The International Buddhist Temple in Richmond, B.C. (photo: Richard Wong/Alamy)

Go West for Eastern Culture in Richmond, B.C.

By Tracy Hyatt

If by some feat of magic you were suddenly dropped into Richmond, British Columbia, it might take a minute to realize that you were still in Canada. Looking around, you’d spy Chinese lanterns hanging from storefronts and streets choc-a-bloc with Asian restaurants. Perhaps you’d glance upward and see the sky illuminated by the neon signs of a night market.

Richmond is where East meet West. A visit here is akin to travelling to Asia without crossing the Pacific, as nearly two-thirds of the population is of Asian descent—from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but also Japan, Korea and the rest of the Asian diaspora. Pick a day or two and discover the charms of this vibrant coastal city that’s right next door to Vancouver.

By far the best way to experience Richmond’s Asian culture is by taking a curious appetite to Alexandra Road, known locally as “Food Street.” With 200-plus eateries lining the three blocks, it’s a foodie’s dream filled with hot pots, pho, dim sum, sushi and more.

Dim sum is an institution here; it’d be downright foolish not to indulge. At Empire Seafood Restaurant, the small-bites meal is served seven days a week and as early as 9 a.m. The kitchen turns out beautiful har gow (shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), as well as standout wu gok, a shareable, deep-fried dumpling with mashed taro and duck.

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Empire is one of more than 15 eateries, ranging from beloved hole-in-the-wall spots to fine-dining establishments, that comprise Richmond’s Dumpling Trail. At Suhang Restaurant, you can savour Shanghainese fare like xiao long bao soup dumplings. Served with dipping vinegar, these meat- and soup-filled nibbles are so tasty that they’re worth the inevitable drips down your shirt.

One thing to remember about the food scene here is that many of the more adventurous offerings are found tucked away in shopping malls and markets—like the Richmond Night Market, open from May to mid-October. As the sun sets, locals and visitors alike descend on this wildly popular destination for amazing street eats, including barbecue skewers, pan-fried satay squid and Korean-style pork belly. The bazaar also hosts dozens of stalls hawking clothes, electronics and other bric-a-brac.

richmond, b.c. cannery night market
Check out Richmond’s historic seafood cannery and its bustling night market (photos: Tourism Richmond)

The temptation to simply eat your way through Richmond is strong; you’d be remiss, however, to skip the city’s many attractions. One that’s definitely worth your time is the International Buddhist Temple, a sanctuary from the bustle of markets and restaurants. Visitors of any faith can drop by during the day to meditate and meander through the grand halls and classical Chinese gardens.

There’s more exploring to be done a little farther west, in the community of Steveston. In its late 19th-century heyday, the village was the largest fishing port and canning centre in B.C., attracting scores of immigrant labourers from Japan and China. Though the hum of the canning line has long gone silent, you can learn how its workers shaped Steveston at the Japanese Fishermen’s Benevolent Society.

Touring the Gulf of Georgia Cannery offers further insight into B.C.’s famed fishing industry. At the peak of its production, in 1897, this “monster cannery”—now a National Historic Site—packed more than two million tins of fish per year.

If you really love seafood, then spring is a glorious time to be in Richmond. Down at Fisherman’s Wharf—next to Steveston Landing—you can buy spot prawns by the pound, right off the boats, from mid-May to early June. The lineups can be long; arrive early in the morning for your best chance to snag some tasty crustaceans.

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Should you prefer your marine life on the larger side, you’re also in the right place for whale watching. From April to October, Steveston is packed with camera-toting tourists hoping to see majestic orcas, humpbacks, gray and minke whales. Set aside about three hours for a whale-spotting expedition in the Strait of Georgia.

Back on land, consider wrapping up your weekend with a bit of bargain hunting. It’s a breeze at the open-air McArthurGlen Designer Outlet, the first collection of designer outlets in the Vancouver region. Keep your eyes peeled for impressive savings on brands like Ted Baker, Kate Spade, Hugo Boss, Ugg and Lolë. The mall is just one SkyTrain stop away from the airport, so you can make a quick pit stop before flying home to Alberta.

Getting there: Vancouver International Airport is actually in Richmond. Taxi fare to most local hotels is $20, or take the Canada Line SkyTrain for less than $8.

Where to stay: The Fairmont Vancouver Airport is one of North America’s best airport hotels. Its Globe@YVR, restaurant specializes in Pacific Northwest dishes. AMA members get up to 20% off accommodations and a $50 dining credit with a minimum two-night stay booked through AMA.

River Rock Casino Resort boasts a live-entertainment theatre, spa, three restaurants and a marina. Book with AMA and save.

Things to do: Purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass for free entry into National Historic Sites like the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. Save $10 on a family pass purchased at an AMA centre.

Rent a vehicle from our exclusive partners—Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental—and save. Members get exclusive discounts, plus savings on GPS rentals and 10% off prepaid fuel options.