MacauTripping Chapter 10 - Sitting In The Chestnut Tree
I've been up for a few hours already, writing, copying photos from SD cards to my laptop and recharging my camera and phone batteries for another day of adventures. By design, I'm going get to charge my batteries today too.
I filled up the tub and Skyped with my wife. I'm eager to hear an update on our pug dog Gunther's frequent peeing problem. She has taken him to the vet and the vet has prescribed some antibiotics and other medications. She also ordered a different brand of doggy diapers which were delivered instantly via the Amazon truck. He wiggled out of both types of diaps while sleeping.
She mentioned that Gunther filled his diapers overnight, and she found crystals where he peed. The vet suggested we keep an eye on him and report back. I've had pets die while I was away on trips, twice. As much as I wish I could share this trip with my witty and weird wife, I'm very glad that she's at home taking care of whatever is happening with Gunther.
Instead of dragging my bags out into the Cotai humidobomb and slogging it across town, I'm taking it easy today and dragging them across the casino floor to the hotel tower right over there:
This is the second of Galaxy's three hotel towers. It contains outposts of the famous Japanese Hotel Okura and the Singaporean hotel operator Banyan Tree. The third Galaxy tower contains a J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels mentioned in Chapter 8. That butterfly design outside is also on the carpet in this hotel room (see the photo in previous chapter.)
Tonight I'm staying in the Cotai Pool Suite at the Banyan Tree Macau. I've been excited for every hotel room I picked on this trip, but the Cotai Pool Suite at Banyan Tree is the one that has truly captured my imagination. As you should have gleaned from the name, this suite comes with a pool in the room. This is in addition to a big circular wooden tub and a massive his & hers rain soak steam shower. John hipped me to the existence of this zany room a few months ago while we were doing early prep for this trip. A room with a pool in it? I'm in!
I unplug and pack up all my gear, stack my bags by the door and do a final room check. When moving from hotel to hotel on a daily basis - disarray is your enemy. After five days of hotel hopping, I've got a system in place.
The act of moving a suitcase - tilting it upright after laying on luggage stand, having it tossed into cabs, Stowd sideways on shuttle busses, accidentally tipped over or wheeled around - throws its contents into disarray. Interior luggage straps don't work, unless your bag is stuffed to capacity.
The big packing lesson I've learned this trip is that nothing goes into a suitcase that isn't inside another bag - including clothes. I put everything inside of other bags and brought a half dozen extra ziplock bags from home just in case. I also snag the plastic laundry bags in hotel room closets as needed. Phone charging cables and external battery packs? In a ziplock. Camera cables, batteries & battery chargers, GoPro mounts, SD cards, SIM cards? In a ziplock. Change, casino chips and reserve currency? In a ziplock. Pens, notepads, magazines, paperwork and other stuff you steal from hotel rooms? In a ziplock. Gifts, trinkets, stuff? In a ziplock or if they're too big, pack them together in a shopping bag. I've got all of my clothes in three different bags - small things (underwear, socks, t-shirts) large things (pants, dress shirts) and dirty. Due to the humidity here, the dirty stuff gets really dirty and really stinky... I keep the dirty bag double bagged. Keeping things hyper-organized in your suitcase saves time and prevents frustration. Nobody wants to dig through a tossed salad of stuff to find something.
I exit the hotel elevators and wheel my stuff across the casino floor, out the other side and into the entrance to the Banyan Tree. That was tough.
I'm met inside the lobby by various employees who hold prayer formation hands to their foreheads and bow when I enter. I make my way to the registration desk and check in. Just like the other hotels inside of Galaxy complex, they won't let me in my room until 3pm. I check my suitcase and go out in search of something to eat.
Every day in the Wall Street Journal print edition, there is an article at the bottom of the front page dedicated to a quirky and usually funny topic. Earlier this year, the WSJ profiled food blogger James McGowan. Mr. McGowan's claim to culinary criticism fame is reviewing oddball menu items he finds in McDonalds restaurants in Asia and other parts of the world. As a fan of food, fast food, global cuisines and oddball stuff in general, I found Mr. McGowan's raison d'etre to be infinitely fascinating.
Here I am... at Galaxy Macau, standing outside of McDonalds. I can see by the menu that there are at least two items on it that I've never seen before. I hopped on line and ordered all of the items which don't exist on any McDonalds menu I've ever seen. Some of it was great, some of it was odd. The great: McWings... a spicy, lightly breaded chicken wings served with a sweet Thai chili sauce. The odd: Beef and Egg Fantastic two beef patties, an egg, on a pressed rice "bun" with shards of lettuce and a splorkful of chunky tomato soup. Egad. I will be posting a full review of this and some other meals I had in Macau soon.
After McDonalds, I decided to explore some more of Galaxy. I wandered around the lobby, spa and convention levels of Banyan Tree and Hotel Okura, eventually heading outside to take a closer look at the pool deck. I tried to take photos but the humidity caused excessive condensation on my lenses and internal camera mirror, every photo I took looks like a steam bath. Suffice to say, the pool deck at Galaxy is truly massive and was filled with families splashing about on vacation. There was no loud music, no oontz and no booze bashes.
Unlike Las Vegas, which has abandoned its status as gambling capital of the world in favor of becoming a glitzier, expensive version of Bourbon Street, booze isn't a big thing in Macau. Surprisingly, subtracting the booze culture makes for a wholly more enjoyable experience - hallways and casinos aren't festooned with bar trash and spills. As a result, there is less overall grime. Another thing missing is the posturing, fronting and fisticuffs amongst the booze muscular. Also not missed are the throngs of staggering smashed, the beehives of barfing bachelorettes or random bodies passed out in bushes or on concrete. If your primary objective is to get wasted, Macau may not be the destination for you.
I headed outside to explore... walking a portion of Galaxy's exterior. You can't tell by the photo, but those letters are 20 feet tall.
Real live gardens dangle from the lower floors of the hotel. Plants thrive in humidity. Gorgeous.
My main objective today is to explore Old Town Taipa. Old Town Taipa is known for having an array of great dining options, shops and old Macau charm. I wandered the streets, taking photos.
Worlds smallest drive-thru?
Eventually, the heat and humidity got to be a too much to bear, even after taking multiple air conditioned breaks disguised as trinket shopping. I happened across a Studio City shuttle bus parked outside of the world famous Dumbo restaurant. Just my luck - it was just about to load passengers. I hightailed it across the street and climbed on the bus. I was hoping to return to Studio City today to try and get on the Golden Reels ride that is embedded into the hotel tower.
A short drive later, I arrived at Studio City and made my way up to the Golden Reels ticketing desk where I was met by a man holding a sign that said "Sorry folks, the ride is closed, the moose outside should've told you." They had no idea when the Golden Reels would begin operating again. Hrm. Fortunately, there are ways to kill some time up there. Lego Studio City Macau being one.
This LEGO version of Studio City Macau was built by Andy Hung, the "Only Lego Certified Professional of the Greater China Region."
And the real thing.
I headed outside to goof around in the roof garden, exploring the nooks and crannies...
...marveling at the size of Studio City...
...reconnoitering the rim...
...finding an electrical panel that turns on the buildings exterior lighting...
...napping on the astroturf.
I awoke from my snooze to the kling klang of hammers, pounding on a resonant steel frame. It appears that the Golden Reels are under actual repair. There's no way I'm going to ride that thing now. I get up, dust the fake plastic grass off of my clothes and hit the sidewalks. Today is my last day on Cotai before moving back to the peninsula and I've got a lot of photographic ground to cover.
Out into the heat I go. First stop is to spy on Sands China's The Parisian project. They're hoping to get this thing opened by the Fall. I think they're going to make it. Say what you will about Sheldon Adelson, but when it comes to building properties and getting them open and operating, he gets the job done.
The exterior of Parisian looks great even in its current state of construction chaos.
I cross Avenida de Cotai en route to Sands Cotai Central (again) I've got some recon to do about their hotel offerings and want to get a better feel for their public spaces and how the two Sheraton Towers are laid out.
I ducked into a walled off construction area and got a decent shot of MGM Cotai (left) and Grand Lisboa Palace. Under the dome of MGM Cotai is where their "Bellagio Conservatory" is going to be.
The Sands Cotai Central has a nice shaded garden walkway out front. Still super humid.
I headed inside. Both of the Sheraton's hotel lobbies at Sands Cotai Central are overflowing with guests on line to check in. The Sheraton (generally) has the cheapest standard room rack rates of any hotel on Cotai - usually under $700HKD/night (about US$100). The Holiday Inn at SCC and Hard Rock at City of Dreams hit the same price points. This place is so busy, they're storing 50 bellman carts full of luggage in the vestibule between the inner and outer doors between the lobby and porte cochere. Erg. The Holiday Inn is also jammed busy. The higher end hotels at Sands Cotai Central - St. Regis and Conrad were not busy.
Conrad registration lobby
While walking through the mall, I came across two men having an argument. I got the impression that one guy was the others subordinate and had royally fucked something up. This wasn't a temper tantrum, this was a fight about something. The boss man pushed and shoved the smaller guy, who cowered. It escalated, quickly and loudly, with the boss man getting more and more agitated. SCC employees walked by and ignored the whole thing. Eventually I did too. This is the only display of anger or violence I've seen in Macau.
I crossed the bridge to the Venetian, primarily to see the Four Seasons hotel. Unfortunately, with anything related to Sands China/LVS properties, getting anywhere requires orienteering and cartography skills. Having a carrier pigeon helps too. I finally made it to the Four Seasons Macao which was a quite a bit smaller and not nearly as luxe as I expected.
...more like Two-And-A-Half Seasons.
My other task here is to grab some Macanese eggtarts from the outpost of Lord Stow's Bakery. This means that I have to brave the Grand Canal Shoppes once again. This time, I prepare by studying the map and getting step by step instructions from a kiosk in the casino. Rolling the dice on finding a hole in the wall pastry shop might cost me the rest of the day, something I don't want to do.
I set out in search of Lord Stow's... up the escalator, up another escalator, hairpin right, go down the hallway two "blocks" and it should be there on the left. Alas, it isn't there. Some guy working at a nearby store is eyeballing me. I get the impression that he's relishing my quandary as he has done hundreds, or more likely thousands of times before. Thanks for the help dude.
After circling back and forth, hopping over an avenue and doing the same... I find it. The queue to get eggtarts is up and over the bridge on the canal. I get on line and prepare my drooling. The line moves quick. I order a half dozen eggtarts and a bottleofanything - tuh go. My job now is to get back to Banyan Tree, check into my room and demolish the egg tarts.
En route to the taxi stand I snap some photos of the Venetian. Does this look familiar?
How about this?
psych!... there is no Bouchon in Macau!
I hop in a cab and head to Banyan Tree. When I arrive, the valet gives me a card with the cab's license plate number on it "just in case you happened to leave something behind." Service. Imagine that.
The lobby smells like lemongrass and all of the employees are pray/bowing as guests pass by. There is a woman in full Singaporean dress sitting on a low platform playing traditional music on a hammered dulcimer. The music echoes crisply echoes through the expansive resonant lobby. I head into the reception area and am given room keys by the same gentleman whom I registered with earlier that morning. He tells me that my bags have already been delivered to my room. Nice.
The elevator opens and I'm greeted by the soft sounds of spa music. The vestibule features a daybed, delicate sculpture made of twigs and a candle lit pot heating aromatic oils. My body and mind reflexively hit the reset button. I get the impression that I'm done for the day.
The Cotai Pool Suite at Banyan Tree is all it was cracked up to be and more. After photographing this massive suite, recording a video tour and doing a Periscope walkthrough, I settle in and demolish an entire box of Lord Stow's Macanese egg tarts. I have no shame.
Pool time. I run over to the massive shower stall and turn on all the jets full blast. Then I head over to the giant circular wood tub and turn on the spigot. Then I rip my clothes off and walk into the toilet stall - the Toto toilet seat magically opens, preparing to receive the hind of his highness. The Toto and I form a suction seal and our business meeting commences, then, sadly concludes. A tap of button and angular adjustment later, Toto gently cleanses my anoos and then blows me dry.
I jump in the shower - luxuriously awesome - then pile into the tub - which has only filled with 2 inches of water at this point. I'm sitting here, nude, wet and a little cold at the bottom of a tub that has a half gallon of water in it. I look over at the pool and say out loud "why the fuck am I wasting my time in this dumb tub when I've got a poooool in my suite!" I get out, wet walk across the room and slither into the pool.
Ohhhhhhhhhh yeaaaaaaaah. The pool is about 18 inches deep, 15 feet long and the water is just slightly warmer than warm. Instantly, I roll onto my back and begin floating on the surface. Every muscle relaxes. My eyes close and I begin dreaming that I'm at home, floating in our backyard pool. I swear that I've rotated 720 degrees, with the brightness of the sun moving around in my transom. I'm in love.
After a half-hour, I get out of the pool, put on my pj's, grab the room service menu, unfurl my blanket of electronic gear and settle in for an evening of chill. Over the course of the night, John, Hunter and I trade texts. We're spread all over the place... John is in the exact same room I stayed in at Crown, Hunter has checked in at MGM. We're exploring, relaxing, eating or doing nothing.
I end up alternating dips in the pool and watching TV. Macau news in Portuguese, a weird variety show where a bunch of kids in red t-shirts and blue motorcycle helmets play recorder music as an old guy raps, a simulcast of a greyhound dog race from the Macau Canidrome, Weird shit.
This is the first time since this adventure started that I've actually fully relaxed. I've got no goals and no plans tonight other than giving my body and mind a rest. Strangely, a wave of sadness comes over me. This trip rounding the turn and heading into the straightaway towards the finish line. I definitely miss home but I really truly love it here.
This is is the second time I've been afforded the luxury to fly to the other side of the earth to explore, absorb and documenting my travels. I'm a pretty lucky guy. In advance of this trip, I wondered if this trip to Macau would be the last time I barnstorm Macau's hotels. I wondered if if would be the last time I'll ever visit Macau. I'm sitting here in a luxurious hotel room, sad about the possibility that I'll never come here again. This means something.
Just before bed, I get on the Skype with my wife who gives me an update on Gunther. She sounds a bit more concerned than the last time we talked. Gunther appears to have an obstruction in his urinary tract... when he tries to pee, only a few drops come out. He seems distressed. She's called the vet who told her to bring him in immediately. I can tell by her tone of voice that she is very worried about Gunther. We hang up and I fall asleep instantly... laptop sitting on my chest, glowing.