Russian Far East
Far Eastern Russia (Russian: Да́льный Восто́к Росси́й, DAHL'-nih vah-STOHK rah-SEE) is the easternmost part of Russia, comprising its Pacific Ocean islands, coastline and a swath of eastern Siberia. The northern part of the region is in the Arctic.
The Russian Far East is extraordinarily far from Russia's major population centers in Europe and is usually visited separately, unless by the Trans-Siberian Railway. The largest city in the region, Vladivostok, is a full seven time zones away from Moscow, with 9,300 km of railroad between them. The Far East is very different from popular conceptions of Russia—it is very mountainous and has an often spectacular Pacific coastline.
If time and money are not constraints, the highlights of this massive region include the city of Vladivostok, the beautiful Kuril Islands, the otherworldly National Parks of Kamchatka, cruising along the coast of Chukotka, and big game hunting in the wildlife paradise of Yakutia.
There are a good number of Finnic and Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages spoken throughout the more northerly regions of the Far East. Korean is also widely spoken in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk by the Sakhalin Koreans. But, as in all of Russia, Russian is the principal language and is spoken by nearly everyone, regardless of their first language. Chinese and Japanese are common foreign languages as students learn them in the nearby border regions of Russia, but European languages are far less widespread than in European Russia and travelers should not expect to rely on them. However English is a major international language and expect it to be the most widespread among students and business people here.
The principal transit hubs, with good sized international airports, are Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and to a lesser extent Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. In general, you will either arrive by plane or the Trans-Siberian Railway. But it is also possible to arrive by boat from Alaska and Japan to destinations on the Russian Pacific coast.
Distances between cities and towns in the Russian Far East are huge and infrastructure is lacking. A combination of using the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Baikal-Amur Mainline, and for destinations off the rail system, domestic flights, will get you around the majority, but not the entirety, of the region. In particular, Northeastern Russia is almost entirely without interregional transportation infrastructure and is off the Russian rail network—the one exception is the long, lonely, seasonal, and partially maintained country roads connecting Yakutsk to Magadan. Heading north from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky by road will only take you as far as Esso, road tracks passable by half-track vehicles in March extend as far as Palana; from Palana onwards, overland travel becomes wilderness adventure.
This lack of roads and rail network makes travel by sea along the coast a much more accessible option, with expedition cruising companies (such as Heritage Expeditions www.heritage-expeditions.com) operating their own ice-strengthened polar research vessels on several trips from Sakhalin in the south to Kamchatka and Kamchatka north into the Russian Arctic including Wrangel and Herald Islands, famous for the density of Polar Bears.
Expeditions depart a number of cities/towns in the Russian Far East that are accessible by air, including Yuzhno-Sakhalin (Sakhalin Island), Magadan, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and Anadyr Kamchatka Peninsula, Sea of Okhotsk and Chukotka are highlight areas. Wildlife and birding and key aspects to each expedition in regions such as Commander and Kuril Islands as well as possibilities to see the annual native-sports Beringia Games and several expeditions to remote Wrangel Island high up in the Russian Arctic. Due to the lack of infrastructure and roading in this region, and difficulty with permits, expedition cruising provides a way to see parts of this region that would be very difficult to see otherwise.
The Russian Far East borders Mongolia and China to the south, North Korea and Japan to the southeast, and Alaska to the northeast, and there is transport available to all of them from nearby regions in the Far East.