The “Non-Vegas” Person’s Guide to Las Vegas

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I hate how so many people love Vegas. It’s a superficial oasis. Nothing natural about it.¬†Going to there¬†was never on my list until earlier this year…my two cousins, Maria & Belle, suggested that we all see Mariah Carey’s concert at Caesar’s Palace in August. I’ve only been there as a kid and I didn’t think much of it.

Oh whale. Why knot. It’s another opportunity to hang out with them and that was worth the alcohol I’d have to consume to feel part of the group.

I booked my ticket and the boyfriend and his roomie joined us. Fast forward to two weekends ago, I was nervous about going and being a party pooper. I secretly strategized my getaway plan for when we go to a bar and shots magically show up in front of me, eyes staring me down to tank my drink and down the shot. Ugh. I’m too old for this, I told myself.

We arrived at the Bellagio and the first thing I smelled was smoke. Cigarette smoke. Ugh. Disgusting. I couldn’t handle how strong it was (I’m probably spoiled by Hawaii’s no-smoking within 50 feet of a building law). I’m so sensitive to smell, guys. I can’t stand it and it makes me feel nauseous. I’d say it’s the number one reason why I would never stay at the Strip again. Aside from going out with my cousins, boyfriend, and his roommate, I avoided Las Vegas Boulevard¬†at all costs. I didn’t care how glamorous people dressed¬†or how grandiose the hotel displays were…I wanted to get out of there. The whole experience was a bit impersonal, to be honest, which is why I forced my cousins and bf to¬†join me in my search for real experiences.

I’ve compiled a list of places and eateries that I did enjoy. This list is for anyone who dares venture off the infamous Strip. Thanks to Yelp for saving me money and my sanity.

Chinatown, Las Vegas

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Chinatown in Las Vegas? Yeah, I never heard of it before. But it’s like brand spanking new. This is the first clean and oddly spaced out Chinatown I’ve ever been to. It¬†looks like everything was built a couple of years ago. Most of the shops and eateries are located on Spring Mountain Road, a convenient three minute ride from the swanky Strip.

We walked around and ate at Magal BBQ, which was obviously not Chinese, but they had great Korean bbq¬†and our server so happened to be from Saipan. Score! He treated us to a bottle of soju, which he happily drank with us. We walked our full bellies off across the street to J’s Karaoke Bar, a Korean (there’s a pattern here, we go to Chinatown for Korean food and soju, obviously) hiphop themed bar. My cousins and boyfriend had a great time singing and taking shots in the dimly lit room we reserved for ourselves.

On another night, we went to Sushi Kaya, where you can eat unlimited sushi for $28. Let’s just say they lost money with us. I never order sushi inland, but this place obviously flew in their fish and uni. I was peer pressured to try¬†uni for the first time here and it wasn’t bad.

I promised myself I’d try a good Chinese restaurant, the Pho Kim Long pho restaurant, and the tea shops next time I visit.

Seven Magic Mountains

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Prior to arriving in Vegas, I noticed at least four people that have been here in the last few months. I read up on it here. You can see the colorful rocks from the freeway and it’s only fifteen minutes away from the Strip (without traffic). It’s really in the middle of nowhere and that’s the beautiful part. The art installation will be up for the next two years. I highly suggest visiting this if you need a break from the casino.

The bf rented a car specifically to drive me out here because it’d be ridiculous to Uber it and have our driver wait until we were done taking photos. We spent about 45 minutes here taking photos, touching the rocks and talking to a few locals.

Downtown Las Vegas – Arts District

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I learned that Downtown Las Vegas was the “old Vegas.” The bf took me through Fremont Street, which was a tackier-but-cheaper version of Vegas. It still wasn’t for me. We then rolled through the arts district and saw lots of murals and hipster-esque eateries with no lines (yay! no waiting!) and free parking. This is where the locals are. I was sold. This is my kinda place.

Viva Las Arepas

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Venezuelan food was not on my list when planning our weekend getaway to Vegas. By the third day, I was over the endless lines at eateries on the Strip and I wanted food that was authentic and an atmosphere that was less chaotic. I quickly Yelped “best¬†cheap lunch” and came across Viva Las Arepas, a Venezuelan eatery that had five star reviews and it was just a five minute Uber ride away from the Bellagio.

Can I just say arepas top burgers any day?! I loved it. Everything was cheap too. We saved a lot of money on this trip and still ate to our hearts content. We ordered the roasted pork butt, reina pepiada, and the wood fire beef arepas with an empanada. I can’t even describe how satisfying it was after a night of peer pressured drinking and debauchery. It definitely beat long lines and mass-cooked dishes.

Neon Boneyard Museum

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I know this section merits more than what I’ve experienced, which was just a side tour of the museum, but it’s really worth checking out if you’re exploring Downtown. We pulled up to the half empty parking lot at the Neon Museum and walked into the main lobby. The girl at the counter told us that they are booked for tours for the day (really….the parking lot was barely filled). Apparently, they try to take care of the old neon signs by limiting the amount of visitors. The only section that was open was a small section of their property that had the old Golden Nugget sign and a bunch of others that were neat to see (touching is prohibited).

That’s my list of non-traditional Vegas things to see and eat. If I was given a ticket to Vegas, I’d definitely stay at a smaller hotel and eat at Chinatown and Downtown daily. I’m sure there’s lots more Vegas can offer to those weary of large crowds and glam lifestyle.

Note: All photos taken with my iPhone 6+. Not bad, Apple. Not bad at all. 

Seattle, Washington

My godsister, Maria, had graduated from the University of Washington and I made a little trip up there to help her celebrate and visit the rest of my cousins in Seattle. Small kine family reunion turned into a fun trip around the city! Here are some snapshots from my trip.

Seattle Art Museum

I arrived a day before the graduation festivities started so that I can fit in some culture and sight-seeing. I went to SAM alone to get familiar with the local culture and history. My fave exhibit was the Pacific Northwestern American tribal art.

 

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream

I can’t even figure out how to describe how excited I get when it comes to ice cream shops that make their own unique flavors. Don’t even try to come here and order a vanilla cone because there’s no point in living if you don’t try their earl grey or sasquatch flavors. Mis primas definitely know their desserts.

Let’s EAT

My family is all about eating. Like…we eat when we’re happy, sad, angry and bored. There’s no way around it. That’s how islanders live and enjoy life. I busted out the GoPro for a groupie shot for this one.

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Another shot with my not-so-little cousins. ‚̧

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Chihuly Garden and Glass

I’m pretty sure that glass artist Dale Chihuly had an exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art a few years ago. I swear I’ve seen his work before. In searching for attractions in Seattle, I came across the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition, which is located right next to the Space Needle. Each room features a theme of various glass art. My favorite part of the exhibit is the garden and greenhouse. The garden features glass art that looks like real plants along with some interesting plants and flowers. If you were to visit Chihuly and the Space Needle, best deal is if you buy your tickets online.

I spent my last days enjoying pauhana happy hour sessions with my cousins and catching up with them.

Aside from the traffic, Seattle is a wonderful place where I could see myself living for a few years. The city is beautiful, ethnically diverse and it seems a lot more laid back than how I perceived it to be.

Kris Atomic

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The Unusually Modest Mermaid by Kris Atomic

Lately I have been experimenting with acrylics, watercolor and even mixing the two.¬†I’m not going to lie, it frustrates me that I can put together a visual concept on the computer or take a decent photo but my clumsy fingers and palms can’t even produce a decent image on paper. In my little journey to finding inspiration and ideas to practice with, I stumbled upon the English illustrator Kris Atomic. I’ve seen her work before and when I found her blog, I became fascinated with her characters.

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Kris Atomic at work.

Although her characters may be a little too English for my taste, I like her style and her badass sense of humor.

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Who doesn’t love a Chronic Bitchface?

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Details.

Ugh. I’m sick with jealousy.

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See more of Kris’ work here.

From Cairns to Sydney

 Processed with MoldivMost of our travel adventures happened before and after the tournament in Sydney. Here we are in Cairns visiting art galleries, the Esplanade pool and walking along Grafton and Abbott.

Brentt and I only had a few days to explore Cairns and Sydney before and after the tournament. Cairns was our first stop from Guam. We stayed at the Holiday Inn (now called Double Tree) and it was in the perfect location. We could walk to the main Cairns Esplanade strip in less than five minutes and to the shopping mall in 15 minutes. The good eateries, ranging from Italian to Japanese, were scattered along Abbott and¬†Grafton streets. Along the Esplanade, you’ll run into tourist traps and shops with crappy souvenirs – something we’re already used to in the islands, so we just kept to Abbott and Grafton, where there were more of the Cairns locals walking around.

Processed with MoldivWe stayed in Kurri Kurri, in the outskirts of Sydney. There were wild kangaroos right outside our rooms and witnessed beautiful sunsets. I even got to sample the local wine.

The “beach” at Cairns isn’t that great. It’s brown. You’d have to ride a boat to the Great Barrier Reef to log in some great snorkeling…or you can just settle for the public pee-pool at the Esplanade. Your best bet to get some sun (other than going to the GBR)? Spend the day at the beach¬†down Captain Cook Highway past the airport. The beaches are still brown, but at least it’s shallow, you can walk on sandbars and bbq like the locals.

After Cairns, we headed to Sydney via Virgin Australia. Most of our time was spent on the golf course (see previous post) and the only food available was fried EVERYTHING. French fries, chicken schnitzel, fish and chips, etc. Not the most comforting way to go with two hungry island kids craving anything with some Asian spice and rice or noodles. On our last day, we had a couple hours to visit the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Our hosts from Hawaii were irritated by the traffic and ready for their flight back to Hawaii so we didn’t have a chance to fully explore the city. But we made the most of it and took lots of photos during our last day in Sydney.

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Our official last day in “Straya” was spent at Hartley’s Crocodile Farm.

We then arrived in Cairns (again), returning from Sydney, we were weary travelers, enduring a rough flight on Virgin Australia and starved after refusing yet another fried meal. After checking into Rydges Esplanade, we took a 20 minute walk to grab some dinner and stumbled upon what looked like a bar from the outside, Rattle & Hum. It happened to have the best pizza in Australia that we had access to at the time.

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This is something we’ll always remember about Australia. Its wildlife, sights, kind people and wonderful weather amazed us everyday.

We also decided to visit Hartley’s Crocodile Farm, which was 45 minutes away from the hotel. We bought a package for two that included the passes to the farm and transportation to and from our hotel for $111 AUD. It was fun! We covered the entire park in about two hours and relaxed with lunch at the restaurant. It was their 80th Anniversary so they had face painting, a free photo booth and complimentary croc sausages. It was the perfect way to see everything we wanted to see in Australia: crocodiles, koalas, cassowaries, wombats, wallabies and kookaburras.

It was a great trip for Brentt and I. We’ve traveled to other places before, but this was our first brother-sister trip to another country. We enjoyed every bit of it. Oh dear Australia, it’s been unreal. It might be a couple years until we return, but until then, we’ll cherish the memories.

Fever

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I’m kind of picky when it comes to graphic shirts. The design really has to be cool and complicated a the same time yet work with the basics of what I have in my closet. This morning, I received a promotional email from Threadless for their $10-12 shirts and tanks. I quickly browsed through the meaningless geometric prints, cutesy talking burgers and fries, even the I’m-trying-too-hard-to-be-different statement shirts. I found nothing for the first 18 pages of print-ready designs. Then I stumbled upon shirt with a round mermaid (named Fever) with orange hair, manifested by a graphic genius named Heliana, a 28-year-old Romanian artist who goes by pink.aitch. I fell in love with the extreme contrast and the fact that this chubby mermaid had fancy lace around her waist.

pink1Unfortunately a lot of the coolest designs that pink.aitch uploaded to print were no longer available. Bummer. So I kept browsing through pink.aitch’s products hoping to find something of hers that I could buy. I loved this poster of cute illustrations of hefty and round women dressed as fruit and vegetables. I swear it may be the roundness of her characters that I gravitate towards, or it may be the choice of vibrant colors she uses to bring out their personalities. Was it available? Nope. I’m kind of upset at this point.

pink2I searched for her other works and found this last illustration. The detail and exaggeration of the redhead’s dress are adorable. Still no luck buying a small print or a shirt. I guess I’ll just stalk Threadless or Society 6 for some of her new stuff.

You can view her artwork on her website here. I also found pink.aitch’s personal blog where she posts photos of her latest illustrations and projects.

Wicked Wednesday

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A preview of my latest design gig for iTrip Entertainment. They’re doing this Wicked Wednesday event for Spring Break.