Authored by Jayme Collins
Tucked away far to the north of Norway next to Greenland there lies a spit of land and ice in the Arctic Ocean. When I visited this archipelago, Svalbard, I expected to find a barren land of tundra, research stations, polar bears, arctic foxes, and ice floes. And in part, I was right. History of Svalbard.
I spent two weeks on a boat charging through ice that cracked and crumbled under the weight of the hull, met polar bears wandering over icy landscapes, spotted a tiny arctic fox from afar, and visited colonies of arctic birds that spun around cliffs in great restless flurries of activity. svalbard tourism.
I hiked across glaciers, saw ice peel off with a great crack and tumble slowly down to be absorbed in the water below with a threatening splash. I touched floating icebergs, basked in their incredible blue luminescence. I hiked up mountains to gaze back upon grand, ancient, empty valleys – the home of giants – before looking down to see a tiny, vivid flower fighting out an existence between snow and wind on the slope. Visiting spitsbergen.
However awe-inspiring the landscape of this forgotten land is, though, Svalbard is so much more. How to plan a visit to Svalbard.
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A Multi Cultural Community
The archipelago, which was originally called Spitsbergen, has a fascinating history extending all the way back to the 1600’s, when whalers built stations and settlements throughout the islands where they could stay during their lengthy expeditions – which potentially extended over the whole, dark winter.
Scientific expeditions to Svalbard began to take place in the 18th century, leading to the establishment of mining operations in the early 1900’s. As a resource-rich area, it became subject to contention during the Second World War, with its main settlements and mines being bombed by the Nazis.
Tension surrounding the sovereignty of the islands extended into the Cold War until it was finally declared to be Norwegian Territory – although it remains subject to a complicated international agreement whereby the citizens of all signatory countries retain the same rights and obligations on the islands as Norwegians themselves. What to eat in Svalbard.
This history, in which so many diverse countries and cultures have had settlements and economic interests in the area, has created a surprisingly vibrant and multicultural community that persists to this day. What I found in Svalbard, then, that I wasn’t expecting, was an incredibly warm, diverse, and compelling community carving out its existence in a place where life, in its most basic form, is squeezed out between the rocks, persisting in spite of the wind and cold. Where is the Thai Restaurant in Svalbard?
The Time I Ate Thai Food in the Arctic
When I arrived in Svalbard, I stayed in Longyearbyen for a couple of nights before departing on the boat trip that would take me up into the wilds of the arctic. The capital and largest settlement in the archipelago, Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost town with a population of just over 2000.
This hotel was warm, friendly, wood-panelled and iconically ‘northern’ in exactly the way I would have expected it to be. However, the most surprising thing about it would also be the most surprising thing about Longyearbyen for me. All the way out here on a small island archipelago in the arctic tundra, there was a delicious Thai food restaurant attached to my hotel, run by the women who also ran the guesthouse. Best Thai food in Norway.
It’s hard to imagine a more drastic change than uprooting from tropical Thailand and moving the 5000 + miles north to Svalbard, but a large number of Thai people, in search of opportunity, have done it, gathering in this tiny town on this tiny island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean to make home here despite the adversity of the conditions – which includes 24 hour darkness during the winter. Food in Svalbard. Where to eat in Svalbard. Best Thai food in Svalbard.
While there is much that could be said about globalization, human migration, and the changing nature of the world in the wake of advancements in technology and travel, this did not factor into my experience of the diversity of the community I found in Longyearbyen. Instead, I found an incredibly rich, diverse collection of people with interesting stories who had all made their way to this extreme environment through a series of circumstances and found home here, for a while at least, thriving despite the ice, snow, and darkness outside. Where to eat in Longyearbyen. What to eat in Longyearbyen.
So, yes, in Svalbard where I may have expected to eat some good raw fish drawn straight out of the ocean and slapped still squirming onto my plate, I ate spring rolls. I had plum sauce. I had rice.
And while at first I was struck by the inconsistency between the landscape outside and the food on my plate, I loved every moment of this unexpected diversity in the face of the extreme, adverse environment that swirled incessantly just beyond the fogged-up windows of the restaurant.
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How absolutely incredible!
Glad you enjoyed the story Lizzy! Hope you have the chance to visit Svalbard soon! :)