Las Vegas – Traipsing in North America

Perhaps few other cities can pique anyone’s  curiosity the way the so called “City of Sin” does. Before Macau came forth to steal a piece of the thunder, the image of bright lights, outrageous hotels, flashy limos and big bets, was the sole property of one place…Las Vegas. The combination of “flashiness”, glamour and notoriety makes it a “must see”, even if just to see for oneself what the hype is all about.

Crossing to the other state

I and a group of workmates took to Vegas by road, back during my assignment to Phoenix in the neighboring state of Arizona on 2008. It was a 5 hour drive through lonely desert highways. So lonely in fact, that you could almost picture someone singing  “country road, take me home”, with a guitar on the back of a truck traveling down those long lonely stretches.

There are no major cities between Phoenix and Las Vegas on the shortest route, and the closest to civilization that you can get are small towns that felt like cowboys and gunslingers still lived there until yesterday. The rest of the way it was just desert, and a lot of cactus and Joshua Trees.

The lonely desert highways

A short distance away from Vegas though, the dry expanse is broken a lake created by one spectacular man-made structure. The structure is called Hoover Dam, and lake is called Lake Mead. It is actually refreshing to see a deep blue body of water,  after hours of driving through dry arid land, that the sight could almost quench real thirst.

Hoover Dam

Las Vegas is, quite literally, a metropolis that grew out of the desert. As one approaches its outer limits, the scenery changes, quite abruptly, from dry bare land to low rise buildings. However, it is not until one gets near “The Strip”, that one starts to see the Vegas that we have become familiar with, from photos and from TV. The Strip, a stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard where all the “megaresorts” sit, is quite literally the face which the world knows Las Vegas by. All the big ones, The Luxor, MGM Grand, The Bellagio, Ceasar’s Palace, and the Venetian…are there.

The Strip is grand, to say the least. One whole stretch of the worlds largest hotels and casinos going for several miles, imitating or inspired by various world wonders, from the ancient pyramids of Egypt (The Luxor), to the modern Eiffel Tower (Paris! Paris!). If you equate the scale of construction on this Strip to the amount of money being gambled on it, then there must be more money changing hands here than in a entire third-world economy. Sinful, yes, but it’s so spectacular you could almost forgive it on sight.

The entire Strip is walkable from end to end, which is a very good thing, since it allows (or compels) one to actually visit each hotel-casino and see for oneself their different themes and “eccentricities”, and also because parking and traffic in this stretch of land can be a pain.

I don’t know how gamblers choose their casinos, but for simple travelers like me, who just like to visit places without incurring a lot of damage in cash, a walk from Mandalay Bay in the southern end to The Venetian in the north can already make for a very fulfilling day. Make sure to pause and catch your breath at the pond of the Bellagio, which  has a regular fountain show that is synched to music. If you prefer something more romantic (or cheesy, it depends), you can also go for a gondola ride at The Venetian, complete with a faux Venetian man to sing for you while steering your boat.

Excalibur
The MGM Grand
The Strip
Paris! Paris!
Ceasar's Palace
Brand name shops inside Ceasar's Palace
Treasure Island
The Venetian
Inside The Venetian. In case you fell for it, the "sky" above is just a painted ceiling.
The lights of The Strip, in the evening.
The Bellagio
Another look at Paris! Paris!

Sitting by the slots, or by the poker tables, is hardly stuff for adrenaline junkies, unless probably if you’re already losing by the multiple digits, in which case you’d probably be sweating like you’re standing on the edge of a 1000-foot cliff. Vegas does have a couple of treats for these junkies though, and it has nothing to do with the large chance of losing money and the small chance of winning some. At the northern end of the The Strip is the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, which is unmistakable due to it’s sky piercing tower, the tallest observation tower in the U.S.

On the top of this tower are three of scariest rides I’ve seen so far (I really meant “seen”…I have never ridden any of the three, and I know they have added a fourth one now, which I will also still not try even if I get the chance). These also happen to be the highest thrill rides in the world, and are perfect torture machines for acrophobics. One ride brings you up and down a “tower on top the tower” at speed, another one seems to throw you off the edge, and the third one hangs you one the side of the deck and spins you around. Utter madness…for me, but other people up there it definitely seemed to fun.

Over the edge, anyone?
Imagine if one of them were to puke. Someone on the ground's gonna hit the jackpot!

If you’re like me who prefer to see history when travelling (and has no inclination for gambling at all), you made find the Vegas experience a bit “plastic”. It’s got imitation everything…imitation castle (Excalibur), imitation canal (The Venetian), even imitation New York (New York! New York!). However, for me, the right way to approach Vegas is the same way you approach a theme park. You suspend reality, and enter a world of make believe. Once you’ve done that, then you’ll see that it’s all about the grandeur. It’s got grand everything…grand buildings, grand fountains…it is a grand experience.

*This trip was taken on April, 2008. Obviously, before photography became a hobby. All photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix L3 compact camera

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