YOU don’t have to be a crazy rich Asian to have an amazing time in Singapore, but it does help.
With the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians, the island city-state is bound to be flooded with travellers looking for their own taste of the whirlwind experience depicted on film.
The movie is like a two-hour tourism ad for Singapore, dazzling audiences with its delectable looking food and glorious sights.
Crazy Rich Asians star and Singaporean actor Tan Kheng Hua, who plays Rachel’s mother in the film, tells me the movie “opens a window into our idiosyncratic and unique culture — all the different dialects, our gorgeous food, which is like our language.”
So, armed with open eyes, an empty belly and the hope that Henry Golding was around the corner, I went out seeking my own Crazy Rich Asians experience in the sweltering heat of Singapore, stalking the haunts where these moneyed people might be hiding.
The name Singapore translates to Lion City and the city’s mascot, the Merlion, stands on the shore across from Marina Bay Sands. Glimpsed in the background of an early scene in Crazy Rich Asians, Merlion Park is packed with selfie stick-wielding tourists looking for the perfect snapshot.
But nearby Esplanade Park is more restful — even with teams busy setting up barricades for the Singapore Grand Prix that day, you can totally chill out here. The boulevard, like so many in the city, is lined with gargantuan rain trees, originally from Central and South America, whose foliage provides much-needed cover from the heat. You’ll notice the same trees in the background as Nick, Rachel, Colin and Araminta drive in the open-roof Jeep from the airport.
Next to Esplanade Park is where you’ll also find the stone steps where Nick asks Rachel an important question towards the end of the film. If you have no grand romantic gesture of your own to live through, then you can look to your right and stare at One Raffle Place, which, at 64 storeys is the highest building in Singapore.
Or ponder the fact that Singapore used to be an archipelago of 63 islands whose land mass has doubled to 720 sqm after a series of land reclamations starting in 1875.
If you need to escape inside, the stately Fullerton Hotel, the old general post office, is a few steps away.
If your wallet is feeling a little full, Orchard Road is where you’ll find all the high-end and local designers — they’ll be more than happy to relieve you of some of that cash in exchange for shiny, shiny wares.
Rachel and Peik Lin’s gal session (bwak bwak, b***h) over cocktails in Chinatown is at a bar on Bukit Pasoh, their outdoor table looking out over a row of Peranakan shophouses. Don’t be fooled by how quaint and cute these houses are — they cost serious money.
The most Instagrammable of these colourful terraces can be found about 9 kilometres away in Joo Chiat at Koon Seng Road. They’re perfectly formed, pastel-hued and comparable to the famous Painted Ladies of San Francisco. But don’t even think about settling in — you’ll have to be a crazy rich Asian to afford the $30 million price tag.
Tan Kheng Hua lives in Joo Chiat and she says it’s her favourite place in Singapore because it’s “very different from the organised life you get in other parts of Singapore, you get a nice mix of race and demographics and it’s very real”.
Land in Singapore is scarce and property is bonkers expensive. Peik Lin’s gold-adorned mansion is a real house in Singapore, one our tour guide “conservatively” estimates at $100 million. This is the city where, for the right price, you can park your luxury car in the lounge room of your 36th floor apartment. By the way, a Toyota Corolla here will set you back about $200,000. You won’t hear me complaining about Sydney prices again.
GOING TO THE CHAPEL
Colin and Araminta’s extravagant wedding in Crazy Rich Asians takes place at Chijmes, a former Catholic convent and girls’ school. Close to the famous Raffles Hotel (currently renovating with a reopening date planned for early 2019), Chijmes dates back to the 19th century but underwent a recent renovation.
Crazy Rich Asians filmed scenes outside the front steps and inside the main chapel. For the movie, the production removed the numerous chandeliers and built a water system that actually flooded the aisle, just like you see on screen. It took the crew three days to set it all up.
You won’t see giant palm fronds or even pews but you will probably a spy a Rolls Royce parked in its driveway.
The reception was filmed at the famous Gardens by the Bay, a park complex that houses 18 jaw-dropping metal trees that light up different colours. The party was nestled in this dramatic grove, with the crew filming over two or three nights after the daily 7.45pm light show.
Travellers from all over flock to the light show every night, which changes monthly, with many lying on the warm ground and starring skyward to take in the full spectacle.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
You don’t come to Singapore unless you’re prepared to satiate your salivating taste buds. Its sumptuous cuisine is influenced by its diverse cultural make-up of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Peranakan and Western flavours, with food serving as a unifying force for families.
From traditional Peranakan sweets known as kueh at Kim Choo to the rich and satisfying laksa at 328 Laksa in Katong, your bellies will be as full as your eyes were hungry at the beginning of the day.
And if the high end restaurants are too rich for your tastes, the must-go food experience in Singapore is a hawker centre, where street food vendors come together and you can sample all manner of local specialties including eye-watering chilli crab, carrot cake (no actual carrot, it’s actually radish), tender satay sticks or Hainanese chicken rice rolled into a perfect little round ball.
Crazy Rich Asians filmed at the Newton Food Centre where you can tuck into an indulgent fried oyster omelette or delectable duck noodles, but try out Makansutra Gluttons Bay, a hawker centre by the water with views of Marina Bay Sands. The stalls were picked by food blogger KF See Toh.
Singapore has quickly formed a reputation as a destination for inventive cocktails and atmospheric bars. Upstairs on Bukit Pasoh, after you’ve snapped your own “bwak bwak, b***h” photo, head up to Gibson Bar, which was voted the 14th best bar in Asia by William Reed Business Media in their annual list.
With its speak-easy vibe, imaginative drinks menu and strong airconditioning, you’ll find little reason to leave. Order the Chestnut Blazer (Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, cinnamon, peach, Luxardo Apricot Liquer and chestnut syrup) and you’ll be treated to a theatrical fire show of sorts.
If you’re looking for a more “glamorous” vibe, head over to Singapore’s biggest tourism drawcard, the $8 billion Marina Bay Sands resort and casino complex. The 2500-room architectural marvel boasts endless shops, restaurants, a Sky Park, museums and theatres. Its rooftop infinity edge swimming pool spans the length of three Olympic-sized pools.
A Singaporean journalist friend of mine told me when Chris Evans was in town on a promotional tour, they closed off a whole section of the pool for him. They probably won’t do that for you and you’ll need to be a guest at Marina Bay Sands to access the space that is always buzzing.
The roof of Marina Bay Sands is where they filmed the last scene in Crazy Rich Asians, at the outdoor cocktail lounge of Ce La Vi, which overlooks one end of the pool. While the movie’s fireworks were CGI, the stunning views were not.
But the experience comes with an extraordinary price-tag. When I spied the fridges full of Veuve-Clicquot, Krug and Dom Perignon, and a vodka selection that only included Grey Goose and Belvedere, I knew we were in a VIP section, and the lounge’s hostess decided we weren’t VIP enough, her condescending stare driving us out after a few minutes stickybeaking.
I ask our guide what the cover charge is, assuming it was a $500 vodka table service kind of deal. If only. For our group of eight, the minimum spend would’ve run $5000. Now that’s crazy rich.
For a less judgmental rooftop drinking experience, the Fullerton Bay Hotel has spectacular views and comfortable outdoor lounges.
Or take a quick drive to Atlas Bar, housed in Parkview Square, an art deco high-rise inspired by the Chanin Building in New York. It was built by a real-life crazy rich Asian, CS Hwang, the late founder of a property empire.
Apparently taxi drivers barely know it by its real name but if you tell them the Gotham building, they know where to go. And you can see why, the whole place feels like as if Bruce Wayne was going to walk through the lobby at any moment.
Atlas only opened last year, having previously been a private bar that featured women dressed as angels who will pour your drink from on high, suspended by harness from the ceiling.
Now, with its plush velvet lounges, wingback chairs and bronze-look friezes of deer frolicking, it’s an ode to a bygone Gatsby-esque era. The cavernous space is sandwiched between two impressive towers of alcohol bottles.
Atlas makes a great cocktail but what they’re known for is their gin collection — there are more than 1100 gins on the menu, including vintages that date back a century, if you have the money to pay for it, of course.