I ended up in Vancouver because of a last minute decision… and I was on my way to see family.
So when Canadian immigration kept asking me why I was in their country and I had to name several famous sites in Vancouver, I was allowed through.
My first thought when heading into the city was that Vancouver was a bit nippy. In the middle of June, it was a cool 11°C (51°F). (Perhaps, my body was still not accustomed to naturally cold weather. Thank you, Southeast Asia!)
My other first impression of Vancouver was that there are a lot of bikes. The SkyTrain had bike compartments! Ok, this may be the norm in many places. (I just spent a majority of my time in SE Asia and don’t know any better.)
After our late arrival and checking in our Downtown hotel, we went hunting for poutine, a Canadian snack/meal of French fries drenched in gravy and covered with cheese curds. Whoever thought of this concoction must have been hungover when it was created. Our first poutine experience came from Smoke’s. We stayed pure and ordered a medium original trying to wrap our heads around how a single human can consume a box of this without feeling sick.
We walked around Downtown some more, passing the Vancouver Public Library, Granville Street, and Rogers Arena before we called it a night.
We both woke up early at 5:30 and decided to get a head start to the day. We also discovered that Vancouver central doesn’t really function until 9:00. Trying to find any coffee place that opened before 7:00 that wasn’t a Tim Hortons or Starbucks was next to impossible.
We strolled around Gastown and found some “hipster” coffee places and amazing bakeries. Drool…
After walking around in circles killing time, we found Simon’s Bike Shop where we rented bikes for the day at $29.99 CAD ($22.48 USD).
We biked to Stanley Park, the largest urban park in Vancouver. The weather was perfect, the scenery was breathtaking and the roads were bike-friendly.
Afterward, we biked to Granville Island for lunch at the Public Market. The island itself has lots of knick-knack shops if you’re looking for an ‘I [heart] Vancouver’ T-shirt or a Vancouver magnet for the refrigerator. In terms of food, the Public Market is a huge indoor farmer’s market.
We ordered the fried seafood platter and ate outside where we were accosted by large pelicans looking for a free dinner.
Living in Southeast Asia for so long, I almost forgot how real beer tasted! But the Pacific Northwest is the land of craft beer, so I had to try some. Probably not the best idea to drink then ride a bicycle for some +20km more.
We continued our bike ride along the Seaside Route heading towards the University of British Columbia. The ride there wasn’t as comfortable as the bikeway became a gravel path. Our heavy bikes didn’t help with the climb uphill. In the end, my bum knee was crying in pain, and I lost feeling in my seating area.
In total, we biked 32 km (~20 mi), or in D’s words, “Almost nothing.” But he’s a crazy cyclist who likes biking 100+ km in one day if he can. I’m not that person.
After taking a much-needed rest, we went hunting for poutine dinner #2. This time we tried a Mean Supreme at Mean Poutine. At this point, I’ve pretty much sworn off poutine for the rest of the trip. They love their gravies on the salty side!
Being high up in the northern hemisphere in the summer, the sun didn’t set until 21:30ish. It just felt weird to turn in so early, even though it wasn’t. So we went and got gelato at Bella Gelateria near Canada Place. This place was ridiculous. There was a line of 50+ people. But some guys behind us in line convinced us it was worth the wait. Indeed, it was. I had ‘All That Jazz’ (hibiscus) and Toasted Pecan.
On our final day, the skies cleared up early, so we went to Vancouver Lookout for a 360 view of the city. At $35 CAD per person, it was pretty pricey. But the ticket allowed us for multiple entries throughout the day. Sadly, the lookout wasn’t the tallest building in the city, but we had clear views of the mountains and the water.
After lunch, we walked to Chinatown (a must) and saw the Sam Kee (Jack Chow) building, the thinnest building in the world. I found it funny that everywhere I looked around the building had the name ‘Jack Chow’. Who is this Jack Chow, and how did he own all of Vancouver’s Chinatown?
Our next stop was the Olympic Village area. I almost forgot that Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics way back in 2010.
This one-time athlete brothel has turned into a fancy water-side housing area with posh eateries and my favorite name for a restaurant, the CRAFT Beer Market.
More walking ensued along False Creek and onto Cambie St Bridge before we found ourselves in Parq Vancouver, a casino. (Who knew?! Because I didn’t know Vancouver has casinos!) I couldn’t help myself and played the slots twice. My first try, the $5 CAD I put in became $10 CAD. My second try, that $10 became $5.10. Net profit, 10¢.
We also found ourselves inside Costco because we needed to kill more time and it was just there. They offered poutine! But we stayed strong and said no. Instead, we got free coffee while pretending to be locals.
We stumbled on a farmer’s market that also happened to have a high school graduation at the same time, a weird mix. But we got more free samples, and we tried to photobomb some pictures.
After being picked up, we headed to Richmond, aka new Chinatown. It looked very familiar except people used Canadian currency. With a belly full of food and bubble tea, we hopped back into the car and headed to the US/Canadian border, where again, we were questioned by US immigration as to why we were in Canada.
Overall, Vancouver was great. I loved the clean air and the cool weather. I didn’t like the prices as much, but then again, I had been living in SE Asia for too long and got too comfortable with those prices. The city is great for a 2-day visit, but next time, I would head out to the mountains for more nature and less marijuana in the air.
Tried and tested:
- Hotel: I stayed at the YWCA in Vancouver. It may sound weird to stay there, but it was centrally located and one of the cheapest around the area.
- Coffee: There are plenty of coffee shops in Vancouver to pick from. I only had 2 days to try as much as I could, but I really liked Revolver Coffee and Nemesis. But a big NO was Tim Hortons‘ brown-water coffee.
- Bakeries: The minute I walked into Purebread in Gastown, I was drooling. They had a ridiculous selection of baked goods. I only got to try the Chocolate Cookie Bar, but it was a decadent delight of chocolate goodness. Terra Breads in the Olympic Village area offered more artisan bread than pastries. I enjoyed my blueberry bread happily. Stuart’s Bakery in Granville Public Market looked very impressive with their array of pastries and bread. I got their Maple Syrup Cheesecake, which was a little too sweet for my tastes.
- Donuts: The selection at Cartems Donuterie in Downtown included Earl Grey and Salted Caramel donuts. They were pricey at $3.45 CAD ($2.59 USD) but worth it.
- Restaurants: Meat and Bread‘s porchetta sandwich was so amazing. Slow-cooked pork and crispy crackling with house mustard and chimichurri. The Hastings Warehouse was just a ‘meh’ on my palette. But since every dish cost just $5.95 CAD ($4.46 USD), it’s a budget-friendly eatery in a very expensive city.