Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Strip

Made you look? Much to your disappointment the strip I refer to is off the geographic rather than the buck-naked kind.  Deriving its name from the Vegas Strip, The Cotai Strip is a project funded by the Vegas Sands and a strip of casinos, hotels and other dens of vice in the Cotai district of Macau, China’s only gambling destination. So from Hong Kong I decided to make the 50 minute journey to Macau and as I love my Hotel reviews, I thought I’d tell you about my stay.

I didn’t come to Macau to gamble, try my luck at Baccarat or leave with a suitcase full of Patacas.  As a somewhat atypical visitor to the place, what I sought was some R&R (Rest and relaxation) after my R&R (Rock and Roll) lifestyle in Hong Kong… actually it was pretty tame, but indulge me by pretending you believe me when I say it wasn’t.

The formula never changes. A cabana by the pool, some scrummy local delicacies (culinary) and a fluffy marshmallow of a bed to sleep off the day's exertions.




The MGM grand was too hot. The Mandarin left me cold. But as always, The Four Seasons was just right; I know, as a brunette I probably shouldn't be using that analogy.

The Four Seasons Macau is nestled within the mammoth Venetian complex, with direct access to the casino and The Venetian shopping centre. However, the atmosphere is so warm and cosy that you would never guess what lies beyond the plush corridors and the neoclassical Chino-Portuguese elegance. Moreover, the 5 restaurants,  several pools, huge gym and 2000 meter spa mean if lady luck isn't on your side, lady solace will be.  

My room was beautifully appointed in warm golds and yellows, baskets of fresh fruit, violet orchids and a bathroom to oo-and-ah over. The journey across the  South China Sea had left me slightly sea-sick and I had casually mentioned this at check in. So it was incredibly sweet that when I was walking through the lobby I was approached by a member of staff and asked how I was feeling, she even offered to send me up some chicken congee to settle my stomach. It was also incredibly nice that every staff member addressed me by name, so even though I was travelling alone, I never felt the ache of being invisible in a new city. 

My days were spent in splendid solitude. Reading Ian McEwan's brilliant new book Sweet Tooth in my private cabana in the pool; exploring the city; trying custard egg tarts from every vendor; visiting the casinos and when their electric dazzle began to wear, retreating to the sanctuary of the Four Seasons Spa. I had the Four Seasons signature massage and facial. My therapist, Aida, might as well have had a magic wand. The massage melted me to butter- not the lardy kind mind you, but the soft golden bain-mari kind, suitable for anything, even the most complex patisserie; similarly I suddenly felt unconquerable and had there been mountains in Macau, I would have climbed them. 

The day of my departure was a trial. I ended up taking the later ferry into Hong Kong because the lure of the sun lounger, swaying palm trees and the gentle murmur of cicadas proved my undoing.



















Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Being a Tourist

Tourists get a bad rep. We moan about them, throw them scathing looks and try to step on their shoelaces in the the underground. But the best part of my trip has been being a tourist. Driving through lush vegetation to remote little temples, being dwarfed by enormous Buddhas of all shapes and ethnicities (gold, bronze, wood) and piles of oranges sitting on alters bathed in the red of crimson bulbs; all things which tomorrow I won't remember. But I will remember my permanent contented exhilaration at the different sky and the greener trees and the freshly baked crumbly almond cookies, and being away by myself.    

Here is an exert from a jam-packed day of temples, beaches and villages. 



Temples

The three Buddhas represent past, present and future. People don't tend to care about the past, so the first Buddha sat in his own dignified solitude. A little crowd of worshippers knelt before the third. 

One of the most beautiful temples I visited was at the Po Lin Monastery  which is home to the World's largest, seated, outdoor, bronze, Buddha: a world record with a lot of qualifications. 












If you visit the Po Lin Monastery, make sure you have the vegetarian lunch as it is basically delish.



In Buddhist Temples the walls are lined with tiles bearing the names of the deceased. It is believed that if you don't go to heaven or hell, your soul floats in a kind of purgatorial limbo, so you can buy a home for the soul of your loved one in the temple where they can rest. 


There were some American tourists scratching their heads over these pamphlets.. "Err.. Mom, why is there a Nazi sign in a temple?" .. "I'm not sure honey but these folk can be awful strange. Maybe they think it means something else"  responds a short spectacled  woman with the twang of someone born below the Mason-Dixon.

Although I considered curing them of their bewilderment, I wasn't sure I remembered enough about the Swastika and it's original significance to give anything other than an awkward and sketchy explanation. Now that I've spoken to my old friend Wiki, I can confirm that my hazy recollection wasn't too far off. The Swastika is an ancient Sanskrit symbol for good, the clockwise version of which only  became a symbol for hate, violence and antisemitism in the recent 20th Century.   









After lunch I sprinted up to the Buddha, 3 steps at a time.






But unable to face the walk back, I made the vertiginous 20minute journey to the bottom in a cable car.


Took a bus to a nearby village that had been abandoned. Walked through a ghost town of crumbling buildings, boarded up windows and beautiful doors leading to empty courtyards which had once been full of voices, billowing linens and life.







Tsing Ma Bridge

The longest road/rail suspension bridge in the world, leading from Hong Kong Island to Lantau.



A Lantau Beach complete with Local Heartthrobs 





No Dogs allowed.....

.....No one said anything about Percy



Tai O Fishing Village

This was the coolest place I visited. A fishing village in Lantau where all the homes are rickety wooden affairs built on stilts rising up of the water, where you bob along small canals in gondola-style fishing junks manned by strong sinewy old men in vests. There are tiny shops, more shrines and small local bakeries selling divine freshly baked goods.



















If you in Hong Kong and you can't be bothered to go through the hassle of organising everything yourself, you can take the  Tsing Ma - Lantau & Monastery Tour with Splendid tours, which is unbelievably good. I also did the New Territories tour, but it was so crap, so stick to the Lantau and Monastery one.




Ended my funpacked day chasing the rabbit back to the City.