How to Have Your Own Crazy Rich Experiences in Singapore

Sep 14, 2018

Spoiler alert: During rom-com —"Crazy Rich Asians," in theaters now—you're going to fall for the backdrop as much as the characters. 

But here's the even bigger surprise: The over-the-top version of Singapore you'll love watching on screen turns out to be hugely accessible in real life—if you’ve got some inside intel. And that’s where this story comes in. Consider it your in-the-know guide to having all kinds of crazy rich experiences in Singapore, whatever your budget. 

Crazy Rich Food

In this famously food-centric city-state, almost everyone has a “die die must eat” list—essentially, a culinary bucket list to be shared at every opportunity with strangers and loved ones alike.

Case in point? Nick Young (Henry Golding), the Singaporean half of the couple at the center of “Crazy Rich Asians,” is eager to introduce his girlfriend—a Chinese-American professor named Rachel Chu (Constance Wu)—to his friends and family. But he’s even more eager to introduce her to his favorite local dishes, which fall squarely into the category of street food, despite his immense wealth (welcome to Singapore).

In the movie, the couple’s epicurean adventure begins at Newton Food Centre, one of the famed Singaporean hawker centers, where dozens of stalls serve up everything from omelets with plump oysters to shaved ice with rose syrup. But if you don’t happen to have a local with you, no worries: Simply find a table, memorize the number and locate the vendors with the longest lines. Then place your order, pay cash, relay your table number and wait for a made-to-order meal to show up and amaze you.

Bear in mind that Newton is one of more than a hundred local hawker centers, and each has its share of fervent fans and standout offerings. In the best-selling novel that inspired the “Crazy Rich Asians” movie, Nick and his friends are devotees of Lau Pa Sat. Literally translated as “the old market,” this 19th-century architectural jewel sits alongside a street that closes to traffic at 7 p.m., at which point vendors of all kinds of charcoal-grilled meat skewers set up shop. So if locals send you to Satay Street (and they will), this is what they mean—even if the official name is Boon Tat Street.

In fact, Singapore’s hawker food is so legendary, the famed Michelin inspectors recently took note, and now you’ll find the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal at the Chinatown Complex Food Court’s Hawker Chan: a $2 plate of soy sauce chicken with a scoop of gravy-drizzled rice and a handful of braised peanuts.

A couple miles away in the Kallang neighborhood, you’ll find another Michelin-starred hawker stand: Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, which serves up beloved bak chor mee (egg noodles cooked al dente, tossed in tangy black vinegar and topped with pork, liver and—for good measure—meatballs).

Of course, fans of Singapore's crazy good food have high-end favorites as well, and you’ll find plenty alongside the hawker fare in the new 2018 Singapore Michelin Guide, where 39 restaurants are starred.

Crazy Rich Nature

Singapore’s rep as an ultramodern metropolis is well established, but from the moment that you—like Rachel—deplane at Changi, the abundance of greenery will take you aback. Even the airport’s overhead bridges are bougainvillea-draped, setting the stage for downtown streets lined with brilliant yellow flame trees, gardens filled with tropical flowers—and of course, a park shot-through with gleaming future-flora: the famed Gardens by the Bay.

This lush oasis serves as a backdrop to various scenes in the movie, not least, the friend’s wedding that brought Nick and Rachel to Singapore in the first place. And though the reception is undeniably over the top, so are the 18 resident supertrees, each a towering vertical garden of orchids, bromeliads, ferns and tropical climbing plants that glow at night thanks to solar-powered LED lights.

Even without an invite to the wedding of the year, you can experience the scene-stealing supertrees for yourself during a nightly light and music production. Show up early to stroll the aerial walkway, then do the thing that only locals seem to realize is totally okay: Lie on the grass and stare at the LED-lit canopies for an amazing new perspective on the spectacle.

Another horticultural gem is the 159-year-old Botanic Gardens, the only UNESCO World Heritage-listed tropical botanic garden—and the inspiration for Tyersall Park (Nick’s grandma’s fictional estate). If you want to scope the place out in real life, all you need to do is join a free docent-led tour on almost any given Saturday, when you can see—among other things—the world’s largest orchid exhibit.

Crazy Rich Culture

You'll spot Peranakan influences throughout the movie, from the interior of Nick’s family home to the traditional dresses on display. The common thread? A certain refinement, one of the hallmarks of this unique and traditionally affluent culture.

In the early 19th century, when Singapore became a capital of the British Straits Settlement, thousands of men who’d emigrated from mainland China to seek their fortunes wound up marrying locally and having children who were termed Peranakans (literally, “local born”). The resulting culture's air of distinction is something Rachel quickly discovers. And you will, too, if you spend time in Singapore’s most noted Peranakan neighborhoods.

First stop: the breezy, coastal neighborhood of Katong, which attracted many wealthy businessmen from Chinatown in the early 20th century. The architecture that soon sprang up is so colorful and ornate that Katong became a government-designated conservation district in the 1990s. There, along a row of historic shop houses, you’ll come across one of the best places to get a taste of Peranakan life: the treasure-filled Rumah Bebe, where owner Bebe Seet and her staff lead tours and beading workshops.

Next door, at Kim Choo, you can try authentic Peranakan pastries and kueh changs (glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in pandan leaves). Then head upstairs, past sepia-toned portraits of immaculately dressed Peranakan families, and you’ll come upon another important aspect of the culture: fashion. Yes, before the likes of Louis Vuitton and YSL were tempting the crazy rich matriarchs (more on that shortly), there were intricately wrought kebayas (the tunics you’ll see in neat rows at this shop) and stunningly colorful sarongs (check the glass cabinets).

These days, such pieces are worn only for special occasions locally (like the wedding in the movie), but there’s no reason you can’t take one home for your next (super-glam) beach vacation.

Crazy Rich Nightlife

With all due respect to New York, where Nick and Rachel both reside, Singapore is the city that never sleeps. To have a crazy rich night of your own, start at CHIJMES, where Nick’s best friend’s wedding ceremony takes place in the movie. Once a convent and Catholic girls’ school, CHIJMES is now a collection of the city’s hottest restaurants, cafes, clubs and bars.

After a peach sangria at the casual alfresco Privé or a craft beef at the Japanese barbecue spot Renga-Ya, head toward Marina Bay Sands—a popular playground for the rich and famous. There, you’ll find both a highly Instagrammable infinity pool (emphasis on high, as in 57 floors up) and a Sky Bar with unrivaled sea and city views and Singapore Slings that rival the Raffles Bar originals (a subject of much debate among locals, as fans of the novel will recall).

Then, if you have even a passing interest in gin, you’ll want to check out Atlas, a Gatsby-worthy art deco bar that’s home to the largest gin collection on earth.

But whatever your poison, you’ll find it at Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall. That is, if you can find the drink stall. An Asian take on a speakeasy—and a favorite among locals—this elusive bar is at the historic Boat Quay by the Singapore River. Head up a dark staircase next to a bright convenience store, and if you see spa posters taped to a wall, you’re in the right place. There’s no menu, so just tell the bartender what you like and he’ll whip up a special concoction for you. Or better yet, ask for something that incorporates a local flavor, whether Milo (a malt-chocolate powder) or red bean paste.

Of course, even if Singapore doesn’t sleep, you may well decide you’d like to at some point, so here’s something else to know: Unlike in other thriving metropolises around the world where you might hesitate to jump into a cab you’ve hailed off the street at 4 a.m., doing so in Singapore is perfectly safe.

Crazy Rich Fashion

Fashion takes center stage in “Crazy Rich Asians,” just as in real-life Singapore, where the designer devotion goes from Armani to Zegna. But whatever your tastes (and budget), don’t miss the stunning Louis Vuitton Marina Bay boutique, whose architecture alone is worth the visit, to say nothing of the views.

For all the European designer love, Singapore has amazing local talent as well: Heralded by every publication from Vogue to Bustle to Us, the Asian fashions on the red (make that green) carpet during the Los Angeles premiere of "Crazy Rich Asians" were nothing short of head-turning. (See: Janice Koh's mandarin-collared, flared-sleeve black gown by Singapore-based Ong Shunmugam—or Selena Tan's black-feathered navy number by another local label, Frederick Lee Couture.)

For Singaporean designs you won't need to save for the red carpet, however, head to a traditional local favorite: the second floor of Tangs Department Store, where you'll find an array of local labels at accessible prices. And for the true fashionista who likes to be among the first to any opening of note, a little newsflash: By early 2019, a new spot on Singapore's most famous shopping street—Orchard Road—will house designs by no fewer than 60 local lifestyle brands. Aptly named Design Orchard, the emporium is a one-stop shop for crazy rich Singaporean style.


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