Malaysian tourist remembers the North ... and the Northern Lights in Kiruna, Sweden

The writer during his tour of the Icehotel in Kiruna.

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Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost town in Lapland, the country’s northernmost region. It is located around 200km past the Arctic Circle.

I remember visiting the place in 2013 with my former colleague Nik Faizal; we flew in from Stockholm, and the flight was about 90 minutes.

Upon arrival at Kiruna Airport, a certificate was given to all passengers on the flight, stating that we had crossed the Arctic Circle.

The temperature in Kiruna fell below freezing point every day when we were there but it was a memorable and unique experience for the both of us. In some parts of the town, the snow was about a foot deep! We had to wear enough clothing (and the right kind of clothes) in order to endure the harsh winter conditions.

However, since I had lived in Stockholm for three years already by then, I had acclimatised to the cold, cold weather and knew what to do. In fact, I relished the winter season as it wasn’t something you would ever experience if you’ve previously only lived in the tropics.

But to be honest, the inclement weather was taking its toll on me. I remember that while on my way to attend a meeting at Kiruna, I slipped and fell, even rolling down a small slope! Luckily, I did not get hurt.

Kiruna at sunset in the winter of February 2013. — Photos NIK FAIZALKiruna at sunset in the winter of February 2013. — Photos NIK FAIZALKiruna is famed for the Icehotel and the Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag or LKAB, the world’s largest, most modern underground iron ore mine. Both Nik Faizal and I were lucky to have visited both places as it was part of our official duties.

The Icehotel is one of Sweden’s most prominent tourist landmarks. Every year during winter, the Torne River becomes frozen solid. One day, in 1989, a company decided to create the first ever “ice hotel” near the river, or rather, a hotel sculpted from big chunks of ice. Once the weather warms up, the hotel “closes” for business (as the ice melts), and will reopen next winter.

During our visit to the Icehotel, we discovered that the company gets around 1,000 designs for the “new hotel” but only 50 are selected. The hotel official who took me on a tour asked me to spend a night there, but I politely declined.

The LKAB iron ore mine, meanwhile, is 4km long, 80m wide and a depth of 2km. There, we got to see how iron ore was mined far below the surface using machineries and driverless trains.

It may seem boring on paper, but this mine is probably one of Sweden’s best attractions. A distinctive feature of this iron mine is that mining activities are carried aboveground and underground.

Nik Faizal and I also managed to meet some Sami folks. The Sami are indigenous people living in the northern region of Europe including in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Traditionally, Sami folk used to be hunters and fishermen, and lived in nomadic communities where they moved with the reindeer. In modern times, there are numerous Sami communities that can be found in villages and towns, and even cities.

In Kiruna, if you were to call a local on the phone, chances are you will be greeted in the Sami language and not Swedish. In fact, the name “Kiruna” is derived from the Sami word “giron”, which means “grouse”.

Another reason to visit Kiruna is the Northern Lights. The town is one of the best places to catch this phenomenon, and you can visit between September and March each year.

The aurora can last anywhere between 10 minutes and the whole night. But even if it is only for 10 minutes it is still an astonishing moment to experience.

Unfortunately, Nik Faizal and I were not able to catch the aurora when we were at Kiruna (although we did see it in Iceland during our official visit there).

Kiruna offers a truly unique way to experience winter. Just remember to dress warmly if you do decide to visit.The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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