Travel Diaries – Vancouver (Part Two)

On our arrival back into Vancouver from our cruise, we docked at about 7am. It took until about 9am for us to disembark, and another hour or so before we dropped off our luggage at our hostel. Our plan was to head out and explore Vancouver some more for the day.

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We were checking out another of the Vancouver hostels, this time the St Clair Hotel Hostel. We had a private room with a shared bathroom in the Gastown area of Vancouver. This was a run-of-the-mill hostel, not totally horrible, but not great either. Okay though for a short, cheap, stay.

Our hostel room. There is also a sink and a small cupboard to the right.

We started off towards Chinatown and the Dr Sun Yet-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens. We did almost a whole loop around the gardens before we came across a doorway in – and we surprised to find no entrance fee. I have read about this online, and there was a fee – hmmm, strange! We wandered around the gardens enjoying the peace and serenity for a while. I love how even in the middle of a big city there are pockets of calm like this. We came to another gate and went out – to discover that this was the Dr Sun Yet-Sen PARK – the public area. Right next door was the Classical Gardens which required the $14CAD entry fee.

The public park section of the gardens.

We had about twenty minutes to look around before the next tour was conducted, and that is plenty of time because these gardens really are not very big. Once the tour started though I discovered there is so much more to notice here than meets the eye. Everything in the garden has meaning. Almost all materials were brought from the city of Suzhou in China, an area particularly known for it’s beautiful gardens and on which this classical Ming garden is modelled on.

That water is not dirty, but it is made to look like the milky green of jade, a symbol of good luck.
Looking through a screen out into the public park
Chinese poetry adorns the walls of the pavilions

These gardens are the first Classical Chinese Gardens outside China and more than 50 experts from China came over and spent more than a year building it. The whole garden is designed around the Yin/Yang principles, and I had no idea how much influence that has. Yin is the female part, which means soft, smooth lines, darker colours, water, things that are inside and things to the east. So the eastern part of the gardens has all those things. To the west the lines are straighter and harsher with more of the opposite Yang principles. It’s also interesting to see that some Canadian features have been built in too, such as maple trees (Canada’s national tree) growing next to ginkgo trees (China’s national tree) so symbolise harmony between the two countries.

The red leaves on the right are maple, the green tree in the centre is ginkgo
This is called the ting and it acts as the focla point for the gardens

I learned a lot during our visit to the garden, it was quite surprised in fact how interesting it was. I am neither a gardening fan nor a huge fan of Chinese design, this was all just generally interesting.

Back outside the gardens we stumbled straight into a movie set. Vancouver is literally covered in sets. This summer there were something like 50 different movies and films being shot in the city. Vancouver is so huge in the film industry (that’s the reason my daughter is here!) it’s often referred to as North Hollywood. This one was being set up for something from DC Legends of Tomorrow, which Simon’s was pretty excited about.

Putting together a traditional Chinese market in Vancouver’s Chinatown for a film set
There are film sets everywhere in Vancouver

It was well after lunch time now, and we decided we needed to try one of the local cuisines – Japadog. This is a unique hot dog made here in Vancouver that blends the typical North American food with Japanese toppings. There is a huge Asian influence here in Vancouver and this is one of the products. The original Japadog location is a little food cart outside of the main railway station on Burrard Street, although they do now have a store now on Robson Street too.

The Japadog van is found outside the railway station

We had no idea which hotdog to choose, so got one each of the most popular two dogs, Kurobuta Terimayo and Okonomi. I am not a huge hot dog fan, but I quite liked these with the Japanese flavours. Simon on the other hand prefers the original hot dog, with just the typical tomato sauce and mustard.

The two most popular hotdogs
The two Japadog hotdogs

As we made our way back to our hostel we passed the Vancouver Public Library. Of course we needed to go in and have a bit of a look. It’s a huge space, and well utlised as there were people in all sorts of different areas and rooms. I particularly like that there is a rooftop reading area outside in the sunshine.

The colosseum-like Vancouver Public Library

We had a couple of hours then to chill out before heading off to our daughter Bailey’s place – we were in desperate need of using her washing machine. Oh the joys of travel! While the load was on we went out to dinner in nearby Yaletown. Bailey wanted us to try out Meet. This restaurant has a few locations in Vancouver. It’s a modern vegan restaurant and seems to be very popular. There was barely a spare seat, even on a Wednesday evening.

When many people think of vegan food they think salads or tofu. The food at Meet is nothing like that. We had burgers, butter “chicken” and a Thai stir-fry – not to mention chocolate mousse and a lemon tart for dessert. None of us are vegan, and we all found the food delicious and honestly, I would happily serve it up to any meat lover and defy them to say it was not tasty.

No idea what this burger was made of, but it was close enough to meat to possibly fool a meat-eater!
Vegan lemon tart at Meet. It was delicious and tasted exactly like non-vegan lemon tart

The following morning we got up early to visit Grouse Mountain. We weren’t doing it the easy way though, no cable car for us, we were walking up the mountain by doing the Grouse Grind. 2.8km of almost straight up! This is considered a challenging hike with an elevation gain of 853m and 2830 steps. The average time is about 90 minutes, with first timers not uncommonly taking 2 hours, so I was pretty happy to get up there in 92 minutes.

The Grouse Grind Information. Right below it was a sign warning about recent bear sightings
It’s always a concern to see a big warning sign like this at the bottom of a trail

Yes, this was a tough hike, but it was no where near as bad as I had built it up in my mind. I have done similar uphill hikes around the world, my hardest being Mt Kinabalu (you can read about that here) and after reading about the Grouse Grind I was expecting the worst. The second half is harder than the first half, but I actually did it quite a bit quicker. I was taking it easy in the first half in anticipation of what was to come, but in hindsight could have gone a lot faster on the easier sections.

Once at the top we grabbed a quick breakfast and sat admiring the view for a while. We chatted with other people who had also just completed the Grouse Grind. I wasn’t sure how my legs would be feeling after all those stairs, and I was surprised that they were feeling great. Not sore or tired at all.

This is how most people get up Grouse Mountain, via the cable car

At the top of Grouse Mountain (at least in summer) there are plenty of activities to occupy a couple of hours at least. I had noted the time of the first Lumberjack show and we were heading in that direction when we came across one of the Raptor Keepers showing off a beautiful Great Horned Owl called Thea. She was only a few months old but did a great job of showing off to us as we learned all about her cousins that lived in the local area.

A keeper talking about a young great horned owl (who was very concerned about a paraglider coming down)

It was then on to the Lumberjack Show. This half hour show was kitschy and stereotypical, but that was the fun of it. It was obviously scripted too (in fact at one point one of the “actors” points it out!) but they guys showed off some pretty decent skills. The “Crazy Tourist” at the end was a little too realistic for the young boy sitting next to me though, he was in tears!

Two of the lumberjacks competing on the logroll
Carving a cute little bunny rabbit with a chainsaw
First one to ring the bell then get back down again wins

Then it was onto the bears! Grouse Mountain is home to two grizzly bears. Both were rescued as cubs 18 years ago only a couple of months apart. They were both too young to survive in the wild, and although the plan had been to raise them and release them, by the time they were old enough it was clear they did not have the skills wild bears have to live in the wild. So Coola and Grinder live here in a huge enclosure. We had seen some black bears already on our trip, but this was the first time we had seen grizzlies and they are so much larger! Their size and the huge lump on their shoulders are the distinguishing features of these bears, not the colour, as both grizzlies and black bears can be light or dark.

One of the Grouse Mountain grizzly bears – I think this one is Coola
Grinder, the second bear on Grouse Mountain

Next was the free flight show. As it started it became clear this show was run by the Pacific North West Raptor Centre that we had visited while we were over on Vancouver Island. We again got to see a bald eagle, a harris hawk, a peregrine falcon and the great horned owl all strut their stuff. It was still fun to watch these birds and their quirky personalities on display.

A bald eagle ready to fly over the crowd
This falcon demonstrated how these birds can fly up to 300km/hr

From there we made our way over to the cable car that takes visitors up to the Peak. Here at the very top of the mountain are the best views over Vancouver – if you can ignore the cable car cables and towers! We sat up here for a while enjoying the view and watching the paragliders take off. We walked over to look at the Eye of the Wind tower, but did not enter and this is an extra activity that needs to be booked in advance. There are also ziplines to enjoy too for an extra few dollars.

The view from The Peak, looking down onto the area where the bears, lumberjack and free flight show is. In the distance is central Vancouver

We were satisfied with all we had done and decided to start making our way back down the mountain. First it was the cable car, then we had to catch the gondola down. We were leaving at a popular time so there was a bit of a wait and much of it was spent standing in the sun. My major complaint with Grouse Mountain was the lack of shade. None of the seating for the shows has cover, and neither do any of the viewpoints for the bears or up on the Peak. I know Vancouver doesn’t get a lot of sun, but the day we were there it was only 24 degree and I ended up with a mild case of sunburn. I would have assumed the cover would have been useful for the many days of rain they get in Vancouver too!

As I was sitting on the public bus back to town (the trip is two buses and takes about an hour) I noticed a bus go past that said it was the free Grouse Mountain shuttle! I had no idea this existed. I knew there was one to the Capilano Suspension Bridge but hadn’t even thought to research another bus. I now know it leaves about every half an hour from Canada Place. We still would have needed the public bus to get there early for the Grouse Grind, but we could have had a quicker and cheaper trip back to the city. See the website here for more details.

While it’s not exactly cheap to visit Grouse Mountain, if you can take advantage of all the activities and make a day of it then it is good value for money. There are plenty of food options too, from a coffee shop to a fine dining restaurant. It’s also possible to go up in the evenings during summer to enjoy the sunset views.

Click here to buy your tickets in advance

By the time we got back it was after 4pm. We rested our legs for the rest of the day, but I do have to tell you about this great place that we ate at called Fresh Bowl. It again has multiple locations in Vancouver, we went to the Gastown store. The menu is Malaysian made to order bowls. First choose a base, such as varieties of rice or noodles, then the sauce (green, coconut, pad thai or peanut just to list a few) and protein (chicken, tofu, beef etc) and they do the rest by adding a whole pile of veggies too. It was delicious, and we got great service. We ended up chatting to one of the family members who owns the restaurant. If you get there, try the yummy Thai Iced Tea too!

A delicious meal from Fresh Bowl

We woke up the next morning and gingerly tested our legs – were we going to be able to move? Surprisingly, and luckily, the answer was yes! The first order of the day was to walk across town with all our luggage to pick up the rental car we would have for the next week. We swung by to pick up Bailey as she was coming with us for the weekend, and then went to check out a part of Vancouver that was easier to get to by car – Lynn Canyon.

Most people who visit Vancouver go to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but it is quite expensive and usually crowded with people, so we decided to go to Lynn Canyon to check out the suspension bridge there instead. I have been told that Capilano is more impressive, but Lynn is free and way less crowded – although you will not be alone, there were still enough people here to scare off the bears (I hoped!).

The Lynn Canyon suspension bridge

We did the Twin Falls hike, a loop of around 1.5km that starts with a walk over the suspension bridge. Bailey was not a big fan of the bridge, but decided to deal with it and go back over it two more times so we could also walk to the 30 Foot Pool. I have absolutely no idea why it’s called the 30 Foot Pool because it wasn’t very big – unless that was the distance across it not it’s depth?

Admiring the green 30 Foot Pool

After a couple of hours enjoying the tranquility of the area, we were on the road again, this time to our weekend destination – Seattle, USA.

Want to read more about my time in Vancouver? Try these posts
Travel Diaries – Vancouver (Part One)
Travel Diaries – Vancouver Island
Travel Diaries – Vancouver (Part Three)

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