A Guide to Chinatown


Highlights of North America’s third-largest Chinatown

Few neighbourhoods in Vancouver embody the city’s history, diverse cultures and vibrant future like Chinatown. Located on the eastern side of downtown Vancouver, the bustling district is North America’s third largest Chinatown by population, after those in San Francisco and New York. Its roots trace to the late 1800s, when early Chinese immigrants, who arrived to work on B.C.’s railroads and in the mines, were settled in a ghetto on the edge of the city. With time, the neighbourhood grew into a proud centre of Chinese culture, home to traditional restaurants, markets, temples and gardens, as well as a booming business district. Today, Chinatown reflects this rich heritage but is also in the midst of a renaissance, with trendy bars and restaurants reclaiming historic spaces.

Stroll Dr Sun Yet-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

The first garden of its kind ever built outside of China, this ornate landscape of jade-colored ponds, stone pathways and traditional tings and halls was built in 1986 by 52 Chinese craftsmen. Nearly all of the materials -- from rare hardwoods to the special weathered limestone used in the ponds -- were brought over from China. Today, the Dr Sun Yet-Sen Classical Chinese Garden offers a refuge of tranquility in the midst of a busy city. A comprehensive program of cultural and musical events, as well as seasonal celebrations, is also held throughout the year.

Indulge in Traditional Dim Sum

No trip to Chinatown could be complete without experiencing a dim sum meal. Diners are treated to a succession of small savoury dishes, often brought out steaming hot inside bamboo trays. Restaurants throughout Chinatown offer unfailingly authentic dim sums, which are generally served until mid-afternoon. Among the classic dishes you’re likely to sample are har gau (shrimp dumplings), sui mai (pork dumplings) and congee (a thick, flavored rice soup).

Visit an Authentic Chinese Market

Looking for daikon radishes or gourmet chicken feet? How about dried scallops or rare wild ginseng? Even if you’re not buying, a whole day can be spent wandering the aisles of Chinatown’s traditional markets, which showcase a stunning range of exotic produce, meats, herbs and dried goods. Many double as alternative pharmacies, with doctors on hand to prescribe traditional Chinese medicinal cures -- like a generous bowl of bird’s nest soup -- for what ails you. And be sure not to miss Chinatown’s many tea shops, where you can pick up some rare oolong leaves and learn the secrets of gong-fu cha, the fine art of Chinese tea making.

Experience Chinatown’s Parades and Festivals

Every year in late January or February a lavish parade is held in Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year. More than 50,000 spectators and 3,000 performers gather for the event, which includes the largest assembly of traditional lion dancers in Canada. Festivities continue throughout the day, with crackling fireworks, banquets and ceremonies.

If you can’t attend the parade, there are plenty of other events held throughout the year. Among the most popular is the Chinatown Night Market. On weekend nights from May through September, streets are blocked off for a Hong Kong-style outdoor bazaar that lasts late into the night. Vendors sell traditional handicrafts and the latest electronic gadgets from Asia, Canto-pop and Karaoke singers perform, and hawkers serve up a range of delights, from barbecued squid to Japanese takoyaki (fried dumplings).

Sample the New Chinatown Nightlife

With its deep roots and authentic vibe, Chinatown has lately emerged as one of Vancouver’s hippest nightspots. New restaurants, like the Shanghai-Taiwanese bistro Bao Bei, serve modern, Asian-inspired cuisine in chic settings. Meanwhile a new generation of sophisticated bars, like The Keefer Bar, offer handcrafted cocktails in restored historical buildings -- the ideal nightcap after a day exploring one of Vancouver’s most fascinating locales.

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