how to throw best junk boat party hong kong

One of the best things about Hong Kong are the junk boat parties that happen throughout the Summer months. From big corporate events run by international law firms, to a massive party thrown by the nightclub Play, I feel like I've been on my fair share of these highly popular trips. Planning your own junk boat party? Here are our top six tips on how to make it an easy, stress-free experience, thanks to our sponsor SEA-E-O.

1. Book as early as you can 

The number of times I've heard people complain that they haven't been able to secure a single boat from June all the way through to August is surprising. It's very common for junk boats to be completely booked out (with deposits secured!) during those hot Summer months, so if you want to snag a particular boat (and usually a cheaper price), remember to book well in advance.

I've also heard of some party-animals who have an entire "season" of junk party invitations lined up, so booking early also means you can get your popular friends to calendar in your party from the beginning - and hopefully secure a deposit from them (more on that below)!

how to throw best junk boat party hong kong

2. Read the Terms and Conditions 

Yeah, I know, this one is a pain. But it's important to remember that typhoon season in Hong Kong is from May to the start of November. Some boat companies will only allow you to cancel without forfeiting your deposit if it's a Typhoon 8 and/or a Black Rainstorm - while others are a bit more lenient and will let you postpone your trip even if it's a less severe weather condition.

Word of advice: from personal experience, going on a junk trip during high-wind weather conditions can be nauseating, and while there are plenty of tricks to prevent sea sickness, be prepared to bring some anti-sea sickness pills and avoid drinking too much alcohol.

Don't worry though, you can always ask your friendly boat crew to take you somewhere with a bit of shelter from the storm. Some boats come equipped with TV and karaoke, so you can always have a sing-off on the water with your friends!

how to throw best junk boat party hong kong


3. Get money from your guests upfront

I'm not kidding you: I've seen friendships ruined over boat parties. Usually because one person (or sometimes more!) doesn't pay their share of the rental fee, leaving the others to pick up the bill. To avoid this, ask all those who have agreed to come to pay for their share of the rental fee by a certain deadline (well in advance of the party) - you can even use PayMe to make it easier to split the bill! Don't forget to split the full cost of the boat rental between you all - not just the deposit - and make it clear that this is non-refundable unless they find someone to replace them.

If you're going to be honest (which I recommend), tell them that if more people end up joining, they'll get refunded back any extra money you have collected, or it can go to a communal drinks tab afterwards. People often bail on things last minute (sometimes even when they've paid for something), so make it very clear to your friends that they need to pay the non-refundable fee upfront to secure their spot and try to get more people (up to maximum boat capacity) to join, because you'll probably find only 70% of your party actually turns up on the day!

how to throw best junk boat party hong kong

4. Organise food and drink

Organising food and drinks can be an absolute pain, so the most convenient thing to do is to book a boat that already comes with a food and drinks package. While some boats also offer alcohol packages, if you have heavy (or picky!) drinkers, you can suggest that your friends bring their own alcohol. Some Hong Kong boat companies like SEA-E-O (get it? CEO!) have a range of food packages including fusion, Asian, Western, Chinese, and even canapes (i.e. finger food) that are sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. They also have wine, beer, and soft drinks packages, so if you don't want to have to lug boxes of beer on board, ordering these packages is worth the convenience.

Alternatively, you can ask your crew to take you to one of the nearby islands for lunch at the local restaurants, which serve up fresh, delicious seafood.

Whatever happens, make sure you have lots of water on board - playing in the sun and drinking alcohol are a deadly mix for dehydration!

how to throw best junk boat party hong kong seafood lunch island

5. Plan your activities

A junk boat party isn't quite the same without some water activities. Some boating companies come with inflatable toys such as slides and trampolines, and you can even request a speedboat with a banana boat and wakeboard attached.

Just be sure to book in advance - and don't forget to add the cost of renting these items on to the amount that will get split between you and your friends. You don't want to be asking your drunk mates for an extra $300 per person at the end of a long day on the seas!

how to throw best junk boat party hong kong banana boat water ski

6. Bring emergency items

Some boats are great and will have charging cables and speakers on board, but if you have a party with more than 30 people on a boat, you're sure to need more phone charging cables than you think. Don't forget to also pack some bandaids and hand sanitiser - and LOADS of sunscreen. I've seen so many people turn up to work the following week looking lobster red, and while it's a reminder of a fun weekend, it's one that will probably sting for a week afterwards.

Ready to rock your next junk party? Don't forget to secure your boat as quickly as you can, as spots fill up quickly during Summer!

xx Carmen

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant

We recently visited Hunter & Barrel, a modern rustic restaurant renown for its coal grilled meat, conveniently located on Cockle Bay Wharf. Wandering through the enormous wooden doors framed with cast iron, we were greeted by the smell of fresh wood from the wooden logs stacked neatly near the entrance, and shown to our table by a friendly ma├«tre d′.

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant

The restaurant decor is beautifully designed, taking inspiration from agricultural and hunting traditions, as seen through the oak barrels lining the open kitchen and bar, the stag head protruding from one corner of the room, and electric candles. The feeling of being seated in a romantic wooden cabin in the forest is reinforced by a green canopy that hangs from the center of the ceiling, and leather booths that provide an intimate setting that is perfect for the ultimate date night.

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant welcome sign
Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant

We ordered the cooked scallops that came sizzling in a skillet hot plate, accompanied by mildly spicy salsa made with finely chopped dill and chilli. The deliciously creamy scallops melted in our mouth when drizzled with lemon, and was balanced out perfectly with accompanying thick and buttery pita that was beautifully warm and chewy.

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant scallops

The long pork ribs were tender, with a hint of caramel in the juicy marinade, and beautifully presented on a wooden, rustic board. The wagyu 500g rump steak was cooked precisely to our medium-rare requirements, and tasted delicious with the extra ordering of truffle butter. Both the ribs and steak come with a choice of salad or chips - we opted for the salad, which was a delicious and refreshing mix of garden salad with onions, and tomatoes.

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant rump steak
Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant rump steak
Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant pork ribs

We also highly recommend the mac and cheese, which was creamy but retained the traditional slightly crusty top, to balance out the texture. The entire meal was beautifully paired with a glass of full-bodied, flavoursome Australian Shiraz.

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant mac and cheese

To finish off our meal, we selected the choc walnut brownie, served warm with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Next time we'll be back to try the apple skillet pie!

Hunter and Barrel Sydney Steak Restaurant chocolate brownie

We had a lovely evening at Hunter & Barrel - the restaurant was almost completely full, despite being a Tuesday evening, and the vibe was both rustic and intimate - ideal for a date, or even to impress business clients. The service was prompt and friendly, and the variety of meat on the menu (including kangaroo!) was impressive. With al fresco seating under fairy lights close to the water, we're recommend to definitely consider the outdoor seating, if the weather permits.

xx Carmen

PS. This meal was offered to us free of charge. Concerned about our honesty? Check out our Disclaimer Alert policy here.

Hunter and Barrel steakhouse restaurant Sydney menu

If you've been following my recent posts, you would have seen that the hubby and I have recently turned our diet and exercise habits around (check out our fitness journey here). While following the 8 week F45 nutrition regime, one of the key supplements that was constantly featured in their recipes was protein powder, whether it be in a traditional protein shake or incorporated into a snack such as protein balls. Protein is an important macronutrient as it provides amino acids which help repair muscles damaged through exercise. The powder supplement form is an efficient way of getting protein into your system - for example, 30g of protein from a shake is equivalent to eating a chicken breast. With so many different brands out there, here is our take on a few popular protein powders.

Innermost

Photo from: https://www.liveinnermost.com

We first came across Innermost by doing the F45 Challenge in Singapore. They have a range of protein powders available: "The Strong", "The Lean" and "The Fit" all feature whey protein, whereas "The Healthy" features a vegan protein. All of them come in either chocolate or vanilla flavour. We tried "The Lean" protein powder range in both flavours. In terms of active ingredients, the protein is a mix of whey concentrate and isolate and to assist fat burning, the product also has acetyl L-Carnitine. In terms of taste and blend-ability, it scores highly in our opinion. One of my favourite mixes is chocolate flavoured "The Lean" protein powder mixed with coconut milk. The powder is very fine and dissolves well, which also makes it quite easy to mix into a protein ball or cookie recipe. The only point to note is that the whey protein based powders do contain lactose.



Isopure

Photo from: http://www.theisopurecompany.com

Isopure is another brand we trialled, which is available at GNC stores as well as online through iHerb. We opted for the low carb "Dutch Chocolate" flavoured protein powder, which also comes in "Toasted Coconut" and "Apple Pie". We found that the name of the flavour sounded better than it tasted, which was a touch disappointing. However, the product is 100% whey protein isolate, lactose free and lives up to its marketing as low carb (with only 3g of carbs per 50g of protein powder). The key difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate is that whey isolate is more processed, which results in a higher protein content with less carbs, lactose and fat. Nutritionally this is a good choice, but I wished the flavour came through more strongly.

Vega

Photo from: https://myvega.com/

Also available through online retailer iHerb, Vega is a plant-based protein powder. We tried the Vega Sport Premium Protein in vanilla, although it also comes in chocolate, berry and mocha flavours. This brand distinguishes itself as being vegan certified, gluten free, and derives its protein from pea, pumpkin seed, organic sunflower seed and alfalfa. I personally liked the vanilla flavour in shake form, although the hubby was not as big a fan. This is not only a great option for vegans, but also for anyone concerned about sustainability.

Countdown and session tracker for F45 Challenge 21

For his second F45 challenge in a row, the hubby opted to go with Innermost because of the taste, as well as the high quality protein mixed with selected active ingredients such as branch chain amino acids and L'Carnitine. His results speak for themselves: after training for 16 weeks and completing over 221 F45 classes, supported by Innermost supplements:
  • Total weight loss: 29.5kg (from 119.8kg to 90.3kg)
  • Total body fat percentage loss: 24% (from 30.7% down to 6.7%)
  • Total muscle mass: 50kg 
Before and After (16 weeks)

Training is one thing, but nutrition is just as important. Finding the right supplements will improve performance, assist with recovery and keep you energised to reach your goals.

xx Amanda
 

As promised in my first post (here if you missed it), in this second installment I walk you through the final phase of the F45 Challenge, and reveal our results after 8 weeks of training.

F45 Orchard

Weeks 7-8: "World Series"

During the last two weeks of the Challenge, members follow a keto (ketogenic) diet, which is designed to help shred as much body fat as possible before the final weigh-in. The keto diet is a low carb, high fat and high protein diet, and encourages the body to go into ketosis (a metabolic state where your body burns fat for energy). It was during this phase where we replaced carbs with good fats that my love for coconut yogurt and coconut milk was firmly cemented! 

Mentally, this was the easiest phase to push through as we were so close to the finish line. Due to the hubby's health scare earlier and the limited number of days/classes left, he was disappointed that it would not be physically possible to complete his original goal of one hundred and twelve (112) F45 classes during the Challenge. In the end, he still pushed himself to do a crazy ninety-one (91) classes in fifty-six (56) days. I finished the Challenge having attended fifty-seven (57) F45 classes in total - essentially once a day for two months!

F45 Lane Cove

My Results: No Longer "Skinny Fat"

At the end of the Challenge, members who wish to be considered for the competition are required to submit their initial InBody scans with pre-Challenge photos (front, side and back full body photos against a white backdrop) together with their final InBody scans with end of Challenge photos. This is not compulsory, so if you just wanted to enjoy the health benefits of the program without sharing photos of yourself, that is fine too. 

My final InBody results:

Weight
56.7kg
Normal
Skeletal Muscle Mass
24.6kg
Normal
Body Fat Mass
12kg
Under
BMI
19.4
Normal
Percent Body Fat
21.2
Normal
Visceral Fat Level
4
Normal (1-9)

By following the F45 diet and training regime, I had lost 5.2kg of weight (7.6kg of body fat mass) and gained 1.6kg of muscle mass in just 8 weeks. I also reduced my body fat percentage by 10.5%, which is the statistic I am most proud of, given that two out of the three global female winners lost less in terms of percentage than I did! 

Before and After

While I personally did not notice drastic changes in my physical appearance (particularly once fully clothed!), the Challenge truly did change my bad eating and sleeping habits. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was the female winner for my local studio, F45 Orchard! My prize was one months' free gym membership, which I am sure I will make good use of.

Special Announcement: The F45 Challenge Season 20 Global Winner!

I am also super excited to announce that the hubby achieved his goal of being the first global winner of the F45 Challenge from Asia. The global prizes for each competition changes each season, but we were pretty stoked to find out that first place for Challenge 20 was a cash prize of A$10,000! I am already thinking of how to best spend it while the hubby is waiting to see his money :)

The announcement by F45 on social media (Instagram and Facebook)

If you thought I was competitive, you haven't met my other half! Despite some health set-backs, he pushed through and his InBody before and after results speak for themselves. 

Before:

Weight
119.8kg
Over
Skeletal Muscle Mass
49.1kg
Over
Body Fat Mass
34.9kg
Over
BMI
36
Over
Percent Body Fat
29.1
Over
Visceral Fat Level
14
Normal (1-9)

After:

Weight
97.9kg
Over
Skeletal Muscle Mass
49.8kg
Over
Body Fat Mass
12kg
Normal
BMI
29
Over
Percent Body Fat
12.3
Normal
Visceral Fat Level
5
Normal (1-9)

The hubby raised his InBody score from 82/100 to 103/100 and lost a whopping 16.8% body fat (which I think is the highest ever from all seasons to date)!

As cliche as it may sound, it really was a life changing experience that transformed our lifestyle. The Challenge offered a complete platform, covering nutrition, cardio and strength training with a great support network of trainers and friends to help us achieve our fitness goals. 


When we started this journey, I was worried that we would bounce back to our old habits once the Challenge ended and that we would put on the weight we had lost. Having completed the Challenge, I am no longer afraid and am confident that we are in a good head space to make healthy decisions when it comes to food, sleep and exercise. I am thrilled that we completed the F45 Challenge together and look forward to a fitter 2019!

xx Amanda




I’ve recently switched careers from law into software engineering, and am currently working at an awesome fintech startup. With this career change, I’ve developed a new found appreciation for many things - including, oddly, gift hampers.

Much to my surprise, we have been receiving a number of Christmas gift hampers from our business partners (it feels like every day, a new bounty full of goodies arrives), and the entire company has been gorging on incredible chocolate, Christmas cookies and puddings, and even Stroopwafels!

give gift boutique hampers present hong kong hk

A few days ago, I came back to Hong Kong to spend time with my friends and family over the holidays. We had been contacted by the lovely people at Hong Kong Give.Gift.Boutique, a website that offers an enormous range of different hampers for all occasions, including Christmas, birthdays, graduations, and other special moments, who very generously offered to send us a gift hamper for our appraisal. 

Yes, that's right: my own personal gift hamper! ­čś▒Christmas couldn’t have come sooner.

The hamper that arrived was the Wine n Food Gourmet Hamper (mmm yes please!), which has a collection of healthy edibles (natural walnuts, freeze dried super fruit, jamon from Spain - an all time favourite of my family), and delicious, naughty edibles like Godiva chocolates, English chocolate and praline biscuits, Maison XXII chocolates, and Pablo Picasso art cookies in a colourful, fun box), plus drinks (a collection of green tea, bottle of Spanish rose, and illy espresso coffee). To top it off, there were two really cute Santa decorations for the Christmas tree (check out the video at the end of one of them). All of this was wrapped nicely with a beautiful Christmas laurel bow on top, making it the perfect gift!
give gift boutique hampers present hong kong hk

What I really liked about this hamper was the diversity of the products inside - from healthy snacks and drinks, to indulgent treats, there’s something for everyone. The service from Hong Kong Give.Gift.Boutique was also exceptional - they responded promptly, and arranged timely delivery of the hamper straight to our door. If you’re looking for a unique gift, they have a wide range of different types of hampers (including themed ones for Chinese New Year, beauty products only, fruit baskets, flower arrangements etc), with a range of prices, so you can find something that suits your budget. 

I am so grateful for this unexpected gift! What is everyone else grateful for this Christmas?

give gift boutique hampers present hong kong hk santa christmas

Last, but obviously not least, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Amanda and I hope you guys are having a wonderful holiday, surrounded by friends, family, and food (which is not necessarily in order of importance ­čśé).

xx Carmen

PS. Got your hamper sorted but forgot to buy a card? Not to worry - Paperless Post has you covered, with hundreds of e-card designs that you can customise and send via email, all from the comfort of your home. They also offer themed designs from designers like Kate Spade, cards for all occasions, plus invitations (like wedding invites) as well!
To celebrate my uncle and cousin's birthday, my family arranged a holiday stay at Hoshinoya resort in Karuizawa, around 2.5-3 hours drive outside of Tokyo. The resort is a whopping US$900 a night for the cheapest room, and markets itself as an idyllic, tranquil getaway from city life. It is designed to allow you to escape from your worries to find inner zen (and be told off by the staff if you speak too loudly...no kidding, this actually happened to us in the lobby!). It is situated about 10 minutes walk from a small village center called Harunire Terrace (and there are free cars that will drive you there if you request at the front desk), and around 25 minutes drive from the larger shopping outlet.



Rooms

Let's be honest: you probably don't want to arrive at the resort at night, especially if you are travelling with anyone who has difficulty seeing in dim lighting conditions (as pretty as it can be). The resort is spaced out so that the lobby and main restaurant are in one location, with the rooms fanning around it, at least a few minutes walk away from the main area.



If you are with elderly travellers (like we were), following your guide in near-darkness to walk to your room from the main lobby area is a bit tricky (one of our group managed to wander off in the dark and find themselves a bit lost). Our rooms were also up a flight of stairs, so it's not the most invalid-friendly resort.




This all wasn't really an issue for me and my boyfriend, but what was quite disappointing was the room itself. For US$900 per night, I was expecting a lot more when we were shown our room. While spacious, the room housed two separate beds resting on an elevated platform (a nod to the Japanese tatami style of sleeping), with a lounge area with a table surrounded by a thin sofa base and pillows (a nod to the Japanese Horigotatsu restaurant seating where you sit low to the ground, with a recessed floor beneath you for your legs), a separate toilet (with the very Japanese multi-function / multi-button toilet), and a separate bathtub / shower room, housing a traditional wooden Japanese soaking tub.




Some things I liked: the bathtub had a button that you could press that would automatically fill it (and would automatically stop the water), and the hotel had provided three lemons for us to put in for aroma, which was a nice touch. I can personally testify to this tub retaining some serious heat: if you like your baths hot and long-lasting, you can soak in searing temperatures for a few hours in this tub.The other thing that I loved was that the resort provided a skincare pack, with cleanser, moisturiser, etc - something that every traveller looking for small, travel-sized skin care products, would appreciate.



All in all, the room was minimalist - something I would ordinarily enjoy...except when paying the rate we were paying per night.

Food

The hotel offers a choice of a Japanese or Western meals, but some of these need to be booked the day before.

If you're craving fruit and vegetables, there is a quaint (and tiny) grocery store at the village.
Alternatively, you can walk to the small village center around 10 minutes away (or take a complimentary hotel car) for food. For breakfast, we stopped by a cute bakery cafe called Sawa Mura, which sells a range of baked goods (I highly recommend the caramelised tomato tart stuffed with mushroom and chicken!) and coffee. For those who are lactose intolerant, you’ll need to buy a small carton of soy milk and add it separately to your coffee. The bakery also sells a range of nicely packaged cookies and jams. A breakfast of a tomato tart, chocolate raspberry croissant, ham and cheese panini, two coffees and a soy milk set us back JPY 2,900 (US$26).

Cute cafe Sawa Mura sells a variety of baked goods and coffee.
For dinner, the hotel offers a few options, but again, many need to be booked the day before. For the Japanese dinner, we had a choice of Shabu Shabu (¥12,000 / US$135) or Seasonal Kaiseki (¥12,000 / US$110). Note that both prices exclude tax and 10% service charge. The Kaiseki was not bad: highlights include the sashimi, but the eel rice was disappointingly lacking in eel.



Activities


The hotel encourages all its guests to enjoy the natural wildlife all around, and you can spend 30 minutes wandering around the picturesque gardens, which are split into a few different rows with water flowing through them and between each one, with miniature waterfalls. The sound of running water and birds in the air is incredibly soothing. 


There are some activities that you can pay extra for (such as horse riding, nature tours, and watching flying squirrels), but there is enough to do without forking out extra money. There are two onsens (hot spring bathing pools): the private one for guests only is called the Meditation Bath, and consists of a hot indoor bathing pool; whereas the public bath (Hoshino Onsen Tombo-no-yu) is 10 minutes walk away, and has both an outdoor and indoor section. The private bath is open from 3pm until 10am; whereas the public bath is open from 8am until 10pm (and from 8am - 9am, it is only open to resort guests - so get in early!). Both have fairly strict Japanese bathing etiquette (no clothes / swimwear allowed inside the onsen; no tattoos allowed; must shower before getting into the onsen etc), but there are some guides in the hotel to help you navigate this.

In addition, you can hike around the area (which takes around 1.5 hours) - most of the track is simply forest, but there is a break in the treeline at one point, which is quite pretty.

Borrow a bike from the hotel and explore the natural beauty.
If you're feeling desperate for some shopping, the hotel has free shuttle buses running to the shopping outlet called Price Shopping Plaza, around 20-25 minutes drive away. Expect to see your usual suspects of high-end brands such as Botega Veneta, Salvatore Ferragamo and Saint Laurent Paris, to younger brands like Kate Spade and Alice & Olivia, and sportswear labels like Under Armour, Nike, and Adidas. Don't forget to bring your passport to get your tax refund handled instantly; and also keep an eye on time because the complimentary shuttle buses get full quickly and leave right on time! If you want to catch a cab, the price is around US$40 one way.

Having said that, there are interesting complimentary activities at the resort - they offer you free happy hour drinks (including juice, apple whiskey and rose) and Japanese snacks every afternoon at the lounge, complimentary tea in the morning, and at times will have a food truck that serves desserts and cocktails.



I have to confess that I can't recommend the resort because of the exorbitant price...but if you are visiting Hoshinoya Karuizawa, I'd recommend just kicking back, enjoying the onsens, and relaxing with a book outside in the tranquil, natural landscape.

xx Carmen


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