Chinese New Year in Hong Kong: All-You-Can-Drink Cruise

Hong Kong is said to be the best place to celebrate Chinese New Year. This was my experience…

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and there are so many ways to celebrate. Hong Kong is said to be one of the best places to enjoy fireworks and parades without becoming a human sardine. The firework display is supposed to be one of the most impressive in the world. My husband, his family and I got to watch it while drinking champagne on a boat.

We booked the Chinese New Year Fireworks Cruise with Buffet Dinner and Drinks in advance through Viator. We paid around $200 per person for the sightseeing boat with a 55 person capacity, free flowing beer, wine, champagne and soft drinks as well as a buffet dinner. The whole thing was organized by Hong Kong Yachting and it was almost worth the money.

After several sunny days the weather finally refused to cooperate and it started drizzling right before the boat took off at 6PM. We got to the pier early and the six of us were lucky to get seats at a table. Many others had to sit in plastic chairs or on the top deck with no cover. It wasn’t exactly what we expected for the price, but the drinks started flowing immediately which cheered us up.

The buffet was served quickly but the food offered was different than what was promised in the cruise description. There was a warning that the food may change but it was still quite disappointing to get meatballs instead of roasted duck and tofu. The highlight of the buffet was a chocolate cake that made up for the lower-quality food: it was rich, moist and melted on our tongues. Also, no matter how much everyone drank, they did not run out of alcohol!

At 8PM the fireworks began and we had a decent spot to watch among many other boats. The fireworks were beautiful, even though they were obstructed by clouds, and the display lasted for 23 minutes. I may be spoiled by dozens of New Years celebrated in Prague, because I wasn’t as impressed by the fireworks as I expected to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of the cruise, drinks and fireworks. But if I could have a do-over, I would do things a little differently. The fireworks were tiny from the boat, so I recommend getting to the pier early, camping out with a bottle of champagne and watching the fireworks from there. Some people recommend watching from the Kowloon side of the river, but I would pick a spot at Victoria Harbour.

A better way to spend the $200 that the cruise cost would have been in the highest bar in the world. The rooftop sky bar, OZONE, belonging to the Ritz-Carlon, offers beautiful views of the Hong Kong skyline. However, as Anon-man-from-uk so adequately wrote in his Trip Advisor review of the bar, the prices are “eye-watering even for Hong Kong”.

Before you get discouraged from spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, please keep in mind that the weather was horrible and I’ve seen too many grand firework displays in the past to get impressed by them anymore. Please keep an open mind and learn more about the celebrations here. You can read about other people’s experiences here. Stay tuned for more Asia adventures!

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39 RMB All-You-Can-Eat in the Heart of Shanghai

What if I told you that 39 RMB is all you need to spend on a huge meal and a few beers in the very heart of Shanghai?

Dumplings, chicken wings, tofu, lotus, watermelon and Tsingtao beer. It can’t get any more Chinese. Or Cheap! Nanging pedestrian street is not the first thing that comes to mind for affordable food. Aside from chicken feet on a stick or over-fried chicken wings sold on the street, food prices can be pretty steep in the area.

This magical yet potentially stomach upsetting meal is offered by Jinjiang Inn between 11:15 and 14:00 then again between 17:15 and 20:30. So if you’re on a budget and have a steel stomach – you can save a lot of money by eating here once or even twice a day.

It can be easy to miss the Inn. We actually stumbled in by accident on our way to Shanghai First Foodhall. The address is 680 Nanjing Road pedestrian street and the eating area is on the second floor. As long as you arrive before 13:30, you’ll be let in and there will be plenty of time to sufficiently stuff your face.

Vegetarians may want to avoid this place. When I said there was tofu, I didn’t mention the meat that’s stuffed inside it. It’s also served on top of the mystery-meat meatballs. Pediatricians are better off and can enjoy “fish gluten” which are some sort of fish balls. Despite being a sushi fiend, I did not enjoy these at all.

Non meat options include toast, sweet bread desserts, lotus, cooked cabbage, some other steamed veggies and of course, watermelon and kumquats. However, I assume that the selection of food varies by season. We came here in early February.

Finally, there’s drinks. Tea, surprisingly good coffee, several sodas, orange juice and of course, over-sized bottles of Tsingtao. After Snow, this is the second most popular beer in the entire world! Most Westerners will turn up their noses at the 2-3% beer.

Although Tsingtao only has a one-out-of-five star rating on RateBeer, a draft lager at the Qingdao brewery is a completely different story. The real thing is 4.6% alcohol and a much higher rating, so don’t be too quick to judge all Tsingtao beers!

Anyway, 39 RMB ($5.5) is definitely the best deal you will ever get on all you can eat and drink in China. Don’t expect a gourmet meal, you get what you pay for. I definitely recommend this place for a cheap meal or if you want to try a wide variety of Chinese food without breaking the bank. Thank you Jinjiang Inn for offering budget travelers an alternative to Western fast-food!

Chinese Hot Pot: All You Can Eat

Chinese hot pot: where all you can eat, self-BBQ and food on a conveyor belt all come together!

Conveyor belts with all you can eat sushi are popular worldwide. But it’s done a little differently in China. The Hot Pot Store is a restaurant where you can eat as much as you want for just 39 RMB ($6). The conveyor belt is set up so that people can sit on either side and everyone has a small hot plate in front of them.

When you are seated you choose your preferred broth: it can be spicy, meaty or a veggie-flavored. They don’t always have an English menu but it’s easy to at least figure out if it is “la” (spicy) or “bu la” (not spicy). While the pot simmers, you can go to the ready-to-eat area and fill your plate with fruit, ice cream and plenty of mysterious but yummy finger food.

The conveyor belt is loaded with tofu, raw veggies, a wide variety of mushrooms and even lettuce leaves, to be used as a burrito shell for cooked foods, rotating on the belt. It’s not just food, but straws are also rotating in a cup on the belt – the drinks are located in a fridge and you can take them yourself and then pay for them afterwards. “Maidian” is the Chinese word for bill and it happens to be the name of the Ukrainian revolution, so I find it easy to remember.

Most people just take a bunch of different food, dump it in the pot and eat it all together once it’s ready. There is also a great choice of sauces: spicy, sour among others.

Hot pot restaurants are popular in China and they come in all shapes in sizes. In restaurants you can get up to three different broths in a divided pot. You can then buy a variety of raw foods to throw in the pot, including frozen vegetables.

If you are not accustomed to Chinese cuisine, you may have some stomach problems as the broth is boiled tap water which can contain chemicals and bacteria that Westerners aren’t used to. Water is often brought to the table free of charge, however it may also be tap water. If they don’t bring you water automatically, you can ask for it – but don’t be surprised if it’s hot. You have to ask for “bing shuǐ” (cold water). Shuǐ is the spelling in pinyin, it’s pronounced a bit like shway.

There are also street-food hot pots served on tiny mobile carts in the evenings. The raw foods including meat, fish and vegetables are sold on sticks – customers select what they want and the vendor takes the items off the stick into a to-go cup of hot broth. It’s a great snack: quick & cheap! The experience is unique to China so make sure not to miss out on it when you visit.

Please excuse the low quality phone pics:
Meats, fish, dumplings and more:
Fruit! And tomatoes… they are 100% classified as a fruit here.
Sauces and more to spice things up!
They kept refilling this, but we ate it too quickly…
These ice creams were basically frozen sodas. Some were corn-shaped!

Chasing Running Sushi in Prague

Running sushi is an amazing invention. For those who have never hear of it, it’s all you can eat sushi that ‘runs’ by you on a conveyor belt. How does this experience work? You come to the restaurant, sit down, order a drink and then the fun begins. There are plastic doors that you open to get sushi access. The better, fancier places have two levels of running sushi, the bottom cold and the top hot. Sushi goes past you in circles in colorful little plates, and you can pick whatever you want and eat it. Soya sauce and chop sticks are already on the table so you can dig right in.

Running sushi in theory: Don’t eat all day and plan an hour or two for endless sushi eating. Make most of your money, try different sushi and eat a bunch of your favorites. Be full all day.

Running sushi in practice scenario one: You wake up early, decide to have a snack but only a small one. Starve all day waiting unexpectedly for that magical hour+ of sushi eating. You get to the sushi place and you see all your options. You can’t pick one to start with so you take several plates, fight for the yummy stuff with whoever you came with. You get mad if something you see coming is taken by others because it’s hard to comprehend that it will come again – basically the caveman deep inside you awakens. You keep eating more and more sushi until you feel quite full. You look at your watch, and it’s only been 15 minutes. You try to take a break and you turn your head away from the sushi, but oh, there’s a mirror and you can see the sushi beckoning you in the reflection. You try actually talking and making eye contact with your friend, colleague or partner who came with you, but the moving sushi in the corner of your eye is so much more enticing. Then you see something new that is being served and you grab it selfishly and devour it quickly, even though 20 more of the same thing are already on their way. You say ‘just one more’ a few times. Maybe more than a few. Once you start feeling sick you ask to pay and try to stand up. Standing up doesn’t always work right away, but after a while you begin to waddle out of the restaurant. You swear you will never eat again but somehow you are hungry several hours later. That night or the next morning you use the bathroom more than usual and swear off sushi. But you will always return. They always do.

Running sushi in practice scenario two:Very similar except you wake up and go straight there for breakfast, possibly with a hangover. You are the first one there so there are only a few options on the belt, mostly cold options that don’t get spoiled too quickly. You say you’ll wait for the good stuff but you take just one plate to munch on, then soon after ‘just one more’. Then they start serving something better but not your favorite. You’re so tempted that you give up waiting, because they probably won’t serve your favorite anyway and you eat and eat and eat. By the time your favorite sushi comes along, which surprises you but at the same time doesn’t, you are way too full. But you still eat more. If you are hungover and even if you’re not, you feel even sicker in this second 20 minute sushi gobbling scenario than the first – bet you didn’t think that was even possible.

Don’t get me wrong, there are few things as amazing as eating cheap all-you-can-eat sushi. But be warned, strong self control is required to survive…

There are several places to eat running sushi in Prague. The better slightly more expensive ones are in the shopping centersPalladium and Novy Smichov. Work day lunch time prices there are 318 for adults and 168 for children under eight years, on weekends and holidays the price is 338 for adults and 178 for children. Dinners, after 17:00 cost 398 for adults and 218 for children. These pricier places have the two levels of running sushi as previously mentioned. Then there is a cheaper option near metro stop I.P. Pavlova, Baifu running sushi on Bělehradská 75 with an adult price of only 209 czk after 15:00 and less than 200 if it’s earlier. Weekends are more expensive and there is only one belt so there is less of a variety.