Going to Singapore is like traveling into the future. Even before stepping outside, the country’s Changi airport offers up attractions like a butterfly garden (yes, in the airport) and a movie theater, free for travelers looking to kill time (JFK could never!). Then, once you enter the island nation and get a glimpse of some of its gorgeous, surreal architecture, you’ll start to wonder why anyone spends their time gawking over the Empire State Building. Singaporean structures are reminiscent of those in Avatar or Valerian or any other futuristic sci-fi film you can think of—except, there’s no green screen in sight.
Even if Singapore isn’t already on your travel bucket list, it probably soon will be—especially once you see the forthcoming Crazy Rich Asians film. Because while it’s one thing to read about the luxury and the food and the mansions, it’s another to see it all sprawled out before you.
As a preview for the film, we decided to round up some of the best places to eat, shop, and go to while visiting Singapore. Some are featured in the movie (like Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay), others are simply places that will give you a better feel for the vibrant nation. Just make sure to come with an open mind—and an empty stomach.
Where to Stay
The first thing you’ll notice about the Andaz is the number of plants the hotel has both inside and out. Singapore is known for being a green city, and the Andaz really reminds you of that. As far as amenities go, there’s an outdoor pool from which you can see the sunrise and the sprawling Singapore skyline, a rooftop bar where you can perch in a tiny teepee to have a drink with a friend, and a central location, so you can get wherever you need to go fairly easily.
Nestled in the secluded Sentosa Island area (which, on the drive over, feels like you’re heading to Disney World rather than a hotel) is the almost obnoxiously beautiful Capella hotel. This happens to be the same place Donald Trump met with Kim Jong Un back in June, so you can probably imagine the price range, but, oh man, is it worth maxing out your credit card for. For starters, you’ll be housed in a room that feels like it’s propped up in the trees; then, you'll have access to two pools, and if you’re still not relaxing the way the vacation gods intended, you can also book a massage at the hotel’s spa.
Where to Eat
Okay, okay, this might be a touristy spot since it is a chain restaurant, but there are multiple locations for a reason. If you can, go to the Clarke Quay location and catch one of the soothing Bumboats there. Anything you try will be good, but make sure to save room for the main reason everyone comes: the chili crab, one of Singapore’s staple dishes.
Some advice: Don’t leave Singapore without trying traditional kaya toast (white bread with butter and a green jam composed of coconut, sugar, eggs, and pandan extract). If you can, try it here, the oldest Hainanese coffee shop in Singapore (there are chains around the country, but the one located on Killiney road is the original). Try to grab a table, so you have plenty of room to dip your toast in a soft-boiled egg, sip your coffee or tea, and slurp on laksa noodles, if you still have room.
One doesn’t just stumble across Wild Rocket—you have to know about in order to find it. Located on a hill with discreet signage, the restaurant is known for its modern Singaporean dishes. Traditional meals are deconstructed and reassembled to fit a more contemporary cooking style. Some ingredients may change, but the food never loses its roots.
Chef Damien D’Silva was inspired by his Eurasian-Peranakan upbringing for his menu. You’ll find a mix of dishes from the main ethnic groups in Singapore: Chinese, Indian, Malay, Peranakan, and Eurasian all comprised of the most incredible flavors and ingredients. You’ll enjoy everything served, but don’t leave without trying the Sambal Buah Keluak Fried Rice and don’t let the fact that it’s “just fried rice” fool you. Sometimes, the best dishes are the simplest ones.
Hawker Food Centers
For those looking for a less formal and more affordable dining experience, visiting one of the many hawker centers is a must. It’s basically like a food court, but the meals are about 10 times better than anything you'd find in America. Choose from Malay satay, traditional Singaporean carrot cake (made up of eggs, radishes, fish sauce, and pepper), or nasi lemak, and have some shaved ice for dessert. If you visit the Chinatown location and have time, join the queue to try the chicken and rice from the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the country.
Where to Drink
If you can’t manage (or afford) to book a room at Marina Bay Sands, a good way to experience the wildly luxe hotel and capture a few shots of its highly Instagrammable infinity pool (you have to be a guest to take a dip, unfortunately), is by grabbing a drink at one of the three rooftop bars. Any bar will do, just maybe make a reservation ahead of time. We have a feeling that final scene in the Crazy Rich Asians will make the waits there longer than usual.
You probably didn’t think you needed frozen ants or blended grasshoppers in your cocktail before, but that just means you’ve never been to Native. The semi-hidden two-floor bar uses local ingredients (some of which are grown basically in the bar itself) that make for some truly fascinating concoctions.
This underground location is one of those bars you’re not sure you’re cool enough to be in. Maybe it’s the sleek design (a cloud of light bulbs float above guests heads), the mixologists behind the bar, or the intimidatingly artisanal menu (bet you haven’t seen salted egg, caramel, and vanilla as ingredients for your drink before). Either way, let the ‘90s hip-hop lead you in and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may feel out of place at first, but everyone there will help you feel welcome.
Hit up Employees Only for a little piece of home (the original location is in NYC). We’re told the bar can get pretty crazy late into the night, but if you’re looking for a chill place to start out, it’s good for that, too. And, on the way out, make sure to consult the psychic running a booth out front.
What to Do
Come here for the infamous Supertrees, stay for everything else the park offers. Yes, the futuristic-looking trees are magnificent to look at and even more impressive in person than in photos, but the flower dome and cloud forests (which includes the world’s tallest indoor waterfall) are also not to be missed.
The best way to learn about another country’s culture is by visiting its local museum. Not only will you learn about the different local artists, illustrators, and sculptors on display, you’ll also have a chance to learn about the history of Singapore through their work. Fun fact: Museums also typically have great gift shops for souvenir shopping, and this one is no exception.
If you leave Singapore with anything, it will be a new appreciation for flowers and all things green. If you have time and are in need of even more nature, check out the gardens guaranteed to be filled with joggers, dogs, and people practicing tai chi. Don’t forget to stop by the National Orchid Garden and check out the country’s national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim.
Where to Shop
Sure, you could go to the shops surrounding Marina Bay Sands if you’re really looking to splurge (think: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Gucci), but you’d be better off supporting Singaporean designers. A lot of them are located in the National Design Center, including a cute shop by the name of Keepers where you can pick up tea, silk scarves, jewelry, and clothes made by locals.
Little India and Chinatown
If you’re looking for non-expensive souvenirs for friends and family (or yourself!), come to Little India or Chinatown. You’ll find your typical trinkets: keychains, postcards, and the like, but you can also pick up cute straw bags or stop by Jamal Kazura Aromatics and concoct a specialized fragrance of your choice.
Another champion of local designers is Naiise. With quirky items, like wooden bow ties and chic notebooks, it’s basically impossible to leave the store empty-handed.