I love Chinatowns. When I was younger, I thought every great city needed to have a Chinatown, otherwise, it was just a suburb. Though, I soon learned that “Chinatowns” were in large part a result of the influx of Chinese immigrants to the United States (back in the 1840s?) during widespread famine and hardship in China at the time. Though, once the Chinese immigrants arrived, they were met with oppression and racism (sounds about right), forcing the immigrants to settle in inner-city blocks that would become their community and later “Chinatown.”
But more on that later.
This particular blog post is about my adventures in Victoria BC’s very own Chinatown.
According to the very reliable wikipedia, Victoria BC’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, and the second oldest in North America (SF is 1st), which makes sense, it’s right on the water. Getting to Victoria BC’s Chinatown was simple, I was already staying pretty close to downtown in the cutest Airbnb on Pandora St. I literally just walked west for about 15 mintues. Chinatown is crazy central, close to the Victoria Public Market, the Empress, Market Square, and basically anything else TripAdvisor could offer for downtown. Sidenote, I love how close everything is in Victoria BC.
I somehow missed the iconic Chinatown gate (though, knowing me, is it that surprising?), so I was standing around, sweating, wondering why my GPS said I was there and all I could see were a few red lamp posts. This couldn’t be it, right? I’ve been to a handful of disappointing Chinatowns, but surely Victoria hadn’t let me down as well. After all, from the late nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century, it was the largest Chinese settlement in Canada.
Me: unimpressed and sweating.
Then, I saw the sign.
Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest alley in all of Canada. It is also home to more than a dozen shops, all cuddled in a cozy walkway, which is only 0.9 meters (35in) wide at is narrowest point.
A few of the more notable shops were
- Saltspring Soapworks : A handmade soap family-run company, using rich, organic ingredients and natural botanicals for their products. They even offer many vegan soaps! Their website has a list of all the ingredients for specific products. They even have a line of Body Gelato!
- Devil May Wear : Super cute, handmade clothing boutique. They are all about keeping it local and sustainable, so I can dig it.
- Jovee Handcrafted : SUCH BEAUTIFUL HANDBAGS. A lot of the products are made from leather, and they ALL look so effortlessly timeless.
- Union Pacific Coffee Co : I don’t personally like coffee, but they have killer reviews and great decor. Also, all day breakfast. That’s all you really need, right? They’re also in Dragon Alley, more on that in a sec.
- Heart’s Content : It is a fashion accessory store, specializing in mod Brit wear.
There’s also a really good chocolate shop that everyone was talking about, but I hate chocolate so I didn’t go in. *shrug emoji*
Along the alley, I found this mysteriously vibrant red door. Apparently, Fan Tan Alley used to be THE SPOT for illegal gambling and opium dens. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any opium or secret Fan Tan games (what the alley is named after). BUT! At least I got to peak through the mail slot on this door. Is that creepy and/or illegal? I’m not good at thinking of those things beforehand.
All the wandering around made us thirsty, so we were like, duh, “les get some bobaaa.” I saw some tourists round the corner, conveniently with milk tea in hand. At the end of the alley, we followed their tracks to a restaurant that also had a sign for milk tea. Fan Tan Cafe. Seemed appropriate. I peered through the window, but it definitely looked like formal dining. I went in, and after standing around looking confused for a few minutes, the waitress asked if we were here for tea. She directed us to a little corner in the back.
It was the worst boba tea I had ever tasted in my entire life.
AND, just because I’m super picky, everyone else tried it, and they agreed. The worst.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the actual food is delicious, it certainly smelled amazing, but don’t get that tea.
Instead, head down the street to THE Bubble Tea Place. I should have known by the name to go here. The atmosphere was mega cute, and they have these super cool robot arms that do all the shaking for them. Considering how busy they got after we showed up, I saw why the robots are needed.
In addition to bubble teas, they have loose leaf and lattes. They also had pennies under the floor in dragon designs, it was really cool. Come for the tea, stay for the air conditioning. The Bubble Masters, as they are aptly named, are very experienced and can help you pick your perfect flavor if you get a little lost in their impressive collection of flavor combinations. Definitely the happenin’ spot for all the youngin childrens.
Real talk, that’s not my hand. My nail polish was chipped, so my friend lent me his hand to take a picture. In any case, it hit the spot and left us energized to keep exploring the city. Just outside, there was a dim sum restaurant (Don Mee), but I was the only one hungry so we didn’t go.
We did explore Dragon Alley, and yes, it is also narrow. The lights and lanterns were starting to twinkle as the day rolled into the afternoon. We didn’t stay, so I can only imagine how beautiful the streets are night.
If you would like a formal tour of Victoria’s Chinatown, you can check out Discover The Past, and they specialize in historic tours in Victoria BC. Their Chinatown tours run every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. They meet right outside the Starbucks across from the gate. You can get tickets from the guide day of, 15 minutes before the tour (cash only), online (credit card only), or inside the Visitor Information Centre (both credit and cash).
In all, I had a great experience! The Chinatown in Victoria BC isn’t too big. Definitely doable in an hour or less (depending if you eat), but clean and fun. Have you been to this Chinatown? What was your favorite thing to do? Did someone accidentally brush their boob against your back in Fan Tan Alley? No? Just me…?