Macau: Background and Getting There

Macau is one of those unique places. Settled by Portuguese traders some 500 years ago, and populated over the years by foreigners originally prohibited from living year ‘round in nearby Hong Kong, and finally finding a place in the world as a safe free-for-all location for gambling, sex and ask-few-questions banking, Macau remains a little patch of the Mediterranean stuck onto China and preserved as a special place by its relative affluence now as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.

Only an hour by ferry from midtown Hong Kong (15 minutes by helicopter!), Macau is a world away, where 16th century religious architecture and delicious Portuguese egg tarts made minutes ago sit side-by-side with chrome and glass casinos that make Vegas look staid and boring.

It may not be kid-friendly, but Macau is certainly kid-tolerant, and an interesting change of pace from Hong Kong.

Getting There

While Macau has an international airport with flights from Thailand and other places, most folks will arrive via ferry from Hong Kong. Macau makes a nice day trip for those visiting Hong Kong, and the ferry makes it easy to do.

The ferries depart from the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal, which is located in the Shun Tak Centre, right above the Sheung Wan MTR station. The signs are not as clear a they might be, and there are A LOT of escalators to ascend, so be prepared for a bit of a struggle with baby strollers and impatient spouses. The ticket windows are pretty high up in the building so keep riding.

There is no need to book tickets in advance, as the ferries leave every 30 minutes or so 24/7. You can pay with your credit card; round trip saves a little money over two one-ways. Keep in mind when selecting a return time that while you can board an earlier boat as a standby passenger for no charge, if you miss your time there is a penalty. So, if you reserve a ride home for 5pm, you can get on any earlier boat. If you end up on the 5:30 boat, however, there is a small charge. Unless you are traveling at a busy time, you should be able to board as a standby passenger without too much trouble.

Parent Alert: Macau is equally famous for its historical attractions and for gambling and prostitution. There are several shops near the ticket place that sell ferry and prostitution packages, the latter item graphically illustrated by lurid photos. Watch out for little, curious eyes.

Remember also that Macau is a second “special administrative region (SAR)” of China, and so you will need your passports to exit Hong Kong and to enter Macau and then to reenter Hong Kong. Most citizens of most countries do not need visas for Macau, but check if you are unsure.

You can use Hong Kong money anywhere in Macau, though Macau has its own currency, exchanged 1:1 with Hong Kong's. You cannot however use Macau money in Hong Kong, so ask that your change be provided in Hong Kong money, or plan to spend it all in Macau (not so hard to do).

The Ferry Ride

The ferry ride takes exactly one hour. The ferry rocks and sways A LOT while tied up at the pier, and boarding can require some swift footwork for little feet. The rocking can also upset tummies, so you may want to go light on breakfast and try to board at the last minute. Space is a bit tight aboard and there is little room for strollers and big carry-on diaper bags. Only simple drinks and snacks are served aboard but you can bring your own. Once the ferry gets moving the ride is very, very smooth and so sea sickness should not be a problem.

Arrival procedures in Macau are smooth and usually quick. Use the toilets before you line up for Immigration, as public facilities are few in Macau and not always clean. Before you exit the ferry terminal, stop by the Macau Tourist Association booth and get free maps and brochures. They also can help you book tours and hotels. The nice people in the booth will also write your destination in Chinese for you to aid in communicating with the taxi drivers.

Once you exit the terminal, look straight ahead, and barrel off to the right. Taxi drivers and various touts will try and intercept you, so just plow on. All the buses you want, and the more convenient taxis, are off to the right. The touts will not follow you for more than a few steps, but like touts everywhere they are annoying as all heck.

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