a Coke Zero, which I successfully buy and get a smile when I dish out my first mm goi of the day.

At a ticket machine I scan the QR code on my phone that I got from klook.com a few days ago; I am getting a boat, after all. But I’m here way too early, an hour or so before sailing. Walking around while finishing my caffeine I come across the tour operators who take you on a boat straight to strip joints, how salubrious. There’s nothing else to keep me here so I figure I’ll just go through early and grab a seat.

Handing my ticket over for the 1215 the man at the gate replaces it with an 1130 ticket and tells me to hurry. It’s 1127. Well OK then! Wandering through an almost empty departure area I have no idea how to do immigration. There’s a thing saying I have to fill out a departure card, and I’ve got the slip in my passport from my arrival, err, earlier today, but a guy just ushers me to an Oyster-style gate and I get scanned through. Hurrying along to the gate and my ticket gets a sticker and I’m told to hurry even more – I’m basically the last person to get on the boat, and am rewarded with one of the only rear facing seats on the boat. I have no window, and am sat opposite a couple and next to a tall German man with a crying baby strapped to his chest.

This is the ferry to Macau/Macao, my 66th “country”. I figured that since I knocked off all the countries in the EU late last year, the next logical choice was to knock off the Special Administrative Regions of China. It’s a little easier what with there being only two, an hour apart by boat, and I’d already been to one.

I spend most of the journey with my headphones on listening to the Something To Wrestle with Bruce Prichard podcast, and trying to convince my phone to use a Macanese mobile network (free) rather than one of the Chinese networks (very not free). There’s a lot of choice around here.

After almost exactly an hour we pull into Macau outer harbour ferry terminal and file out. It’s a spangly building with an easy to find tourist information desk. Despite mobile data ‘n all that, I go and grab a map and ask what direction I go to walk to the old town. She tells me it’s about an hour. An hour? A likely story, thinks I.

Immediately outside of the terminal are masses and masses of casino and hotel reps, and lots of bus stops. Not normal buses – well, actually, there’s a couple of those – but mostly free shuttle buses to the the casinos. Macau takes in more money each year from gambling than Vegas, though I’m not here to see all that.

It’s a bit warm. Not too bad, but feels hotter than the raw Celsius temperature would have you think. I walk along the main road, past a couple of obviously second rate casinos and wonder where everyone is. The roads aren’t particularly busy, and the pavements are mostly deserted. I thought this was the most densely populated place in the world? Where is everyone? Are they at the festival of mother and baby goods at Fisherman’s Wharf?

After a brief wrong non-turn I head inland and stumble through the first pleasant thing, a little garden.

Eschewing the paper map for Google maps, I take another couple of wrong turns until eventually finding a thing that says I’m in the UNESCO world heritage centre of Macau. Am I? Really?

I really don’t think I am, not just yet. It’s all just pollution and high rises and stuff. I’m utterly bemused by how many things are in Portuguese. I mean, look, I know this was a Portuguese colony until the 90s but I’m sure fuck all people here speak it and there’s no good reason for it to be so prominent everywhere. Anyway, where’s the old town? Aha, there’s a pedestrian bridge over a busy road and a sign that says CENTRO. That sounds good. Some of the buildings are starting to look a bit European.

Around the corner and BOOM, suddenly there are thousand and thousands of people. It’s noisy and atmospheric and very much fun. I still haven’t found any nice architecture but it’s an experience just to be amongst everything. Also there are signs in Portuguese and English to the big hitters: a cathedral, a square, some ruins, all that good stuff.

Ooh hello! It’s all gone a bit colonial. This is what I’m here for.

The ruins of St Pauls are absolutely rammed with people. I mean, so are all the surrounding streets too, but seriously this is selfie and selfie-stick central. It’s hilarious.


Contrary to advice, it had taken me around 45 minutes to reach the old town, though I was walking faster than anyone else and inadvisably so. By now I was getting very hot, not helped by my refusal to undo my jacket or roll the sleeves up lest I a) display epic sweat patches b) instantly burn.

“Probable remains of guest room”, it says. I’ll take your word for it. This is in the park next to the ruins and by the fortress, within which is the Museum of Macao. And this guy.

But I’m not particularly interested in a museum tbh. It’s hot, I’ve done the big hitter tourist things that aren’t casinos and that I can be bothered to discover. Marked on the map on my phone is Beer Temple, which is on a backstreet near here. As if by magic, I’m in deserted streets mere seconds from the busiest streets on earth.

Beer Temple is a doddle to find. Surely they’re taking the piss with all the “ooh, winter, isn’t it cold” shit they’ve got going on.

There’s no need for this.

Inside I’m greeted warmly and asked if I’m likely to be eating. Yeah, go on then, why not. So I take my pick of seats in the left hand half of the venue, facing the horse-racing on TV. I pick number 7 in the first race and the damn nag gets beaten by a neck in the last furlong. DAMN YOU NUMBER SEVEN.

There’s a food menu but no beer menu; I have to go investigate by myself. C’mon then, temple of beer, what you got?

Oh! You’ve got tons of beer. Excellent. I asked for a Macanese beer and am told they don’t have any. Bloody hell. The nearest they’ve got is something Chinese, so he says, so I’ll have a bottle of that while I peruse the food menu.

Frankly it all sounds nice. Who doesn’t love starch and intestines? Trying to fit in, I opt for the Macanese bacalhau ball with chorizo, along with some salty egg french fries. The fries arrive first and I think I’ve made an error – there are MASSES of them.

They’re not actually particularly nice either, but I bravely scoff them all. The balls are nicer, as is the Japanese Hitachino espresso stout.

Not sure about this pizza though.

A deaf couple come and go during my time here, and I decide I will use the phrase “shouting their hands off” to describe their conversation. I peruse the paper map, discovering there’s a Museum of Vintage Sound Machines that I’m sad to not visit. Pondering my next move, given the boat back isn’t for a couple of hours, I fire up Uber to see if someone can drive me back to the terminal.

No. They can’t. What’s this #600daysofuber thing all about? Anyway, with no chance for a cab I wonder if there are any bus stops nearby.

Oh. There’s, like, a thousand. But I have no idea how to buy a ticket and I don’t even have any local currency, the pataca, even though its code (MOP) has made me hum the song Ante Up by, er, MOP, for the last hour or so (do yourself a favour and go search YouTube for Bert & Ernie gangsta rap. You won’t regret it)

Right. OK. So I have a couple of hours, it’s a half hour walk, I’m well over 10k steps already but need to burn off those chips and it looks like it skirts something else worth looking at. I’ll walk back.

MOP now. What you want now?

Paying in Hong Kong Dollars I’m given change in MOP which means I could now get the bus if I wanted, but I’d rather get a Coke Zero from an extravagantly moody lady in the nearest Circle K. Wandering slowly according to the route Google planned for me I go across a large open square where preparations are being made for ... something. And there’s more Portuguese architecture.


There’s also this museum-y exhibition-y looking place that, best I can tell, will soon be hosting an exhibition of the cuisine of Portuguese speaking nations. That’s a thing is it?

It’s a slow walk through non-picturesque parts of the island until skirting through the dog walking garden between the lanes of the busy coast road, and then across onto the promenade round the big reservoir. Outside of the main shopping streets and tourist bits it’s still not particularly busy, but here there are plenty of locals walking their dogs or out for a run. I can’t work out what makes this country so ludicrously densely populated.

Oh, wait, yeah, it’s the masses and masses and masses of tower blocks. That’d do it.

It’s never been properly sunny while I’m there, just hot and misty, but as twilight starts to kick in it lends the landscape a pretty hue. I’m approaching 20k steps for the day now and am about ready to go home. Mistaking the reservoir promenade as a route to the ferry terminal, I’m forced to double back and cross over the bus station. ALL of these buses are courtesy shuttles to casinos.

In the terminal I’m wondering if I can upgrade my ticket to “super class” or “Premier Grand”. Actually I don’t consider an upgrade, I just go to a ticket machine and try and see how much one is - but they don’t accept foreign issued credit cards and won’t tell you the price until a card has been inserted. So rather than queue up I check the website, and discover “super class” is twice the price of a normal ticket. Ah what the hell, it’s only an hour, I don’t need anything like that.

I am early though. There’s still 45 minutes to go until my sailing, but I wonder if they’ll bump me onto an earlier one if I go through early. The answer is no, they won’t. Mr Immigration doesn’t take my “allowed into Macau while holding this” slip, and genuinely queries whether the photo in my passport is actually of me. Er, yes!

Past that hiccup I wander down to gate 1. I’m the second person there, given seat 17A, and I go stare through the window as the sun sets over a big casino.

There’s a vision of what paying double would have gotten me, as I experience precisely zero envy upon sighting the Super Class lounge.

Eventually, as I doze off repeatedly, the gate fills to the brim and they announce that it’s going to be 5-10 minutes late – an announcement that triggers the formation of a giant queue. Look, we’ve all got allocated seats ffhs. Slow your roll!

Onboard, it turns out seat 17A is the front left seat on the upper deck. This time I am facing forwards, and have a window.

It is a murky, murky window. I put on my headphones and fall asleep to the E&C Pod of Awesomeness while we make our soothing, gentle way back to Hong Kong. The two ladies who sat next to me are chilled to the point of comatose, meaning I am literally last off the boat. Actually, getting off the boat proves tricky for an awful lot of people because, unlike the journey itself, it’s rocky and bumpy as hell, as if we’ve parked up in a jacuzzi and not bothered tethering to anything.

The queues for the border are large and a man forces me to fill out an arrivals card. Now I’m really confused. I filled out an arrivals card for Hong Kong on this same date, about 18 hours ago. No-one took away the slip or the departure bit when I left. Then, no-one took away the Macau bit when I left there, and once I’m through immigration this time my passport has TWO “you entered Hong Kong on January 12th 2019” cards and slips. What on earth is my immigration status right now? Ah who cares, let’s go get a pint.

It’s a fairly short walk from Sheung Wan to the ferry piers, and I want pier number 3 where, I’m led to believe, I’ll find the island’s premier craft beer vendor: Beer Bay. I can hear it before I see it, it’s the street beer vendor in front of which there are a hundred or so mostly expat drinkers getting trashed out of plastics. Huh. I knew it was an outdoor thing but I didn’t know it was so rowdy.

Still, in for a penny ‘n that. I ask for a dark beer and she tells me the only one they have is a coffee stout. It’s from fucking Yorkshire, for gods sake. I failed to get a Macanese beer in Macau and now you’re telling me that in Hong Kong the best craft porter I can get is from a brewery I visited in November?

It’s nice though, so whatever. I sit down on the concrete steps staring at the light display on the large skyscraper directly opposite. It’s a constant stream of animations and really very impressive. Briefly I have a chat with Helen who has just been woken from a nice slumber by campaigning Tories at the door, about which she is not best pleased. On WhatsApp I’m told that Brexit has not been sorted in my absence. Bah.

Beer finished, I need a plan. I’m about 4 kilometres or so from my hotel, not particularly hungry, tired and in need of an early night. But I also quite fancy another pint, something actually local, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Hong Kong skyline from the water. Thus, I walk along the harbour front – past numerous buskers, all of whom have generated a proper crowd – to the Star Ferry terminal at Pier 7. This is a Hong Kong classic and I’ve done it numerous times in my two previous stays. Here at Central I can get a boat across to Tsim Sha Tsui, from where I can get another boat back to Wan Chai where the terminal is a five minute walk from my hotel.

Last on the boat, I can’t get anywhere near the edge for a view. Never mind. Over on Kowloon side at TST I’m reminded of how much I absolutely love TST. It’s completely bonkers madness; last time I was here was in 2014 when I remember being blown away by the quantity of people all wielding selfie sticks. Well, this time it’s worse. Macau might be the most densely populated place on earth but TST on this particular Saturday night was the most crowded place I’ve ever been. Here’s thousands of people taking photos of the skyline.

Everywhere there are large walking tour groups, with their leaders waving flags manically or clapping their hands or doing whatever else comes to mind in an attempt not to lose the walkers among the crowds. It’s preposterously busy and tons of fun to mingle through.

And, since I’m here...I might as well go for a pint. There’s a place called Kowloon Taproom not far from the ferries, supposedly unpretentious and out of the way(-ish) and stocking actual Hong Kong craft beer. Getting there involves walking through a subway under the busy main road, and the subway is bloody ridiculous. The steps go down clearly further than they need to, evidenced by the fact that as soon as you’re off the steps you’re walking up a very steep surface towards the other side of the street.

Except it’s not just the other side of the street. The subway also goes on for much longer than seems reasonable, past an entrance to a tube station and emerging not where I expected. Still, I can figure the roads out unlike most of the people milling around me, and a couple of minutes later Kowloon Taproom is there.

It’s not busy. There’s about 15 people there, no-one sat at the bar so I opt to prop it up. Numerous taps of local beers. I’ll have the ginger candy porter please.

I don’t really fancy the “mega tasting flight” tonight, though I do love the pub. It’s playing a good mixture of mostly mid-90s rock and indie, and I get to earwig on the conversation between two gents behind me. One of them has clearly just broken up with someone, and admits that “everything she posts on Facebook, I find meaningful”. On the wall are adverts for beers like “Hong Kong Bastard” and “Young Master”, as well as a dark beer whose aftertaste is measured in seconds.

Jade Emperor IPA up next, satisfying my desire to drink beers which fulfil stereotypes I am exposed to through movies. After this I’m about to leave when Twisted F’n Sister comes on, playing I WANNA ROCK, as I simultaneously discover pages 2 and 3 of the beer menu exist. There’s a bottle of a schwarzbier called “Oh, Bacon!” which I obviously must have.

It’s delicious and I’m very glad I did it. I think about a fourth, but while getting a bit worried about time (it’s almost 10pm) the next song on is Take Me Home, Country Roads. This is a sign. Plus, public transport around here is far from 24hrs and for all I know the ferries stop soon. So with a “baai baai” I depart, stumbling past the neon.

Via a perilously dark piss in a festival-esque street urinal I make my way back to the Star Ferry terminal, buy a token and go through. People are lining the corridor waiting for the boat, which is due in just a few minutes.

In fact, here it is.

It’s much bigger than the one I got over, and consequently much less busy. I have tons of space to myself from which to admire the skyline as we approach Wan Chai.

Out of the terminal, across numerous bridges and I’m back at my hotel, exhausted and disgustingly pleased with myself for how amazing a day I’ve had. I set my phone alarm for 0415, do the same for the hotel-provided radio alarm clock, and fall asleep somewhat paranoid that I might sleep through them.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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