When I first thought about going to Las Vegas, I wasn’t so sure it would be my thing. Most people agreed that it was a great place to spend a lot of money on partying and gambling and not much else – like some sort of adult Disneyland – and my scene is a lot more towards the cheap travel, hostels and Couchsurfing end of things. But I had thought about passing through anyway, since I wanted to go and see the Grand Canyon and Death Valley…and I was curious. So I went.

Here are some impressions of Vegas:

Vegas Strip

The plastic playground that is Las Vegas

The Suite

I can’t complain about the choice of suite, in the Encore at Wynn. The spa there is also incredible.

Stratosphere View

Night view from the top of the Stratosphere.

I won’t go into detail about what happened that Saturday because I now truly understand why everyone keeps repeating the old adage, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. It’s exactly like The Hangover – a place where everyone has carefree anonymity and where anything can happen. If you ever express surprise at anything you have seen or heard, people will shrug, smile, and say “It’s Vegas!”. The strip of hotel and casino resorts is a mirage specifically set up to make you spend all your money, and the Vegas ideal is that you don’t feel bad about it. Sin City is not just a crazy place – it is a sanctuary from guilt, because everyone is in on it.

Note: I will say this. If you go up to a good-looking girl who is alone at the bar and start talking to her, even if you think you’re rocking it because the conversation is good and you’re both smiling, EVEN if you’re now conversing in French because she’s Belgian so you feel like the man…prepare for her to mention that she is there on “business”. Yes, she is a prostitute. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – look around the bar and you will see it going on like clockwork. What you choose to do next is your “business”. Talking to people at the bar, the going rate seems to be $500. And no, I didn’t.

Sunday was a tough day. Getting out of bed and heading to the hostel was an ordeal after the excesses of the previous night. I checked in and went straight to bed for a couple of hours. As it turned out, Sin City Hostel was cool. I stuck around for a few days and it seemed like the place in Las Vegas hosting all the young, budget, longer-term travellers, rather than the bachelor parties or weekend blowouts. I met some great people there, especially the group with whom I rented a car and went to the Grand Canyon. But that’s a story for next time.

Vegas is not really somewhere I loved. It’s largely a playground for tourists with an expensive hedonistic bent, and while the “anything goes” nature of it can be exciting, the feeling of excess and inauthenticity was one I didn’t warm to. Still, in the intense haze of lights, fast weddings and changing fortunes, it does feel like there is a fascinating piece of the modern world operating here – perhaps the zenith of American capitalism, in all its glitz and clamour.

Las Vegas Tips

  • City sightseeing: Aside from the main strip (the river running through the Venetian, the lights show at the Bellagio, etc.), you can catch a great view of Vegas from the tower of the Stratosphere Hotel. Stay there midweek and you can get a great deal on a room, and you get unlimited trips to the tower (otherwise, it’s $20 to go up once). It’s not on the main strip, though.
  • See the Grand Canyon: Las Vegas can be a convenient place from which to visit this natural wonder: rent a car, take a bus tour or splash out on a helicopter ride if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Budget Tip for Going Out 1: Go to Fremont St on the old strip – it’s where the locals hang out and the prices are more reasonable, both for drinks and accommodation. On a Tuesday night, the Beauty Salon bar charges $10 to get in and then it’s beers for a nickel in the courtyard after 10pm. You heard me – one pint of beer is 5 cents. There’s a 5-minute queue to get them, and you get three at a time. Prepare for war.
  • Budget Tip for Going Out 2: Want to go to the main strip? You can go clubbing somewhere like XS if you’re willing to queue or drop $50 on an entry fee, but it’s not necessary. Go to one of the casino bars somewhere like the Wynn and enjoy the atmosphere. No one will make you buy a drink, so just hang out as long as you like!
  • Budget Tip for Going Out 3: I didn’t do this, but I am reliably informed that drinks are free as long as you gamble. You can find the cheapest machine where each play is a few cents, then play very slowly and keep getting free drinks. However, you will have to keep tipping the waitresses (both because that is custom in the US and because otherwise, they won’t come back) and you will be kind of rooted to the spot. Could be fun for a while if you have company, though.