In Crazy Rich Asians, an NYU professor (Constance Wu) realizes she's getting more than she bargained for by marrying into the wealthy but secretive Singaporean family of her gorgeous fiancé, Nick (Henry Golding). Actress Victoria Loke co-stars as Nick's cousin Fiona, a lady who doesn't care what people think of think of her or her family.
We spoke with Loke, who was born and raised in Singapore, about her favorite places in the Lion City. One of her top spots actually has a prominent role in Crazy Rich Asians: the iconic Marina Bay Sands resort. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, Marina Bay opened in 2011 is and billed as the world's most expensive casino: The sprawling complex boasts a 2,561-room hotel, a 1.3 million convention center, celebrity chef restaurants, shops, movie theaters, two "floating" crystal pavilions and the breathtaking 1,120-foot-long SkyPark, which hangs over the north tower by more than 200 feet. "The architecture is so epic it really takes a big Hollywood production to do it justice," says Loke, 26. "It's just built for something this spectacular."
Another of Loke's favorite spots also pops up in the movie: Ann Siang Hill is home to Singapore's iconic shophouses – narrow, colorful row houses dating from the first half of the 20th century. They reflect an eclectic mix of Chinese and European architectural elements, including the characteristic Peranakan tiles.
"It's a historic neighborhood, and there's been a lot of effort to preserve the houses," says Loke. "But there's also lots of bars and nightclubs. It's one of my hangout spots when I'm out on the weekend. It's great — people just spill out into the streets."
More off the beaten path is Wheeler's Yard, a coffeehouse and café hidden inside a massive bicycle shop in the heart of the Balestier area. "They moved the shop outside, and you actually have to come around the back to get to the café," Loke tips us off. "Balestier is a little bit in the middle of nowhere — there's lots of retirement homes and lighting shops — so it's very peaceful. My best friend lives there, which is how we found the place."
Singapore is known as an urban wonder, but it also offers something for those looking to reconnect with nature — even if it's man-made. "I grew up near the Botanic Gardens and they're one of my favorite places in Singapore," says Loke. "It almost feels like you're in Prospect Park in Brooklyn — I love going on walks there. " The 158-year-old green space, the only tropical garden named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is emblematic of Singapore's efforts to be a "Garden City" in deed as well as name. Each year some 4 million visitors come to marvel at the world's largest collection of orchids (including the national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim.)
With Crazy Rich Asians serving so much free publicity for Singapore, Loke predicts the movie's release will spark a rise in international travel to the city. "There's so much beauty and culture here," she says. "Plus everyone speaks English and it's very easy to navigate. I like to call Singapore the 'starter pack' for visiting Asia."