Pro Tip: Don’t Take the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry During a Typhoon

Aris Teon , June 1, 2016 8:45am

On Friday I decided to go to Macau, a city which in my opinion – as I wrote in the past – is one of Asia’s most charming travel destinations. I was planning on staying there for just one day, taking a walk in the afternoon and later meeting an old friend of mine, before returning to Hong Kong at around 11 p.m.

The original idea was to take a ferry in the morning, but because I slept miserably the previous night I ended up leaving home at 3 p.m. The weather was hot and humid, the sky grey. Around one hour later I arrived at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. After buying a ticket and going through the immigration control, I joined the unavoidable long queue largely consisting of mainland Chinese tourists: young and old, fancy and sporty, all invariably holding shopping bags with names of fashion or food brands written on them.

Riding a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau may seem like an enjoyable and relaxing experience – to those who have never taken one. The reality is quite different. Ferry pilots in Hong Kong either love speed or they are always in a hurry, which is alright as long as the sea is calm, but when it is rough, the unaware passengers suddenly find themselves trapped on a boat which, rocked by the powerful waves, restlessly pitches and yaws.

Shortly after we had boarded the ferry, the staff made an announcement that went approximately like this: “Due to bad weather conditions we will stop serving hot drinks. For your own safety, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened at all time”. Soon afterwards two old men in white uniforms began to check that all passengers had their seat belts fastened. That’s when I knew that there was something wrong. I’ve had quite a few awful experiences on Macau-bound ferries, but there were never any announcements, and no one ever bothered to check if the passengers had fastened their seat belts or not.

Except for me, nobody else seemed worried. People cheerfully chatted, laughed and ate snacks. Around ten or fifteen minutes after we had departed, however, the first big wave rocked the boat. “Wooo…“, the passengers roared. I looked at the faces of the people around me. At first they seemed amused, yet it didn’t take long before they realized that that was going to be a bumpy ride; their smiles vanished and their screams grew louder as the waves pounded ever stronger against the ferry, which bounced like a plane that is taking off and then abruptly plummeted.

Some people began to look for sickness bags. But the worst was yet to come. Violent waves hit the boat so hard that its bobbing up and down and rolling back and forth became unbearable, many passengers’ faces turned pale or yellowish, some people began coughing and vomiting, while the shouts became louder and louder. At last, even the pilot understood that sailing so fast under such weather conditions was sheer madness, and the passengers – unaccustomed to the rough movement of the sea – could not possibly endure sixty minutes of that, and he finally slowed down, almost bringing the vessel to a standstill for a few minutes, perhaps in order to give us some respite, before steering the ferry forward at moderate speed.

It was around 18:30 when we arrived at Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal. Most passengers looked exhausted, but some of them still laughed and joked about the turbulent journey that had just ended. Although I had planned on returning to Hong Kong that very evening, I made up my mind not to go through the same torture again. Although I had not thrown up, I didn’t want to challenge the Sea Goddess.

In Macau one is greeted by signs written in Portuguese and some Eurasian faces. The immigration control is the easiest I’ve ever seen. You don’t even need to fill in an arrival card. You just go to an immigration counter, show your passport, and the officer hands you a small ticket. That’s all.

My meeting was at 19:20 in Tap Seac Square, in front of Macau Central Library – one of the least touristy and most traditional parts of the city. The ferry had arrived late and it was already 19:00. I went outside and took bus number 3. Unfortunately, it was rush hour, and we were bottled in the traffic for a while. A journey that usually lasts around fifteen minutes took more than half an hour. I got off at Mercado do Patane and then walked uphill to Sao Lazaro district.

On my way to Tap Seac it started raining heavily. Luckily, I always bring an umbrella with me, since I have by now learnt how unpredictable the weather in this region can be. I was wondering if my friend would still be waiting for me, since I was almost forty minutes late, and I couldn’t even call her because my Hong Kong sim card didn’t work in Macau.

But she was patient and friendly enough to wait for me in the rain for so long. I told her about my bad journey on the ferry. “Of course”, she said, “there is a typhoon today. Didn’t you read the news?”. I had not. Finally I understood why the sea was so exceptionally rough.

I and my friend hadn’t seen each other for almost a year. We had a lot to talk about and chatted until half past midnight. She was quite surprised when I told her I wouldn’t go back to Hong Kong. “Where are you going to stay?” she asked. “I have no idea,” I answered, “I’ll probably hang out at McDonald’s all night.”

“Are you sure? I think you should take a ferry and go back. You just have to stand it for sixty minutes, and then you’ll be in Hong Kong.”

“No, no way. I’m not going to do that again tonight.”

After she took a bus back home I tried to take a walk, but it was raining too heavily and the wind was too strong, so I went straight to McDonald’s. I hung out there from around 1 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., had a couple of coffees and a taro pie for breakfast. There were a few homeless people there – and that night I was one of them – but also many young party-goers having a late night snack. I am glad that Macau is just as safe as Hong Kong, and you never have to worry about being robbed or assaulted, even in the middle of the night.


The weather gradually improved and it stopped raining. At 5:30 I took a walk around the city, which I hadn’t seen for a year but which was still familiar to me.

At 8:30 I went back to the Outer Harbour. The ferry ride this time was peaceful and pleasant. I was happy and relieved when we arrived in Hong Kong, as I was looking forward to a nice shower and a few hours’ sleep. In the end, meeting my friend and being stuck in Macau for one night without a place to stay was quite an interesting experience, and the charm of the city more than compensated for my sleepiness and temporary discomfort.

Aris Teon

A blogger writing about Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.