Gondolas and good food--Hong Kong and Macao

Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

A woman in a business suit hugs a singing monkey.

A man in a stripey Picasso-esque shirt shares his memories of Las Vegas while poling along in a gondola.

A clown-faced unicyclist juggles poorly as he pedals by a group of medievally dressed flautists and sopranos.

This isn't the Macao we've seen before, this is Venice.

Well, the Venetian Casino, if not Venice itself.  The Venetian Macao opened last week on Taipa Island, along a road developers are starting to call the next Las Vegas, the "Cotai Strip."

Remembering our dismal experiences earlier this year in the other casinos in Macao, Dan and I had been a little reluctant to take his mother and her husband, visiting from Australia, gambling when we went to Macao.  We saw an advertisement that the Venetian had opened and thought we'd give it a try, and ended up having the best afternoon so far of their trip.

I visited the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas in 2001, and Dan and I had each visited Venice, Italy, when we lived in Europe. The vast Macao complex, still being finished even though most of it is now open for gambling, shopping and general money-spending, is a great replica of both.

It seems larger (though I don't know the actual dimensions) than the Vegas version, and has all the polish and fun of the other Vegas-style casinos.We were there four hours before we even thought to go gambling, we were having so much fun looking at the scaled-down replicas of Venice streets, listening to the gondoliers sing as they paddled along the man-made canals under small arching bridges, and deciding which kind of eatery to dine at.

Dan's mother and her husband, Marilyn and Colin, took a short gondola ride along  one of the canals, shopped for souvenirs at the shops lining the canal, treated us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the food court, and had a try at the slots downstairs.  When we told them it was time to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong they said they wished they could stay longer. Oh well, we'll know next time!

In Hong Kong, we took them on the obligatory sight-seeing trips to the harbor and to Victoria Peak. At the top of the Victoria Peak they now have a platform that offers impressive views of the harbor and Kowloon and also down the other side of Hong Kong island too.  Air quality is a concern if you're going to pay the extra 15 or so Hong Kong dollars to come up to this platform (I forget what they called it) but when we were there the haze was only about medium and there was a bright blue patch of sky above us so it was a nice investment for our photography.

We also found out that it's possible to go up the tallest building in Hong Kong--the International Financial Center--to a free museum on the 55th floor and take pictures down on the city. The museum describes how money is manufactured and has a few interactive exhibits about the anti-counterfeiting devices of the Hong Kong currency.

Every night at 8 p.m. the IFC tower and the rest of the buildings on the waterfront in Hong Kong light up for the most beautiful waste of electricity in the world--a 20-minute light show that is coordinated to music piped out along the shore. Dan and  I have watched this show from Kowloon side and from Victoria Peak, but for his mom's visit we thought we should try something different.

The Star Ferries, which hustle loads of passengers back and forth across Victoria Harbor day and night in their iconic green and white double-ended boats, also run a nostalgic tour of the harbor. We booked the 7:05 p.m. tour for two hours, which guaranteed us the best seats on the fore (well, it's double-ended, so sometimes it was the aft) of the boat  and a spectacular view of the light show on both sides of the harbor.

The tour was good, in that it really shows you the nice parts of the light show and a different perspective on Victoria Harbor. Part of the boat is enclosed and part of it is open deck. The weather was clear and so we went outside but soon realized that it was too chilly for us in our daytime tourist gear. We could have gone inside, to sit at the tables near the snack bar (purchase of the two-hour tour gets you a complimentary muffin and a non-alcoholic drink) but decided after the light show that we could skip the rest of the tour and went back to the hotel instead.

We stayed on Hong Kong side for once, in the Wan Chai district. Nobody liked the hotel (the Wharney Guangdong) for myriad reasons, but I liked the Wan Chai district. The hotel is on Lockhart Road, which has a lot of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and, judging from our company in the elevators of our hotel, prostitutes. Lots of local color.

This wasn't Dan's and my usual budget trip to Hong Kong, but we did get to show his mom and stepfather a lot of the things we like about Hong Kong and Macao.  Then, we came back to Foshan for another few days of dim sum and local sightseeing before they flew back to Australia.

This week, Dan's brother comes so I hope to have another travel blog ready soon. Happy travels!
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