The ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Guide to Singapore
The much-buzzed-about release of Crazy Rich Asians (CRA), based on Kevin Kwan’s book of the same name, is making headlines as the first rom-com to star an all-Asian cast (and the only second Hollywood film to have one since 1993’s Joy Luck Club). The story follows Asian American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she travels to her boyfriend Nick’s (Henry Golding) home country of Singapore to attend his friend’s wedding. But the wedding isn’t just any wedding — it’s the union of upper-upper-crust couple Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee, making it essentially Singapore’s equivalent of the royal wedding. And Nick isn’t just any guy; he’s a member of one of the wealthiest families in the country, and Rachel is soon thrust into a world of crazy, rich, and crazy rich Asians.
In addition to the notable cast, another star of the movie is Singapore itself, where a large part of the movie was filmed, and the tiny island shines as the sumptuously gorgeous and ritzy destination of your most lavish dreams. According to the Credit Suisse Global Health Report 2017, Singapore country ranks ninth in the world and number one Asia in terms of household wealth per adult, and millionaires make up about 2.5 percent of the total population. Crazy rich, indeed.
The country is an eclectic mix of both modern and historical architecture set among lush greenery; tropical plants and trees scale up buildings and adorn open rooftops and terraces. It’s easy to get around — taxis are plentiful and efficient, the subway system is extensive and intuitive, and the city is very clean and walking-friendly, especially if you can handle the tropical climate, where temperatures range from hot and humid to hotter and more humid. Eating is practically a national pastime, and even the tiniest food stall can become a foodie’s paradise.
While most of us will never see as many zeros in our bank accounts as the elite families in the film, any visitor can get a taste of that CRA life. From hawker centres to rooftop pools, here is your ultimate guide to Singapore.
There’s a reason why Singapore Airlines is consistently on the short list of best airlines in the world (taking the top spot in 2018). The carrier has taken air travel to the next level with its unparalleled service, curated wine collection, and menus created by celebrity chefs. First and business cabins have wide, lie-flat seats, but even economy has outlets, HD monitors, and adjustable footrests and headrests. To travel like a true CRA though, book a suite (as Rachel and Nick do), which has a bed, closet, vanity area with amenities, dining on demand and, most importantly, a door for ultimate privacy. In October, the airline is launching a direct route from New York to Singapore. It will be the world’s longest commercial flight, but with only business and premium economy seats available, you won’t even mind the nearly 19 hours of travel time.
Singapore is also home to the world’s best airport, a title Singapore’s Changi Airport has taken for six consecutive years. With an endless array of activities such as various gardens (including a butterfly garden), a movie theater, a rooftop pool and jacuzzi, a koi pond, gourmet restaurants, art installations, and endless shopping, your luxurious vacation will start before even stepping foot into the actual city.
Shangri-La Hotel: The Shangri-La brand has become synonymous with luxury hospitality in Asia, and this is the flagship hotel where it all started. Built in 1971, Shangri-La Singapore is set on 15 acres of tropical gardens and has hosted its fair share of glamorous and historical events. There are three wings, each with their distinct look and feel: The modern tower wing is the main building and is home to the Horizon Club Lounge with skyline views on the 24th floor; the garden wing’s rooms have private terraces that look out to the gardens; and the elegant valley wing is the choice for visiting dignitaries and heads of state. With amazing service, various dining options, a lobby bar with a huge living wall, an open-air orchid greenhouse, a pool, and a pamper-worthy spa, you’ll feel like you’ve found a little slice of paradise in a bustling city. When you’re finally ready to venture out to explore the rest of Singapore, the Botanical Gardens and Orchard Road (essentially the Fifth Avenue of Singapore, lined with malls, restaurants, and high-end luxury shopping) are just a short walk away. (Photo via Shangri-La Hotel)
CRA author Kevin Kwan, who was born in Singapore, lists the Shangri-La as one of his favorite childhood hotels. “In the ’70s and early ’80s in Southeast Asia so much social life happened in hotel lobbies and restaurants. My parents entertained at the Shangri-La — bubbling green and pink drinks made with dry ice were in vogue.” Decades later, the Shangri-La itself is still in vogue.
Marina Bay Sands: The iconic Marina Bay Sands, near the waterfront, has rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, restaurants, thriving nightlife, and a casino. Most striking though is the world’s largest rooftop swimming pool perched atop the hotel’s three towers on the 57th-floor SkyPark. In the book, Nick takes Rachel to the SkyBar to have Singapore Slings, and there’s a scene in the movie featuring nighttime aqua aerobics. Only hotel guests can dip their toes in the dramatic infinity pool, but you can head to one of the restaurants — Spago, LAVO, or CÉ LA VI — for a drink or meal with breathtaking views of the city below. (Photo via Marina Bay Sands)
Raffles Singapore: In the film, Nick and Rachel stayed in the Presidential Suite of this 1887 institution, which has been visited by notable guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson. The hotel is currently closed for renovations until the end of 2018, but a pop-up Long Bar is open for cocktail hour serving up Singapore Slings, the famous drink invented at Raffles. (Photo via Raffles Singapore)
Newton Hawker Centre: Ask any local and they’ll tell you that Singaporeans love to eat, and there are options to satisfy every budget and palate. Hawker centres (open-air complexes with numerous food stalls) are a great and inexpensive way to try Singaporean fare, a blend of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisines. Nick and Rachel (and soon-to-be-married couple Colin and Amarinta) head to Newton Hawker Centre as their first stop after arriving in Singapore. Other notable Hawker Centres include Maxwell Hawker Centre, featuring the popular Tian Tian Chicken Rice; Old Airport Road; and Chinatown Food Complex, where you can find Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, the second hawker stall in Singapore to receive a Michelin star (the first is Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Kallang).
Other notable restaurants include Candlenut, the only Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese who settled in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore) restaurant in the world to have a Michelin star, and Samy’s Curry, a family-owned Indian restaurant that has been in business for 53 years (get the famed fish head curry or masala chicken, which is scooped onto a giant banana leaf). Both restaurants are located in Dempsey Hill, former British army barracks turned trendy retail area.
Over in the National Gallery, the world’s largest collection of Southeast Asian art, you’ll find modern Peranakan food at National Kitchen by Violet Oon, a gorgeous restaurant decorated with dark woods, deep green hues, and patterned tile floors. Oon is considered an authority on Singaporean food, having been a chef and food critic for over 50 years.
CHIJMES: CHIJMES (pronounced “chimes”) is a former convent, orphanage, and girls’ school and has now become a destination for wining and dining — green courtyards and open walkways lead to numerous trendy restaurants and bars. The all-white 19th-century gothic cathedral is a popular spot for special events and stands in for the location for the opulent wedding of Colin and Araminta in CRA. (Photo via Lesley Chen)
Gardens by the Bay: Gardens by the Bay is a 250-acre horticultural park next to the Marina Reservoir. Highlights include the two domes — one filled with flowers from all over the world and another simulating a mountaintop cloud forest — and the Supertree Grove, a collection of towering 9-16-story artificial trees. The trees are covered with over 162,900 plants and some have photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. You can explore the grove for free, but if you want to get up close and personal with these vertical gardens, get a $6 ticket to traverse along the suspended walkway. Daily, at 7:45pm and 8:45pm, a spectacular light show takes place, and the trees become even more magical at night. Naturally, it’s the perfect backdrop for Colin and Araminta’s over-the-top wedding reception in the film. (Photo via wsboon images/Getty)
Chinatown: Singapore’s Chinatown, like most Chinatowns, is filled with shops, food stalls, historical buildings, and streets adorned with paper lanterns. On Bukit Pasoh Road, you’ll find a row of boutiques and restaurants in former Peranakan shophouses. It’s also here, outside of seafood restaurant Humpback, where Rachel confides to her BFF Peik Lin (Awkwafina) about dealing with Nick’s difficult mother. (Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures)
For a little history lesson about Chinese immigrants, head to the Chinatown Heritage Centre, a living museum inside a set of restored shophouses. And for something spiritual, make your way to Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore; Buddha Relic Tooth Temple, a temple that houses what is reportedly Buddha’s recovered tooth and also contains five stories of Buddha artifacts; or Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore.
Merlion Park: The mythical merlion, a creature with a lion’s head and fish’s body, is the official symbol of Singapore — you’ll see it on buildings and in various forms everywhere. There are a few statues around the city, but the best location to see two of them is Merlion Park overlooking Marina Bay, where the main 30-foot merlion faces east (a direction believed to bring prosperity). Bonus: You’ll also have a perfect view of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. (Photo via phonprom/Getty)
Crazy Rich Asians Fan Tour: If you haven’t gotten your fix of CRA, take this private four-hour tour (via car) hosted by a local, Phil Choo. He’ll take you around the places that were used for the film, as well as also locations mentioned (and real-life places and people that possibly served as inspiration) in all three books. You’ll also get a taste of some local eats and some Singaporean history along the way. Choo is also a great resource if you need tips (especially food) on other must-see highlights around the island.
For More Instagram Fodder: Looking to fill your Insta feed with more color? Head to Haji Lane, in Kampong Glam, a narrow street filled with colorful shops, street art, and cafes (including Selfie Cafe, which will print your selfie onto the foam of your coffee).
In Little India, the most colorful building is actually a Chinese villa, the last surviving one in the area. The House of Tan Teng Niah is believed to be a gift from Tan Teng Niah, a businessman who owned many sweets-making factories, to his wife and is a visual wonder of colors.
And for pastel lovers, Koon Seng Road in the neighborhood of Joo Chiat has one of the prettiest displays of 20th century traditional terraced Peranakan houses. Each picture-perfect house is brightly colored and decorated with ornate details and tilework. (Photo via Getty)
Tag us in your next vacation, crazy rich or not, on Instagram @BritandCo.
(Featured photo via Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Lesley Chen is a California native who writes about travel, health/fitness, and other lifestyle topics. She has a serious case of RBF and exercises mainly to balance out an aggressive candy addiction.