Travel: Richmond offers Far Eastern flavour on your doorstep

 

I’m in a plush reclining chair, surrounded by teak wall dividers and palm trees. The smell of ginseng and jasmine drifts in the air; relaxing Chinese five-tone music plays on a soundtrack.

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I’m at the Shangri La Foot Spa in Richmond for an hour-long session of Asian foot reflexology, one of half a dozen reflexology spas in the suburb. I am only 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, yet I feel as if I’m a world away.

Warren, my masseur from Mainland China, is pummeling my “too tight” calves. When he applies pressure to one spot on my foot, I grimace in pain. “That’s your spleen … you too stressed, “ he says.

Over the next hour, my stress is energetically massaged away. It’s assertive, but effective. I walk out feeling light and relaxed, as if I’ve had a vigorous spa experience in a foreign country.

For anyone looking for a getaway that is fresh and exotic, but doesn’t require changing currency, packing passports or dealing with the hassles of airport security, look no further than Richmond.

The bedroom ’burb on Lulu Island boasts a world of diverse experiences. It’s got a bit of Vegas and a lot of Asia — at times I had to pinch myself to remember I was still in B.C.

Not only that, it’s cheap and easy to get to from Victoria. Its 28 hotels, even the luxury ones, are a third the price of those in nearby Vancouver; deals abound. (Example: My hour-long foot and back massage cost only $33.)

Along with the massage, during a recent three-day getaway I dined on exceptional Chinese dim sum, scurried up a challenging climbing wall, guided a simulated bobsled down an Olympic track, bet against a roulette wheel and wandered through shopping malls that made me feel like I was lost in Hong Kong. And that was just the first day.

Here are a few reasons to consider Richmond for a local getaway:

 

Food

With two-thirds of its population now of Asian descent, Richmond has been acclaimed as having the best Asian food in North America, with more than 800 restaurants to choose from. Tasty experiences await, such as these:

• Dim Sum: We chose Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant (150-8888 River Rd.) for dim sum because it was packed with Asian families. It turned out to be the freshest and most flavourful we’d ever had. Rather than selecting from moving carts, diners order dishes using a checklist from a picture menu — and that direct-to-you service maintains high quality.

Other highly recommended restaurants for dim sum include Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant (101-4600 No. 3 Road) and Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant (1200-4540 No 3. Road.)

• Food Courts: For incredibly cheap, fresh and plentiful selections, check out the Asian food courts in the Yaohan Centre (3700 No 3 Rd.) and the 800-seat Aberdeen Centre (4151 Hazelbridge Way), featuring dozens of different Asian food vendors and unlike any mall in North America.

For under $10, you can select three dishes on rice. Some only have Chinese signs, but the food is attractively displayed on steam tables. Just point and they will pile it on the plate.

• Food Street: Alexandra Road (between the Aberdeen and Landsdowne Skytrain stations) is called “Food Street” because it has 220 restaurants concentrated in its short three blocks: Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, Cantonese, Szechuan, Malaysian, Thai and more. Award-winning upscale choices are Jade Seafood Restaurant and Vivicity Restaurants.

Family-run choices such as Seto Japanese and Haroo Korean Homestyle Cuisine get great reviews.
• Dumpling Trail: This fall, the city debuted its new Dumpling Trail (dumplingtrail.com), with a downloadable map to 18 restaurants where you can try every kind of Asian dumpling — deep fried, pan-fried, boiled, steamed, sweet and savoury. Bring an appetite.

Attractions and entertainment
You can work off all that food and prepare for the next round of eating with a wide range of activities.
• ROX — Richmond Olympic Experience: Housed in the impressive and massive
(362,000-square-foot) Richmond Olympic Oval, the year-old ROX is the first Olympic Museum in North America. It celebrates Olympic history and the Vancouver 2010 Games with more than 500 artifacts and 15 interactive challenges and simulators.
We rode a hilarious and exciting bobsled run, tried to get the longest flight in ski jumping,
sit-skied down a Paralympics run, recorded how high we could jump and more. It was highly entertaining, informative and definitely worth a visit.
While there, be sure to check out the Oval facilities. After hosting the long-track speed-skating events in 2010, it has been converted to an enormous, state-of-art multi-sport facility and its gorgeous roof, made out of pine-beetle wood, crowns the setting.
It has two Olympic hockey rinks, several basketball and volleyball courts, table tennis, workout gyms, yoga studio, running tracks and much more. We spent a fun and challenging hour on the four-storey climbing wall. (6111 River Rd., richmondoval.ca)
• International Buddhist Temple: Quiet, beautiful and serene, the International Buddhist Temple’s traditional grounds and devotional buildings look as if they have been transplanted from Beijing’s Forbidden City.
With its soothing fountains and ponds, bonsai gardens, dozens of huge golden sculptures of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and stunning halls, including the main Gracious Hall, the Thousand Buddha Hall and the Meditation Hall, it is easy to spend an hour or more in this refreshing oasis of spirituality and calm. (9160 Steveston Hwy; buddhisttemple.ca)
• Steveston & Gulf of Georgia Cannery: Walk along the Fraser River, check out the seafood catch from the fishing boats tied up to Fisherman’s Wharf, or visit the National Historic Site of the Georgia Cannery, where gruelling 1930s life on a salmon canning line is recreated in fascinating detail.
Or stroll the quaint streets. Since 2011, Steveston has been the set for the popular ABC show Once Upon a Time, bringing a whole new group of TV tourists to explore the picturesque village and its boutique shops.
(steveston.bc.ca)
• River Rock Casino Resort: I’m not much of a gambler, but we spent a highly enjoyable evening at the casino. It started with a gourmet dinner at Tramonto, one of four restaurants on the property. Then we took in the Temptations Revue, playing in the sold-out 1,000-seat Show Theatre, and soon we were singing along to 1960s Motown hits.
We finished the day off by seeing how long we could make $50 last in the casino — with penny slots and a few lucky numbers coming up on the roulette wheel, it was a lot longer than we thought. (8111 River Rd.; riverrock.com)

Shopping
I love exploring the aisles of the large Asian grocery stores such as Osaka (Yaohan Centre) and
H-Mart (Aberdeen Centre), marvelling at the names and shapes of fruits and vegetables
I have never seen before (burra, longon, kabocha, nagaimo, lettuce stem and more).
Osaka is a great place to go for gorgeous and cheap Japanese house wares or to find out what’s hot in the “Japanese Trendy Zone.”
The mammoth Aberdeen Centre is an East-meets-West shopping experience, with three levels of unique largely Asian stores, including Daiso, the Japanese equivalent of the dollar store.
One year ago, the European-inspired McArthurGlen Designer Outlet opened on Sea Island, a few minutes away from Vancouver International Airport (at the Templeton Canada Line stop).
It now has 50 top-end lifestyle and designer shops (Coach, Armani, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein) arrayed in an attractive village-style outdoor mall of cobbled streets and gabled exteriors.
(7899 Templeton Station Rd.; mcarthurglen.com)
Our two nights and three days exploring the cultural riches of Richmond felt as refreshing and rejuvenating as if we’d left the country — but with no jet lag or travel hassle.
Then, hopping on a Harbour Air float plane at the South Vancouver Terminal, we were home in 45 minutes.

Anne Mullens was a guest of Tourism Richmond (visitRichmondBC.com), which did not review this article.

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