by Meghan Roberts
Those who’ve been to Vancouver’s Chinatown know it’s a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells.  It’s vintage with a little modern, vibrant, and sometimes chaotic.  Naturally, it’s one of my favourite places to be.  Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada and the second largest in North America.  It stretches from Gore Street to Taylor Street, with most of the bustle located along East Pender, Keefer, and East Georgia.  Don’t stray to East Hastings Street unless you are an experienced Vancouverite though, otherwise you’ll be cutting your experience short and heading straight to Yaletown. 

I like to start out my day in Chinatown at one of two places: Floata Seafood Restaurant (400-180 Keefer Street) or New Town Bakery (158 East Pender Street).  Your choice can be based on personal preference or, my most common decider, moolah.  If you’re unconcerned about cost (or someone else is picking up the bill), head to Floata for some dim sum.  Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) are your safest bet at any dim sum joint.  I also love chive shrimp dumplings and gai lan, Chinese broccoli served with oyster sauce.  Dim sum is best and cheapest with 5-8 people, but you can go with less if you have a hearty appetite.  If you’re a little strapped for cash, head to New Town Bakery for some Chinese baked goods.  New Town is famous for their prawn turnovers and apple tarts, so you should probably grab one of each.  The apple tart is flakey and gooey and delicious, while the prawn turnover is life-changing.  At $0.85 and $1.10 respectively, you won’t break the bank getting your breakfast.

After you’ve satisfied your hunger, start your self-guided walking tour through Chinatown using this handy map.  It provides key historical buildings to visit and a little background info for those looking to expand their minds.  Don’t miss the Sam Kee Building (8 West Pender Street), considered to be the thinnest building in the world at only 6 feet wide, and Shanghai Alley (West Pender Street and Shanghai Alley), host to a beautiful bell and billboards outlining important Chinatown milestones.  For those uninitiated to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, I would advise you to skip numbers 9 through 12.  While the area is rich in heritage and community, it can be quite shocking and sometimes dangerous. 

When you reach the Chinese Cultural Centre on your walk, be sure to linger in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (50 East Pender, walk through to the entrance behind bust).  This oasis is the only full-size classical Chinese Garden outside of China, and it’s free!  Well, mostly.  About half of the garden is free to the public.  The other half will run you $14, but you get access to more beautiful scenery and several historical artifacts.  Whatever you choose, you’ll be shocked at how serene and quiet the garden is, especially considering its location.  Stop for a photo op in the pagoda, or by the lily covered koi pond.

If you’re looking to do a little shopping you should check out Ming Wo’s (23 East Pender Street).  The Chinatown address is the original location of the popular lower mainland chain.  Ming Wo’s features beautiful cookware, unique cookbooks, and an array of cookie cutters and cake pans.  It’s the perfect place to pick up some glassware for the drinker in your life, or a new kitchen gadget for mom or dad.  After you’re done there, head to Keefer Street to gawk at the plethora of dried and fresh goods on offer. Start at Keefer and Gore, and walk west down Keefer until you hit Columbia.  Along your way you’ll witness bins of dry fish and shrimp, and shop walls lined with jars of exotic looking items.  When you reach Columbia, you’ll find a plaza with a memorial statue and lots of benches if you need a sit.

You’re probably feeling a little thirsty by now.  For a quick remedy, head straight to Bao Bei (163 Keefer Street).  Bao Bei is a recent addition to Chinatown that has quickly gained a devout following.  A light, eclectic interior is paired with drinks from a master bartender and a menu inspired by the owner’s heritage.  Tannis Ling, both bartender and owner, opened up the joint to a crowd hungry to see Chinatown revitalized.  If you want a meal, head to one of the tables at the back.  Otherwise take a seat at the bar and watch Ling craft delicious cocktails served up in her personal collection of vintage glassware.  I’m partial to the Kai Yuen Sour, with dried Chinese plum syrup.  Also try The Best F%$#ing Pina Colada You’ve Ever Had, a mango colada that’s satisfyingly festive.  Order up a few cheap snacks, like the Warm Eggplant or Sliced Pineapple, or sit back and enjoy your drink.  Bao Bei is open from 5:30 to midnight, Tuesday to Saturday, so if you’re out on a Sunday you’re out of luck for this one.

You can, however, visit the Chinatown Night Market.  The Night Market runs all summer, Friday to Sunday, from 6:30 pm to 11:00 pm.  It’s much smaller than the famous Richmond Night Market, but it still boasts counterfeit goods and tasty snacks.  It’s located on Keefer Street between Main and Columbia.

You might want to go home and change before you head to this last destination.  Chinatown has never been the same since Vancouver powerhouse promoters Gman and Rizk created Fortune Sound Nightclub (147 East Pender Street).  Featuring the Funktion-One sound system, private rooms decorated by local Vancouver artists, and exposed bricks and beams, this modern space will have your head spinning.  With events all week long, you can’t go wrong.  You might want to get there a little early on Fridays and Saturdays though, as this place fills up.

Whether you wake up refreshed from a leisurely day out, or with ears ringing from the Funktion-One, you’ll hopefully have learned a few things from this lively neighbourhood.  Visit as often as you’d like; you’ll just keep finding more gems and reasons why Chinatown in the place to be!