How I spent my 21st birthday
Where does one go when they’re 21st birthday is looming and they are currently living in South China? Why Macau of course!
Since Chinese holidays work differently; I get 3x 3 days off (set dates and spread out over 2 months) instead of an Easter holiday off (even though we are expected to work through the weekend to make up the days- yeah, I know right, sucks for me, plus it makes no sense!). It just so happens that Tomb-sweeping festival fell on my birthday. We had the 3rd, 4th and 5th of April off and my birthday was perfectly in the middle of that, on the 4th. So, the travelholic in me decided to carpe diem out of that coincidence. Since the weekends prior we had spent in Hong Kong, I didn’t want to go there again, as much fun as it is. So, the dummy in me looked into flights for Macau after I heard it was the “Las Vegas” of China. Astonished, after seeing the results were showing £200+ with ridiculous flights times and stop overs up in Shanghai (north China). I couldn’t afford to spend that much money nor did we have time for journey times amounting to 16 hours! At that rate, I was better off actually flying to Vegas! It wasn’t until my geography deprived brain was enlightened to the fact that Macau was just a short ferry ride from Hong Kong did everything feel like it would all click into place. I did some research and we ended up booking ferry tickets for 8pm on the evening of the 2nd of April to leave from Shenzhen airport, which was about a 45-minute drive from us. With the ferry setting us back at around £20 and the driver split to amount to about £7 each, the travelling there was pretty cheap! Luckily, the week prior, we managed to land a good deal online for a family room in Metropole Hotel. After scouring Hostelworld and the rest of the web to no avail, a good deal popped up on Expedia and like hungry vultures we gobbled it up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a funky, edgy hostel but boy was it nice to have a hotel room. It was my 21st after all. And it wasn’t even like we splurged because we got a great deal anyway! Granted, Metropole isn’t one of the massive flashy hotels on the strip with lights flashing, and casino’s and mall built in, but hey, it had plush furniture, was clean, came with a complementary breakfast downstairs, friendly staff AND a bath. I was over the moon about the latter.
So, after our 1-and-a-half-hour ferry ride, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel, arriving there for about 10pm. The day was pretty much gone, but we were up for a little venture about. Keeping it local, we walked a couple blocks down in search for some food. You may be thinking, what on earth would be open at 10:30pm in Macau? Well, just like the 24-hour casino’s, a lot of the people in this city never sleep. So, restaurants will often be open ‘til late. We wandered past a few places, the odd street vendor, having little luck in the way of vegetarian/vegan food, until we lucked out on a Japanese place! -Which wasn’t offering shark fin soup, since me and my friend did not feel comfortable eating at such establishments-. Filling our bellies on cucumber and avocado sushi and ramen, overjoyed in the knowledge it wasn’t cooked in with meat (as a lot of places in China tend to do), fresh and absolutely delicious! After our meal, it was time to head back to the hotel and relax into the white crisp cloud that was our bed. Which, again is another pleasant change from our brick of a mattress back in China. (That took a little getting used to and some sore hips considering back home I sleep with a massive marshmallow of a mattress topper.
Top tip: If you’re staying anywhere with a hard mattress, don’t sleep on your sides, sleep on your front or back.
3rd of April
It was our first full day, we headed downstairs for our free breakfast which was pretty much a small buffet of fruit/salad/egg/sausage with drinks like squash and coffee, with the addition of being able to order off a certain part of the menu. I chose the only veggy option on there of ‘macaroni stewed with mushrooms’, which was pretty decent.
Since our hotel was only a 10 or so minute walk away from Senado Square, we waddled over.
Now, whilst Hong Kong used to be a British colony, Macau was once a Portuguese colony, so if you can imagine what a Portuguese, Chinese and Vegas love child would look like, it pretty much epitomises Macau. The square was bustling with people everywhere; some huddled by the fountain in an attempt to get that perfect holiday selfie, others taking in the stunningly bright colours of all the buildings that make up the square.
We made our way round and into the Post Office, a grandeur of a building, to buy a few postcards, half to keep for my wall and a couple to send to friends and family back home, as has been the habit during our travels in China.
After that we walked along the streets adjoining the square, taking in the vibrant Portuguese architecture. We then made our way over to the famous St. Paul ruins, popping into the odd shops that riddle the walk ways en route, and grabbing some free biscuits along the way as the shop owners happily offer them out.
Although vegetarian/vegans beware the shrimp filled pastry squares. I learnt that one the hard way.
Since the ruins are pretty much just a pretty front of an old building, we took it in along with some pics and then headed on over to the older part of Macau, called Taipa.
Wandering around, we found a cute post card shop which we couldn’t resist checking out. The place has an overall electric but calm buzz to the place. We also popped to Quarter Square coffee shop.
A super chill coffee shop who have 2 adorable dogs, the star being their Frenchie, Copper, a little rooftop seating area to chill amongst the rooftops of Taipa and soy milk!
Once we had our fill, it was food time so we headed to The Blissful Carrot, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant.
Technically you can’t eat in, its take-out only, but oh wow! The people working there are super chill, and they have a wide range of choices from rice boxes, curries, burgers and salads, along with (vegan) cakes and smoothie!
I opted for the yellow thai curry and a smoothie which were both incredible.
The lady told us that if we walk 2 minutes down the road, we’ll find a long wide set of stairs dotted with gorgeous massive trees, we could either eat there or if we follow the stairs up, and then back down, there is a park. So, we ate our dinner whilst the sun set as we watched from a busking station/amphitheatre that sat adjacent to a river in the park.
Then we headed back to the hotel, I had a long-awaited Bath before getting glammed up and ready for a night out. Our initial plans were to go to a bar and have a couple drinks, then go to a casino after midnight when I would officially be 21 and at legal age to gamble, get a few more free drinks at the casino (which I’d heard a few do) and see where the night takes us. What actually happened was we headed to the Hard Rock on the strip because I did some research an apparently the casino there gives out free alcoholic beverages but decided to hit up the Hard Rock Café for some cocktails first. One cocktail lead to another, led to another, led to us earning free drinks on the house and a cheekily named birthday shot, courtesy of the girls. After many a drink and a shared platter of nachos, we hit up the “biggest and best” club in Macau; Cubic. You’ll see adds on the little screens you get in the taxi’s in Macau advertising it. We didn’t realise it was in the same Hard Rock complex so we thought, why not? Let’s give it a shot.
As we walked in, we were greeted by an all to familiar scene. Not very many people, of those who were there appeared to be business men from around the world along with a few locals, along with horrendous music playing and female dancers on stage. Well despite the music being atrocious, at least it wasn’t quite Chinese rave music, close, but not quite. Secondly there was a bar, a one-man staffed bar but a bar nonetheless, since in China you get a standing table and must pay for a set number of beers. That’s right, no Pinot Grigio, no double vodka coke. Nope. Its pretty much Budweiser or nothing. Anyway, getting back to the club, so we ordered our drinks, were ushered over to an oversized table and waited. Everyone was pretty sleepy but Em was determined to liven the night with some dancing. Another novelty we are not afforded in China is a normal dance floor. Granted the one in Cubic was still not quite UK standard but it did the job. And luckily enough for us, the DJ’s changed and we had one who played some pretty good tunes! A mix of chart and the odd bit of Big Bang (Korean band); at which point one of the Chinese men bust out into the perfect choreography of the two Big Bang songs that the DJ played.
It had just gone 4am when two of the girls were running on empty and shortly after we headed back to the hotel, to knackered to bother with the casino but realising we still had one more night here.
4th of April
Another night’s sleep, cut short by the promise of free food. Running on 4 hours sleep along with the fact we had to work a 7-day week prior to this trip meant my body was feeling a little worse for wear. Not in the hangover sense, drinking a mixture of beer, wine and sake in China has only solidified my belief that you can’t get a bad hangover if you only drink spirits. So, thankfully hangover-free but just generally sleep deprived, I was coming down with one mother of a cold. After breakfast, we got a cab out into the old town of Macau called Coloane.
Tip: It’s small winding streets and old nature means it lacks some infrastructure and therefore tends to get bad traffic as you head in. This meant our cab driver dropped us off at the road and told us “only 5-minute walk”.
Coloane oozes Portuguese essence with every back street, riverfront shack and restaurant. We wandered about the gorgeous and colourful town, stumbling across and eating in a Portuguese Michelin star restaurant (which didn’t cost an arm and a leg), followed by delightful handmade coffee from a little coffee hut sitting on the river front.
It was quaint, with a line-up of mason jars filled with all the different coffee blends. I, of course chose the Costa Rican coffee beans. We enjoyed our coffees as we gazed out at the riverfront.
We finished off our morning and early afternoon with a final walk about the town along the river, taking in its culture and beauty. After the leisurely insight of the old town, the girls grabbed one of the famous Portuguese egg tarts and we hopped in a cab back to our hotel. Going from our hotel to the strip of Coloane means driving across a big long bridge, which has a stunning view of the city all lit up at night!
We hopped on one of the many buses that riddle the city, towards Galaxy, yet another massive hotel/mall/casino complex. Where we, mostly me, stumbled around, popping in and out of shops. With eyes stinging, nose running, the ever-present threat of what felt like a sneeze that just would never happen and exhaustion, I found a neat little spot in H&M to pop-a-squat whilst the girls did there thing. What felt like an eternity later, the girls were ready and we grabbed a cab back to the hotel.
We grabbed a bite to eat at the Portuguese restaurant opposite our hotel. I left early because what began as a pupa, had developed into a full-blown butterfly of a cold. I needed sleep, stat. So, I headed back to the hotel to hopefully nap it off.
Post nap, we got ready, and decided to head over to the Venetian. Now if you can’t already tell from the name, its set in the style of Venice. With rivers and gondolas inside and the most exquisite architecture that truly had you feeling like you were in Venice! Only with more high-end stores and a casino inside. We made our way to the entrance of the casino where we were undoubtedly stopped by security for ID. Since I was the only one out of the girls to have any gambling experience, ironic since I am also the youngest, and by gambling experience I mean I played the roulette table a few times with my dad on a cruise, I was the first to give Security my ID. To which I was told “No.”. Baffled, I exclaimed why. The man told me, you are not 21. To which I replied “Er…yes, yes I am. You’ll find its my birthday today”. Whereby, the man still stuck to his guns and said, “Your birthday is the fourth”. I was starting to feel like I was on some stupid prank show or a weird dream at this point. “Yes…I’m aware my birthday is the 4th”. At this point I was getting a little annoyed and looking at the girls dubiously. It was finally at this point that the security guard asked his co-worker if it was the third today. At which point he was told by both his co-worker and us that it was the fourth, with proof as I got my phone out to show the date, and even double check myself. God, I was starting to doubt myself now! At this point the guard was looking a little awkward and just kind of let me in, with his co-worker exclaiming to enjoy my birthday and win big.
Following that confusing start, we had a wander around the massive casino. An abstract place, frozen in time, not only because the inside décor screamed late 20th century Europe but because there were no windows and no clocks, but an unlimited surplus of ATMs and water. Anything to keep you awake and spending.
I had one thing on my mind; roulette. Since I was still feeling pretty worse for wear and without any Lemsip or paracetamol, time was of the essence. I settled for a machine-run roulette table which had a real spinning roulette wheel in the centre and 8 seats surrounding it. After some difficulty accepting our Macanese pataca, we realised, as is stated on the machines, that they only take Hong Kong dollar. So, we popped over to a miserable cashier who changed us up some money. After that I had a blast for about half an hour. Since I’m not getting paid all too much whilst in China, I only changed up the equivalent of £30 to start with. Happily planning to play (and quite realistically lose) that £30 and maybe even £70 more. But the girls were keeping it safe and playing with below £10. As you can tell we were on low stakes table were the lowest bid was the equivalent of £1. I ended up starting off with £10 and quadrupling my money on double 0. After playing with my winnings, almost losing it all, winning it all back, I left with the equivalent of £30. Tripling my money, no matter how low my winnings may be, it was better than nothing!
Everyone was pretty tired so after cashing our winnings, walking around the casino one last time, we decide to have a little nosy around the Venetian. Granted all the stores were closed but we got to see the rivers and gondolas, albeit stationary. My cold which had for the most part subsided whilst I was engaged in roulette had come back with a vengeance now that we were wondering around a deserted mall at midnight. Once our curiosities were sated, we grabbed a cab back to the hotel.
5th of April
Today was leaving day. We got up, ate breakfast, I died a little as my cold had come into full bloom. We checked out, did a spot of last minute shopping, spending my well-earned winnings and treating myself to a NARS splurge.
We then walked a short distance to a coffee shop in the backstreets called Terra Coffee, where we chilled for a couple hours drank good coffee, ate a delicious array of foods, and made a friend with a local who was intrigued by our Mandarin practise.
After killing a few hours in the cosy coffee shop, we walked to a nearby vegetarian and vegan shop called Greens, where I grabbed a couple juices (a much-needed immunity boost one) along with a roast veggy salad that came with vegan salad dressing. Yaaas. Its near impossible to get any vegan food where I live in China so my excitement was sanctioned. Then all that was left was a 10-minute cab ride to the ferry terminal, an hour and half or so ferry ride/nap back to Shenzhen where our driver picked us up and I was finally able to sleep.
Written by Raphaella Ruggiero
Edited by Amy Ruggiero
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