Hong Kong skyline
For some, the best of travels and adventures are spontaneous and unmapped, completely allowing them to traverse uncharted territories, embrace the richness of a new culture, and unearth the awesomeness of even the most eccentric things. A lot of us have to deal with limited funds, though, which factors in considerably when we make our travel plans.
We all know international travel can be very expensive, more so if you indulge in five-star hotel accommodations or expensive gustatory treats in fine-dining restaurants. But worry not—if you’re not the stick-in-the mud kind of traveler and are up for just about anything, international travel is within reasonable reach so long as you’re open to finding alternative ways to lessen the expenses while appreciating the experience all the same.
A trip to Macau, Hong Kong, and Guangdong, China in one vacation is possible for anyone—even those on a tight budget. Understand, however, that Hong Kong and Macau are both Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. As such, each has its own high degree of autonomy, which menas they have their own laws, border controls (take note, as you’ll need separate visas for each SAR), and currency. To simplify things, you can use online currency converters to calculate your budget in Hong Kong dollars (HKD), Macau Patacas (MOP), or Chinese yuan (CNY).
Here’s a tried and tested guide for travelers with a shoestring budget.
TRANSPORTATION: PHILIPPINES–MACAU–HONG KONG–GUANGDONG
Your first problem is how to get there. We recommend going to Macau first, then using it as a jump-off point for going to Hong Kong and Guangdong.
Take discounted or low-fare travel deals from airlines, such as Cebu Pacific Air or Philippine Airlines. Rates go for around P2,000 (or even less if you're lucky) for the one-way fare. Cebu Pacific Air, in particular, is known for its seat sales, and you can sign up to be alerted for these on the airline’s website.
Macau to Hong Kong
Take Macau bus numbers 3, 8, or 10 to the Macau Ferry Terminal—your fare will be around MOP3.20 (P17) per head. From there, book your trip to Hong Kong at the ticketing section. A round trip fare is around MOP270 (P1,500) to MOP300 (P1,690) per head. Rates may vary depending on the date and time of travel. Estimated travel time is one hour, though it may take longer, depending on weather conditions as well.
Macau to Guangdong, China
A day or two before your trip to Guangdong, the border province of Macau to mainland China, seek help from travel agencies or even computer shops in Macau that can prearrange the travel documents for you (try the Chinoy Travel Agency, which you can contact at +8532-893-3864). The visa rate is MOP30 (P170) per head at a minimum of three persons per visa. Then you can take bus numbers 3, 10, 18, 17, or 28c (or ask for other available buses around) that travel to the border—travel time is 20 to 30 minutes. Your English-speaking Chinese travel agent will meet you at Immigration to give you the necessary instructions.
CHEAP OR ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION
Next up: where to stay? This may be even more of a dilemma, especially if you want to time it so you get a good bargain on your transportation.
Unfortunately, the affordable pod or capsule hotels of Japan haven’t reached these areas yet. Macau is famous for being a world-class gambling city, and along with the territory come luxurious hotels and resorts. Don’t let this get you down, as budget inns and guesthouses are just around the bend. For instance, Villa Costa Inn along Tap Seac Road offers a room rate of MOP180 (P1,000) per night. An even cheaper alternative is to consider transient houses with Filipino expats. If you have friends or relatives in Macau, you can ask for help with finding apartments or flats—some owned or rented by Filipino expats–which allow room rental or bed space for Filipino travelers. If you just need a bed and don’t mind other Pinoys sharing the room with you, bed space rental costs around MOP25 (P140) per day, while rooms may be around MOP100 (P560) and up.
Day Trips vs. Staying the Night
When taking a trip to Hong Kong and to the border of Guangdong, you have the option to stay for one day, say, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, for those traveling on budget, or stay overnight for those who can spend more.
FOOD AND PASALUBONG
Can you survive on street food, fried rice, and noodle–and–dim sum houses? Then you will definitely enjoy the trip without needing a large budget for meals. The Emperor Hotel Casino has noodles for as low as MOP10 (P56) and dim sum at MOP5 (P28). Convenience stores and mini-stops also have affordable microwavable rice meals and other options for food-on-the-go. If you bump into McDonald’s, though, note that most service crews don’t understand a single word of English, so you may need to just point the meal you want. If you don’t want to be too adventurous in your travel diet, you can get Jollibee, KFC, and McDonald’s meals in Hong Kong, while the border gate in Guangdong provides inexpensive Chinese choices.
Along the street of Senado Square, several traditional Chinese delicacies are up for free tasting. One of the most favored pasalubongs is the incredibly lip-smacking Portuguese egg tart that sells for MOP6.50 (P36). You don’t get a free taste of this, though, but the best-baked egg tarts are around the square. Local herbal teas, chocolates, and other homegrown products for pasalubong are also available at grocery stores like SanMui and Royal.
Other pasalubongs are cheap clothes, bags, and shoes. If you’re patient and smart enough to walk around the sidewalks in Macau, you can find pretty cool footwear for as low as MOP20 (P110), shirts or tops at MOP10 (P56), and other surprisingly inexpensive yet trendy grabs. Macau has flea or night markets too, the Red Market being the most famous among them. For postcards and souvenirs in museums, these sell at MOP5 (P28) and up.
PREMIER ATTRACTIONS: MACAU
Bright lights aside, Macau is truly charming, what with its natural sights and manmade attractions. Some attractions would require entrance fees, while others are free to explore.
The Ruins of St. Paul’s
What remains of the first Church and College of the Jesuits in China is the remarkably carved stone façade of St. Paul’s and the museum. The 17th-century church, which was destroyed by fire, is an illustration of the history of Christianity in Asia; it houses Biblical quotations in Japanese and Chinese chrysanthemums as well as bronze statues of the missionary saints. Pinoy expats call it putol.
Mount Fortress and Museum of Macau
Mount Fortress became a useful defense against Dutch attacks in 1624, until it was turned into a governor’s residence. At present, it houses the Museum of Macau. From Mount Fortress, you can also view the bustling skyline of Macau.
The psychedelic waves on the ground created by experts from Portugal and amazing shows of architecture are the very reasons why Senado Square is a hotspot for tourists and locals alike. It’s a favorite hub for various public events and is a darling to most Pinoy expats who just love to gather around and mingle.
Macau Fisherman’s Wharf
This theme park houses retail stores, bars, restaurants, marina, convention, exhibition, and other venues for recreation. The park has three themed sections, namely Dynasty Wharf, East Meets West, and Legend Wharf.
The Venetian Macao-Resort Hotel
Get a feel of Venice right in the heart of Asia’s gambling city. Truly luxurious and gigantic—it’s twice the size of its counterpart in US—the Venetian Macao-Resort Hotel is a timeless favorite because of the gondola rides (imagine the gondoliers singing classical pieces on top of their voices), the amazing line of Baroque architecture to wow the old soul in you, the grand Great Hall, and the universal range of dining and shopping. The Venetian is but a fine illustration of opulence.
Wynn Hotel and Casino
In front of this hotel is a spectacular fountain show that dances along with the music. At the atrium of the hotel is a show for Wynn’s treasure called the “Tree of Prosperity.” The show presents a 65-foot golden tree with a stunning abstract and electronic-engineered display of sorts and more.
Macau Tower Convention and Entertainment Center
This fine example of modern architecture is breathtaking even from afar, but you have to shell out some cash here to enjoy the rides and the famous bungee jump, among other things.
PREMIERE ATTRACTIONS: HONG KONG
Hong Kong is lovely in its own right, with its contemporary buildings of glass, marble, and steel. Nevertheless, the accessibility of some of its attractions may be one concern for a budget-traveler, especially if you only have a day visa to explore the city and have to return to Macau at once. Consider taking the bus or the subway, as taxi fares are rather expensive. In Macau, you can simply walk around, or get cheap or free bus rides, and you can just go on counting and visiting its roster of attractions as you go along—this is not as easily done in Hong Kong. Then again, Hong Kong is, foremost, a shopping destination, so you should expect to spend more anyway; plus, there’s an endless array of pasalubong choices goes here.
In Hong Kong, you can freely look up to the so-called pure geometry of Bank of China Tower and the renowned Exchange Square. There are, of course, other popular attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park, but these require whopping entrance fees, so if you want to go to these theme parks, it’s a good idea to budget for it before you even get on the plane. Another free popular sight is The Peak, which gives tourists a panoramic view of the city’s gleaming skyline and is best visited at night. You can visit a couple or even more of these places in a day if you want a marathon tour.
PREMIERE ATTRACTIONS: GUANGDONG
You may be tempted to move beyond the border province of Guangdong, China—the formal checkpoint for travelers—because of all the tempting stores inside the border that sell cheap electronic gadgets, clothes, and bags. It’s easy to become occupied wading through sales and discounted items for pasalubong—and before you know it, your visa for the day is about to expire and haven’t explored much yet. (Yes, we count ourselves among the shopping victims of Guangdong.)
To go the sightseeing route, though, the Barrier Gate is a definite must-see. Built in 1870, the gate, which separates Macau from Guangdong Province, is a tourist attraction in itself. You can see an inscription of the quotation from Portuguese poet Camoes on the top most portion of the gate.
The trick to exploring beyond the border into the Special Economic Zone called Zhuhai in Guangdong and other neighboring provinces in China, is to stay at least one night. If you do choose to do this, however, be sure to prearrange it with your travel agent in Macau.
This travel guide may not be for everyone. Some travelers will want to experience the glitz of the rich and famous and are ready to spend more. Budget travelers, however, will appreciate the option to spend less and still enjoy the experience of something new and the high of traveling. If the latter description sounds like you, you can even find more ways to budget on your trip by checking out FN’s tipid tips for cheap vacation thrills. Whichever the case, it’s always good to know that you have the option to travel even when your budget is tight.
(Photos by Lorela U. Sandoval)