PATTAYA, Thailand - Ships of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Pattaya, Thailand, for a scheduled port visit Feb. 21 after completing the multinational exercise Cobra Gold 2011.

Cobra Gold is a U.S.-Thai co-sponsored exercise that was designed to advance military-to-military relationships between pacific partner nations and build relationships between militaries and local communities. It demonstrated the ability of the involved militaries to rapidly deploy a joint task force to conduct combined operations at sea and ashore.

“Whether full participants, augmentation planners, or observer nations – all contributed to the overall success of the exercise; their involvement highlights the very best in regional cooperation,” said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11.

During the visit, Sailors and Marines will participate in multiple community service projects and experience Thai customs through tours offered by the ship’s morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) department.

“I think the Sailors will get great interaction with the local people in Thailand,” said Lt. Jason Dart, an Essex chaplain who helped coordinate the community service projects. “People will see the goodwill toward Thailand and experience first hand the unity between two nations in a personal, meaningful way.”

On Feb. 22, volunteers from USS Essex (LHD 2) will deliver games, school supplies and interact with 300 Nohong Charg Ngaw Elementary School children.

“The kids will teach us some of their activities or songs and we will trade our games with them,” said Dart. “The kids there will have new supplies, games and a lasting memory of Essex Sailors.”

Sailors and Marines will also get to experience Thailand through a variety of MWR tours, including a trip to Bangkok to see the Grand Palace, the floating market, the Golden Buddha Temple and Hellfire Pass. Many Sailors on the ship expressed their excitement to visit Thailand and experience everything the country has to offer.

“I plan on going on an elephant-riding tour,” said Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Vanessa Roberts, who will be visiting Pattaya for the first time. “I’m looking forward to checking out the culture and sightseeing.”

The elephant-riding tour is just one of many tours MWR offers that should make it easier for Essex Sailors and Marines to experience the local culture, said Matthew Olszyk, Essex afloat recreation specialist.

“These tours give Sailors the opportunity to engage in historical opportunities in Thailand,” said Olszyk. “It’s a place with huge tourism in their economy and famous for their nightlife.”

Others, such as Ship’s Serviceman 1st Class (SW) Herman Dickens, who has visited Pattaya on five other occasions, said he would take the opportunity to unwind after the hectic schedule of exercise Cobra Gold 2011. “I plan on getting a hotel to relax and going shopping for the family,” said Dickens.

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group is comprised of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9),amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) and guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106).

The Essex ARG reports to Commander, Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.