Every morning on Bali Hai Pier in Pattaya, a large number of farangs from all over the world board small ferries that sail them to the surrounding islands. This morning, Sunday, February 10, a large group of Norwegians had assembled on the pier, signaling their countrymen by waving the red, blue and white flag.
The reason for the large gathering was the Norwegian Church in Pattaya. Aside from the traditional church events, they host a wide variety of activities such as golf tournaments, walks in the jungle and concerts. This particular morning a trip to the desolate island of Koh Pai was on the itinerary and the turn up was big. Almost 50 people had packed swimwear and sun lotion to get away from the city.
Some were couples who set up camp permanently in Pattaya, some were larger groups of longtime vacationers and some came alone. When the ship was boarded, chatting was instant. Some had catching up to do and news from home was discussed in the corners. Fittingly, the Norwegian flag had been raised at the bow.
Chat, swim, relax and eat
Shortly after departure there was a short briefing on the events of the day. The “tour guide” on the trip to Koh Pai was Jan Olav Johannessen. He is the daily leader and priest at the Norwegian Church in Pattaya. About three and a half years ago he and his wife Tone, who also works at the church, moved from Norway to settle in Pattaya. He is the coordinator of the Church’s activities that not only involves a bundle of social events but also charitable work such as sick calls and visits to the local foster home. However, today it was all play. The plan was simple. Chat, swim, relax and eat.
After a while in Thailand, the local cuisine might start to wear on you, so when the food was ready it was a delight to many passengers. Scalloped potatoes and ham were on the menu and after filling their stomachs with a piece of home it was time to invade the island.
The desolate island only had a few other visitors this day and there was plenty of elbow space to tend to the tan. The tanning was done in brought along mattresses and chairs were available for lounging while open tents were put up to provide shade. A beach like this would be hard to find at in Norway.
After a hard day of doing nothing other than relaxing, the ship set course for the Pattaya shore once again and cake, fruit and coffee were supplied to regain strength.
The Norwegian stronghold
Jan Olav Johannessen explains that there are many different reasons why some chose to relocate to Thailand. Some want to escape the cold climate back home, some elderly come because the pension lasts longer here while others marry a Thai. Whatever the reason it is hard not to long for at least some parts of home, and the church and its activities is in big demand.
At the moment an estimated 6300 Norwegians are in Thailand on a long term visa. The stronghold of the Norwegian expats is in Pattaya, where the Norwegian Church is a large ambassador for the country. Whether you have decided to leave Norway permanently for a warmer climate or simply for a holiday, a whiff of home is often required and there is no better place to find it than at the Norwegian Church in Pattaya. If you require food from home, Nordic culture, chatting in a familiar language or simply advice on where to buy “snus” this is the place to go.
Travelling alone was retired Randi Lauglo from Trondheim. She appreciates the hard work of the church and other than the boat trip she also joined the Christmas celebration where near 160 Nordics enjoyed the holiday with good company and Norwegian food. She has been on boat trips with the church on previous occasions but especially enjoyed this one.
“It’s very interesting that the island is deserted. I have been on many other islands in the area but there are always too many tourists,” she says.
At around 5 o’clock the ferry once again anchored at Bali Hai Pier and after a day of lounging in the sun, sandals were yet again planted on mainland and the Norwegians headed for their homes. Many of them will soon see each other again as the church already has a number of events lined up in near future.
Read about the church here