A Danish hang-out in Bang Saen

Bjorn Henriksen is one of only four Danes living in the Thai seaside resort of Bang Saen. A few months ago he and his wife Nuan expanded their restaurant and guesthouse located attractively right on Bang Saen Beach Road.
     Bjorn Henriksen entered the hospitality industry in 2002 when he and Nuan opened “Nuan’s Guesthouse” in a townhouse across from the beach in the northern end of Bang Saen. Last year, he further bought the neighbouring town house on the corner, and a few months ago he opened Nuan’s Corner here – a restaurant with a wide selection of mainly Danish dishes.
     “I learned everything I know about international cooking from Bjorn,” says Nuan.
     For Bjorn, being a restaurant and guesthouse owner is only the latest turn of events in a life which started more than half a century ago back in Sundby on Amager close to the Danish Capital of Copenhagen.
     Bjorn’s father would have liked to see the young Bjorn take over the leather goods factory, which he had established and in which his mother also occasionally helped. But Bjorn entered an apprenticeship at the Royal Danish Navy’s works for repairing torpedos and sea mines, a workshop since closed down, and graduated two years as a skilled machinist.
     Then he was drafted for military service, which he served in the Marine on the cadet training ship of the Danish Navy, Møn. Sailing appealed to him so he continued sailing with the Danish shipping company DFDS on the so called Levant Route which was a cruise ship route going from Copenhagen to the Mediterranean Sea and back.
     “It was my first encounter with a warmer climate. It was only the subtropics, but I liked it,” Bjorn recalls. Working for DFDS he also sailed the Esbjerg Harwich route and during this time he also married but shortly afterwards divorced her again.
     “My last job for DFDS was changing the two old Aalborg Ferries from a ferry interior layout to that of a cruise liner. The two cruisers are today renamed Dana Corona and Dana Sirene,” he says.
     In 1971, Bjorn jumped from his marine oriented life track onto the new booming telecom wagon. Ericsson needed people to help set up telephone switchgear stations and as the industry itself could not supply the demand, people from all walks of life joined in.
     “We were bookbinders and bakers. I was a machinist. We all knew noting about telecom equipment but we were trained by the few people who knew and then we trained the new people who joined our teams. We were setting up phone relay centres all over Denmark.”
     In 1978 Ericsson landed a contract to set up telephone system in Libya and Bjorn was adventurous enough to apply to be one of the hands they needed to set it up. It was a short contract of only three months but Bjorn thrived on the atmosphere and the lifestyle as well as the good pay which was tax free for the amount earned while abroad. By this time he had married his second wife, a marriage which was to last for 25 years before they eventually broke up.
     Bjorn Henriksen’s next chance to go abroad was Cairo. This assignment lasted one and a half year and was for him a confirmation that this was indeed the kind of life, he liked to live.
     “We lived on the island in the middle of the Nile where most of the Embassies were located and most of the other foreigners lived. Every weekend we would drive around in a big American car to see the red sea, the pyramids and what have you all around the area. It was a good time.”
     Over the years to come, assignments followed in so many places that Bjorn can today hardly keep track of them all and the order in which they happened. They brought him to Morocco, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Indonesia and back again to Singapore.
     “My first job in Singapore was actually in Indonesia. Habibi, the later president who owns half of Batam Island between Singapore and Indonesia, wanted to make a new year call from Batam, so we had to quickly establish a mobile phonelink for him,” he muses.
     Later, he worked in other cities all over Indonesia on a three year assignment setting up some of the first mobile phone systems in this country.
     During the unrest in Indonesia in 1996, Ericsson suggested their staff to go for a month to Singapore expecting the unrest to tide over by then. But for Bjorn this would become a seven year stay.
     The Asian crisis hit the region during the summer of 1997. But while all the other countries in the region stopped up and cancelled their orders, Singapore Telecom kept on expanding and ordering new equipment all the time.
     When off duty, Bjorn would go to Thailand, where he had started dating a young Thai girl called Nuan. She worked there as a receptionist and cashier but as the relationship got more serious, Nuan in 1996 quit her job and moved to Singapore. Here she lived with Bjorn for the next four years.
     “It was good for me,” says Nuan, who is the oldest daughter of a farmer from Surin in the Thai countryside. Living with Bjorn in Singapore, she was forced to practice her English and got acquainted with the lifestyle of the expatriate community.
     About this time, Ericsson sold their entire installation business to Flextronic Networks and in 2000 Flextronic was to take over the installation business in Bangkok. Bjorn was requested to move up from Singapore to help teach the new foreign MD everything about telephone network systems in one month…
     Bjorn and Nuan went looking for a place to stay and decided for the charming fishing village Ang Sila north of Bang Saen on the banks of the Gulf of Siam. Here, the couple today owns a house registered in Nuan’s maiden name, although the couple had married during a vacation to Denmark in April 2001.
     One day, a friend mentioned that there were a couple of other Danes who would regularly visit the little German restaurant in Bang Saen on Beach Road Soi 1. The Danes turned out to be Bjarne Sorensen, a former TV photographer, Jan Mouritsen, a Danish press photographer and Lennart Avnby, civil engineer and owner of the STC crane factory in Ban Bueng.
     Nuan and Bjorn at first joined the three other Danes as regular guests at the little restaurant, until Nuan one day asked Bjorn if he would help her set up a bit more up-scale farang hang-out than the little German shop. Bjorn agreed and Nuan then found a townhouse for rent directly on the beach road facing the sea across the newly renovated board walk about three kilometres from the round-about. On the ground floor the restaurant was located, and the six rooms upstairs were rented out as guesthouse accommodation.
     One year later, the success of “Nuan’s Guest House” was obvious. Bang Saen needed a restaurant and guesthouse of this style and Nuan and Bjorn this summer managed to buy the corner townhouse. The old restaurant and the new restaurant is separated only by one other townhouse unit and Nuan is trying to persuade the owners of this to sell this unit to her as well.
     On the second and third floor of the townhouses, Nuan and Bjorn run a small guesthouse with a combined 13 rooms. The moderately priced rooms at 600 – 800 baht per night are equipped with air-conditioning, TV, refrigerator and warm water.
     “My role is to be the farang owner who moves around and chitchats with the clients,” Bjorn jokes. He is today 56 years old and technically he still lives in Denmark. Throughout all his years abroad, he was constantly on “short term assignment”.
     “Currently, I am just living on my savings and waiting for my public pension to start being paid out,” he says.
     Nuan visibly enjoys being busy about the place as the manager of Nuan’s Corner.
     “It’s not my restaurant – it’s Nuan’s,” Bjorn insists. But Nuan – today 33 – says gives all the credit to Bjorn.
     “He taught me too cook,” she says and points to Bjorn.
     That explains the distinct Danish touch to the dishes offered by “Nuan’s Corner” which opened in April 2003 and has since fast become the main gathering place for a growing variety of Canadians, British, Swedish and other resident foreigners in Bang Saen.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

View all posts by Gregers Møller

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