“Crazy Rich Asians” took the silver screen by storm and launched a sea of interest in Singapore, where the movie takes place. But while some of the movie’s characters may have bottomless bank accounts to enjoy the city’s high-end highlights, Singapore also offers lots of lavish experiences for less-than-luxury prices.
Who better than to guide us to these affordable hot spots than actress Tan Kheng Hua, who plays the role of Kerry Chu, mother to Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). After all, Kheng hails from Singapore and is passionate about her home country—and she loves bargains. “I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes or food,” she says. Here are some of her favorite budget-friendly places in The Lion City.
Stroll through a traditional neighborhood
Start in Katong—a neighborhood that Kheng loves so much she made it her home. “It’s a great place to explore Peranakan architecture,” she says—a culture unique to Southeast Asia. Quaint, colorful, pre-war shophouses line the streets of this charming area, making for a great stroll.
To get a taste of local food, says Kheng, zi char—no-frills Chinese food stall selling a selection of dishes —is a great choice. You can find zi char around the city, both outdoors and indoors, and it’s usually very informal and inexpensive. “You choose from a variety of items and they’ll cook it on the spot, so it’s super fresh,” says Kheng. She loves the zi char spot Different Taste Cafe & Restaurant, on Frankel Avenue. Try the egg foo young, she recommends, or the deep-fried fish with sambal chili.
Shop like a local
“I have unusual shopping tastes,” says Kheng, “and I like to shop in places that are more like a market than a store.” That’s why she heads to Bugis Street Market for inexpensive yet trendy items, where vendors sell their wares—jeans, T-shirts, dresses, shoes, and more—out of little stalls. “It’s so cheap and fun,” she says. When you go, follow her recommendation and wear minimal clothing. Dressing rooms are limited, so this way you can try things on over what you’re wearing.
Get the inside story
One way to hear authentic local voices is through books. “I love reading stories by Singaporeans about their home, and then visiting those communities,” says Kheng. Discover those stories at BooksActually, which Kheng calls “a beautiful little bookstore.” She recommends buying “Balik Kampung,” a book that showcases some of those voices, or ordering a copy online before you travel here.
Pick up a souvenir
“I associate Singapore with great design,” says Kheng, and she loves the designs of items at the store Supermama. “They have beautiful stuff,” she says, “like porcelain plates with iconic Singaporean buildings on them.” Their products are practical, she says, as well as hip and contemporary—all traits that Kheng loves about her home country.
Kheng has been coming to MacRitchie Reservoir Park since she was a little girl. And this almost 30-acre expanse of nature—with forests, hiking trails, kayaks and canoes for rent, and the country’s first reservoir—remains one of her favorite places for a walk or a run. “It’s so peaceful and calm,” she says, “and it really feels like an oasis in the middle of the city.”
“Banana leaf Indian food is my type of food” says Kheng. “It’s fresh, fun, and delicious...and affordable.” Select various ingredients in any amount—masala chicken, prawns, vegetarian dishes, rice, etc.—they’re laid out and served in a banana leaf. Her favorite place for this experience, Karu’s Indian Banana Leaf Restaurant, is a “relaxed, informal spot that makes everybody happy,” says Kheng.
Make this “Crazy Rich Asians” experience happen with a crazy affordable Singapore Stopover Holiday from Singapore Airlines on the way to other destinations in Asia. For just $1* from now until the end of March, you can stop over in Singapore and enjoy a night’s hotel stay, take advantage of free admission to Gardens by the Bay and many other cultural attractions, and tuck into some Singaporean street-food delights.
*terms & conditions apply