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An Insider's Guide to Phuket

Phuket through the eyes of a sea-faring,high-flying island expert. By MERRIT GURLEY.

Published on Feb 15, 2016


ROSSARIN "ROSE" MAITLAND-SMITH lives and breathes Phuket. This Renaissance lady is a pilot-in-training, a yachtswoman, a designer, an artist, a gallery owner and a personal shopper (+66 81 958 3830; for an elite set of travelers looking for distinctive souvenirs that go beyond sarongs and swimsuits. "One woman asked me if I could find her a traditional teak spirit house between breakfast and lunch," says Rose. "Luckily, I knew a guy."

Of course most of the requests she gets are a little more tropical and a lot more packable. On her must-have list are dainty white-gold bracelets with nautical charms by Karma Creations, elegant resort wear by Chandra—"It is perfect beach style and very lovely cutting"—and the exotic patterned fabrics from local brand Lola, available at The Plaza Surin. Handmade spa products from Lemongrass House's flagship Phuket store are also popular. "I love the smell of the shop," Rose says. "Coconut and lemongrass, scents of the island."

Lemongrass House
Tropical-scented treats at Lemongrass. Pornsak Na Nakorn.

The Thai native was raised in Bangkok but has spent the past 17 years in Phuket, and her abstract acrylic paintings are driven by island tableaux. "All the colors in the sky and sea give me inspiration," she says, and there are a few beaches she can always count on for fodder.

In the mornings she jogs Bangtao Beach, to catch sunrise. "It is quiet and has lovely scenery. The sea is bookended by rocks."

In the afternoon she heads to Kalim Beach for lunch at Da Maurizio (223/2 Prabaramee Rd.; +66 76 344 079). "The waves break so close you may get splashed," Rose says. "Many people go for dinner, but at lunchtime I own the place and I'm very cheeky—I have five waiters running around me." She also frequents Pha Chom Tawan Kamala (+66 87 418 7104), for pad Thai served in banana leaf on a little tray with wooden chopsticks: "It's five-star presentation with a millionaire view at school-kid prices."

Da Maurizio
Pasta with clams at Da Maurizio. Courtesy of Rossarin Maitland-Smith.

Dusk is a magical time of day for the artist, and she usually spends it sipping cocktails at Trisara's shorefront bar. "The beach there is quite charming because of how the sun sets behind the small island on the horizon," Rose says. "The overall effect is something special." There is a pontoon out front during the high season so she makes this a regular stop when she has friends with yachts in town. "They love strutting from the yacht to the bar. 'Where did we come from? Oh just that yacht out there.'"

The Bar at Trisara
The Bar at Trisara. Courtesy of Trisara.

Though she has no qualm with luxury living and a touch of bravado, she has more serious ambitions than just snacking and shopping. Her own gallery (32-34 Thalang Rd.) is equal parts substance and style. "There was art and there was furniture, but this is something entirely different that will hopefully bridge the two." Rose has scooped up six town houses in historic Old Town, and connected two of the Sino-Portuguese buildings to create the space. "Investing in old architecture is like putting money in the bank, and knowing you are leaving something for your grandchildren." She points to the Baba Museum, set in a 102-year-old building, that will open at the end of the year as evidence of the changing scene. "Phuket has a fascinating heritage, and people are seeing the island in a new light."

An ambassador of the developing creative set, Rose hopes to see Old Town drawing travelers on its cultural merits. "We're not going to them; they need to come to us," she says. "Now that we are a real artistic community, we need to champion our work." Rose's work next will be on display in December at an exhibition at the Boathouse by Montara (, and she plans to go bigger than ever. "I'm experimenting with bold colors, mix media and larger canvases."

Kalim Beach
Along Kalim Beach. Courtesy of Rossarin Maitland-Smith.

Whether eats, art or architecture, her mission is to show every facet of Phuket. "It is not just beach, sun and sand," says Rose. "It is a holistic and sensuous way of living, if you know the right way to live." If you still haven't quite found your island groove, just take a sandy page out of Rose's book.



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Rose takes the controls, flying over karsts in Phuket. Courtesy of Rossarin Maitland-Smith.
  • A private barbeque on your own pool deck at Trisara. Courtesy of Trisara.
  • The Bar at Trisara. Courtesy of Trisara.
  • Rose's gallery in Old Town. Courtesy of Rossarin Maitland-Smith.
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