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Tourism is Finland's latest bright idea

By Xu Lin | | Updated: 2017-04-04 14:11

The crowd stood in amazement as bursts of green light danced across the Finnish sky. Zhang Yu, 31, was among those delighted to see the northern lights, or aurora borealis,during a visit to Ivalo village in the Lapland region. Other tourists with Zhang took photos, while one exclaimed "it's so gorgeous".

The group was witnessing collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun as they entered the Earth's atmosphere near to its magnetic poles. Many see the display as the most spectacular natural light show in the world, but,despite its majesty, it is an event that is hard to predict and be ready to witness.

"We're so lucky to see this amazing natural phenomenon," said Beijinger Zhang, who traveled to Finland with her husband for a seven-day holiday. "Finland boasts great travel experiences in the Arctic, such as reindeer sleigh rides, and the Finnish people are so hospitable and friendly."

The couple specifically hoped to see the northern lights. They spent about 30,000 yuan ($4,358) on the holiday.Zhang said her tour guides told her they might not see the lights because of the snowy weather, but they ended up enjoying a display that lasted about 20 minutes.

Earlier, when they had been enjoying a bonfire party in the open air, a local tour guide had demonstrated how to "swim" in thick snow as they killed time after the northern lights failed to appear. The tourists enjoyed themselves anyway and a 6-year-old girl from the Middle East also joined in with the snow swimming.

"It was an unforgettable night," said Zhang. "Although there were no northern lights, we talked with families from all over the world and enjoyed the performance."

Local legend says the northern lights are produced by a fox running across the Arctic; when it falls, sparks fly from its tail to light up the sky. Like Zhang, more and more Chinese visitors are traveling to Finland to see the northern lights and enjoy other Finnish experiences.

In 2015, about 326,000 Chinese visitors traveled to Finland, which was up by 35 percent on 2014. In addition, around 197,000 transit passengers changed flights at Helsinki airport.

"The best time to see the northern lights is between August and October or during February and March, rather than during the coldest of the winter months," said Sari Hey, PR coordinator with Visit Finland. "There are more nights with clear skies then, and cloudy skies will block your view. Part of seeing the lights is an element of luck, so we do recommend that travelers don't plan their vacation only around seeing the lights. They can explore many other amazing activities to get the full Finnish experience."

Heysaid it is possible to see a double aurora - a reflection of the Northern Lights from the water – in the fall. Tourists can also join in with other autumn activities, such as berry and mushroom picking, and hiking in national parks.

In addition to seeing the northern lights, tourists to Finland seek out a visit to the Santa Claus Village in Lapland, where they can meet a jolly old man in red and white and pose with him for photos.

The Santa Claus Main Post Office receives post sent to Santa, which runs to about 700,000 letters every year. It also is a must-visit for travelers who want to send postcards with a special Arctic Circle stamp.

According to Zhang, Chinese tourists particularly enjoy a picture of President Xi Jinping and Santa Claus taken during Xi's 2010 visit.

According to Chinese online travel agency Tuniu Corp, Chinese tourists are interested in package tours to Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In Finland, they often visit the capital city Helsinki and enjoy winter activities such as snow biking and skiing. The agency is also planning to develop more tour products for all seasons in Finland.

"Travelers coming to Finland will appreciate the multitude of options available and especially the natural elements," Hey said. "We recommend that travelers venture further outside of Helsinki to other regions, such as Lakeland in the summer and Lapland in the winter. Many are surprised to find how quick and easy it is to see a lot, even with only a few days in Finland."

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