How to Holiday like a Crazy Rich Asian
[UDPATE: Raffles hotel Singapore is now re opened – August 1st 2019, Chijmes is now closed.]
Sarah Jessica Parker once remarked that New York was the fifth star of Sex and the City, similar could be said of Singapore in the Crazy Rich Asians movie. Not only does the Lion City hold its own among the ensemble cast that includes Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Contance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, it’s a veritable scene stealer.
Based on the book by Kevin Kwan the film is about a young American Chinese woman, Rachel Chu, visiting the home land of her fellow Chinese New Yorker boyfriend, Nicholas Young, and discovering his family and friends are part of the super rich Singapore elite. The small, tropical city state dazzles in sweeping shots of the Marina Bay area and skyline although most of the movie was filmed in neighbouring Malaysia (sometimes masquerading as Singapore or New York).
You won’t find Tyersall Park, Nick’s grandmother’s estate, in Singapore for example. The location is two heritage houses, Carcosa Seri Negara, in the botanical gardens in Kuala Lumpur . The mahjong showdown between Rachel and Nick’s mother was filmed in Penang and the beach scenes on Langkawi. Here’s where to find them all:
Raffles Hotel Singapore
Of course Nick Young “the Prince Harry of Asia” takes his girlfriend Rachel to stay at the grandest hotel in town: Raffles. Their scenes were shot in the Drawing Room above the lobby and the Sarkies Suite, one of the hotel’s two presidential suites named after the original owners and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed. And when Nick’s mother visits him there they stand on the private verandah overlooking the Palm Court. The suite costs upwards of £5,000 per night plus 17 per cent taxes but you can’t check in just yet – Raffles is currently closed until early 2019 [UPDATE Raffles has now re opened ].
It should be worth the wait though, a major refurb is underway which promises to keep the old world glamour while adding modern amenities and tech. One big change is that the spectacular lobby which was previously only accessible to hotel residents will become a new lounge area where afternoon tea will be served to non guests. Restaurants overseen by the much Michelin starred Anne Sophie Pic and Alain Ducasse are also opening. [UPDATE: click on First Look at the New Look Raffles Singapore at end of post.]
The Fullerton Hotel
If you can’t wait until next year to make your trip you could book the Fullerton Hotel instead. This handsome columned building (formerly the post office HQ) on the river and near the bay crops up as a back drop throughout Crazy Rich Asians. Most notably in two key scenes between Nick and Rachel and Nick’s elegant cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her husband.
Newton Food Centre
Any film set in Singapore has to feature hawker centres, outdoor food courts with stalls selling a medley of Asian street cuisines that the city is famous for. Kwan’s novel has Nick scorning Newton Food Centre as “only for expats and tourists” and championing Lau Pa Sat instead. Ironically though it’s the latter with its easy location next to the Central Business District (CBD) and charming Victorian wrought iron structure that is usually dismissed this way by Singaporeans. And Newton is the actual location for the street food fest in the film that’s had critics salivating.
Foodies’ favourites are Maxwell and East Coast centres but hawker food guru KF Seetoh, author of the Makansutra guide, rates many a stall at Newton as well. Seetoh recommends Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, Kwee Heng Duck Noodle, Kwang Kee Teochew Fish Porridge, Bee Heng Popiah, Soon Wah Fishball Kway Teow Mee (for fishball noodles) and Chong Pang Huat for barbecued chicken wings.
The travel tissue packs in the Crazy Rich Asians scene are authentic. Locals always take them to the hawker centres not only to use as napkins but also to reserve a table. And if you’re thinking how unlikely it seems for UHNWIs to eat here, literally everyone in Singapore does – or they send their maid and driver to pick up.
Four Seasons Langkawi
It girl Araminta Lee’s lavish hen do on “Samsara Island” was in reality filmed on Malaysia’s Langkawi. More specifically at the stunning, Bill Bensley designed, Four Seasons which is set between a white sandy beach and soaring limestone cliffs synonymous with the Malaysian archipelago. You’ll need to book the Royal Beach Villa if you want one of the enviable pads Araminta stayed in.
The spa here is even more gorgeous than shown in the film: the spacious treatment pavilions are set over water and have a dramatic close up view of the limestone cliffs.
Across the road from Raffles this colonial era compound (strangely spelt due to Singaporeans’ love of acronyms but pronounced Chimes) was variously a convent and a school and in its most recent incarnation is populated with F&B outlets. At its heart, the 19th century gothic chapel renamed Chijmes Hall and now turned into a function space is the location for glamorous couple Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee’s society nuptials, “the event of the century”.
The white wedding cake architecture, shown as backdrop to the red carpet arrival of the guests in the film, is worth a look but while you’re here don’t miss Whitegrass, one of Singapore’s truly outstanding restaurants. Chef Sam Aisbett fuses ingredients from his home country of Australia as well as Japan with some Asian flavours to create a fantastic contemporary menu.
Bukit Pasoh Road
This picturesque stretch in Tanjong Pagar, part of Chinatown, is lined with preserved Peranakan shophouses making a photogenic al fresco meeting point for Rachel and her college friend Peik Lin. The actual spot is the terrace outside Humpback seafood restaurant, across the road from The Reading Room (a coffee house by day and bar by night).
A few doors down is The Straits Clan one of Singapore’s new breed of private members clubs housed in the attractive building that was until recently the New Majestic Hotel. Although members only, its street facing Straits Cafe is open to the public. Bukit Pasoh used to be known as “the street of clans” and this slice of heritage Singapore makes a welcome change for anyone suffering shopping mall fatigue.
The Blue Mansion, George Town
While the exterior implies it’s on Ang Siang Hill in Singapore, that exquisite courtyard setting where Nick’s ice maiden mother played by Michelle Yeoh meets Rachel over the traditional Chinese game mahjong is actually in Malaysia. George Town, the capital of Penang province, is a picturesque little place filled with brightly painted “shop houses” with shuttered windows.
Among them you’ll find the grander Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion, named after the 19thcentury tycoon who lived there (14, Leith Street, George Town +604 262 0006). Also known as The Blue Mansion, this scene of the mahjong showdown is a boutique hotel (rooms from £100 per night) so you can check in and enjoy the mansion when all the day trippers have gone.
Supertree Grove at Gardens By the Bay
Colin and Araminta’s Gatsbyesque evening wedding reception was held at Singapore’s man made, multi million dollar Gardens By the Bay amid the Supertrees. And night time is really the only time to visit these man made, multi-million dollar gardens (the outdoor sites are open until 2am). During the day the Supertree Grove is punishingly hot so arrive in the evening when the extraordinary “tree” structures – between 25 and 50 metres tall and covered with plants – are illuminated and the delightfully OTT music and light show takes place at 7.45pm and 8.45pm nightly.
Make a booking for dinner at Pollen in the nearby Flower Dome with its Mediterranean climate and associated flora. The pretty setting and excellent mod Med cooking aside, the beauty of dining here is that you can walk around the Dome after all the visitors have gone at 9pm.
Marina Bay Sands SkyPark
Sweeping vistas of Singapore’s Marina Bay area and Marina Bay Sands hotel, the building that looks like a ship marooned on top of three skyscrapers, abound in the film and the finale was shot around the hotel’s SkyPark infinity pool on the 57th floor.
Whatever you do don’t buy a ticket to the SkyPark observation deck – you won’t get anywhere near the swimming pool. Access to the pool area requires a room key card so to swim in the pool (and take that obligatory selfie with the skyscrapers as a backdrop) you’ll need to check into the hotel but is it worth it? The vast scale of MBS attracts large tour groups and the infinity pool, like many Insta famous locations, is always jam packed. Even or especially at night.
Better to have a cocktail at adjacent Ce La Vi which serves one of the best Singapore Slings in the city and has a panoramic view of Singapore’s skyline. To overlook the infinity pool you’ll need to be in The Sky Deck area of the Club Lounge (not to be confused with the Sky Bar). If you want fireworks thrown in, coincide your visit with the Formula One Night Race (September 16th this year) or National Day (August 9th).