Philippe Roussel, from the canton of Aargau, became known nationwide through the sitcom “ManneZimmer” and has also had many guest roles in Swiss and international TV series. These days, he works chiefly in the theatre and is one of Switzerland’s busiest stage actors. When he is not working, he enjoys visiting faraway places and describes himself as a "Southeast Asia fanatic". Phuket is one of his favourite travel destinations. He tells us why he is so drawn to Asia in general, and to the Thai island of Phuket in particular.
"What fascinates me about Southeast Asia? The culture that is so different from ours. When it comes to serenity, happiness and contentedness, we can definitely learn more than a thing or two from that part of the world. A great many people there are content with very little. We can take a big leaf out of their book. I also feel a certain closeness to Buddhism, although I do not belong to any religion. And I like the architecture in Asia, and the rich flora and fauna.
Partying in Patong, relaxing in the north
Besides Italian food, Thai cuisine is my favourite. Switzerland has some authentic Thai restaurants, but most of them serve ‘toned-down’ food to suit the European palate. Our idea of spicy would pass, at most, for slightly seasoned in Thailand. When visiting Thailand, I tend to avoid large restaurants, opting instead for the choice places of the locals where I watch how the food is prepared in the kitchen. I ask the cooks to show me everything so that I can attempt to make the dishes back home in Switzerland. Interestingly, most Thais do not have a kitchen at home: they acquire their meals from the cookshops in the streets, and the food couldn’t be fresher or more authentic! As a guest, I am impressed by the service-minded culture of the Thais. Their friendliness and warm hospitality are never feigned.
Phuket is roughly the size of the canton of Aargau and wonderfully multi-facetted. Most people will mainly know Patong, the party zone situated on a large beach that has everything on offer. However, places like Patong create a slightly distorted image of the island, given that other areas, such as the north, are very tranquil. The beautiful Pak Phra Beach at Phuket’s northernmost point is situated opposite the mainland and away from all the hustle and bustle. Surin Beach on the west coast is one of my favourite spots and home to the lovely Catch Beach Club that offers comfortable loungers and great service. In the evening, the club transforms into a beachfront restaurant. I also strongly recommend renting a car and venturing to the secluded bathing coves away from the large beaches. When renting a vehicle, it should be noted that 'normal' cars in Thailand tend to not have strong engines, meaning cars without a four-wheel drive will probably not make it up any real hill.
Pure nature and culture
The Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park is situated in the north of Phuket and home to the last significant rainforest left on the island. Beautiful waterfalls and a floating restaurant make this park a real attraction. It also has a rescue centre for gibbons. Sadly, monkeys are often used as tourist photo props and get sick or injured. The centre is there to nurse them back to health. So, please, do not have your picture taken with gibbons; the animals do not enjoy it!
Wat Chalong in the south is Phuket’s largest and most revered temple. The spacious temple complex consists of several buildings and is a must-see, not just for tourists but especially for Thais visiting Phuket. Offerings are made for prayers to be answered. The Big Buddha, a 45-metre high Buddha statue covered in white marble, is another must-see landmark. Visitors can try to get a tone out of one of the giant gongs – really difficult! There are also tsunami memorial sites on the island – the tsunami of 2004 is a sad chapter in the history of Thailand and Phuket, and one that should not be hushed up. Places like the Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Park provide an opportunity to learn about history, as well as make donations to the families of the tsunami victims.
Boat trips during the day, live music at night
The island of Phuket truly has something for all tastes: beach, shopping, culture, party, relaxation. There are fabulous spa temples, ranging from relatively basic to very luxurious. Day boat trips to the smaller islands are always very enjoyable. The waters off the shores of the Similan Islands are crystal-clear and ideal for snorkelling. Despite being a tourist magnet and thus often very crowded, the island group of Ko Phi Phi is one of the nicest in Southeast Asia. Yao Noi, situated between Phuket and the mainland town of Krabi, is also very beautiful and home to the grand Six Senses Resort.
I especially like Old Phuket Town with its Portuguese-style architecture, a result of the colonial era. Although Thailand and Phuket were never a Portuguese colony, there was a Portuguese trading establishment. This part of town has developed into a great place to go out, offering a wide choice of pubs and restaurants with live music. I love to lose myself in the city’s streets and alleyways.
Rainy season – so what?
When I am on holiday in Phuket, rather than stay in a hotel, I will rent a house. Firstly, it is far cheaper and, secondly, it is much more like real life in Thailand. I purchase my breakfast at the local market, eat lunch and dinner in a small restaurant or in the street. I simply queue where the Thais queue and can be sure that the food will be good, cheap and authentic.
And by the way: I love Phuket at any time of year. The rainy season doesn’t mean an incessant deluge of rain. At most, there will be the occasional rainfall. Whereas Phuket is a party haven in places like Patong, less central areas of the island are idyllic, authentic and beautiful. You will find everything your heart desires here.”
Three Phuket tips
Phuket City: Featuring Portuguese-style buildings, Old Phuket Town is a lovely place to visit in the evening, but also during the day, and an irresistible invitation to saunter, people-watch, eat, drink and listen to live music.
Surin Beach: Although not really an insider tip anymore, Surin Beach is largely unaffected by mass tourism and offers spectacular sunsets.
Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Center: Situated at the Bang Pae Waterfall within the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center is where abused gibbons are nursed back to health, with the aim of releasing and repopulating them. (Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre, Bang Pae Waterfall, Pa Khlock, Thalang, Phuket 83110, www.gibbonproject.org)