RICHMOND, B.COn this warm summer night I’m not the only person following a walkway defined by yellow string and Moduloc fencing. It’s a good few minutes’ hike to the source, but worth every step because in upbeat atmosphere, high-spirited crowds and authentic street food, this is a trip to modern Asia.
Admittedly, the Richmond Night Market isn’t quite as bumper-to-bumper as the one in Hong Kong’s Temple Street, and you won’t fight your conscience over buying bootleg DVDs as you might at the market in Thailand’s Chiang Mai, but the two essential elements are there: stacks of bargains to raise your adrenaline and enough food for fuel stops in-between.
Less than half an hour’s drive south of downtown Vancouver, Richmond is a suburb overlooked by most west coast visitors. But its predominantly Asian population has given it an oriental shopping culture unmatched in Canada, and the Night Market is its most exuberant example.
From the air, the market must look like a medieval encampment, with row upon row of square booths (250, they say) topped with jaunty red and yellow peaked roofs. Underneath, people sell everything from gaudy, sequined tops and 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles to “designer” purses and packets of twinkle dots for your fingernails, all within steps of each other and all at rock-bottom prices.
Sooner or later, the food stalls call. The fare is mostly Asian, but it’s 21st-century Asian, which explains curiosities like bacon-and-potato skewers, hot dogs and barbecued squid side by side at the same stall, and the use of western ingredients like Nutella. I buy a small plateful of wickedly good pad Thai, then season it with fish sauce, sugar, lemon juice and chili flakes just as I would in Bangkok. Car wheel cakes from Taiwan. Grilled squid. Japanese dumplings. Vietnamese noodles. Fusion-food trays of fat crimson strawberries dipped in green-tea chocolate. All of it a bargain beyond my dreams and made right in front of me. Ten Canadian bucks and I’m stuffed.
With its Ferris wheel, live entertainmentkids’ talent contests, local bands, it variesand Cantonese pop songs blaring from the speakers, the mood is carnival midway meets street market. It’s huge, noisy fun, a place where the world meets and gets along happily. The setting is unexpectedly beautiful. Making your way to the market’s northern edge provides a fine view of the Coast Mountains, turning pink as the sun sets.
The Night Market is a weekends-only event that runs from late spring to early fall, but, year-round, a visit to Richmond is a fast getaway that makes you feel you’ve flown thousands of kilometres [miles]. It has shopping centres more Hong Kong than North American, with stores selling street-sharp fashions next to traditional tea-houses. The sprawling, three-storey Aberdeen Centre has the flagship North American branch of Daiso, the famed Japanese two-dollar store. Two whole floors of bright-coloured bargains. At Yaohan Centre, not far away, signage is in Chinese and the mall food court is an adventure. Malaysian, Cantonese, Szechuan another place you can eat your way around Asia. And did I mention cheap?
For more information on the Richmond Night Market visit its website at www.richmondnightmarket.com. The market is open from mid-May to early October on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 7 p.m.
For more information on Richmond, B.C. visit the Tourism Richmond website at www.tourismrichmond.com.