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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?

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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. 

Svalbard, Norway sees 24 hour darkness during the winter.

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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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

    36 Comments

  1. Your photos are stunning! Are the ones of the Northern Lights yours? That was one of my favorite parts about Iceland! Thai food is seriously one of my all time faves. Strangely enough, one of the best places I’ve had Thai (outside of Thailand of course) was in Sydney!

    • Thanks LeAnna! These photos were sent through with the guest post :) I’m dying to see the Northern Lights in person, every time Ive been to an arctic country it’s been in the summer time so we’ve missed seeing the lights. It’ll hopefully happen sometime soon!

      Sydney has some really brilliant spots for Thai, so I’m glad you enjoyed the food scene while here :) I’m starting to think this could possibly be one of the most widely spread cuisines in the world … seems like you can find Thai food everywhere!

  2. It’s so funny – I would have expected to be served some raw fish with potatoes on the side or something – certainly not Thai food! I love it. What an awesome experience. I would love to check out Greenland.

    • Greenland is on our list too Laura! Maybe bump into you there!

  3. Hmmm that’s abit of surprise to me having a thai restaurant there, but saying that globalisation and diversity tags along to our travel experiences

    • Absolutely Anne – this kind of diversity and globalisation can be quite unexpected and surprising when we think we’re heading off to discover an untouched part of the world, though it’s also a wonderful reminder of how multicultural the world really is today :)

  4. Wow – that area is breathtaking. And like you, I find it fascinating when you stumble across people who have moved to literally the most opposite place you can imagine, yet bring some of their culture with them. Makes you wonder how the hell they get the plum sauce up there, no?

    • Absolutely – Svalbard is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet! We’re heading on a Norwegian cruise through the arctic in June 2017 so will be passing through. Can’t wait to order up some good Thai!

      Haha and yes that’s very true re the plum sauce! Who knows, maybe they have it shipped in on tourist cruises :D!

  5. This adventure of yours is so exciting! The ‘eating’ part is not that important in front of such pictures and landscapes (freeeeeezing) you could experience. Well, if Thai food was good…. then why not ;.)

    • Very true – the landscapes are stunning here in Svalbard. Though the eating Thai in such an extreme destination definitely adds humor to the experience. Two things that you probably wouldn’t have thought should go together, but they do!

  6. Years ago when working on ships I spent many contracts in Alaska, and the northern lights were one my first experiences of the wonders of this world. My bug for traveling and seeing the best sights on offer most likely started back then.

    Since then I have been lucky enough to travel a lot of the world through both work and pleasure and I have developed a love of all things Asian, especially the cuisine.

    So I guess this would probably be my idea of heaven on earth, viewing the majestic northern lights in all their natural wonder, whilst enjoying my favorite cuisine.

    Awesome I’m so jealous you have done this.

    Thanks
    John

    • Hi John

      I can imagine working on ships throughout Alaska would have been an amazing experience…especially for the chance to witness the Northern Lights each evening during the winter. I can absolutely see how that experience would have encouraged a passion for travel and sense of strong wanderlust!

      Highly recommend a trip to Svalbard then – it sounds like it really is the perfect destination for you to combine your passions for Asian cuisine with the spectacle of the lights.

      We’re probably going to be there on a cruise in June 2017 – maybe bump into you there!

      Happy travels :)

  7. It seems like an amazing place! I don’t like too much cold but I’d love to visit the place and take such photos!

    • This is definitely one of those destinations where it would be worth it to brave the cold. Especially if you’re a landscape photographer – Svalbard is about as photogenic as it gets!!

  8. You have such an incredibly beautiful way of expressing yourself Meg. I really enjoyed reading this. I remembered someone sharing his experience about Svalbard at a little travel meet-up in Bangkok once. I still have memories of the Thai restaurant and the stories he told – reading this transported me back to that wonderful evening. I’ve studied quite a bit about the second world war in school but had honestly no idea that the main settlements and mines up there were bombed by the Nazis…very interesting and i want to read up on it more :)

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Tess – and what a small world re your friend in Bangkok sharing a similar story!

      I hope you have the chance to plan a visit to Svalbard soon … especially if your field of study was World War II, I’m sure you would find the history of the region fascinating too.

  9. What a unusual combination…
    I have been dreaming to travel to the Arctic Ocean, for me it´s a magical place with breathtaking landscape. So when I stumble into this post I was expecting to see the amazing photos and read the unique experience Jayme had there… But I never expected the Thai food part, I though it was a joke on title or something like that… Spring rolls with Northern lights, that´s globalization! :)
    Safe travels!
    Nat

    • Definitely a contrast of extremes right! We’re taking a cruise through the Arctic and northern Norway next June, so we’re looking forward to enjoying some spring roles in the Arctic Cirlce! Though June will be summer so we’ll miss the Northern lights, but still really looking forward to the experience :)

  10. What an great experience to find Thai food in an unexpected place. That is truly one of the best things about travel. You can go so far, only to come back “home.” It is truly a smaller world that we sometimes think. Curious though, if you would not have had Thai food, what would the local options have been? Great picture and great story.

    • It really is such a small world out there, and I think that travel often makes us realize how small it really is.

      I’ve been told that there isn’t actually an no authentic local Svalbard cuisine. Meals served in Longyearbyen are either traditional Norwegian food (Vinterhagen, Huset, Kroa) or international cuisine in the hotel restaurants.

      Got this from a local website: “Huset often adds real local flair by offering various types of Arctic meat (reindeer, seal, whale, geese, ptarmigan) or polar fish species. In Barentsburg, typical Russian food is served (including very big breakfasts) – if you spend a night there, it is definitely worth giving the food a try.”

  11. An unexpected find Meg. Thai food is always good no matter where you find I guess even if it is among snow, polar bears and barren landscapes. Sounds like a great experience all up

    • I agree – seems to be one of the most popular cuisines in the world – it’s definitely managed to spread!

  12. I went to that Thai place as well. Remember the food to be decent, but not spectacular. But boy, I too was suprised when entering that tiled restaurant.

    Guess it was the only reason why I actually ate there – cuz it just seems such a strange juxtaposition of cultures.

    Personally speaking: The best food in Longyearbyen can be had at the restaurant in the basecamp explorer hotel. It might not beat the quality of the Spitsbergen Hotel up the hill – but it feels more authentic. Also the locals actually go there as well.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Norman! Will definitely have to hit up the restaurant in the basecamp explorer hotel when we manage a trip to Longyearbyen – Jayme’s post has me inspired!

  13. Any photos of the food?

    • Sadly no – though I’m hopefully heading through in June 2017 next summer so will aim to come back with photos of the food :)

  14. I never would have guessed, thai food in the Arctic! Although that is a surprise I love to experience during travel, realising how small the world can be. People are able to venture out of their hometowns to share their culture in the most different places, and food is such a good way of spreading that authenticity.

    • Totally agree that food is such a great way of embracing multiculturalism Mar … it’s a way we all seem to connect regardless of where we’re from or where we’ve been.

      Hope you have the chance to indulge in some Thai in the Arctic soon!

  15. I think Thai food would be the last thing I’d expect to see in the arctic but sounds like a great way to warm yourself up haha
    (P.S. the photos are stunning!)

    • Definitely does! The extremes are surprising, but they actually go pretty well together :D

  16. Haha…lovely story and wonderful headline. I dropped by during my stay in Spitsbergen at the Thai place as well (though i loved the restaurant inside the Basecamp the most; was were I stayed as well). It struck me as sooo odd. But upon second thought it totally made sense, since svalbard really is a place for everyone :)

    • Glad you enjoyed the story Norman … Awesome that you’ve had the same experience too – small world! Yes, a total juxtaposition of cultures, though as you said, Svalbard is a place for everyone :)

      We’re heading through on a cruise next year so will have to check out the restaurant inside the Basecamp when we’re there – thanks for the tip!

  17. I loved your article. While eating Thai isn’t something you’d expect to do in the Artic, it certainly beats my experience of eating sushi from a South Carolina gas station. Hey, they had tuna rolls with brown rice! I just had to take the risk!

    • Thanks John! I would say sushi from a South Carolina gas station is pretty much on par when it comes to a experiencing a juxtaposition of cultures! Tuna rolls with brown rice sounds pretty good!

  18. Had a similar foodie experience with Thai food only it was in Greenland. Being winter I was lucky and saw the Aurora Borealis as well.

    • Sounds like an incredible experience Gordon – especially seeing the Northern Lights. Like living in a dream isn’t it!

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