Monday, August 31, 2009

Richmond Night Market - one month left!

Last night, after several pitchers of Granville Island honey lager at the Pirate Pub downtown, a bunch of us decided it would be a great idea to head out to the Richmond Night Market. Being the last weekend of August and a gorgeous evening at that, it seemed appropriate enough. After all, we had spent the last few weeks talking about going and we weren't going to let the end of summer slip us by.

This year the Richmond Night Market is going under the new name of "Summer Night Market". A bit confusing since the old Richmond Night Market's website is still live despite being obsolete, and the old name is still what people are searching for. Nevertheless, Richmond's Summer Night Market, though under new management, offers the same thing at the same place at the same times:

- rows of Asian street food vendors
- stalls of cheap merchandise
- permeating smells of BBQ meat
- bright lights
- large crowds
- over-flowing garbage cans

The Richmond Summer Night Market has been a summer tradition of mine since the late 90's. Back then it was held at Richmond's Lansdowne Mall parking lot, with only a handful of vendors selling things like bubble tea and Asian stationery. It kept on expanding, however, and outgrew its location, eventually finding a semi-permanent home behind a warehouse north of Bridgeport Road's big box sprawl. Mention "it's just north of Ikea" and only then do locals begin to understand where it is.

The Night Market is best described as this surreal, frenzied, mish mash of cheap trinkets and rows upon rows of Asian street food, all in a night carnival kind of atmosphere. While not parallel to the epic night markets in Asia, it's about as close as it gets to Hong Kong night markets here in North America. Set your expectations accordingly.

I typically drive if I'm going to the Richmond Night Market. It's often less than a 20 minute drive from downtown Vancouver. Park for free on the streets by Ikea and walk 15+ minutes, or pay $5 in the Sear's lot to be closest. This year since the opening of the Canada Line, it probably makes as much sense to take the train to Bridgeport station and then transfer onto whatever bus that takes you to the Ikea at Bridgeport & Sweden Way.

Just walking to the Night Market is an event in itself. You end up walking behind the long-closed big box stores and trample through the brambles over railroad tracks before following the crowds through the darkness to a warehouse where you can hear music and lights coming from behind. It's all so mysterious and exciting, and not unlike a rave.

As far as I'm concerned, the only reason you go to the Night Market is for the food. The merchandise vendors come secondary. We're not talking about high end knock-offs, but cheap plastic trinkets, Sanrio-esque stationery, Vietnamese and Canto-pop DVD's, Samurai swords, "magic" bras and panties, and doggie outfits. This is a generalization, I assure you, but you get the idea. It makes for great entertainment moreso than great shopping.

So, for me, it always come down to the food. I wouldn't come here expecting gourmet foodie delicacies, but cheap and tasty Asian street food typically unavailable in this environment elsewhere in Vancouver. There's usually a decent variety, from BBQ meat and seafood on skewers to noodles, to the more traditional Cantonese style dumplings, to exotic desserts. It's all so very festive and half the fun is going around with a group of friends and trying new things together.

Highlights of our night:

Pork siu mai
Shrimp gyoza
Japanese scallop & octopus cakes
Spicy, crispy, deep fried chicken
Sesame red bean cakes
Spicy halal lamb
Deep-fried ice cream

While we arrived with only one hour to go, we managed to stuff ourselves silly. Next time, however, we'll be coming back earlier, and with an empty stomach.

Richmond's Summer Night Market is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm until midnight, and Sundays from 7pm until 11pm. It closes for the season on October 4, 2009.

For more information, visit:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Best of Summer 2009: Locarno Beach

On July 21st I joined my sister down at Locarno Beach. It was one of those spectacular evenings - clear skies, warm temperatures, high tide, and a million little sailboats out on Burrard Inlet. We ate dinner at the Galley restaurant (a local's secret at the top of the Jericho Sailing club) and spent our evening enjoying what Vancouver in the summer is all about.

View more of my photos from that evening, here.

Summer's back after an unseasonal cold spell

After months of beautiful, gorgeous weather and warmer-than-average temperatures, Vancouver's summer went on summer vacation and October came in to substitute. Typically August is our hottest, sunniest month... but not this August!

No, this August turned into glimpses of cool, breezy, rainy, autumn-like October. "Back to school weather" as I like to call it. You know it's unseasonably cold when you start taking out the alpaca sweaters, jeans, and wool jackets.

But today was the first day where summer came back. I went for a short walk along the seawall to Third Beach and back. Temperatures weren't soaring - it was maybe all of 20 degrees Celsius, but enough for everyone to strip down, pack the beaches, and go for swims. It was ideal summer weather.

This upcoming week is supposed to see temperatures rising once more. I gladly welcome it back!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Section 3

Section 3 has become our regular Friday night haunt.

Intentional or not, we somehow always end up there on Friday evenings - a large table of 5-12 of us, mostly guys... mostly guys from the same video game studio - and I (for the most part) the token girl.

It starts out innocently enough.

We start with a table on the patio - a few drinks after work.

Throughout the evening friends and acquaintances who also live or work in the neighbourhood will come and go. A few bottles of wine will have gone around, and we'll dabble into several appetizers - pizzas, baked brie, and yam fries.

Before you know it, it's 11pm and they shoo everyone from the patio to the tables inside where there's a DJ (Bee or Blondetron) playing 80's and indie discopunk tunes on their iMac. The place is packed with beautiful people and the staff look like models and rock stars. It feels like a nightclub without a dancefloor. The atmosphere is fun and high energy, and lacks the typical Yaletown snob appeal found elsewhere.

Then somebody from our table gets the bright idea to buy a round of tequila shots or jaeger bombs, and the next thing you know, there's a table of 20 of us, and we've collectively run a 4 figure tab, and it's almost 2am.

Oh, life is rough!

But this happens consistently on Friday nights, without fail, at Section 3. There's a reason why our blonde waitresses have memorized what we drink. In a way, we've got Friday nights at Section 3 down like clockwork.

Located at 1039 Mainland Street between Helmcken and Nelson, Section 3 has been a fixture in Yaletown since the mid- 90's, somewhat before Yaletown became the fashionably superficial yuppy party mecca that it is today.

Back then Section 3 was known as DeNiro's. And back then, Yaletown was still somewhat under the radar. And by that I mean, instead of the celebrity hangouts like Blue Water Cafe, you had casual joints like Benny's Bagels. It was better known for its pool halls than its meat market. So DeNiro's comes from that era.

In case you're wondering, the owner of the restaurant was a die hard Robert DeNiro fan. To show her appreciation, she named her restaurant after the actor, and even named a few dishes after his key roles. A glowing tribute to an actor, no doubt, but when the man himself discovered that somebody was using his name without his permission, he threatened a lawsuit. A well publicized "name the restaurant" contest ensued, and Section 3 became the winner.

Why Section 3?

Section 3 is the section of law that covers these types of lawsuits.

But that's the brief history of Section 3, although it truly has come into its own and has developed its own identity. The only evidence of the previous name is the neon orange NERD sign over the bar - letters that were once collected with the intention of spelling out, "DeNiro's". They only never got that far.

Friday, August 7, 2009

October in August?

After weeks (okay, months) of non-stop sunshine, and after a week and a bit of a pretty intense heat wave (including tropical humidity and an entire city-wide sell-out of air conditioners and fans) - we're now having October in August.


August is known for heat waves.
August is known for sunshine and warm, summery temperatures.
August is typically the prime of summer in Vancouver.

So what's with the grey skies? What's with the cool temperatures? Why did I break out the autumn jacket and jeans?


Because the temperature's a measly 16 degrees Celsius outside!

Quite a change considering that a week ago, it was 36 degrees!

While this is a nice break, this appears to be the week's forecast - an unusual cold spell for Vancouver for this time of year. While it won't be popular at the beach, I hope it translates into relief for the hundreds of forest fires choking up British Columbia.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

2 day Vancouver itinerary

When I'm not updating my blog (which sadly, isn't as frequent as I should be), you can almost always find me contributing to random Vancouver-related posts on the TripAdvisor Canada forum.

Recently a poster thanked me saying they were using my "2 day Vancouver itinerary" that I wrote back in July of 2007. So a quick search through the forums and I discovered what I had writen.

The original poster initially asked if a side trip to Victoria was worth it. They were coming to Vancouver from England and only had 2 and a half days to see the city. Did they have time to see Victoria in addition to Vancouver in those 2 and a half days?

Here's what I wrote:

With your limited time, I'd just stick to Vancouver, especially knowing that you're coming all the way from the UK.

You need at least 2-3 days to give Vancouver justice. Victoria is much smaller than Vancouver, so while you could do a day trip there, it would make for a very long day, as it takes at least 3-4 hours of travelling in one direction to get between the two cities. So that eats up 6-8 hours of the one day. You'd want to leave very early and come back very late. Or you'd want an overnight there as to not feel rushed.

It's not that I don't recommend a visit to Victoria, because it offers a very different atmosphere than Vancouver, but a big draw for tourists is that Victoria's very reminiscent of England, with English style gardens, horse drawn carriage rides, Union jack flags, and afternoon tea, etc. Victoria is scenic, but more in a gentle, manicured, "quaint" kind of way... not unlike the UK.

With 2 and a half days in Vancouver, you could see quite a lot at either a busy or a leisurely pace. And there will be dramatic scenery everywhere.

On one day you could spend the morning exploring Stanley Park (1000 acres of gardens and temperate rainforest surrounded by beaches and water), then walk along the seawall along English Bay and take the water taxi to Granville Island (big public market, art studios, one of a kind boutiques, restaurants, street musicians). Take the water taxi back to Yaletown for boutique shopping and a dinner (lots of excellent restaurants). Walk to Robson Street (kind of like London's Oxford Street) and window shop, and then walk down Denman Street (lots of small ethnic restaurnants, cafes, and boutiques) to English Bay beach watching the sunset go down over the distant islands.

On the second day you could take the seabus across Burrard Inlet north from downtown to North Vancouver and hop on the bus up to Grouse Mountain. Take the skyride (a 200 passenger gondola) up to the top of the mountain and enjoy the view/scenery (assuming this is a clear day). They also have a grizzly bear sanctuary up there, and a hokey lumberjack show - all included in the price. In the afternoon you can either go to Capilano Suspension Bridge (located a few minutes down the road from Grouse), but since Capilano is really touristy and expensive, you can opt for the nearby Lynn Canyon Park (located east of Grouse) which has a *free* suspension bridge, in addition to many easy hiking trails through the temperate rainforest. I personally think Lynn Canyon is more scenic due to the trails taking you down to the river bed and up along the canyon walls by a series of staircases.

If you don't feel like doing outdoor activities, you may want to check out the latest exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery, or take the 30 minute bus ride out to the University of British Columbia to the excellent Museum of Anthropology (possibly the best museum experience in the city). If you're out at UBC, you may as well also see the Nitobe Japanese Gardens.

If you really like gardens, I highly recommend Van Dusen Botanical Garden (55 acres) and the nearby Queen Elizabeth Park (130 acres). Queen Elizabeth Park has a beautiful sunken garden in a former rock quarry.

Another idea for your second day is to take a water taxi to Kitsilano, a local neighbourhood across False Creek from downtown situated on a very scenic, popular beach. Lots of neat shops and restaurants in that area. Some day it's nice just to relax, have a picnic, and soak up the sun. Kits is a good place as any (or Third Beach in Stanley Park is better if you're wanting something downtown).

Gastown I don't really recommend as a destination but more as a "If you're in the area, you may as well visit" - but only visit in the morning or afternoon - it is not an evening destination. Mostly touristy souvenir shops located in 1890-1900-era brick buildings. Put this lower down on your list of priorities in Vancouver, and if you miss it entirely, it's no big deal.

Chinatown is not a dining destination in Vancouver, but a traditional Chinese market located in some of the oldest and most interesting buildings in the city. Again, only come in the morning or afternoon. The Dr Sun Yat Sen gardens, though very, very tiny, are beautiful.

Both Chinatown and Gastown border on a very unpleasant part of Vancouver, so while not dangerous, the side streets and alleys are dirty/smelly, and there are more mentally ill, drug addicted, homeless people in the vicinity than anywhere else.

So as you can see - more than enough to do in Vancouver for 2 and a half days.

Finally, one thing you can do is to wait until you get to Vancouver and see how you're feeling. You could always wait until the end of the first day to see if you feel like visiting Victoria or staying in Vancouver. If you feel like visiting Victoria, I can recommend taking a tour via Gray Line, or Landsea Tours, or West Coast Sightseeing. The price is about $130 per person and they take you on the ferry, to Butchart Gardens, and give you about 3-4 hours of free time in downtown Victoria. Downtown Victoria is very small, and the main attractions are all located in a 5 block radius from one another. Those day trip tours are 12 hours in length.