If there is one thing Las Vegas doesn't do, it is disappoint. And with eyes popping out of my head, I found it every bit as rich and ostentatious, as tacky and as sparkly as I had imagined and hoped.

My partner and I stayed at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino, a relatively new hotel which is not as overwhelming as the MGM Grand, as budget-busting as the Bellagio or as old and tired as the Sahara - as Goldilocks would say, this one was just right.

The most you need in Vegas is three days but you can pack a lot into it in that time and still leave without feeling jaded.

To a first-timer, Vegas is astonishing. There are real flamingos at the Flamingo hotel-casino and real lions at the MGM Grand.

In the Paris, the roof is painted to look like the sky and at Treasure Island real (although small) galleons perform an outdoor at-sea battle every night.

Vegas has to be seen to be believed and because it really doesn't come alive until night, we didn't feel too guilty for living a vampire-like existence through the day.

Despite the many tempting shows on offer - everything from Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld to Cirque du Soleil and the Lion King - we passed, preferring to wander through the casinos, dropping dollars on the gambling tables and picking up drinks into the early hours, taking advantage of Vegas' open 24-hours policy.

As inevitably happens in far-flung places, we met up with some friends from Perth and managed to score entry into XS at the Wynne Encore, which is tipped to be one of the best nightclubs in the world. Be warned - it has a price tag to match.

Sitting at a table will set you back almost $1000 but a few metres away you can soak up exactly the same atmosphere for a bit less and watch Vegas' real high rollers splash their cash.

XS is luxury personified; a dazzling array of sumptuous tables and private booths, ultra-modern bars and, of all things, a swimming pool.

With floating sun loungers, bathroom attendants and men in suits running around with earpieces, it is the natural playground for the rich and famous, and very, very Vegas.

It is easy to see the attraction of getting hitched in Sin City, whether you've planned a semi-elopement with a few close friends and family who can afford the trip or you end up saying "I do" to a stripper named Candy.

There's an intangible romance and excitement about the place. It has bright lights, a sense of possibility and the intoxicating smell of money.

I didn't see the inside of the Little White Chapel (much to my mother's relief) but there are Elvis-stocked marriage shops all over town, including in some of the casinos, should you find yourself in need of a wedding.

It's worth taking time to explore as many of the hotels on the strip as you can because each one has its own special attractions.

You might not have a suite at the Bellagio or a room at Caesar's Palace but you don't need one to enjoy the ambience of the various hotels and casinos.

Even in a city where the dollar is king, you can do Vegas on any budget and the recession has hit it hard so there are a lot of deals going around, as well as a range of gaming tables, bars and restaurants from cheap to utterly extravagant.

It's a fabulous place but you need to accept Vegas for what it is. As Flaubert said in his novel, Madame Bovary: "We shouldn't maltreat our idols: the gilt comes off on our hands."

After the heady vibrancy of Las Vegas, we returned to what has become one of my favourite places in the world: Palm Springs.

While nearby Los Angeles may have the bright lights, the shopping and the Hollywood sign, there's nothing like soaking up a bit of blue skies and old-school Tinsel Town magic away from the madding crowd.

By the 1930s, the desert city of Palm Springs, just a few hours south-east of LA and a five-hour drive from Vegas, had firmly established itself as a playground for the Hollywood rich and famous and it's easy to see why.

Surrounded by mountain ranges, expansive desert and hundreds of wind farms, Palm Springs is a tiny jewel in California's crown.

We stayed with my partner's family at their beautiful Albert Frey-designed 1940s bungalow, where the lure of cocktails by the pool in glorious sunshine and laid-back lifestyle sapped most of our energy.

However, if you are game and don't mind the heat in summer, the Joshua Tree National Park, which has a fascinating collection of unusual rock formations and Dr Seuss-like trees (the Joshua trees which U2 named their seminal album for) is close by.

Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope and Elvis (who had a honeymoon home here) may have left the building but the remnants of Hollywood glory days are evident in the town's very own LA-style star walk, its roads and boulevards named for film greats and its carefully manicured sidewalks, cafes and restaurants.

Palm Springs is proud of its star-spun heritage. Sonny Bono used to be the mayor and many of the desert city's streets are named after its favourite luminaries (Bing Crosby Drive is a favourite) but it isn't a paparazzi heaven.

Nowadays it also has a reputation as the gay capital of America (in terms of density, rather than population) and strolling downtown you might be forgiven for thinking it might be the small dog capital of the US too.

The city has a carefully cultivated village atmosphere with Mexican-influenced tiled enclaves and eateries.

If you want authentic Jewish food and a couple of tall tales on the side, visit Sherman's Deli and Bakery. The New York-style deli has been operating since the 1950s and has incredible food as well as a fascinating collection of photographs of the stars.

If he is to be believed, manager Joe Hanna used to run with the stars in 1950s and 1960s when he ran a club in LA and he has the pictures and the stories to prove it.

Every Thursday night the main drag is closed to traffic and downtown Palm Springs is transformed into the Village Fest night market where families, couples and small dogs stroll around browsing arts and crafts and street performances. It's a quirky little place where you can buy cheesecake on a stick and ask the local Jewish leader your burning theological questions at the Ask the Rabbi booth.

Palm Springs is relaxation itself but if you want a combat sport, Cabazon Outlets are just 20 minutes away.

Cabazon's hundreds of discounted designer-label stores, from Gucci to Jimmy Choo, attract 15 million people a year and are so popular Japanese tourists go there on organised tours just for the bargains.

If you are serious about shopping, bring an extra suitcase.

It might not sound like something to get the heart racing but Palm Springs' major attraction is its Aerial Tramway. I'm not one easily impressed by cable cars but the ride on the world's first rotating tramway is pretty spectacular.

Heading up the mountain, the oppressive heat drops away and the scenery changes dramatically from dry desert to alpine lake. We went late in the afternoon and splashed on dinner at the restaurant with a view down to the desert city twinkling in the dark, which was well worth the expense.

Palm Springs is a city that deserves to be a destination in itself, as well as a springboard for such places as San Diego, Santa Barbara and Mexico, which are on our list for the next trip.

And because it always leaves you wanting more, and because we inadvertently brought a few casino chips back to Perth, glitzy, ritzy Las Vegas will probably get another visit.

The West Australian

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