MONDAY, 10 JUNE 2013
Leaving JFK on Delta Airlines, the first domestic flight is kind of daunting experience because of our short connection from Emirates. It isn’t bad, and actually I am pretty impressed with the service and flight. After 30 hours from Singapore to Dubai, to JFK, to Las Vegas, we are arriving at our first destination at 12:25pm.
As we fly into Las Vegas Airport, the sparkling city appears magically from the desert surrounding it. And it’s not surprising that Las Vegas’ McCarren Airport has been one of world’s top 10 most stunning aerial approaches.
Stepping off the plane and the slot machines are right there. I had never been greeted with musical and electronic sound of slot machines at an airport before. There are more than 1,200 slot machines there, in arrival walkways, baggage claim, shopping areas, in terminals near boarding gates. Walking out of the airport is like opening an oven door. It is about 40 degree Celsius. Besides hot weather and arid landscape, another thing to expect is the grandeur of the hotels.
We stay at Luxor Hotel which has views right across the airport. It is easy walking distance to everywhere on The Strip. The hotel is opposite Excalibur, The Mandalay Bay and diagonally across from MGM Grand.
The room is decorated in an Egyptian theme, hieroglyphs adorned both the headboards and the armoire. It has two queen-size beds and cost USD59 per night booked through Agoda, enough for 4 people. I book 2 rooms. We are at the back of the pyramid, with a view of the airport and The Mandalay Bay. No free wifi, no bath tub. TV is the old type with news channels only. This is Vegas standard in the hope guests will get out of the room to gamble.
Luxor Hotel makes the list of several records. One of them is the world’s strangest elevator. The iconic pyramid construction of the Luxor requires the elevators to travel on an incline of 39 degrees. The feeling is like taking a ride in an amusement park. It is also the second largest hotel in Las Vegas and the eighth in the world ranking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxor_Las_Vegas
LAS VEGAS AT NIGHT
I am a pretty devoted walker, but I prefer to dedicate my energy for tonight’s walk. We check in the room and take a nap. At 7:30pm, when sky turns a little dark, all of us wash up and go have a look.
We head to The Strip with very little expectation. Goh and I were here in 1994. There were not many hotels at The Strip then. Luxor, MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace, Treasure Islands were once new kids on the block comparing with their counterparts at Downtown. We are glad that these “oldies” are still around and still look the same, although a little jaded comparing to newer hotels. We check out several eateries and decide to head for Circus-Circus for buffet dinner. Buffet dinner cost USD5.99 donkey years back. Lots of hotels and casinos sprung out over the years. Fanciful structures like Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty are very eye-catching. Bellagio fountain show is impressive. With the Garmin GPS in hand, Goh leads the way.
For two full hours on the 8km walk, we marvel at the outrageously beautiful hotels, entertained by the sight, sound, colors. There are a couple of guys sitting at the sidewalk holding a cardboard with message, begging for money to get beer. Very honest, huh?
No one checks the time. When we arrive at Circus-Circus at 9:50pm, the restaurant was closed. A hungry man is an angry man….the kids are complaining, Goh and I argue. We are so disoriented and distracted. I decide to take the lead instead of being a follower. We can’t afford to make this kind of mistake in subsequent days. Stepping out of Circus-Circus, we take a cab, and very quickly, we are back to Luxor Hotel. Late dinner is at McDonald’s. I skip meal that night.
Las Vegas is famous for cheap buffets. It is the image of what America has become which is fat people walking around in disheveled clothes, often with a feedbag or large soft drink. With motives as varied as personalities, Las Vegas attracts all sorts. Gambling, clubbing, shopping and larger-than-life shows featuring the biggest entertainers in the world. Las Vegas has indeed lived up to its reputation of being Sin City with over-the-top extravagance and myriad options for indulgence of every kind.
TUESDAY, 11 JUNE 2013
The weather is just warming up nicely. We are looking for Avis Rent-A-Car counter, searching everywhere for it. Luxor is a huge hotel. We try every corners and turns in this pyramid structure, asking people. We see cars own by Avis in the car park but have no idea where to get the keys. It takes us almost 30 minutes to find it at the hotel front desk. We fail to notice the obvious.
Breakfast is a quick one at McDonald’s. Clutching coffee in the crisp morning sun, chirpy yet slightly anxious, we prepare to embark on a one-day drive to Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon. Although not the first time on a left-hand drive car, Goh still needs a while to orientate with the Toyota Sienna.
Like intrepid explorers who probe the unknown terrain, our love of self-drive and the outdoor life is often peppered with rugged hardships we never forget. The car is filled with laughter and fun-filled conversations and the upbeat music on the radio.
This is a 45 minutes drive from Las Vegas Strip. On the way, we pass by Lake Mead which offers lovely scenery. Hoover Dam has appeared in dozen of movies since it made its big screen debut in 1934, two years before the structure was completed. Transformers, Into the Wild, Superman are the most recent movies.
A monumental engineering feat, it looks very industrial and concrete. Blended with nature, it cuts through the spectacular hills which form the very end of the Grand Canyon and where the Colorado River is finally controlled to provide a large proportion of the electricity for California, Arizona and Nevada. Interestingly, the dam is the border line between Nevada and Arizona. Arizona is in Mountain Time Zone while Nevada is in Pacific Time Zone.
Facts about Hoover Dam: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/faqs/damfaqs.htm
We stop at the gas station. The town is touristy with gift shops selling products based around the 1960’s Route 66 theme. I have no idea the sense of adventure and nostalgia associated with the road. It is already quite hot by then so I think it is a good idea to get on our way to Grand Canyon as soon as we can.
Surprisingly, admission fee to Grand Canyon is just USD25 per car. Two modes of transport for sight-seeing: driving own car by paying USD50 or to take a free shuttle that stops along the Hermit Road, to Hermits Rest. We choose the bus.
Grand Canyon’s geological feature is amazing with its awe-inspiring views. The drivers we encounter are friendly and informative. Most of them are quite old. We stop by almost all viewpoints on the route. Shuttle bus interval is 10 minutes. In order to maximize our visit, we spent 10 minutes at every viewpoint.
The Americans we meet on our trip in Grand Canyon are wonderfully protective and caring of their natural environment. This conservation emphasis is in evidence everywhere we go. People are especially passionate about returning the natural habitat to the state it was in before settlers arrived. It is not just the nature that we admire but history and culture too.
I take a look at the plan for today – what an ambitious 900km drive! We leave Grand Canyon at 6:30pm, estimated time of arrival at Las Vegas is 11pm, i.e. 4 hours 30 minutes drive. Sunset is at 8:30pm. Driving at night is very challenging. Desert roads are very dark. To prevent Goh suffers from fatigued driving, I keep talking to him, counting down the kms remainder to motivate him, turn on radio loud. Certain time, I also feel like sleeping. Robin, Dominique and Clement, sitting at the back are sleeping. Fortunately, everything is alright. When we are getting nearer to Las Vegas, what surprises us is to see Luxor Sky Beam. The 315,000 watts light beam is the brightest, most powerful beam of light in the world. The feature was included because the Egyptians believed their souls would travel up to heaven in a beam of light.
We arrive at Las Vegas at 11pm.