07 December 2010

Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong is one of the routes where you can fly non-stop and rack up a lot of flight miles in one trip.  Plus, it is a nice destination.  Usually, there are great places to stay, different things are going on all the time, it's easy enough to get by without knowing the native language, and it's easy to get around once you are there.  Plus, United flies the remodeled 747 aircraft, so if one is upgraded to business class, it's a pretty nice ride overall.

A 1pm departure from SFO puts you in Hong Kong just after 4pm on the next day.  There's enough time on the flight to eat and watch a movie, try to sleep and then eat again before landing.  Lately, I've been doing pretty well with the melatonin and sleeping on flights, but this trip wasn't the same for some reason.  So, I was off-cycle most of the trip.

The Hong Kong mass transit agency (MTR) has a handy travel pass that you can buy either online or upon arrival at the airport.  The Airport Express counter will sell you a card that has a round-trip ticket on the Airport Express train that takes you to and from Central Hong Kong in less than half an hour and allows you to ride the Hong Kong subway and MTR buses unlimited for three days.  For my four-night stay, this worked perfectly.  On my arrival day, I take the Airport Express train into town and then take the free shuttle bus to my hotel.  I use the MTR part of the pass for the next three days to get around Hong Kong.  On my departure day, I ride the free shuttle bus back to the train station from my hotel and ride the train back to the airport.

What did I do with my three days in Hong Kong?  First the weather was perfect -- mid-70's with no rain.  Since it was perfect for walking about, I did some sightseeing (even though I have been here a few times already).  Hong Kong is a land of shopping malls, so I spent my share of time wandering around, doing a little holiday reconnaissance.  They do decorate for the Christmas holiday.  Some of the buildings from the famous skyline are decorated with colorful and flashing holiday lights.  I also visited a couple of spas since such services are cheaper than in the U.S. and Europe.  I had thought about riding the Ngong Ping tram/cable car (glass-bottomed now)on this trip (one thing I haven't done).  It's  a 25-minute ride over the mountains and by the large Buddha statue on Lantau Island (The airport is out by Lantau Island, and Hong Kong Disney is located on the island).  But the weather was a little hazy and the line too long (I rode the subway out there on a Saturday), so I decided I would do it next time and try going on a weekday.

I allocated one of my days to go back to Macau.  I had been to Macau twice before, but spent my time checking out the new casinos and not the old part of the city.  Since the weather was so nice, I was determined to see at least part of the old section on my day trip.  Macau is a 1-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong.  Ferries leave around the clock and during most of the day, leave every 15 minutes.  You buy tickets for a specific departure time, but you can try and stand by for a different departure.  Ferries leave either for the Macau Ferry Terminal and for the new terminal at Taipa, which is closer to the new casino developments.  I've taken both.  If you are going to visit the new casinos, then the Cotai Strip ferries to Taipa are what you want.  If you want to visit traditional Macau, then the Hong Kong Ferry Terminal should be your destination, although there are free buses from either terminal to several casinos.  Traveling to Macau and returning back to Hong Kong is like leaving and entering two different coutnries.  You must go through passport control at each end with the proper arrival/departure cards filled out and your passport will get stamped at each end.  There are usually lines to wait in, which is one reason I always buy a first class ticket for the ferries.  Not only is it a significantly more comfortable ride 9you will not feel packed in), but they let the first class passengers off the boat first.

I landed at the Macau Ferry terminal and decided to walk from there to the old sections of the city.  It is a bit of hike and ther are city buses and cabs that can take you, but I thought I would see more by walking (It's a couple of miles). Plus, I did not bother to get any Macau currency. There's a lot of new development around the ferry terminal and they were also preparing for the Macau Grand Prix, so it was not very straightforward how to start my journey.  But there are free maps available, and I had my trusty iPhone GPS to help me track my progress.  I paralleled the water for a bit and then made a turn inward once I got to the Lisboa Hotel and Casino.  I finally started to see the trditional Macau.  Higher end shops started to turn into lower-end shops.  Macau seemed less dense to me than Hong Kong even with all the little shops like HK has (but no shopping malls).  Some of the sidewalks are tiled with black designs on a white tile background.  European-style building would pop up from time to time, more colorful than you would see in Hong Kong.  My destination was the ruins of St. Paul's Church.  I was trying to follow the map and GPS but some street signs kept pointing in a direction that puzzled me.  I eventually decided that these signs would know best, and they were right.

The Ruins of St. Paul is the classic Macau picture.  It is the remains of the front facade of the church.  You can walk through it and climb a structure on the back side to be able to look out the windows.  There is also an old forteleza next to and above the church site to get even more views of the surrounding sections of Macau.

I had a 2pm ferry ticket back to Hong Kong, so I decided to work my way back to the terminal.  Although I didn't see many of the other sights Macau has to offer, I felt I had seen enough for the trip.  I walked back a different way, down the hill through a narrow-laned shopping area.  I eventually ended up just behind the Lisboa Casino and decided the best way to get back to the ferry terminal was to take a shuttle bus from one of the casinos back to the dock.  I walked up the main street I had come down on and then went into the Sands Casino, found out where the buses load and then spent a little time exploring before getting on the bus to the ferry terminal.

I made it to the terminal faster than I thought, and got through passport control pretty quickly, so I requested a stand-by seat on the  1:30 ferry and easily made it on.

Normally, I stay at a Hilton property, and the Conrad Hong Kong at Pacific Place is very nice.  But I needed to rack up some Marriott nights, so I chose to stay at the J W Marriott, which is above the same mall as the Conrad.  Despite some of the reviews on Tripadvisor.com, I found the Marriott to be very nice.  I stayed in an Executive level room.  It was nicely appointed (if just a little smaller than the Conrad rooms) and very convenient to the Executive Lounge (which I also thought was very nice).  Since I have low status with Marriott, no free internet in the room, but free internet in the Executive Lounge (another big plus).  Finally, the hotel elevators take you down to the very bottom level of the mall, very close to the MTR subway station (a little more convenient  than where the Conrad elevators drop you).

Overall, one of the nicer trips I've had to Hong Kong and Macau.  I know I will be back.

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