A Grand Tour of the States (Part 1 – Las Vegas)

After some major delays, I’m finally ready to start cataloguing my USA trip. I’m writing this on May 12th 2022, so at this point it’s been about six months since I went on the trip! There were many excuses I could make as to why it took so long — video processing woes, a large backlog of things to catch up on (I still haven’t completely caught up on some other things), the Haiku class and MLP program class that I took in the interim, life in general becoming more hectic with planning for potential study abroad plans, etc.

I was basically lazy though. But I need to get this done before I go on my next trip, or else I will be two trips behind. I also have straightened out several of the issues that plagued me before, so now I hope to find a good template and style for my travel blog that I can just copy and paste for future entries as well.

Also please note: While it is my policy to remove GPS data from photo metadata for my normal life blog, I have left in GPS data for most of my trip photos (except where it involves someone’s personal house or something like that).

My incoming plane ride from Edmonton to Las Vegas was on Oct 28 2021, on a budget airline called Swoop. It was scheduled for departure from Edmonton International Airport at 7:50 AM MDT and slated for arrival at Las Vegas International Airport at 9:52 am PDT.

My outgoing bus ride from Las Vegas to Los Angeles was on Nov 01 2021, and was chartered by a company called FlixBus. It was scheduled for departure from Las Vegas at 7:30 am PDT and slated for arrival in Los Angeles at 12:25 pm PDT.

My main overarching goal in visiting Las Vegas was to attend Rinuruc‘s wedding! While there I would meet Rin, Jah, and Alagos.

Table of Contents (Local Page)

ට  Day 1 – Thursday, Oct 28 2021
ට  Day 2 – Friday, Oct 29 2021
ට  Day 3 – Saturday, Oct 30 2021Rinuruc‘s Wedding Day! Met Rinuruc, Jahandar, and Alagos
ට  Day 4 – Sunday, Oct 31 2021 + morning of Nov 01 2021

Day 1 – Thursday, Oct 28 2021

My flight out of Edmonton was scheduled for 7:50 am, and it was scheduled to land in Las Vegas at 9:52 am, in Terminal 3. This was a 3 hour 2 minute flight — I would be moving one time zone to the west too, from Mountain to Pacific time.

My first picture is of the eerily quiet Edmonton airport in the morning, after I had alighted from the (nearly deserted) airport shuttle bus that took me there.

Everything’s dark. Also, it is my custom to take pictures of these “poo seats” in the Edmonton International Airport everytime I visit it:

I likely have a couple other pictures of that that I will add when I post other photo collections in the future. I know they crack Mell up if nothing else.

We were stuck on the tarmac in Edmonton for some time before taking off — there was ice on the wings, and they needed to spray something on it to de-ice it before we were cleared to fly. I took a video of the first part of the flight, attached below, and also took a few sunrise and cloud pictures because I was stuck next to the window for this trip. (It wasn’t too long so I was fine, but in general I prefer aisle seats to window seats. Anything beats sitting in the middle, though.)

We landed at around 9:39 am local time, and the first thing I noticed when we alighted from the plane were slot machines. Slot machines! In the airport arrivals area, before we had even collected our luggage or gone through customs processing. And they weren’t just there for display either, though they were in sort of a glass-enclosed island in the middle of the walking path — some guy was in the enclosed area pulling slots. Isn’t that a little too in our face?? Apparently not, though.

I checked out without issue and went to look for a way to the Strip. I figured everyone was headed there anyway and so didn’t bother doing research beforehand on exactly how to get there. But I don’t drive, and one of my goals was to keep costs down to reasonable levels, so that meant figuring out public transportation at each city that I went to.

Kynji mentioned in Discord that there were city buses from Terminal 1, and I wandered out a bit and followed some signs, the RideRTC app, and my trusty Google Maps, and eventually got to a bus stop with a ticket machine of some sort by it. Some wrangling later, and I was on a bus on the way to the Strip! The bus ride took about 50 minutes and included a transfer, and cost me $6. I believe I could have gotten an Uber ride for about $14, but the bus ride was more fun, plus I was far too early for hotel check-in anyway. The most interesting thing on the bus was a sign that caught my eye:

On the door, it mentioned that Federal Law prohibits standing in the stairwell. Federal Law! Is there really a federal law that prevents standing in the back stairwell of a bus? What kind of busybody federal law is that? Definitely a cultural difference between the USA and Canada, there are bylaws for this and that here too but we don’t need to flex and threaten federal law regulations to get people to comply with things (and it’s not “against the law” to stand in the stairwell here, though on some buses they ask you not to anyway.) Talk about excuses to arrest people you don’t like.

It was nice to see most people complying with the mask mandate, and this was true even on the Strip itself. At this time, Delta was still the prevalent variant, Omicron wouldn’t surface until right after I got home, basically. Sort of. I’ll talk about this later on in the New York post. It was also really neat seeing little palm trees and such along the way, and note all the little differences like that between here and Edmonton. Notwithstanding the fact that it was warm here, and cold and about to snow in Edmonton.

I accidentally alighted a stop early, and spent ten minutes walking past a hotel basically on the edge of the LV Strip, and then spent a bit more time walking up along the Strip a little ways to take in the sights and sounds around me. It was around 22 degrees Celsius at the time, around 10 to 11 am, so it was nice and balmy. There’s a Strip bus service that goes up and down the strip from one end to the other, and I took that bus on my same transfer ticket to my hotel. I would end up leaning really heavily on this Strip bus to get me around during my four days there.

Upon arriving at my stop, I had to briefly enter the mall adjoining another hotel, the Venetian, to get to the overhead bridge that would let me cross the road to Treasure Island, affectionately known as TI. This Venetian hotel and mall complex floored me with how pretty it was though. See pictures later on.

Once I reached the hotel, I was still a couple hours early for check-in even though I had selected the early check-in option for my hotel, Treasure Island. In order to minimize hotel costs, I had done some research and found some deals on the vegas.com deals site, which honestly was quite good and beat out deals I found anywhere else, with the exception of a couple hotels like the Circus which plenty of reviews warned against. Using some sort of promotion, I booked October 28-29 (Thurs and Friday nights) at Treasure Island, in a Strip View room, with early check-in benefits due to my arrival time, for $360.49, which included a $30 or so check-in fee ($40 if I did it on-site, but I had selected it while booking online). It was somewhat last-minute, as I had literally booked it on the 27th, the night before I left, so I was glad to get those prices during a more expensive season. I basically split my stay here between two hotels, and I figured that these two nights were supposed to give me the “neon-lit night city” sort of view (I could have gotten non-strip rooms for around $50 cheaper total) that I desire and crave without breaking the bank, while the last two nights would be at a cheaper, slightly-off-strip hotel, especially since one of those two nights would be spent at the wedding anyway.

I spent some time meandering through the line, even with the early check-in thing, but eventually got in just fine. My room was 23091, on the 23 floor, and it was okay. There are pictures down in the Day 3 section. The view was decent, but the stained windows kind of spoiled the effect. There were two sets of elevators leading to different sets of floors in the hotel, which I thought was interesting. Like one set that only stopped at the lower half, and another set that bypassed all the lower floows and only served the top floors. There was a hotel attendant at the entrance to each lobby checking hotel room cards, to make sure the people going up were guests, and to make sure they were going to the right elevators for their room.

And there were casinos everywhere on the ground floor everywhere! This, I quickly discovered, was a hallmark of all the Las Vegas strip hotels. The bottom floors were half-casino, half-indoor shopping malls, and many of the hotels/malls more or less connected together, so patrons could wander from one hotel to another, indoors, to saitsfy their gambling or shopping cravings. I was actually tempted to try a slot machine or something (I was in Vegas, after all!) but ultimately did not bet or spend a single cent on any gambling activity. There was a ton to see and explore anyway!

But for the moment, I was hungry from the flight over as I had not eaten since dinner the night before, and it was already mid-afternoon by then, so I grabbed some Chinese food from the fast food chain located down on the main floor next to all the casinos.

Jodi Ettenberg, in her book “The Food Traveller’s Handbook”, which I have just finished this past week (May 09 2022), mentions to “give yourself a pass for your first meal. The first meal in town will almost always be one of the worst. You are tired and hungry, and you are unfamiliar with your surroundings. As obsessive as I am about making every meal count, even I acknowledge that sometimes you just need to eat.”

This definitely rang true, and I immediately thought of this meal when I read that. It was not only right in the middle of the strip and thus pricey, it wasn’t very good either. $16.25 USD for a 3-item tray combination in a fast food chain called Pick Up Stix, which isn’t one that operates in Canada, is bonkers, and the serving definitely wasn’t worth the price. But that was fine. Whatever. I needed to get to my room, and the best thing I can say about the meal is that at least it didn’t poison me. I do very much gravitate toward Asian cuisine even when on holiday though, and this trip was no different — a majority of my meals were local takes on Asian cuisine and that was just the way I liked it. With some notable exceptions later on.

After settling in, I came back out to buy a 12-pack of mineral water ($5.79) from the CVS that was connected to Treasure Island. I hate buying mineral water, it’s the scammiest of scams and a drain on the environment, but at that point had no other choice as I did not yet trust the American tap water and the hotel didn’t honour my request for something to boil water with. I then started to walk around the immediate vicinity, in order to learn about the lay of the land. There were several other restaurants (far too rich for my blood) and shops scattered around the place. I then crossed the bridge back over to the Venetian and had a look around there. The shops and stuff were slightly more upscale, and the casino portion was separate from the shopping portion, so it looked like a real mall, which was nice.

But the prime attraction of that hotel’s retail/tourist space was definitely the Canals! There were literal canals going up and down the shopping malls, and gondoliers in boats ferrying tourists around:

The skies were fake too — those clouds were painting onto the ceiling and the lights helped to give the place a really nice, warm sunsetty glow no matter what time it was outside. I briefly considered a boat ride but it was $34 for a ride and I decided it was not worth it alone. I continued walking around all afternoon long, just looking at things, noting odd pop-up shops like this:

And odd sculptures like this:

And even shot a video with my DJI Pocket 2 camera as I walked around the place and missed a traffic light or three. Actually, Las Vegas was really strange because there were three separate red lights or pedestrian crossings I ran into on the strip itself that just didn’t work when I was there. That, plus the bus driver strike that I would later find out about, meant that the city felt oddly dysfunctional to me. I would apply that adjective to a lot of the other cities I visited later on as well, though, in different ways.

 

There were also some extra pictures I took from a pedestrian bridge, of the neon lights and bustling sounds everywhere at night. I really like scenes like this, but the dirty plexiglass or plastic or whatever-material panels guarding the bridges really put a damper on these pictures.

Oh well. The street level pictures were better, of course.

I also shot a third video later at night when I finally decided on a place to eat. My goal, at least on the earlier part of my trip, was to try to eat at a random place for lunch, and source out a hole-in-the-wall place or targetted special interest place from online reviews for dinner. I did vary from this guideline now and then though, but not tonight. After heading back to my room, I did some research on interesting places to eat at, and settled on a Japanese Izakaya eatery named Izakaya Go, located a little way to the west of the strip, in what sort of passed for the city’s Chinatown. Google gave me this walking route (local) and then a straight bus route back, and I decided it was probably close enough to the Strip and so must surely be safe to walk to even though the sun had set and it was dark outside. Right? Right?? I made it there alive, but it turned out to be a really sketchy route to take at night, alone, as a solo female traveler. But I didn’t run into any issues (or really anyone at all), so I was none the worse for wear. Definitely had to be mindful of defensive walking and keep my eyes open for trouble though. Anyway, I recorded at least one night-time walk video in every stop I went to (except the one-day trip to San Jose since I wasn’t there for a night cycle), which I called Moonlight Walks, and this one was Moonlight Walk, Las Vegas edition!

My Uber trip back cost me $45.88, and was somewhat uneventful. We chatted a bit but I didn’t press him

Once I safely reached that restaurant, I went in and was pleasantly surprised by choruses of irasshaimase! and the subsequent meal. The izakaya was somewhat cramped and crowded (and not all seats were available due to COVID-19 restrictions), but they gave me a single spot by the bar next to the kitchen.

I sourced recommendations from the server and bought a couple yakitori skewers (scallops and mushroom) that he suggested.

I downed those as a nappetizer while they prepared my chicken ponzu dinner, featured below. I enjoyed the format of the many little dishes, though it reminded me of my Mom or Grandma’s cooking at home and made me a bit sad/nostalgic for that, but being on an Adventure in Las Vegas quickly eradicated any such feelings anyway. My new year’s sort-of resolution to learn to make some side dishes came from this meal, though.

This was far and away my best meal in Vegas, though not the most filling. Yummy. It was also only $13.95, although the dreaded tipping culture in USA (and North America at large, really) bumped that up in price, and counting the bus fare and stuff, my total expenses for the dinner excursion were $27.65, including the $6 for the bus fare back. I tipped them well though as I liked the meal. I then went out to the main road to try to catch the bus home, realized I didn’t have coins for the bus fare, came back to the izakaya to change a $10 bill into coins, hurried back to wait for the bus… and nothing. The bus didn’t come.

I watched a Black guy waiting for the bus with me carrying a huge mineral water jug, the kind that go on workplace water coolers. He would somewhat impatiently put the jug down on the side of the road and step off the bus stop curb onto the road to peer down the road to see if the bus was coming every few minutes whenever the coast was clear and the cars were backed up at the traffic light, to see if he could see the bus coming. Mind you, I was impatient at this point as well and muttering dark things in my Discord server, but the next bus finally came about 33 minutes later than it was scheduled to, at about 10:30 pm.

I stopped by the CVS again on the way back and picked up some slippers for the hotel, as I was used to an earlier time period of travel, back in the old days with my parents, where decent hotels provided complimentary slippers for guests.. that wasn’t a thing in this day and age anymore, apparently. But it was easily fixable for the low, low cost of $10.83, and I got myself a pair of purple slippers that lasted through the trip and a few more months at home afterwards. It broke apart quite quickly compared to many of my other home slippers through the years, though.

Anyway, by the time I reached back to the hotel and got ready to curl up, it was 11:30 pm. I was still supposed to be working while on vacation, and on my trip I largely worked before bedtime on the night before a workday, and then again in the morning after I woke up, which was usually enough to get my tasks done by noon or so. So since it was a Thursday night that night, I did some work for a couple hours before going to bed and falling asleep. I also took one last picture of the strip just before midnight.

I actually liked this view, minus the dirty windows — I really like the aesthetic of the large, shiny neon-lit city in the distance, with a “quieter” foreground. This one fit the bill pretty well.

Day 2 – Friday, Oct 29 2021

The next day, I woke up bright and early. I had walked about 25000 steps the day before according to my tracker, which was a nice amount. But my legs weren’t sore and I was ready to go. I probably walked that amount at least every other day for my entire trip. This morning though, I had a work meeting, and chatted with my boss over Google Hangouts from my hotel room, with a good view of the Las Vegas strip bustling away below me. I also checked out some of my amenities, and took an incidental picture of the plushies that followed me along on my trip — Tigey, Ducky, and Clara.

The wifi was decent but everything else was rubbish. I tried to get a newspaper both days, but they never had newspapers available — they said they only had a very small number of complimentary newspapers each day, you had to go down to the hotel lobby to pick them up, and they ran out every morning if you weren’t there bright and early to get it. Yet they charge everyone that fee as part of their overpriced fees. What cheap liars.

After I finished my work, it was around 1 pm, so I ventured out for some bites. There were lots of scammers as well as people dressed like this wandering the streets:

I’d seen people dressed like this before in computer games, particularly Saints Row 3, but never actually realized that there were real world counterparts. There were also many people dressed up as characters from famous cartoons, movies, etc, posing to take pictures with tourists.. and then trying to charge them a fee for the picture afterwards. Some were up front about it, some less so, and I saw many groups of tourists being lured in by them. I had been forewarned though so I declined everything. I also had heard of a thing going around where someone would try to give you a CD of their music (which could be blank or could have actual music) for “free” and then would try to wheedle a “donation” out from you afterwards, but I didn’t actually run into this in Las Vegas. (I -did- run into that variant THREE TIMES in Los Angeles later on though, particularly around Santa Monica, where I even caught a full interaction on video as someone approached me for it.) Americans.

Anyway, for lunch, I did some digging for online recommendations for cheap and good places to eat, and got this place:

Ocean One Bar and Grille, in Miracle Mile Shops, which was a shopping complex locatred near the Planet Hollywood Resort. They were packed and had a queue outside, so I registered myself in the queue by first name and number of people in my party (Jessica 1!) They roughly prioritized entry by signup order, but as small spaces opened up, smaller groups got to skip up the line and go in as well, so I was in in about 15 minutes or so.

I had a bar table, and I ordered the Crispy Calamari and Grilled Salmon, which looked like this. And some milk, because I’m a milk-drinker (or at least, I don’t randomly drink alcohol). They also gave me a cup of water anyway.

It wasn’t a ton, but it did taste good, and it was cheap compared to everything else — each dish was $4.99, the milk was $2.99, and after tax it was only $14.06. It took forever to arrive even after I was seated though, but there was no tipping mechanism either, so that was nice, it was a straight, honest price.

I had also bought a 3-day bus ticket this afternoon that would last me the rest of my time in Vegas here. The previous day had cost me $12 in bus fare, as each two-hour window of transit cost $6, but the 3-day unlimited (minus monorail) pass was only $20, so that was a no-brainer, especially as I had to head to the wedding the next day as well, which was located in a residential area of the city, far away from the Strip, by myself, and I wanted to use the buses for that.

There were some other things I needed to pick up on this second day as well. The first and most important thing was a SIM card for my phone. I had tried to see if I could survive in the USA on just public wireless alone, and the answer was a resounding no — Las Vegas, even on the strip, had very poor wireless service, and on the buses it was either non-existant or flickered on and off. I definitely needed data on the phone for the sort of boots-on-the-ground exploration that I was going to do, especially with a bus drivers’ strike on top of that as well. I picked up a $50 prepaid SIM card from the T-Mobile on the Strip for that. That lasted me the entire month and was great! I feel like it costs $40 off-strip though, but whatever, or maybe it did cost $40 there too and the other $10 was some activation fee nonsense. It came with unlimited talk and text and 10 GB of data for 30 days, and I had the option of also opting in for unlimited data for the 30 days at any point, for $10 more. I didn’t opt for this, in the end, the 10 GB lasted me through my entire month just fine when supplemented with wireless.

I also picked up a few other things along the way — some Cortizone cream from Walgreens for $11.91 (I hadn’t figured out my eczema thing yet and was still plagued by swellings and itches here and there but this thing helped soothe it and eventually helped lead me to a proper diagnosis and suppression when I got home), a couple bloomer shorts from a roadside store called Viva TL for $16.25 and a strawberry pink pleated skirt from a store called Hot Topic in the Fashion Show Mall for #37.82 (both were somewhat pricey-ish, but I liked them and decided I needed a bit more clothing than what I had brought along), and a 5TB Seagate external drive for $140.88 from a Target store, because I realized the night before that I wouldn’t be able to take many good-quality videos with just the microSD card that I had — I had severely underestimated how much space they’d took and how much space I had on my laptop (not much!). The skirt is comfortable and I wear it around the house, but the little strawberry patch fell off while I was writing this blog entry. Oh well.

I walked around a fair amount from here, roaming through the malls on the northern side of the strip a bit more, and then returned to my room.

Home sweet evening hotel. It was 5 pm by the time I got back to the room. You can actually see my 6 hour journey here, as well as a couple other photos that I didn’t end up picking for the blog, as I was testing out a phone app called Relive to see if it would capture my movements okay. It wasn’t bad, but the free version had limitations and I didn’t feel it could do all that I needed it to do, so I haven’t yet pursued it any further. The activity map was neat though.

From here, I had planned an interesting evening — I had bought tickets to see Mystere, the Cirque du Soleil show hosted in the Treasure Island theatre. There were two showings, one starting at 7pm and one at 9:30pm, and it lasted slightly over 90 minutes in all. I’ve always wanted to go see a Cirque du Soleil show, and there were several of them located in Las Vegas. Mystere was near the top of my list, out of the ones that were open and available so soon during/after the pandemic, so that was part of the reason I had selected Treasure Island as my hotel to stay in as well.

There was “pre-show” entertainment too, which consisted of a man in a suit and top hat wandering around the crowd and harassing spectators to the mirth of everyone else. He would lead some incoming spectators to their seats, lead others right out another door of the theater, take their tickets and attach them to a string that shot it up to the roof, drop popcorn on people, and a few other oddities like that. The show staff would then playfully chase him around until he eventually fled backstage. He actually turned out to be one of the characters (local) in the actual Mystere performance, an antagonist of sort, which was really cool. The entire thing was quite a wondrous musical-acrobatics performance though, although the story that they were trying to tell was really obtuse and not as clear-cut and easily interpreted as some resources (like the guide book in the Mystere shop outside the theater) would have you believe. They say it’s about the entire cycle of life, for me it just seemed to be vaguely a growing up/coming of age story.

But it was great! I went up to the shop after and bought a snail plushie, which I have already featured as Plushie of the Week #27. She cost $16.26, and you can read more about her in that writeup. She was a giant snail that rose out of the ground at the end of the show. Photography wasn’t allowed while the show was running, but I took two pictures of the theatre, one before the performance started:

And one after it ended, as I eyed the litter that the irresponsible family beside me had left behind:

I was at the back, but it was nice and high, and there were trapezes and things up above and over the audience that you couldn’t really see if you were in the front anyway. In fact, at different parts of the show, they even utilized the aisles that patrons entered by as part of their performance, and these aisles were behind some of the front seats. This is why they don’t let people in after the show starts without a door escort attendant, that will only guide stragglers in to their seats during certain times and hold them back during others. I thought it was really interesting though that you basically had a different view and experience of the show depending on where exactly in the theater you sat. A lady in the front row even got to play with one of the giant babies and a big coloured ball.

Since I was at the back, I had some modicum of privacy, so I even pulled Tigey out of my bag, sat him down on my knee, and had him watch the entire show from there.

After the show and the plushie purchase, I went out to try to source dinner. I had not read The Food Traveler’s Handbook yet, but I was proud of myself for mentioning in Discord at that time that I was going to go on a food tour instead of a sightseeing tour. This time, I had found a place on Google that indicated that there were some shops that sold Singaporean fare nearby, in an area called Famous Foods Street Eats, which was an indoor eatery attached to the casino in Resorts World Las Vegas, another hotel a little ways northeast of Treasure Island. I actually had some trouble finding this place, as the Google Maps location for it seemed to be wrong. I somehow ended up in a weird conference room area on the 2nd floor of the hotel that I’m not sure I was supposed to be even at:

But nonetheless, I liked the vibe, and continued walking around a bit, distracted by the ambience. I eventually found the shops in question though, back on the ground floor:

They’re sort of modelled after Singapore coffee shop or hawker centre stalls, but not really. Not really. But I could see what they were aiming for. It felt like a “White” version of a Singapore eatery though, which I guess made sense for where it was located. It was obviously not authentic, but maybe it was the closest they could get to. There were food machines from which you could make an order at any of the food stalls, and the appropriate stall would then receive your order and start preparing it for you.

While the ambience wasn’t bad, the food wasn’t particularly good though. The claypot rice, from that Geylang Claypot Rice store, cost $18.69 after taxes but wasn’t anywhere near as good as I was hoping. It wasn’t terrible, but it was bland. I also bought Hokkien Mee from another of the stalls called Googgle Man, for $16.26, and planned to eat this the day after. Hokkien Mee is my favourite Singaporean dish, but it is not possible to find a good authentic rendition of it in Edmonton. It exists in at least one store that I know of, but that store is pricey and their version is below average. It was still a lot better than this Googgle Man one though, this turned out to be really bland and slightly overcooked noodles drenched with far too much sauce. It was a regular, random noodle dish with no influences from the original dish at all. Terrible.

Claypot Rice:

Hokkien Mee (I ate it the next day, but sampled it a bit when I got back to the hotel because I was excited to see how good it was, then crestfallen when I saw how bad it was):

Neither helping was satisfactory for its price and neither dish was good on top of that.

The best part of this food tour was the journey home though. I cut across some side roads that ran perpendicular to the main Strip, and basically followed a road that had a liminal, secret back road sort of feeling even though it was right next to the Strip. In particular, I liked the ambient aura of walking along the street next to this parking lot at night:

It felt like I could go in and find lots of med kits and health packs from some open world GTA game or something tucked away in the corners. I also passed a club that was emitting throbbing dance music, and saw random people in shiny clothing getting out of their shiny cars to enter the building.

Talk about a world that I will never be a part of.

Anyway, I got home soon after that, had a nice shower, and then introduced Tigey to his new friend:

And finally, a little bit after midnight, I started packing up, as I had to vacate the hotel in the morning. I took some final pictures of my room, room 23091 in Treasure Island, as a memory keepsake.

Day 3 – Saturday, Oct 30 2021

I didn’t take any videos on Day 2/Friday, but I sure did today! This was the day of Rinuruc‘s wedding, as well as the day I was moving from Treasure Island to the more budget hotel, Westgate Last Vegas Resort & Casino. These first few pictures are from early in the afternoon, as I was checking out from Treasure Island and headed to Westgate. It was about a 15 to 20 minute walk, and I walked the entire way with my luggage.

First up, this picture from just past the noon hour. Denny’s isn’t a store I’ve ever eaten at before. I’ve heard disparaging things said about its food, though they’re probably overstated like is the case with most fast food places, but at least here in Edmonton I’ve never lived or worked close enough to one to fancy going to it for a meal. There aren’t really any Denny’s stores in Singapore either. There might be a couple squirreled around somewhere, but they’re not in the public eye the way KFC, McD’s, or Burger King are. So to see a huge queue outside this Denny’s store in Las Vegas was quite an eye-opener! I gawked for a bit before passing on my way.

Next up were these pine trees. I was passing by the Las Vegas Conference Centre, heading east toward Westgate, when I spied a city worker climbing the trees and trimming the poor palm fronds. These trees already looked really.. artificially bare to me, like they were sporting a mohawk instead of a full head of hair sort of feeling, and I watched with amusement as the worker trimmed the trees a little more just because.

Upon reaching the hotel, I checked in. I saw a huge lineup of people checking out and heading for the monorail. This monorail runs parallel to the Strip, more or less, but was not included in the bus fare I paid, so I never used it. And with a queue like this, in the middle of the pandemic, I deemed it best to avoid the monorail anyway. This made my travelling around a little less convenient, but not by much, and it saved me a bit of cash.

I then got up to my room in Westgate, room 2015, and this time I took pictures before I unpacked.

That window view actually looked pretty great! I took more pictures of what I could see from my window.

I could see the entire northern and eastern Las Vegas all the way to the mountains! It was great! These were residential areas too, and I could see I could see locals moving around in their daily lives, which I really appreciated. This was in its own way a better view than the one I had in Treasure Island, at about half the price ($198.57 for two days).

Anyway, once I was settled in, it was time to head for Rinuruc‘s wedding! I wanted to get there early and had planned to catch a certain bus to do so, but it involved a transfer and I misjudged how difficult it was to get to the bus stop I needed to get to, so the bus transfer involved several minutes of brisk walking and near-running in order to ensure that I didn’t miss my connecting bus. I think I also got off a stop early again. I have a bad habit of doing that.

On the way, I took some pictures of buildings and views that I really liked though.

Just look at those fancy skies. Neither Edmonton nor Singapore have clouds that look like that. And this is a picture I took as I crossed a road and stared off at the mountains in the distance.

Perhaps it was just the area I was in, but I also noted at this point, as I was walking through the neighbourhood and trying to get to the wedding venue, how strange it was that the houses were all fenced and/or walled up and were all generally pointed away from the main road. It felt like a very unfriendly, closed, and almost xenophobic sort of layout, compared to what I was used to in Edmonton. Like telling passersby that they were not welcome, by virtue of the buildings being turned and facing inwards rather than outwards. While this impression might or might not have been fair, this was actually something I thought about for the rest of the trip and also found to be true in every major city I visited except San Jose, and to a certain extent New Orleans. But in LV, LA, SF, and NY, I got a really strange sense of isolation walking around, with nearly every house, building, and school I saw protected by chain fences, tall stone walls, locked gates, and in some cases just being pointed away from the road that I’d expect them to be pointed at. Perhaps a response to the sheer number of homeless in many of those cities.

Then we had the wedding. It was held in the suburbs of Las Vegas, and the area was obviously affluent and pretty. The house itself belonged to a friend of either the bride or groom, and from what I heard, renting out their house for weddings and other events like this was a thing that they did in general, so they were logistically well-prepared and had areas set up for everything. Apparently they and their neighbours also had an understanding that even though they would occasionally hold noisy night events or parties like this which would potentially disturb the neighbours around them, their neighbours more or less did the same now and then as well, and none of them complained as long as it wasn’t too often.

I had easily nine different video snippets and over a hundred pictures from the event itself, and quite a few different memories from it. I was told I could be there as early as 3:45 pm, so that was what I did, and that turned out to be really early, as there were only a small handful of people there at the time. Neither Jah nor Rinuruc, the only two people I knew, were even there yet. Or at least, they might have been there but inside the house getting ready, but they were not out in the general reception area, so I spent some time kind of awkwardly standing to one side or wandering around and poking my head into the garage where the catered food was being set up.

There was a guestbook out front, and I signed that one long before the main crowd of people arrived. Most of them were staying at another hotel that Rin had booked a guest rate for, but that was still fairly expensive overall. And it had run out of reserved spots long before I tried booking anyway. Those folks eventually arrived by a chartered van or bus though, and at that point the wedding reception finally became a lot more crowded and lively. Highlights of the event involved the actual wedding ceremony at an arena of chairs that you can see in some of the pictures below, although we were asked not to take pictures or photos of that part of the event as that part was being professionally video recorded and photographed already and they didn’t want pictures of people taking pictures to show up there.

There was then a long post-wedding reception, involving a buffet dinner, a picture presentation of the happy couple’s lives, character testimonials and assassinations from their friends in the form of embarrassing stories about them, and lots of socializing and dancing. I helped myself to quite a bit of food.

I met up with Jah and Rin at various points during the event, but also found someone else who looked very out of place there, and chatted her up and befriended her briefly. From my notes and from looking at the guest list, her name was Lisa, she was from the table next to mine, and like me, she also didn’t know anyone else here besides either the bride or groom, I forget which. We bonded over that awkwardness and laughed together for a bit before the food was ready. I learnt that she was a teacher and sourced some food recommendations from her after I told her that I was going to Los Angeles next, as she had experience living in the area. In hindsight, I was apparently already doing things right as per that The Food Traveler’s Handbook back then! I didn’t actually end up going to any of her recommendations though.

At some point in the post-reception, I also danced with Jah a bit, to the tune of the Village People’s YMCA, and I even left my video camera on and in my hand as I did so so one of the nine attached videos is just me gesticulating wildly about while the camera’s gimbal tried desperately to shoot a decent video. I also got together with Rin and Jah for some photos, and it felt awkward and rude actually using their real names so I basically didn’t use names at all or cheekily used their online nicknames anyway. While I had known them and talked to them online for many years, it was my first time meeting either of them in person. We also posed a bit with Alagos, Rin‘s dog, and Tigey touched all three of them — Rin, Jah, and Alagos. Later on, Alagos was allowed to roam the house yard and garage area, but also made his way out into the main street and into a neighbour’s yard, before coming back out again and finding his way back. Worried for his safety, I followed him most of the way along his escapade, which can be seen in one of the videos below.

And lastly, to wrap up a night, I called an Uber ride home at around 11 pm, since public transportation really wasn’t an option, it would have taken an hour and a half to get back to the hotel and that’s if the buses were still running and not on random strike. The ride back cost $28.76 after the tip. Jah escorted me out to the car to make sure i got into the right one safely, which I really appreciated — what a gentleman! I was also my Uber driver’s 4000th passenger trip, which I noticed in the app and pointed out to him. He had no idea he had hit that milestone on this trip, but was tickled pink at that.

What follows are now all my (curated) pictures from the wedding as well as a series of videos that I took. A few of them are pulled out here in slightly larger thumbnails instead of being stuffed in the gallery, and both the photo gallery and the videos are in chronological order. Good luck sorting through them all!

Of note, at about the 40 second mark of the 2nd video, you can see Jah do a little dance (partially obscured) in front of the crowd as he reaches the reception area together with his accompanying bridesmaid.

Then, from about 10:30 of the 5th video, Jah invites me to dance and I reluctantly comply.. but leave my camera on and activated! That’s the video I talked about a few paragraphs up.

The 7th video is really short and a bit pixellated, this was the moment that Alagos was set free from his prison and allowed to roam the wedding reception. He was very nice and inquisitive, and ran around everywhere. I eventually did a long chase cam of him in the 8th video, which included him eventually escaping the house compound for a bit. He found his way back eventually, off-video, though. But at this point I was still trying to figure out how well my camera handled darkened scenes, and the transition from light to dark and back again.

And finally, the 9th video is a bit rough, but ends with Lisa coming over to talk to me again and saying that I was her first friend here. She was super nice!

The happy couple and I. They went around posing for pictures with everyone.

Kynji in Discord, who couldn’t make the trip, really wanted to see Rin‘s inner jacket lining.

Jah, Alagos, Rin, and I! Tigey‘s hidden behind Alagos‘s head there (he’s visible in the alternate picture down in the gallery, though.)

Day 4 – Sunday, Oct 31 2021

All in all, that was a really fun night, despite not really knowing many people there. I fancied myself a chronicler and so went around trying to focus on capturing more slice of life/candid guest moments than trying to capture the perfect bride and groom shot — that was the job of the actual wedding photographer and probably everyone else there. That was also my first ever Western wedding that I attended — it might have actually been my first wedding overall, although I seem to remember an extended family event in a restaurant back in Singapore that might or might not have been someone’s wedding. We weren’t really “allowed” to go to weddings though — our Buddhist/Kwanyin spirit medium had warned our parents against our family attending them, so we tended to turn them down. But all that was long expired by the time we moved over here.

I also tried taking a picture of the Westgate hotel scenery at night, but it really didn’t come out well at all due to ambient lighting and stained glass, even with the room lights off:

You kind of get the idea though. I also discovered that there were no power outlets on the entire half of my room closest to the window, so I couldn’t even use the bed closest to the window if I needed to use my laptop or plug in my phone as well because the only available power outlet in the room was on the wall on the far side of the further bed. I even called down to ask for a power bar or extension cord or something, and the hotel didn’t have any! There was basically a counter right by the window that would have been a great place to plop down a laptop and work at, but was actually utterly useless to do any work on because there was no way to get any power there. This was ridiculous, and one of the two reasons that I didn’t enjoy this room and hotel as much as I should have with the view that I got. The other reason was that they had this pamphlet:

And I did qualify for this on the middle day of my stay, Oct 31, since I checked in on Oct 30 and left on Nov 01. But even though I opted in for this, and they indeed did not send any housecleaning as requested, they never gave me the $10 credit. So I ended up spending nothing at Westgate retail stores on principle — no food, no shopping. I didn’t even look at them.

Anyway, by the morning after the wedding, I was looking forward to the rest of my trip. I had booked my LA to SF plane flight on the morning of the 30th, setting the flight for November 6th, but I hadn’t actually figured out how I was going to get from Las Vegas to Los Angeles yet. I booked that on this Sunday morning, reserving a seat on a FlixBus shuttle bus for early the next morning, Nov 01. This meant that this was my last day here.

I spent October the 31st wandering around and sightseeing. Outside of food and the admission fee to an aquarium, I didn’t spend any money on anything else at all. October 31st was Halloween, and there were quite a few people wandering around the Strip in costume and I wanted to catch some videos of that. I also wanted to properly visit Chinatown again, which I knew from my previous adventures was vaguely to the west of the Strip, but this time I still had my 3-day unlimited use bus ticket so I was no longer worried about bus fare costs. I took some pictures on the way, of course:

Curious sights we don’t see in Edmonton. Anyway, for my lunch, I went over west and stopped by a random Vietnamese restaurant named Pho Kim Long II on the way for some Beef Pho.

It cost $16.15 after taxes and tips and was pretty good, I enjoyed it. I then crossed a couple roads and went to explore a two-storey indoor shopping mall called Chinatown Plaza. I took a video here, and have attached it below. Of note, there were a couple stores that didn’t permit videos, so I backed out of them once I noticed the sign, but there was some footage of them anyway. I also met a woman near the end of the video who actually recognized the DJI Pocket and briefly chatted me up about it while the camera was running, which was kind of neat. Not many people recognize it as a camera, and its unobtrusiveness is one of its major advantages and selling points for me.

After I was done, I returned to the strip. I had bought a ticket to an the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, on the south end of the strip, for $29, and this was somewhat special because they were holding a Halloween event there called Hallow Reef, where the decoration was decked out in Halloween decorations and they were open a couple hours later than normal. I took one of those later evening slots and wandered through it with my video camera as well. At some point a staff member stopped me to inquire about Canadian politics, which I found distasteful of her even though she was just trying to be friendly, but she eventually got pulled away by another guest wandering by.

On the way out, I took some pictures of the food court and a painting on the wall that I really liked:

Everything felt a little too crisp and clean though, like it was a whitewashed business hotel with inauthentic amenities. There also weren’t a lot of people around. I did really like that picture though. Maybe one day I’ll have a company send me to a hotel with access to that sort of rooftop view in person.

I then went out and took a complimentary monorail toward the middle of the strip. This was a different one from the Westgate one, it was a tram that ran between Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and the Excalibur, and I took it northwards and then alighted and kept on walking. At some point, I took what probably was my best picture of the Strip on my trip, from a bridge leading north from the Tropicana Las Vegas:

It was quickly approaching 9pm by this point, so I tried to figure out where I wanted to get dinner. I had been west of the Strip twice, so I wanted to go east this time, and after scouring online reviews, I decided that my last meal in Las Vegas was going to be from a Thai restaurant called Lotus of Siam, located on Flamingo Road, about three large city blocks east of the Strip and two south of my Westgate hotel, so it was kind of “on the way” back and not too far afield, but still far enough that I wouldn’t be paying overpriced tourist prices for food. I had to walk northwards along the strip for about a half an hour to get to a bus stop with an eastbound bus that would take me there, so I took my final Las Vegas video, of the random people decked out in costumes (or otherwise) wandering up and down the Strip during Halloween. I named this video Halloween on the Strip!

I found that the restaurant I had picked was quite an upscale one, but I wasn’t planning on staying there since it was quite late at night by that point, so I ordered a dish I had never had before called Nam Prik Ong, to go. It cost $16.26, and was a really interesting dish with many little parts. It looked like this (once I got back to my room and unpacked it):

In the meantime though, while I was waiting, I noticed that the waiting staff here were in costume too, and the bar had a good ambience to it, so I collected several pictures:

Rightly or wrongly, I felt a vibe that seemed to indicate that the serving staff genuinely enjoyed working here. On the way out, I had to catch another bus back, but just like my previous excursion on the first evening here, my last evening here in Las Vegas found me waiting for a bus that did not turn up for over 30 minutes because the bus drivers were on strike. This was annoying, especially since I wasn’t that far from the hotel and could actually see it in the distance, but it felt too far to walk alone at night, plus I had no idea if the bus would arrive at any moment. I ended up chatting with a nice Black or Jamaican-looking guy who was also waiting at the same bus stop at me and bemoaning the absence of the previous bus. He showed me his phone and introduced me to an app that I would use for the rest of my trip in the USA — an app called Transit.

Apparently many cities in the USA use it rather extensively — it was an app that not only showed what buses (and trains) you could catch nearby, but also when the next arrival of the bus was scheduled to be. Which didn’t work all that well in a country like the USA where bus schedules seemed to be more a suggestion than a rule, but its most important feature was that it could also crowdsource user information. You could tap a button and leave the app running while you were on a bus, and it would track the bus and award you helper points that went toward a monthly and all-time leaderboard, and this gamification seemed rather popular as there were quite a number of people using it, especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as I discovered later. Anyway, with that app, he showed me that the NEXT bus had people on board with the tracker on, and we could see the bus headed our way as well as how long it had left before it arrived. There were actual cheers from the three or four of us waiting for the bus when it finally came!

In the meantime, I also did some people-staring. In particular, this block was across from the bus stop:

And over the course of the half an hour or so when I was stuck there, I saw multiple residents come in and out of the doors, stroll along the corridors, meet and chat with each other, lean against the railings to stare at the world outside, and then go back in again. It was sort of fascinating, like watching a little microcosm of a random community’s daily lives.

Then the bus came, I boarded it, and arrived back at Westgate without incident at about 11pm. It ended up being a three hour detour/adventure. I had my dinner, but didn’t do any work this night (even though the next day was a Monday) because I had taken the Monday off for travel purposes. The bus ride from Las Vegas to Los Angeles was from about 7:30 am to 12:25 pm, so I went to bed right after, got up nice and early, and checked out.

I did wish I had time to check out that Barry Manilow performance that Westgate was advertising (Westgate was his home base for performances, apparently), or a few of the other comedy shows or Cirque du Soleil shows that the Strip had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t have time this trip to spend on that, and prioritized walking around and absorbing the sights and sounds of the Strip instead. Perhaps in the future!

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