Long enthralled by stunning images of the Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, in travel magazines and on TV, I literally leapt at the opportunity earlier this year to visit Finland, which is recognised as one of the best locations for viewing this spectacular phenomenon. As with any long-haul trip to a temperate country at that latitude, there were plenty of preparations to make and expectations to adjust. But perhaps more than anything else, I was gearing up — both physically and mentally — for the drastic temperature difference of 40 to 50 degree Celcius between sunny Singapore and winter wonderland Saariselka, a small village located in Northern Lapland.
Arriving excitedly at Kakslautttanen Igloo Village in Saariselka on the first day, I checked into a rustic log cabin with its own fireplace, private sauna and even outdoor jacuzzi pool. For the rest of the day, my fellow travellers and I simply lounged around in our self-service cabin, basking in the serenity that one can only experience in wilderness. Later that night, we went on a Northern Lights hunt on reindeer sleighs and stayed out in the freezing cold for two hours or so. Even with proper layering, hot tea and a campfire, it was almost unbearable — but it was all worthwhile. We were extremely fortunate and managed to catch a stunning display of surreal neon green dancing lights above our heads.
Determined to test my limits on my first winter holiday, I decided to stay a night in a snow igloo. As the name suggests, it was built entirely from snow and there is no electrical supply — which meant no heater in sub-zero temperatures! We started off the evening camping outside our glass igloo and saw faint wispy green lights, which showed up really clearly in photos. As the night deepened, the time to challenge the snow igloo got closer. Fully geared up in five layers of clothing, a sleeping bag and heat packs, we thought we were up for it — only to be proven dead wrong! In the end, we clumsily packed our belongings and speed-walked our way back in the near darkness — ‘street lights’ are uncommon as snow is reflective — to our warm, waiting log cabin.
The highlight of the trip, apart from of course, the Northern Lights, has to be the husky sledding. Often mistaken as a sedentary activity, it actually gives quite an adrenaline rush! Arriving at the husky farm, we were greeted with almost a hundred huskies, some of which were even standing on top of their own doghouses and howling away. The owners shared that the huskies actually enjoy driving the sleds and that it provides them with the exercise that they both need and want. We started off a safety lesson before heading over to meet — not greet — our dog pack, which consisted of six purebred Alaskan huskies. One of us got seated as a passenger while the other ‘drove’ the sled, mainly helping the huskies along by managing the brake with our body weight. I was pleasantly surprised at the speed at which the huskies sprinted through the winter wilderness! Returning back to the starting point, we were greeted by the cutest sight — baby huskies tumbling about in the snow! We were allowed to play with and carry them and one of them actually fell asleep in my arms!
One thing that I did not try was taking a dip in the freezing cold winter pool before running into a traditional smoke sauna. I can’t say I regret it since I’m still unsure if I’d do it if given a second chance! That aside, this is one of the most experiential trips that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself on and I definitely look forward to visiting again, even if it is just for the serenity.