Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's the best way to walk to Chinatown from downtown Vancouver?

Hastings = Bad.
Pender = Good.

It's a question that comes up frequently on Vancouver travel forums. Despite the countless warnings and words of advice, way too many visitors end up walking down Hastings to get to Chinatown. They are often found complaining about it after on sites like TripAdvisor. Then there are others who don't even make it to Chinatown. Upon venturing too far down Hastings, they turn around after encountering what they must think is a zombie apocalypse.

Hastings is a long street spanning 13 km (8 miles) from the luxurious Coal Harbour condos overlooking Stanley Park all the way east to the foot of SFU campus on Burnaby Mountain. Most of it's completely fine. In fact, Hastings is rather upscale through most of downtown Vancouver. Chanel has a boutique on Hastings & Hornby, for example. And outside of downtown it's a major commercial strip, including an up and coming neighbourhood.

But as you head east down Hastings from downtown, it does get more seedy and sketchy, especially once you get to the few blocks around Main Street where it's downright depressing, smelling of urine, and lots - and by that, hundreds - of drug addicted, mentally ill, and homeless people on the sidewalks. It's not a violent place and in all honesty, if you were to walk through there, you'd likely be ignored by the people hanging around there, but the biggest tip I can give you is to NEVER take Hastings to get to Chinatown.

Take Pender Street instead.

Map to Vancouver's Chinatown
You can walk down Hastings to Abbott Street. Once at Abbott it's probably best to walk the block south to Pender and continue east down Pender. It's just after Pender and Abbott when you enter Chinatown - that's where the Chinatown gates are located.

Note that aside from the Chinatown Night Market, Chinatown is otherwise not a very vibrant place to be at by evening/night as most stores are closed, locked, and gated. It's best to visit in the morning or afternoon.

So if you're going to walk to Chinatown from downtown, do yourself a favour and take Pender Street.


Sebast1an said...

I don't know. I never got bothered by anyone less fortunate than myself when I'm near Chinatown even if I go down Hastings. It can be a sobering experience seeing first hand that Vancouver isn't all perfect and there is a bit of tragedy underneath all its splendors. Makes you appreciate what you already have much of when there are so many whom have so very little.

Robyn said...

Excellent comment, and you're so right. I guess it really comes down to the individual though. For somebody like myself, or yourself - understanding the context of the neighbourhood and having an open mind about it alleviates any fear that might otherwise be prevalent for other people. For others, it's not something they want to drag their kids or grandparents through.

I worked a summer at Tourism Vancouver where I'd be speaking to dozens of tourists face to face on a daily basis. Often I'd hear from people who found themselves along Hastings or somewhere in the Downtown Eastside, and they were sincerely terrified of it. And in their experience, such a sight might be a red flag for muggings, gangs, and violence. But of course, this area's no more or no less violent than anywhere else in Vancouver, but they don't know it. And when they're unknowingly dragging their kids or their grandparents through it based on tourism literature's Chinatown hype, they're not willing to take the chance. Hence the need for the warning.

But perhaps I should have elaborated to say that the warning's not meant to hide what I feel is possibly the saddest place in Vancouver.

Sebast1an said...

Too true, Robyn. It really does come down to the individual. If I had a child with me or if I were a woman (no offense, but females are usually the easier targets in street crimes) I, too, would be worried about going through Hastings street. While you're unlikely to ever be in involved in a mugging or some random crime of violence, the area can still make one's hair on the back of his neck stand straight up if he's not familiar with the surroundings.

Sometimes the truest and most honest things we can experience in life are not always the most pleasant. It's a shame that the neighborhood scares away so many people that would have otherwise see first hand all of the things that make up Vancouver for what it is. For "good" or for "bad", they are an integral part of this city's history. In some odd way, sometimes I find the unfortunate people of that area tend to be more "real", in the strangest sense, than people in the more vibrant places.

Your sincerity is what makes your blog all the more interesting. Thank you for your great work!