Day 1: San Va Hotel+ Back

The third trip story took place between January 26th to January 29th, 2014.  My photographer and travelling companion Mu Yi was busy working for this one so I made the rounds myself.  I wanted to focus on the older, more local side of Macau this time, which influenced my choice of hotels, restaurants and museums.  Over the 3.5 days, I only spent around 6500 Mops in total, making it by far the least expensive of the 3 Trip Reports.  If you’re travelling around Macau on a budget, and/or want to see a little bit of the history that’s still alive, then this is the travel story you should check out first.   

Sunday January 26th, 12 pm

I deliberately chose to come to Macau four days before the Chinese Spring Festival.  The city gets overrun with tourists then and hotels and restaurants jack up prices like no tomorrow, because they know they can.  In my opinion, it’s the worst time to be in the Macau, or anywhere in China, for that matter.  Other people can deal with the madness of 1.2 billion people all in transit at the same time, but I’ll kindly take a pass.  My new annual tradition is to spend the Chinese Lunar New Year in the comfort of my own home.  I lock the doors, barricade the windows, and wait the insanity out.  

The main way to get into Macau from the mainland is via Zhuhai through the Gongbei border gate.  And I’ve noticed over the past year that the border crossing is getting crazier and crazier, especially on weekends.  When it's really bad, it takes about 90 minutes to cross, while in faster periods, it still might take a half hour.  Here’s a little travel tip - when you pass through the Chinese side of immigration, always stand in the line marked Foreigners and Chinese.  Foreigners always take a lot longer to process than the locals who just whip right through.  If there’s a line of 20 Chinese or 10 Foreigners, I’m taking the one with 20 Chinese every time.  Once you clear the Chinese side all of your hard work is done.  There’s hardly any lines on the Macau side and when there is, they move fast.

Once you get into Macau, I recommend taking one of the free shuttles provided by the casinos to get wherever you need to go.  It doesn’t matter if you’re actually going to the casino or not, because no one ever checks anything.  For Taipa and Coloane, take any of the buses that go to the Cotai Strip, then hop a bus or taxi from there.  For the Macau peninsula, there are three principal stops, the Ferry Terminal (try a Sands or Oceanus bus), the Inner Harbour (the Sofitel bus) and the area around the Wynn and Grand Lisboa (those buses obviously, plus Starworld, MGM, Grand Emperor etc.)  Since my first order of business was to check in at the San Va hotel near the Inner Harbour, I took the free shuttle to the Sofitel, and then walked from there.  All told, the whole trip took about 25 minutes. 

Situated on the former brothel street so aptly named “The Street of Happiness”, the San Va has two major things going for it: an absolutely phenomenal location and great rates.  Quite possibly the cheapest place in town, rooms are as low as $220 Sunday to Thursday and $320 Friday, Saturday and special holidays.  Here’s a full chart of all their room grades and fees, all taxes included.



I’ve stayed at the San Va probably well over 20 times the past 5 years so I’m quite familiar with it.  I always choose the Double Regular Room because it’s the cheapest one and room standards don’t improve much the more money you pay.  The only differences are that the rooms get a little larger in size and the Twin and Triple Rooms have more beds.  The balcony rooms may have balconies but you’re not allowed on them, so they don’t really matter. 


The only things provided in the rooms, no matter the grade, are two glass cups and one electric fan.  That means everything else you have to bring yourself: towels, soap, toothbrushes, shampoo etc.  The front desk’s English is extremely spotty so don’t expect advice or help on matters unrelated to checking in and out.  They recently added Wifi about a year ago, and is available free of charge to all guests.  Macau is pretty good in general for Wifi because the government offers a ton of hotspots around the city where you can get it for free.  For more information, just head to any tourist office and pick up the free brochure.


Built all the way back in 1873, the San Va used to be one of the biggest and most beautiful hotels in Macau.  That’s obviously not the case anymore.  I have more than a few friends who detest the place and refuse to live there.  In the summertime I actually agree with them and stay far away too.  With no air conditioning, the rooms can get so hot at night that it’s actually unpleasant to live there.  One little fan does not make a difference in a poorly ventilated room with no windows or air flow.  I’ve woken up there many a time in the middle of the night covered in sweat cursing myself for being so cheap.  Don’t make the same mistake.


When the temperature drops however, I think the San Va does just fine.  At the same time, I realise that it’s not going to be for everyone.  The showers and toilets are shared so you’ve got to be able to deal with that.  I don’t mind them because they’re kept pretty clean.  Obviously the rooms are threadbare and not what I’d call “nice”, but they’re good enough for me.  Your experience will also depend on what kind of neighbours you have since you can hear everything going on two, three, four doors down.  When people respect the rules and stay quiet, it’s okay.  When they don’t, it might get hard to sleep.

The San Va often sells out so it’s imperative you book in advance.  That can be done online at their website,, but reservations must be made four days prior to your visit.  Don't write down a Yahoo email account either when filling out the form, because they'll never get back to you for some reason.  All in all, staying at the San Va is a very good deal, especially when compared the other “Hospederias” in the area, (aka brothels).  I keep returning there time and time again, especially when I have to be in the city for more than three or four days, and don’t want to spend upwards of $700 a night.  The hotel is clearly among the best value you’ll find in town, just so long as you can handle the conditions.


After checking in and getting settled, I took a walk over to the 5th of October Street and Cafe Nam Ping for lunch.


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