Sunday, September 16, 2012

The coolest indoor waterfeature in Macau or anywhere

This is inside the shopping mall at the Sands Cotai Central complex. The mall is connected to the Conrad hotel. The water falls in the shape of words and pictures. Crazy!

Clip of Macau hotel lights

This is the view from room 3222 at the Conrad Macau. The lights on the buildings here put the ones in Vegas to shame.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Article: 45 Places to go in 2012

An interesting list of places from the New York Times.  I think Myanmar is now on my radar after reading some things about it and seeing some shows about it. Check out this article.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I love Hong Kong

After our time in Macau it was time to leave by high-speed ferry to Hong Kong which is an hour away. The ferries are either catamarans or hydrofoils. This is the jetfoil that we took. They are like a big jet inside with blocks of 2 to 6 airline type seats across. They are jet-powered and are very fast.
Since both Macau and Hong Kong are SARs (Special Administrative Region) of China there is passport and immigration procedures at both ports. I didn't have any issue this time coming and going. So from the Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong island in Sheung Wan it was a few minutes to the Conrad Hong Kong hotel by taxi. It is located right near the Admiralty MTR and right above the Pacific Place shopping mall. The hotel is very nice but just like everything in Hong Kong, they jam-pack as much as they can into the smallest of building footprints. We were given a room on the 52nd floor which was an executive level floor with access to a lounge with the most amazing view of Hong Kong and Kowloon. This was the view from room 5222.
The Conrad is the building in the reflection of the other one. This picture was taken from the pool level.
Within minutes of being in the room, there was knock at the door and a butler had tea and chocolates for us.
The last time I was in Hong Kong the tall building in the background was not there and in fact the area surrounding that building, ICC (International Commerce Center), is still under construction and isn't a very happening place. There is a Ritz Carlton in that building and of course there is a shopping mall at the base.

I have a personal love affair with Hong Kong for several reasons. First of all, this was the very first city I had ever visited in Asia and it has always been very special to me because it began my addiction to travel in Asia. The second reason, which should be the first reason, is that Hong Kong saved my life. The vacation I originally planned to Hong Kong was actually to Phuket, Thailand, but something told me not to go to Phuket and go to Hong Kong instead. We arrived in Hong Kong on Dec 25, 2004 and if you remember anything about December 26, 2004 you'll know that there was a massive tsunami that killed over a quarter of a million people in 15 countries. So we woke up on Boxing Day to the news of the tsunami that would have killed us because we were planning to be on one of the beaches that was completely washed away. Both Phuket and Hong Kong have emotional connections for me. The third reason I love Hong Kong is because of the food. It's so easy to find really good food and any kind you can think of. The last reason I love Hong Kong is because speaking Chinese is not necessary thanks to the British. 
On the next day in Hong Kong, we headed out to Lantau Island where I had been wanting to visit for a long time. I wanted to see the Giant Buddha, but getting there is quite an ordeal. From Hong Kong Central you have to take a 35-40 minute MRT ride almost all the way to the airport at Tung Chung where Hong Kong's only outlet mall is located. From there you have two options to get to Ngong Ping at the top of a mountain where the buddha is. The first option is by cable car which doesn't look fun if you have a fear of heights. It is also kind of expensive at about $16USD roundtrip and takes about 20-25 minutes. When we got there the queue was 45 minutes long just to buy the ticket. The other option which is equally as adventurous is by bus. The Lantau island buses are coach style public buses so they are a little more luxurious than a public bus. It also only costs $3.20 roundtrip and takes about 40-45 minutes. Guess which option we took? I think we waited all of 5 minutes for the bus once we purchased the tickets. The bus driver drove it like it was a mini cooper buzzing along the south of France, but the views were amazing. It barely felt like 45 minutes and when everyone exited the bus I didn't think we were in the correct place because it didn't look like we were where we should have been. 

But as soon as we got out and looked around, it was a little hard to miss the giant statue of buddha located at the top of a nearby peak. You have to walk through a little village area and there are 240 steps to the top of the peak to reach the Tian Tan Buddha

The statue is magnificent and was everything I hoped it would be. It was hot and unbelievably humid but it was well worth it. Your entrance ticket includes a viewing of a relic inside the temple under the statue and you get an ice cream snack too. We must of walked around it several times and the views were beautiful. 

Back at the bottom of the steps is the Po Lin monastery which has a vegetarian restaurant and a very old temple. It was quite a serene setting. After about 2.5 hours at the peak we took the bus back down and it took much less time going down the mountain than up. We ate at the Food Republic at the Tung Chung Center and had very cheap but great food. I had xiao long bao and noodles. Another 40 minute train ride and we were back on Hong Kong island. Later that evening after a dip in the pool we ate Shanghai cuisine at a place in Pacific Place mall.
Fast forward to the last day in Hong Kong was spent walking around Central and spending more time by the pool getting some last minute relaxation before the late night flight back home. I love Hong Kong and always will. I don't think I will ever get tired of visiting. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia

After my ordeal with immigration, my time in Macau was pretty awesome. It began with the very nice free bus/shuttle ride from the airport to the Sands Cotai Central complex which includes a shopping mall, a casino, the Holiday Inn, and the Conrad. There is also a Sheraton there but it's not finished yet. The Holiday Inn and the Conrad share a building which is really odd and makes for a somewhat confusing lobby setup. When we got to the check-in desk we were treated like royalty. Two people took our bags and another manager showed us to our room on the 32nd floor. I was shocked to see that it was a club-level suite. It was huge and had two bathrooms. This is a brand new hotel that has only been opened since April so they are really trying to make a name for themselves. The view from the hotel was of the rest of the city and the lights on the hotels in Macau put Vegas lights to shame. I think they are all LED lights that do different patterns that are much more reminiscent of old Vegas lights that  flash and move in patterns. I loved it.
This is the casino and hotel complex known as City of Dreams. The hotels are Crown, Hard Rock Hotel, and Grand Hyatt.
 These are pictures from suite 3222 at the Conrad Macau Cotai Central.

If you didn't know already, Macau was the first European settlement in Asia. It was founded by the Portuguese which is why many of the old buildings have the wonderfully bright colors and the architecture is decidedly European. There are many streets that are cobblestone or mosaic. The old part of the city is about the only area that is sort of untouched by the casinos although you can still see them towering over the old city. All of the street signs are in Chinese and Portuguese, so I can read almost everything because of my limited Spanish knowledge.
There's always a Starbucks and this time we needed it. 

The last time I visited Macau was in 2006 and many things have changed including the landscape of buildings. But the most notable change is the influx of mainland Chinese tourists. They literally come in busloads and descend upon the city. We walked around the old part of the city with really narrow streets and it felt like New Year's Eve in Times Square except it was over 90 degrees with just about 100% humidity. It was quite a steamy time. There is a "walk" from the main center of the old city called Senado Square to the ruins of St Paul's cathedral where only the facade remains. It felt like there were about a million people walking along the path. There are tons of little shops and lots of bakeries selling all kinds of Chinese and Portuguese (Macanese) creations including the famous egg custard tarts.  

This is a great shot that includes the old city with the newest additions. This is taken from the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral ruins looking down the narrow street path. In the upper left corner is the equally gigantic and gaudy Grand Lisboa which is located right next to the original Lisboa casino. It is quite famous and was featured in a James Bond movie. The original still feels like the 1960s old Vegas. It's quite cool, but also kind of sad.

The Macau Wynn is actually quite small. You might call it the mini-Wynn. There is an Encore tower but it doesn't look like the Wynn tower at all. There is also a Vegas Bellagio style fountain in the front of the Wynn but it was under maintenance. The Macau MGM Grand is the monstrous tower seen behind the Wynn in this picture. It also looks nothing like its Vegas counterpart. 

Originally Macau consisted of two island that lie south of the Penha peninsula where the old part of the city is. The island just south of the peninsula is called Taipa and the one south of that one is called Coloane. Currently Macau consists of the peninsula and one island. They reclaimed all of the land between Coloane and Taipa and called it Cotai. That is where the Venetian, Galaxy, City of Dreams, Cotai Central, and the Macau Dome (which is a sports facility) are located. At least they have preserved both Taipa and Coloane villages. One of these days when I return I'll visit both of those.  

This picture shows one of the three bridges that connects the peninsula with Taipa. The Macau Tower is seen here. This is the waterfront right in next to the Wynn. 

Also if you didn't know, Macau is only a one-hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong. There are high-speed hydrofoils that leave about every 15 to 30 minutes. Macau has two ports. The main ferry terminal is the original one on the peninsula and there is a temporary ferry terminal right near the airport located on Taipa. Because of its proximity to Hong Kong, you can easily make a day trip out of Macau or stay a night or two. Each casino and most hotels have their own free shuttle buses that run all over the place. They all run to the ferry terminals, the airport, and the mainland border gate, but they also run to other casinos. So if you plan things right, you never have to pay for transportation while in Macau, but you will have to go to some hotels and casinos that you may not want to visit.