double or nothing: a chinatown bus tour

“Double or nothing” is a gambling term. In my opinion it’s usually a desperation play made by somebody who’s already pretty down on their luck. At that point they make a double or nothing bet to either break even or end up twice as miserable.

This week my friend Vince called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to go on a trip with him. It was a tour bus trip, organized by a tour company in SF Chinatown. He was kinda sketchy on the details, but it seemed reasonably priced. I didn’t really have anything planned for the weekend, and I was kinda curious, so I decided to go. My friend Gid didn’t have anything planned either, so I ended up inviting him.

massive # of chinese ppl = chaos

Our trip started in Union Square in SF. From there we took a bus to the Ranch 99 in Fremont. Apparently the Ranch 99 parking lot is the staging area for this tour bus company– there are buses that go to various tours from there, including Disneyland, the Utah Canyons, and Palm Springs. We were on the Utah Canyons trip. I kind of wanted to go to Palm Springs instead, since I had been to the canyons we were going to a few weeks ago.

stuck in traffic...This was my first experience on a tour bus. It’s not a very comfortable experience. It’s kind of like economy class on a plane– the legroom is crappy, the seats are narrow, there’s noisy kids. Plus then there’s all the crap associated with driving, such as traffic jams and long lines to use the bathroom at rest areas.


During the drive the tour guide came down the aisle of the bus and collected money for “optional” excursions. They’re kind of not really optional, because if you choose not to go on the excursion you’re left sitting on the bus for half a day. The guide also informed us that the itinerary would be changing– instead of staying in Vegas on our way back from Utah, we would be staying in Barstow.

chinatown-tourOur first stop was Vegas. We arrived in town pretty late because of all the traffic. Before going to our hotel though, we ended up wasting an hour at the Chinatown in Vegas. It’s actually a pretty nice Chinatown, surprisingly large and clean, but at this point I just wanted to get to our hotel room.

At this point I was already pretty unhappy with the way the tour was turning out. The drive was pretty miserable, and I was not looking forward to three more days in the bus. Because of the “optional” excursions, the tour was costing a lot more than I thought it would. And having the itinerary changed on us was the final icing on the cake. Gid was pretty pissed too, and he’s a pretty mellow guy, I’ve never actually really seen him get pissed off.

So to get our mind off the tour we decided to have a few drinks and play some craps. We ended up playing almost the entire night, with the table getting pretty hot towards the morning. In the end we both ended up cashing out a purple $500 chip, so we both ended up more or less covering the cost of our trip, including the “optional” excursions. It was pretty much a “double or nothing” situation, breaking even on the trip made it less miserable– we would have been doubly miserable if we ended up having to pay for the trip AND losing money from gambling.

i like how everyone takes pictures of the exact same spotThe next morning the tour took us to Zion National park. We didn’t really have any time to do anything but take some pictures of the canyons from far away. Which is pretty unfortunate, because Zion is home to some of my favorite hikes, including the Subway, the Narrows, and Angel’s Landing.

icy decentOur next stop was to Bryce Canyon. Here we had an hour, so we at least had some time to explore a little.

trail closed past hereWe took a group shot after a short hike.

IMGP5004I’ve been to Bryce before, and I didn’t think it was all that amazing, but it’s actually quite nice in Winter time. The contrast between the red rocks and the white snow is pretty amazing.

heading to the boat during sunriseWe spent the night in a tiny town called Kanab. In town we had another “optional” trip to a cowboy dinner, where they had us all participate in a cowboys and indians play. In the morning we went to a boat ride on Lake Powell.

entering antelope canyonThis was my favorite part of the trip, partly because it was really the only thing on this trip that I hadn’t done before. But in truth the boat ride was nice anyways, I could see myself paying to do it again (though probably in summer– it’s really cold on the water in winter.) The boat took us into the narrow walls of Upper Antelope Canyon. The walls got so narrow that the boat had to turn around. I think it would be cool to rent a jet-ski and ride deeper into the canyon.

back on board the truckAfterwards we went on a tour of Antelope Canyon.

crowded antelope canyonIn my opinion going with a tour bus kind of ruins the experience. There are way too many people in the canyon all trying to take pictures at once.

wall of fireBut surprisingly I was able to get a picture that I had missed the last time I was out there. According to our guide this is called “Wall of Fire.”

ballsy. i was too scared to stand here. but gid made it.Our last stop was Horseshoe bend. I didn’t have my wide angle lens, so I have a better picture of it on my last trip to Antelope Canyon. Gid and Vince were both brave enough to crawl out to the edge of this rock. I was too scared, so I just took a picture from my spot far from the edge.

Afterwards we spent a couple of hours in Vegas before heading to Barstow. From there it was another long uncomfortable ride back to San Francisco.

IMGP5132There’s a certain demographic that these organized trips would probably appeal to, like these old Chinese ladies. I don’t think I will ever do a tour like this again. I much prefer setting my own itineraries and exploring on my own. In the end though, because of the dumb luck on a double or nothing bet, the trip didn’t end too miserably.

One thought on “double or nothing: a chinatown bus tour

  • April 24, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Remind me of this if I ever think about a bus tour.


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