This was my first trip to Las Vegas, (first time in the U.S. as well) and I had the best time ever. I had no expectations going into the trip and I have discovered that in life, the best way to have fun is to have no expectations. It was a little sad saying goodbye to Jeremy at the airport, but I was leaving him in the safe hands of my “Japanese parents” so I wasn’t worried at all.
Saturday July 14th : Departure for Vegas
I was going to Las Vegas to present at a conference (HCII208)which was to be held at Caesar’s Palace. This was the my final conference as PhD student. I had already submitted my dissertation and was (and still is) just waiting for the final defense exam in early August. We first flew to Tokyo, then to San Francisco and finally to Vegas. Everything was smooth all the way. We checked into Flamingo Hotel, which is just opposite Caesar’s, at around 6pm local time on Sat 14th. We’d traveled 16hrs back in time! I hadn’t slept much during the flight so I immediately got into my bed and slept for almost 10hrs.
Sunday 15th July: World Cup, Pool Party and Mariah Carey
I woke up around 6am on Sunday morning. Initially I had thought I would be arriving on Sunday night and would’ve missed the world cup, but I was wrong… so I watched the final between France and Croatia on the TV in the room. I was supporting France but I found myself celebrating Croatia goals! Only in the latter half did France finally score some convincing goals to win their second world cup. Then I got dressed and went to Caesar’s Palace to register for the conference. It was the first time I was venturing out of the hotel room. One thing all the Vegas hotels have in common is casinos on any available space on the ground floor. They are a maze of slot machines, blackjack tables, poker tables… and going from the lobby, to the restaurant, the pool, the rooms, basically going anywhere means navigating through this maze. I did make it to the conference venue, registered and consulted with my supervisor about my presentation.
It was about 38deg Celcius outside when I walked out of Caesar’s Palace at around noon. When I went back to my room, I could hear music from the pool below and when my friend Bee finally arrived, we went down to the pool to join the party and cool off! And it was like that all week.. the DJ would put on the music at 10am, waking us up, and the pool party would start until 6pm.
At 6pm when the pool closed, we got changed and got ready to attend a Mariah Carey concert at the Colosseum, Caesar’s Palace. We’ve been hearing her music since we were kids and this was a chance for us to see her live! We were running a little late, which actually turned to out to be a good thing. We had bought the um.. cheapest tickets at the very back and we were joking that we would need binoculars to see her. Luckily, there were some empty seats on the second row and we got moved there! How awesome! We could literally touch the stage.
The concert was awesome. She sang some songs from her new album, then did some of the hits that we knew and could sing along to. We were on our feet most of the night.
It was an awesome end to our first day in Vegas. We went out for some food then went to sleep as we had an early start the following day.
Monday 16th July: Hoover Dam, Route 66 and The Grand Canyon
We had booked a bus tour to take us to the Grand Canyon and they picked us up from the hotel at around 6:30am. It was a pleasant, if monotonous, ride through the Mojave desert. We made the first stop about an hour into the drive at Hoover Dam, which “is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona.” This was a chance to get out and admire the dam, take some photos and stretch our legs.
The next stop was along the famous Route 66 but before that we had a stop at a convenience store and we decided to get a couple of drinks to tide us over the long drive. We still had about 3 or 4 hours to go. I like going on drives in which I am the passenger so I can get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view and maybe a drink as well 😉
We got to the famous stop along Route 66 and looked around, taking some photos as usual….
Finally, after more than 4 hours on the road, we got to the Grand Canyon!
It is something you need to see for yourself. Photos cannot capture the “grandness” of the canyon that lay below us. We walked for about 4 kilometers along the South Rim, stopping often to admire the view. If I ever go back there, I will definitely trek down and maybe camp at the bottom before hiking back up.
We made back to the bus stop just in time for the 5pm departure back to Las Vegas. We were beat and again went straight to bed.
Tuesday 17th July: Gordon Ramsay Burger, Shopping, Conference Reception and an attempt at “Clubbing”
On Tuesday, we were woken up by the music from the pool at 10am. We had some free time after and decided to go shopping at “Ross Dress for Less”, which was about a 15 minutes walk from Flamingo. We took the chance to take in the sights along the strip, the hotel architectures imitating famous cities from Paris, to New York to Venice and Rome. We hadn’t had any breakfast so we decided to have brunch because it was approaching noon anyway. We saw a sign for Gordon Ramsay’s burger restaurant and decided to go in. We shared one burger (it’s big enough for two people) and it was really good. I wouldn’t say it is the best burger I’ve ever had.. I am reserving that honour for a lamb burger I had in Christchurch, New Zealand.
We now had the strength to go browsing for clothes and shoes in our sizes. We both live in East Asia and it’s hard to find stylish, fitting clothes for our body shapes and sizes, so we kind of went crazy… but then I had to leave early in the afternoon to go attend the keynote speech at the conference and afterwards the conference reception.
It was interesting meeting people from all over the world at the conference and the keynote speech by a Microsoft Research employee about technology in support of healthy habits was an insight into some current trends in HCI. Then it was time to open the bar and the buffet table, socialize and network.. I finally left Caesar’s Palace at around 10pm after a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon.
I met up with Bee in the room who was lamenting that it was our 3rd day in Vegas and we had yet to see the inside of a dance club. We both love dancing, maybe it’s an African thing. There are a lot of “party promoters” on the streest of the Vegas and earlier that day we had been added onto a guest list of the Omnia Club at Caesar’s so we had free entrance. She hadn’t eaten so we went out for some food but when she was done eating, neither of us had any energy left to hit the club. So again, back to our beds we went. We were asleep by midnight.
Wednesday 18th July: Conference in the Day and Some Fun in the Night
In the morning, I attended a mentorship session for PhD Students like me who would like to transition into the industry after graduation. While I was away, Bee was also catching up on her work. In the afternoon, we met up and chilled by the pool. In the evening, we decided to explore the city separately. I met up with another friend for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We had a view of the High Roller (the Ferris Wheel that could be seen from my room at Flamingo) lit up behind us and decided to go up in it. So after dinner we walked down the lively street between the Linq and Flamingo Hotels, and got some drinks as we waited to go up. The other thing about The Strip in Vegas is that the streets are teeming with people moving up and down, carrying all manner of cocktails, beer, water.. drinks were in plenty. It is quite normal, in fact it is encouraged, to walk around with open drinks. Vegas is a playground for adults and although I missed J, I knew I had made the right decision to leave him behind on this particular trip. I’m digressing..
We went up the High Roller in a “party pod”. The pods can actually hold up to 20 people so the queue to go up was only about 10 minutes long and we had an open bar in ours. We enjoyed 360 degree views of Vegas from up there. It took about 30 minutes to go round.
After coming down from the wheel, I decided it was finally time I gambled. My friend, who is pretty good at poker, led me to O’Sheas, where we sat down at a blackjack table and played for a couple of hours. I don’t know much about gambling, obviously, but it was good fun all in all. I think we won 50 dollars by the end of the night. When we finished our 2nd or 3rd drinks at that table, it was time to move on. I wanted to try out slot machines, but it was quite boring as all you do is push a button and hope you get the 1 in the nth billion alignment.. impossible odds.
So we walked The Strip towards a 3D simulation place I’d seen earlier, where people were screaming their heads off. We were ready to spend “our winnings” from blackjack. At the 3D place, they make you wear the headset and then you go into this simulated world. We started with the shortest movie they had, which was a roller coaster. It felt so real. I’ve never been in one so high before, but now I feel prepared for my next ride at Universal Studios or Disneyland. It only lasted 3 minutes so we asked for their scariest one, which was 6 loooong minutes. It was a horror movie, only you aren’t watching it but you’re in it. I think I had nightmares that night.
By the way that night, I think we had over 5 dudes whispering near us… “cocaine”, or asking if we wanted to “coke”.. and then fading into the shadows like they hadn’t said a thing. There were also plenty of offers for rides to strip clubs. Of course we declined. Stay away from drugs, kids.
After the 3D simulation ride, we went to this tattoo shop I’d seen earlier in the day and I got a tattoo of the letter J I had been meaning to get for a while. I was in Vegas after all 🙂
Next, we walked into a “Rock Bar” at Planet Hollywood that was actually playing hip hop and RnB hits. It had a fake rodeo bull that customers could ride for free. I didn’t go up on it because I was in a dress but who knows, maybe some other time. By then it was nearly 2am. It was time to call it a night.
Thursday 19th July: No Show Bellagio Fountains and Finally at the Club!
It was Bee’s last day in Vegas and we just chilled out during the day, doing last minute shopping and hanging out at the pool. Again while walking the streets of Vegas during the day, Bee and I received invitations to Tao Nightclub at the Venetian. In the evening, we waited for over 30 minutes for the fountain show in front of the Bellagio but because of strong winds, they weren’t turning it on. So we went out for some food and showered and changed, ready to finally go dancing at Tao.
The Venetian is soooo pretty. Even if you never stay there, you should definitely take a walk inside the hotel. They’ve got shops complete canals and gondolas, in imitation of Venice. The ceilings have got replicas of what I suppose to be famous Italian ceiling paintings.
After admiring the architecture, we finally arrived at Tao. There was a long queue outside and I think it’s the first time I’ve been in a club with that long a queue. After a couple of checks and stamps, we were finally ushered into the club which was tightly packed with gyrating bodies. There was literally no standing space and the music was mostly EDM/electro which isn’t what we were really looking for. So we did one circuit around the club and then walked out, back to our room. Bee had been on the road for 3 weeks by then so she was just too tired; and I had my conference presentation that Friday morning at 8am.
Friday 20th July: Conference Presentation, Absinthe Show and Last Night in Vegas
I had to wake up early on Friday morning for my presentation at the conference as our session began at 8am. I listened to other talks carrying out related research and then also got a chance to present mine. There was only one question asked. There wasn’t enough time for discussions, unfortunately. After our session was done, I went for a coffee break and checked out the posters, saying bye to a few researchers I had met there.
Bee having already left, I decided to just take a walk along The Strip, there is always so much to see. I finally caught the fountain show at the Bellagio. It was beautiful, as expected. Here’s a little taste…
Later that night, the friend I was with on Wednesday got us tickets to Absinthe, a show that is a mixture of comedy, burlesque, acrobatics and dance. The show was amazing. I was thoroughly entertained and couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my last night in Vegas. There is a brother and sister skating duo that I have seen before on America Got Talent and they performed that night. It is much scarier live.. it felt like at any time, she could go hurtling into the crowd or slam her head on the stage. Scary shit but thrilling all the same. I didn’t take the entire video because this is something you need to see for yourself live! They did even crazier spins after this.
After the show, we got an Uber to a dance club called Gold Strike or Gold Spike in downtown Las Vegas, which played the kind of music that’s good to dance to.. popular hip hits, rnb, etc. Finally, dancing! It was so much fun and time just flew.. it was past 2am when we left. I had an early morning flight (8am) out of Vegas and barely got a couple of hours of sleep.
Saturday 21st, Sunday 22nd and Monday 23rd: On The Road
I woke up at half past 4 so to check out of the hotel and get to the airport in time, only to find out that the flight out of Vegas to San Francisco had been delayed by 7hrs. There was no way to make the connection to from SF to Tokyo that day.
I spent most of the day at the airport in LV on standby for flights to SF. They were all fully booked anyway so we eventually got on the very same flight that we were scheduled on at 3pm. Luckily, I got upgraded to 1st class on the 1hr flight to SF. It was underwhelming lol.. At SF, we were put up in a hotel and finally made the connecting flight on Sunday morning to Tokyo, arriving on Monday afternoon local time in Japan. It felt good to finally be home.
Las Vegas surpassed my (zero) expectations. I’m never going to forget my first trip there.
I don’t think I will be making any more trips this year, except a short visit to Kenya after my graduation.