Last December, Singapore PR Valerie Cheah travelled to Lapland, Finland for a trip with her family: her husband, as so many Singaporeans, wanted to see the Northern Lights and what had started as his dream became a whole family adventure.
“My husband, Winston Kwek, always wanted to see the Northern Lights and I was sold to the idea when I saw the pictures of the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Saariselkä in Lapland”, she said.
The Kwek-Cheah family with children Justine (12) and Joel (7), was not a newbie to travelling and had planned the trip for almost a year, but as in all good adventures, not everything always goes as planned: “I was advised that the cold can be as low as -40 C, but you can only understand what it is like when you’re physically there to experience the cold!”
A huskie sleigh ride in Rovaniemi is the coldest experience Valerie has ever had: “I recommend that if you travel to Finland in December, you’d be well prepared. Invest in best possible snow boots, hats and gloves you can get. On the other hand, the experience with fresh snow and air makes you feel very special, it was like being in a different world”.
A holiday packed with activities
After a short stay in Oslo, Norway, the family spent the first leg of their trip to visit Santa Clause Village in Rovaniemi: “In Santa Clause Village we got an all Christmassy feeling. We met the real Santa Claus, and did a huskie dog sleigh and snowmobile ride. Everything is very well organized there. It was also special to be so close to the Arctic Circle for the first time.”
A visit to Lapland is not perfect without some downhill skiing, and Valerie organised three days in Ounasvaara, an hour’s drive from Rovaniemi: “We stayed at the Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara, which has a top-rated restaurant, and the food was indeed beautifully prepared. We tasted some delicious reindeer, and cloudberries - my favourites!”
And here, in Ounasvaara, they finally experienced the Northern Lights: “One evening at 10pm the hotel called us to go outside and have a look at the sky. We put the clothes over our pajamas and rushed out to see the beautiful green lights. I guess we were lucky, as we didn’t see any Northern Lights later during the trip.”
The next stop was the famous Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Saariselkä. The trip took about three hours with a private taxi. “We were hoping to admire more Northern Lights on the night sky but unfortunately, it was snowing on those two nights we stayed in the lodges, so we didn’t see them anymore. But the snowfall and the special stay in the kelo-lodge igloo was definitely a special experience as well.”
In Kakslauttanen the family enjoyed a reindeer sleigh ride and had some Laplandic food delicacies, in addition to the already missed Asian food: “I’m an Asian girl, I also need my noodles”, Valerie said. “In Kakslauttanen, on one of the evenings, the menu was Thai-inspired! We had Thai green curry and steamed white rice, and it was served by a very nice Thai couple from Bangkok.”
Before returning to Singapore, the Kwek-Cheah family flew to Helsinki, where they stayed in the historical hotel Kämp and did some shopping: “I bought some Iittala glass vases, which I had shipped directly to Singapore, and visited the Marimekko store. I also got some beautiful handmade wooden items and Christmas decoration from Aarikka.”
Singaporean travelers ready to pay for luxury
Valerie has mixed feelings about the level of service during their holiday: “People are friendly and speak good English, but sometimes the accommodation and service is not quite up to par with the Asian hospitality standards, and the five-star service experience needs improvement.” Valerie noted that in Santa Clause Village they were in the midst of developing and building accommodation catering for the more discerning customers, who are ready to pay for luxury and space.
The airliner Finnair won Valerie over: “I loved Finnair and the service on the plane. We had smooth flights and the pilots are very experienced. We were amazed how the pilots were able to land the plane so smoothly despite the snowy and icy conditions.”
Valerie would recommend families travelling to Finland in winter to have children old enough to enjoy the activities: “My kids loved playing in the snow. My son also truly enjoyed the snowmobile ride and my daughter the reindeer sleigh ride. But if your children are too young, they can’t enjoy these activities. And keep in mind that sometimes the distances you would have to walk in the snow are quite long, so it would be difficult for very young kids.”
As a last recommendation, for people desperate for their local food, Valerie advises to take an emergency pack with them: “I had my chili padi, sambal belacan and instant noodles with me, and that certainly saw us through some days.”
The itinerary of Cheah-Kwek family:
Private transfer by car:
Santa Clause Village, Rovaniemi
Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara
Arctic Resort Kakslauttanen, Kelo lodges
Hotel Kämp, Helsinki