Saturday, July 24, 2010

Macau 2010

Macau, how to describe Macau? I first visited the place in 2008 and did the usual touristy things. We hired a van to take us on a city highlights tour, shopped for the usual local specialties (mostly the Macau egg tarts and cookies), took photos and then we crossed over to Hong Kong for some more shopping. Back in 2008, there weren't a lot of casino hotels operating. The only ones I could distinctly remember were the Wynn Hotel and the Grand Lisboa Tower. The Venetian Hotel & Casino along with countless other names were being constructed at the time. I expected a few other places to pop up, but I didn't expect to see a mushroom cloud of casino hotels within a two year period. Many recognizable Casino & Resort Hotels from Las Vegas dot Macau's skyline. Wynn,The Venetian, MGM, Four Seasons and a couple more have made their mark in Macau. Although, Macau is now being marketed as the Las Vegas of the East, it isn't up to par to the standard and glitz and glamour that Las Vegas is known for. For one, the night life in Macau is pretty lame. It's a family destination. And they harass anyone who looks under 18 about the restrictions of being an illegal minor. The language barrier is still pretty distinct. Many of the locals working the hotel grounds could barely speak English. However, there are many other nationalities who can speak good English working there as well. I'll give Macau customer service a C+ for effort.

We stayed at the Venetian Hotel. We were very lucky since our party was upgraded from regular rooms to Presidential Suites. And they were nice rooms indeed. There was a nice hallway that led from the entrance foyer into the living room, a breakfast bar complete with our own espresso machine and its pods, a private bedroom, 2 bathrooms equipped with jacuzzis, his & her sinks, a big shower room, a private duvet & toilette, a large dressing table, 2 studies and a fantastic view. It cost $US300/night to stay there. There's shopping and food courts on the 3rd level, a Cirque du Soleil show along with countless conference rooms, a large casino area and a a large lounging pool on the 4th floor. There were countless restaurants, bars, a Starbucks Coffee Shop and several other familiar brands within this massive complex. Its shops also connect to the Four Seasons Hotel.

What I like about Macau are the old Portuguese buildings, the colonial foods that still remain, the beautiful cobble stoned streets and other small European details that dot the landscape. It's a juxtaposed city on three levels. One: You see European-looking post boxes scattered around the streets which look out of place against a very Chinese-influenced landscape. Two: The old Chinese temples, stores and street signs are written in both Chinese and Portuguese (but nobody speaks Portuguese any longer). And three: The very modern landscape of new hotels and casinos which are connected by an equally modern bridge sitting next to the old Macau business district which houses the traditional Chinese apothecaries, cookie makers, tart makers, incense makers, etc. All these remain almost exactly as it did, fifty years ago. And yet the modern metropolis are only a block away.

Due to the rapid rise of hotel casinos in Macau, it became a popular destination for Asians. It's only an hour and a half flight from many South East Asian countries. It's a quick and easy flight, and its a cheaper alternative to Hong Kong. And if you're unsatisfied with the shopping options in Macau, its an easy and fast trip to Hong Kong. About 45 minutes by fastcraft boats, to be exact. One of the more popular tourist destination in Macau is the Macau Tower. It's known for its viewing deck and the adventurous activities one can do, like bungee jumping, sky jumping, walking on the tower's ledge and some shopping.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Diving Malapascua 2010 w/ Evolution Divers

This is my second time visiting Malapascua. The first time was in 2006. My friends and I signed up with Thresher Shark Divers - a horrible experience! We were scheduled to do 4 diving days with them, but the service was so terrible, the accommodations so shoddy, we unanimously decided to drop our arrangements with them and seek another dive operator. So we went with Dan's Divers. It's an American owned dive shop but run by Filipinos. We decided to give them some business since they didn't have any customers. The experience with Dan's Divers turned out to be a good one. We vowed to return to Malapascua and dive with them again. Four years later, as our dive group became bigger and friendships became closer, we decided to give Malapascua another shot. Most of the divers on this expedition were Malapascua virgins. Everyone was excited to see the thresher sharks and the giant mantas.

As usual, our friend Lil who is the "older sister" of the group organized and negotiated in behalf of everyone. We paid P1,000/dive and did 14 dives. This time, we chose a newly opened dive shop called Evolution Divers. It's run by 2 partners Matt Reed and David Joyce. They run a good operation.

The reason why divers flock to Malapascua is due to the thresher sharks whom are known to inhabit Monad Shoal. It is a mystery as to why they continuously return and flock to this particular site. Scientists are now researching the reasons behind it. In addition to the thresher sharks, giant mantas and devil rays that are regularly seen in the area, Malapascua Island offers world class macro diving. We saw all that we wanted to see and a whole lot more.

Evolution Divers took us to 8 dive sites. And all 10 dives were amazing. The sites were Monad Shoal, Lapus-lapus, Bantigue Bay, Mandarin, The lighthouse, Gato Island Cave, Gato Island Snake & Seahorse Sanctuary.

Malapascua Island may not be a beach party destination like Ibiza or Boracay, but it has a quaint and charming, laid back vibe to it. It has many restaurants that serve all kinds of cuisine and its equipped with wifi internet, good draft beers and fresh seafood. Evolution Divers' bar was a cute Irish joint that served imported beers from Ireland and other best-selling cocktails. They also serve sandwiches and other quick orders.