Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Canada, and one of the largest in North America. It is located primarily along Pender, Main and Keefer Streets, between Gastown and the downtown Eastside (which isn’t the nicest part of the city).
Vancouver’s Historic Chinatown
Chinatown isn’t a huge area, but large enough to stroll around and see a number of interesting shops and restaurants. Highlights in Chinatown include Sun Yat-Sen Garden and the Chinese New Year parade and celebrations once each year.
In addition to all the little shops, fruit stands and restaurants lining the streets in Chinatown, another interesting place is the International Village at 88 West Pender. It’s a mall, so nothing too amazing, but it has some unique stores, including Glory Link International Ltd., which is kind of like an exotic Asian museum, except that everything is for sale. It’s an amazing place and you are welcome to browse (except that children are not allowed upstairs as that’s where they hide some of the especially expensive stuff).
International Village is normally fairly quiet, but has a good Asian food court upstairs, a movie theatre, an excellent Asian-style dollar store, and a variety of other interesting shops. When the place really comes alive though is during the weekend of Chinese New Year when there are live performances inside as well as crowds of Chinese and other Vancouverites shopping at the festival stalls and taking in all the sights.
TIP: There is free parking underground at the International Village – it’s complimentary for 2 hours for the mall’s patrons – so a good place to park, although not on parade day at New Year’s as the road is blocked off to traffic.
Best Times to Visit Chinatown
The best times to visit Vancouver’s Chinatown are at meal times (when you want Chinese food downtown) and at Chinese New Year when you’ll really feel like you’re in China with all the millions of people out to watch the parade (assuming that rainy weather doesn’t keep them away).
TIP #1: You’ll find the cheapest fruit and vegetable store in Metro Vancouver at 770 Gore Avenue, not too far from Chinatown. Sunrise Market is an interesting place, and everything is amazingly affordable, at least for Vancouver. It’s not the freshest produce mind you, so plan to eat or cook whatever you buy within a few days. At the completely opposite end of the scale of the grocery/produce shopping spectrum (but still very Chinese), is the giant TNT supermarket at 179 Keefer Place. If you want to experience Asian supermarket shopping at its finest, then this too is a most interesting place.
TIP #2: Don’t go to Chinatown late at night on your own (especially if you’re a woman), as some parts of East Vancouver aren’t the nicest with lots of drug problems and homelessness in the area. If you’re in a group though, then don’t let the area’s more colourful reputation stop you.
TIP #3: If you are ever in Chinatown on a Sunday afternoon and you like flea markets, head a couple of blocks north toward Gastown to the DTES Street Market on Carrall Street. It’s a very interesting one, with most of the vendors coming from Vancouver’s downtown East Side and some even being homeless. It’s an experience, but perfectly safe!
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden
If you ever visit Chinatown and you like Asian-style gardens, Sun Yat-Sen Garden is a nice one to visit. It’s not large, but it is beautiful. Best times to visit are in the summer and late spring and early fall. See Sun Yat-Sen Garden for more information.
Where to Eat in Chinatown
There are lots of inexpensive Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. One of the better (and less cheap) places is Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie at 163 Keefer. If you aren’t into Chinese, but like German, then check out Bestie which bills itself as “Chinatown’s finest Currywurst.” It’s a tiny trendy place that serves reasonably priced sausage dishes.