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.

Flashback: Summer with the besties.

Reunions are hard to come by, especially after college.We made it work this summer.

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Two of our best friends, Annabelle and Janel flew in from Saipan to spend time with us for a few weeks. We all used to live in Honolulu, went to college together, and got our first real jobs together. It was fun to catch up, do everything we used to do when we were younger (beach days, North Shore drives, dinners in town, girls nights in, shopping, and all the fun stuff island girls do).

Sandy Beach

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Sun Yoga on the Beach

I’ve been attending Sun Yoga Hawaii for a month so far. It has been really challenging since I injured my foot a few months ago.¬†Afraid to further damage the muscle in my foot, my doctor recommended that I stick to yoga and avoid high-impact workouts. So I tip-toed into Sun Yoga Hawaii one day and asked if they had a promotion for new members. I signed up for a full month for $44, after my first month, the membership costs $160/month. The cost is a bit much for my budget, but the facilities are much closer to my house than my old yoga studio and I like the feeling I get once we’re done with the hard poses. Sun Yoga Hawaii’s teaching style is very similar to Core Power Yoga but heat-based, which makes for a great workout and post-workout high for those who aren’t heat sensitive. There are some poses that I miss doing that made me feel taller, but I do enjoy how happy my body feels after. I usually go to Michele’s class in the mornings before work. In her instruction, she includes facts about what each pose does to your body (squeezing your thyroid, strengthening your core, twisting your reproductive system, etc.), things that will motivate you to go hard on that posture.

This past weekend, Sun Yoga Hawaii held their monthly free class called “Sun Yoga on the Beach” at Sandy Beach. It was even more challenging to do those poses in the sand! But it was nice because they have a healthy potluck after.

(I got to play with my new GoPro Hero4.)

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.

The last photos from our trip to Liverpool

LP2 copyMy mom (right) scans Bold Street for some Asian products and restaurants.

On the last few days of our trip in Liverpool, my dad and brother went to the British Open while my mom and I explored the city. We grew tired of English food, the meat, potatoes, fish and chips were not satisfying our cravings for bold flavors, so my mom spent half the day looking for an Asian grocery store that she heard of from a friend.

LP1 copy“Look,” said my mom, “they have noodles! We can eat here when they’re done with the tournament.”

We ate at Seoul Love the next day with another family that attended the British Junior Open. Korean and Chinese dishes in Liverpool are very different from Asian food in Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Stan, the owner of our cottage, explained that when the Chinese immigrants arrived in Liverpool, they were so skilled in establishing and maintaining businesses, they heavily contributed to the development of the city. They’ve changed the way they cooked to cater to the British, so their kim chee jigae isn’t as salty (which is good!) and the Chinese fried rice isn’t sticky at all (not good!). Overall, we enjoyed our experience there, it was great to eat something with gochujang and chili garlic sauce after all that fish and chips.

LP5 copyOur mom & daughter exploration day included the famous Walker Gallery.

We then visited the Walker Gallery and viewed many original paintings from local artists, an art contest by children and teens from China and sculptures. The caf√© inside the Walker Gallery is exquisite. You’ll see people from all walks of life walking in there just to grab a latte and a slice of carrot cake. My mother was lucky enough to grab the last slice and I grabbed a fresh, warm oatmeal cookie. It was one of the best grab and go breakfasts we’ve had in Liverpool.

LP6 copyIt was pretty awesome walking into the sculpture room at Walker. I’ve never seen sculptures so detailed up close.

After Walker Gallery, we walked to the Liverpool Central Library, where they had a caf√© and three stories of books. My favorite part was the Picton Reading Room. It’s a circular dome reading room with three stories of shelves. Think Beauty and the Beast type of shelves. I went crazy walking around the room. I found Spanish literature books that I’ve read in graduate school (in ENGLISH!) and the staircases were so beautiful. I loved it so much, I think I could live there.

LP7 copyThe Picton Reading Room was my favorite thing about Liverpool.

LP3 copyAfter the Walker Gallery and the Liverpool Central Library, we headed back down to Bold Street. Each unit had a beautiful storefront.

Bold Street was our favorite street for food and shopping in Liverpool. It was a perfect blend of cultural diversity, good coffee, pastries and shopping. We spent two days in the city and always ended up spending most of our time on Bold Street. Just off of Bold, there is also what they call “Chinatown.” It really isn’t a town but a lineup of five Chinese businesses that sell moon cakes, rice cakes, custard and jin doi (excuse my spelling). I remember we also ate at a Lebanese restaurant for lunch, but we were too hungry to stop and take a photo. So here is the last stop we made that day…

LP4 copyAnd we ended the day with some cake! My mom loves cupcakes.

Can’t go wrong with a little cake. Hehe!

Brentt Makana Salas in Liverpool, England

BRENTT13 copyBrentt Makana Salas has a drive of 270 yards. Here he hits from the white tees on the back nine at the West Lancashire Golf Club.

Hard work never goes unnoticed, especially when it comes to the humbling game of golf. My 14-year-old brother, Brentt, has worked for years on his swing, technique and his mental game, but he still has a long way to go. This summer, he qualified for the British Junior Open in Liverpool, England. Naturally, my parents and I accompanied him on his journey (the farthest he’s ever been from home). The British Junior Open was a big tournament for this kid because he competed with some of the best junior golfers in the world.

BRENTT15 copyBrentt practices every day at Starts Guam Golf Resort after school and enters in multiple golf tournaments on the weekends.

The West Lancashire Golf Club was one of the most difficult courses Brentt has come across. The tall, thick grass could easily swallow your ball. Brentt joked that he’d rather play on a course with lots of trees, he’d lose less balls that way.

BRENTT7 copyBrentt liked the challenging elements at the West Lancashire Golf Course. It was unlike any course he’s ever played.

The junior golfers started the tournament with a practice round, Brentt was able to familiarize himself with the brutal elements of the course: the precarious terrain, unexpected changes in wind and the cold weather. This would test his patience and his confidence during the tournament.

BRENTT18 copyMy parents and I were not only Brentt’s only cheerleaders. He had his golf teammate Nalathai (also representing Guam in the girls’ category) and a new friend from Cyprus, Nicholas.

BRENTT16 copyThis photo was taken around 6 p.m. in Liverpool – the sun does not go down until 9:30 or 10 p.m. at night.

The first day of the tournament was Brentt’s best day. He was paired with two girls, one from Qatar and the other from Uruguay. He broke 80 and shot a 79. His confidence was soaring and he had that little smirk on his face after every putt. On the second day, the weather was extremely cold and Brentt’s tee time was around 3 p.m. Brentt ran into some very challenging situations with the tall grass and it may have broke his confidence. Although he tried his best, he shot an 82.

BRENTT12 copyThe course was so difficult that many golfers ahead of Brentt and his group were busy looking for their lost balls. There was a lot of waiting between holes.

The last day of the tournament was much better. Although he shot an 80, Brentt was happy with his performance. He considered the experience very valuable in a sense where he knows how to handle his mental game as well as the actual game of golf. There were no words to describe his experience at West Lancs. He saw, he came and…well…maybe he will conquer one day.

BRENTT9 copyThe golfers had the chance to take a photo with the coveted British Junior Open trophy.

Enjoy more photos in the gallery!