Getting To And Around Macau: A Vegas Nerd's Take
I'm very very happy to share with you this incredible potpourri of Macau travel and transportation tips assembled by MacauTripping super friend Elginhan. There is lots of great stuff here for experienced Macau trippers and folks thinking about making their first trip to Macau. Thank you Han! -chuckmonster
I'm sitting in a dark Las Vegas strip club under a sign that reads "Prostitution Is Unlawful" with debonair MikeE, one of the editors of VegasTripping. Instead of scantily clad dancers gyrating as inebriated dudes flick dollar bills at them, a Vegas nerd who has no business spinning around a stripper pole is doing just that.
Disoriented by the scene around us, Mike and I are focused on Las Vegas' fantastical Chinese cousin halfway around the world... Macau. Mike is planning to go next year - maybe with friends, maybe solo. I went to "Asia's Las Vegas" last August. We gush about Wynn Palace and I share a tidbit about how to get to Macau from Hong Kong International Airport (HKG).
It's just another fun-filled night at the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic. As part of VIMFP's 2016 vintage, we've got exclusive access inside the shuttered Glitter Gulch, which Derek and Greg Stevens bought to convert into something new and spectacular on Fremont Street.
If it weren't for this transgressive setting - think 'absurdist Tarantino' more than 'bad Catholic Scorsese' - I would have shared solid know-how about getting to and around Macau with MikeE. Instead, I mumbled a few vagueries, none of which I remember.
Now, I'm here to fill in those blanks with some detailed information about traveling through China's very Special Administrative Region of Macau. I've aggregated key details from the 88 Days To Macau podcast, Chuck's blog, and postings on this site; then I added in some tidbits of my own.
- A passport
(You do not need a travel visa to visit Macau. You do not need a travel visa if you connect through mainland China as long as your stay is within a 72-hour window)
- A credit card with no foreign transaction fees
- A debit card with no foreign surcharges (for gaming and some vendors that don't take credit cards)
- Hong Kong dollars (HKD): Order 200 to 300 U.S. dollars' worth from your bank - not from Travelex - just in case you can't access an ATM straightaway. HKD is accepted across Macau, and nobody sells Macanese patacas, or MOP, outside Macau. It is helpful to have local currency to purchase a mobile SIM card at ferry terminal or airport vending machines.
- An unlocked cell phone with a SIM card slot
- A travel power converter
- A bottle of sunscreen
- A bottle of cornstarch baby powder for guys to avoid "bat wings"
- A pair of comfortable athletic shoes
- A pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the long flight over (expensive, so optional)
OK, with that said, on to the travel tips.
After what happened to Chuck and Hunter in Shanghai on their way home from Macau, it's pretty clear what you should do:
Go through Hong Kong International Airport to get to Macau.
If you gotta make a layover elsewhere, avoid stopping in mainland China.
Whether you fly first-class with points, like MikeE's planning to do, or coach, like I did, the outlying islands of Hong Kong and the tarmac of its wondrously modern airport will be welcomed sights after your trans-Pacific plane ride.
HKG is consistently ranked among the top ten airports in the world, and I'd recommend building in some time to spend in its restaurants or lounges - on the way back, of course! On your way to Macau, who has time for that?
Rails and Sails
How to avoid big trouble in little China (HK)
Here are some straightforward instructions on getting to Macau from HKG (this is what I would've shared with MikeE at VIMFP, but well, you know, this ain't the kinda thing you discuss in excruciating detail in a Las Vegas strip club - even one deprived of its regular talent):
OPTION 1. No rails before sails.
This is the simplest option, though ferry departure times are not that frequent:
- Go to the HKG SkyPier(*), avoiding Hong Kong immigration and customs.
A) a TurboJET ferry to the Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal (recommended if you're staying on the peninsula)
B) a Cotai Water Jet ferry to Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal (recommended if you're staying on the Cotai Strip).
* You need to be at the SkyPier ticket counter at least an hour before the ferry leaves to ensure your bags get transferred from your plane and float across the South China Sea with you.
OPTION 2. Rails (to Hong Kong Station) before sails.
Alternatively, if the infrequent departure times from HKG's SkyPier don't work for you (which was the case for me), do this:
- Pick up your bags and go through Hong Kong immigration and customs.
- Take the MTR's (Mass Transit Railway) Airport Express for a brisk 24-minute ride from the airport to the final stop - Hong Kong Station.
- Walk through the maze that is the IFC mall to the elevated pathway that leads to the Shun Tak Centre/Hong Kong–Macau Ferry Terminal(*) (don't bother walking to the Central MTR Station and riding the Island line - the dark blue one on the map - one stop west to Sheung Wan MTR Station; walking all the way from Hong Kong Station is easier, trust me).
OPTION 2A. Rails (to Kowloon Station) before sails.
Now, you can take the Airport Express from HKG to its second-to-last stop - Kowloon Station - and make your way to nearby China Ferry Terminal. From there, you'll be able to catch a ferry to Macau, but sailings out of there aren't quite as frequent as those out of Shun Tak Centre/Hong Kong–Macau Ferry Terminal.
As for the ferry ride itself, I have three bits of advice:
- Make sure you get a seat-number sticker after you buy your ferry ticket (I almost missed my ferry because I rushed past the seat assigner while trying to get through the throng of Chinese vacationers - ahem, gamblers - in the boarding area).
- If you go through Hong Kong immigration and customs, don't forget to bring your filled-out arrival card (and when you go back to Hong Kong from Macau, don't forget your Macau arrival slip). Because neither Hong Kong nor Macau immigration officers stamp your passport, you need these easily lost bits of paper to prove where you're coming from.
- If you're prone to seasickness, ask for a seat in the middle of the boat (and take some Dramamine ahead of boarding). I found my ferry rides to be pretty smooth, but I never faced inclement weather on them, so I'm not sure how rough the South China Sea can get.
Side note: One day, the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macao Bridge (HZMB) will be completed, allowing you to bypass a ferry ride and motion sickness, but that day is still very far off.
On episode 14 of 88 Days to Macau, MikeE talks (rather poignantly, I might add) about anticipating getting homesick while visiting Macau. One obvious remedy is to keep your digital life running like you would back home.
After getting through Macau immigration and customs (usually a very easy process), you're almost at your destination. As tired as you'll be, before jumping on a bus, cab, or private car to your hotel, you might want to buy a SIM card for your unlocked cell phone. Mobile data is helpful not only to keep in touch with friends and family back home, but also to avoid getting lost while walking around Macau, to show taxi drivers (most of whom don't speak English) where you want to go in Chinese, and to hail an Uber (as of this writing, the ride-sharing service is still available in Macau).
At both ferry terminals, there are SIM-card vending machines that take only cash (HKD or MOP). I recommend you get a CTM card, probably the 4G+ Speedy card. Don't worry about the card size; you can "punch out" either a micro or nano SIM card from the same package.
Here's a scan of the CTM instructions. Why provide this now? Delirious from my journey, I wasted almost two hours during my first night in Macau trying to get my dang SIM card to operate, and it remained a bit of an enigma to me throughout my six-day stay. I eventually got it to work, but it functioned inconsistently, contrary to Hunter's experience. Texting and voice calls were A-OK with CTM, but for me, mobile data and wi-fi (from CTM hotspots across Macau) were spotty. Fellow visitors report that a concierge or other hotel staff helped them get their Macau SIM cards up and running. I didn't bother, and maybe lost out as a result.
If you need to top up your CTM SIM card, go to this site, which Hunter showed me. This information is definitely not in the CTM instructions!
A Steady Stream of Buses
When I'm in Vegas, I almost always rent a car. But in Macau, I wouldn't bother. For one, the Macanese drive on
the wrong side of the road the left (with drivers seated on the right), like the Brits. For another, the casinos charge parking fees, just like Jimbo Murren's MGM properties in Las Vegas.
For me, the best and easiest way to get around Macau is on the extensive networks of free shuttle buses that the casino companies operate from the ass crack of dawn until the wee wee hours. The vast majority of their buses are far superior to the double-decker Deuce in Vegas or jitney buses in Atlantic City, which aren't free. These air-conditioned coaches transport visitors not only from the ferry terminals and mainland China border gates to their respective casinos. They also shuttle guests between sister properties on the Cotai Strip and the peninsula (some of which are near the historic sites, such as Senado Square and St. Paul's Ruins).
The Sands and Melco Crown buses could get me to pretty much wherever I wanted to go, even to points of interest not associated with a particular casino company, such as the Macau Tower. With MacauTripping's maps of Cotai and the Peninsula casinos, I could figure out which free buses to take where.
Besides the fact of their being gratis and convenient, almost all the buses provide complimentary wi-fi streaming, which was a huge boon for me given the technical issues I had with my SIM card. I honestly think you could do without a SIM card and just rely on the buses' (and casino-resorts') wi-fi to get around town (with some screenshots of Chuck's maps or Google Maps).
Side note: Macau also has very cheap (not free) public buses, but they're not as slick, so why bother? Also, someday Macau's light rail transit system will lessen the need for either private or public buses, but it won't be ready for a few more years.
You Talkin' To Me? In English?
Does the idea of arriving at a Macanese casino-resort on a bus irk you? Or do you just need to get somewhere in Macau pronto? Then, take a taxi, Uber, or private car service. If you take a taxi, be forewarned that most taxi drivers don't speak English. Sure, they'll know some of the major resorts in English, but given the pairs of similarly named properties on the peninsula and on Cotai (Wynn Macau and Wynn Palace, the Sands and Sands Cotai Central, and soon two MGMs), you might be taken to the wrong place if you're not careful.
Some taxi drivers can be haggled with for a flat rate (working off the meter), and they expect a very modest tip (if any at all). From your hotel, you can get to most points of interest for under 100 HKD (12 to 13 U.S. dollars). (I don't think I got long-hauled once while cabbing it in Macau, but as a first-time visitor, I can't be absolutely sure.)
From what I can tell, Uber and private car services work pretty much same in Macau as they do in Vegas. I did not use Uber (or any other ride-hailing app), but my wife and I got a complimentary ride from the Ritz-Carlton at the Galaxy complex to Wynn Palace’s porte cochère (arriving in style, a la JohnH). That was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. But if my wife wasn’t with me, that sweet ride would have been superfluous.
Side note: John reported using Uber while in Macau: Despite the app showing the driver where he wanted to go without further explanation, the language barrier kept John from connecting with the driver at some pick-up locations, and the lost-in-translation factor probably cost him a few ticks on his stellar customer rating. So, rider, beware.
Whatcha Mean, Walk The Earth?!
If you're a casino nerd, you gotta walk Macau... you know, like Caine in Kung Fu, per Samuel L. You won't really get the full Macau experience unless you get in some serious steps - in the massive casino-resorts and across its historic center on the peninsula. To casino-hop, again use Chuck's maps. All the massive joints on Cotai will provide you free glossy paper maps to navigate their byzantine interiors. And if you ever get lost in or out of a casino, just ask one of the locals - they're among the friendliest folks you'll ever meet.
'We can share this thing, this energy!'
Obviously, there's no way I would've shared all this detailed info. with MikeE (or anybody I met for the first time) over VIMFP weekend. Though I am a nerd, I'm not without some social graces.
Hopefully, now you're prepared. You've got here all the basics to get to and around Asia's Las Vegas. And fewer excuses for not booking a flight to Hong Kong stat. Fuel and flights are cheap, the Chinese government has been orchestrating change in Macau that's momentarily advantageous to many foreign visitors, and a lot of the joints are still brand spanking new. There are no resort fees. The service is top-notch. The food is great: Pork jerky and egg tarts await! And if you or someone traveling with you somehow gets bored with Macau (improbable!), you're just a 70-minute ferry ride away from Asia's New York City - Hong Kong.
Who knows how long this "golden age" will last? If you're a Vegas nerd, you won't regret going, even if you don't lay down a single bet. "You know, life is so fragile, and it's so short!" Chuck says on 88 Days. Just Go! Viva Macau!