Difference between revisions of "Vladivostok"
Revision as of 03:00, 13 February 2013
Vladivostok (Russian: Владивосто́к, vlah-dee-vah-STOHK)  is a city in Russia. It serves as the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Some travellers arrive here at the end or the beginning of a trip on the Trans-Siberian. But it has enough attractions and atmosphere to support a couple of days. The city is holding APEC summit in September, 2012 and is under huge renovations and construction now.
The beautiful oak woods are surrounding the city which along with Nakhodka could be a starting point for weekend bus-tours to the winter ski-slopes or water-falls in summer. A few lotus lakes are attraction for campers and forest lodgers when the flowers are blossoming in August.
Vladivostok is located at the same latitude with Russian subtropical sea resort of Sochi, but its average annual temperature is nearly 10 degrees lower due to the Siberian High that brings cold winds from Yakutia for much of the winter. Thus the winter is typical for Manchuria: cold, clear and very windy. The snow is scarce and in some years may not fall at all.
January is cold at -14°C (7°F), and August is fairly warm at 24°C (75°F), though these are average temperatures, and hot/cold spells can bring much more extreme conditions. It is not unheard of of the below -30°C frosts in February, and similarly August can be >30°, but in general August and September bring the most sunny and pleasant temperatures. The end of summer, however, could bring Pacific monsoons that last for a few days in a row.
Vladivostok is the eastern terminus for the world's longest passenger route, the Trans-Siberian Railway. An epic train journey from Moscow takes six nights and there are departures every two days. Several major Russian cities like Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk and Ekaterinburg are along the route and all trains make stops there. A single journey costs from RUB22,000 in second class.
Mixed-use ferries run the route between Japan and Vladivostok, carrying passengers and major commercial goods. The Far Eastern Shipping Company (FESCO) ferries connect with the Fushiki port in Takaoka. Fares are from ¥48,400 one-way and the trip takes two nights, meals included and alcohol on sale to pass the time. Don't count on many amenities, though; a ship might show a swimming pool on the deck plan, for example, but you'll find it drained to store motorcycles once you're aboard. Ferries both ways leave on Friday evening and arrive two days later on Sunday morning. You'll need to arrive at the port a few hours early for immigration procedures, as these are done en masse with loads of Russian tourists. Schedules, prices, and tickets are available from FESCO's official agent in Japan, Business Intour Service , who have offices in Tokyo and Vladivostok.
There is also a service connecting Vladivostok and Sokcho, South Korea. It costs about US$200 and takes two days. One ship leaves Sokcho each week, on Thursday, although they become more frequent in the summer months (June-August).
Another line connects Vladivostok with the Korean city of Donghae and Japanese fishing port of Sakaiminato, with the cheapest one way fare of US$180 from Donghae and US$220 from Sakaiminato. From March to November the ferry Eastern Dream leave Sakaiminato on Saturdays, briefly stops in Donghae on Sundays and arrives in Vladivostok on Mondays. In the winter, the ferry lays over in Donghae until Monday and doesn't arrive in Vladivostok till Tuesday. Please note that Sakaiminato is a small and remote town, and access to major Japanese cities is limited (closest one is Kyoto, which is about three hours by local train, there are also planes to Tokyo and Nagoya, but they are rather expensive).
Due to the recent new law, anyone entering Russia on cruise ferries can do it without visa if the stay is no longer than 72 hours, and there are discussion to extend this practice to Russian nationals visiting Korea and Japan.
It is also possible to go anywhere in the world (and come from anywhere as well) by booking a berth on a cargo boat. Usual caveats of freighter travel apply, though (it's definitely NOT for a casual tourist), and one need to keep in mind that Russian border and customs officials aren't used to people traveling this way. The ferry port is right next to the train station, so the two are interchangeable for purposes of orientation.
Vladivostok International Airport (IATA: VVO, ICAO: UHWW)  is located near Artyom, some 50 km (31 mi) off the city center, has two airfields with four paved runways, and is able to receive most major types of aircraft, except the very large ones such as Airbus 380. The main terminal (domestic) recently underwent a major renovation, making it the most modern airport building in the Russian Far East. The international terminal, which is located just next door to the domestic one (in fact, they share the same parking), is very small and usually crowded, but as Vladivostok is slated to receive the APEC summit in 2012, the new terminal is beginning to get flights.
Currently, the main connection from the airport to the city is via local and shuttle buses (running to the Vladivostok bus station) but don't count on them if your flight arrives late in the day. If your flight arrives late, you could take your chance with a metered taxi, or negotiate with an informal "taxi" - starting price is a ridiculous 2500 Rubles - pay no more than 1000. The train station, finally connecting the airport to the rail network, is finally completed in the new terminal, and the link is operated under the Aeroexpress brand. One-way ticket to-and-from the airport costs 200 Rubles, and those wanting to splurge may dish out 700 R for a "business class" ride. Note that this train also doubles as a limited local train and thus includes several commuter cars (with a typical commuter amenities and sharply reduced fare around 70 R), and makes a couple of additional stops along the way.
The airport's anchor airline is Vladivostok Air, recently merged into Aeroflot, that serves a majority of its available domestic and international routes. It's the largest airline in the Russian Far East; it operates relatively modern fleet which primarily includes Airbus A320 and Tupolev Tu 204-300 types of aircraft and offers something like European short-haul type of service on all flights. Due to merger its route map and schedule is subject to change, and while it keeps its brand for the time being, some shakeups to closer integrate it with the Russia's flagship carrier are expected.
The busiest destination is Moscow. On average, there are 3-5 flights per day. Flights are much more frequent in summertime (June - September) due to heavy passenger traffic. It is recommended to book an itinerary at least one month in advance during that season in order to get a reasonable fare. Principal carriers to operate this route are Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Transaero, and S7 Airlines.
Other destinations are mostly served daily, and often the service is even less frequent. Besides Moscow, domestic destinations include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk and many others. International flights connect Vladivostok with Beijing and Harbin in China; Tokyo and Osaka in Japan (previously popular Niigata and Toyama destinations are canceled until further notice); Busan and Incheon in South Korea; Bangkok in Thailand; Hanoi in Vietnam; and Air Koryo also offers a weekly flight to Pyongyang. Korean Air operates Incheon route 5 times a week (in 2009) and offers flights from the continental U.S. via a connection in Seoul-Incheon. Completion of the new international terminal in Haneda airport and subsequent increase in its capacity may lead to the opening of a direct scheduled flight by ANA to Tokyo (previously only served by Vladivostok Air charters and then scheduled flights to Narita). From 2 Nov, 2012, S7 Airlines opened direct flights to Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Unfortunately, due to scarcity of the airlines operating from the airport a lot of destinations are monopolized and tickets are offered at exorbitant fares. For example, realizing its almost monopolistic position to offer connections, Korean Air bargains a fare starting from US$800 for 1.5 hours plane ride to Seoul. Vladivostok Air asks similarly extortionate prices for tickets to its Japanese destinations for the same 1.5 hours ride. The only real competitive destination is Moscow where a lot of airlines compete with each other, and sometimes really hot deals can be found. There are some hopes that aforementioned openings of a ferry line and additional flights may lead to increased competition and falling prices, and indeed there is some progress, but it is rather slow and leaves much to see in the future.
As of July 2011, most of the 50+ kilometre road to the city is disrupted by roadworks - rather than repairing in sections, they have chosen to dig it all up at once. Expect delays - buses take 90-120 minutes, taxis at least 1 hour. By the August 2012, though, all major roadworks are finished, and the new, additional road with the scenic bridge over the Amur bay is finally completed, so the problem has largely disappeared.
There are a number of local bus routes from most suburban locations and nearby towns as well. Most places around the region are linked to Vladivostok by bus. There are also several international routes, linking Vladivostok to cities in northeastern China such as Harbin, Mudanjiang and Suifenhe. The easiest way from north eastern China is to take the direct bus from Harbin, to where there are good train connections to/from Beijing.
It takes about five hours to get to the city from the Chinese border, and the road goes through one of the most picturesque areas of the Russian Far East.
By public transport
Vladivostok has a wide range of transportation, from streetcars to funicular railway. The trams and trolleybuses have, unfortunately, mostly gone in an effort to improve traffic — it hasn't worked, though, mainly because at least two lanes on most downtown streets are still taken for unregulated parking. However there are talks of reinstating at least some trolleybus routes, and lengthening the network to include some suburban destinations. For tram, on the other hand, while the mayor pays some lip service to it, his actions prove otherwise.
By far the most common is the bus, both large route buses (mainly used Korean ones, some could be seen still carrying Seoul or Busan route plaques) and marshrutka shared taxis (which generally follow bus routes). Buses are extremely crowded but frequent; the fares are flat 15 r. ($0.50) for the downtown routes, but go up to 120 r. ($4.0) for suburban ones. Hop on bus in the back and then pay the driver as you exit from the front. Many buses leave from outside the "Clever House" (Cløver House) Department store.
About half of the buses are equipped to receive payments by a refillable Dolphin smart card that can be bought and refilled in the automated kiosks at most major stops. Push the card to the terminal near the driver for a couple of seconds, until it gives two beeps, and you are set. Because the cards and kiosks are issued by a major local bank, the card also could be used as a normal debit card in some selected shops, and in the kiosks you could pay your mobile phone, etc.
On the down note, the bus companies are constantly criticized for neglecting the state of their fleets, running the buses well past their service lives, unduly economizing on cleaning and personnel (they tend to hire recent immigrants, who can be paid as little as possible), and creating the competition for the passengers' fare among the drivers, which leads to long delays on stops and reckless driving.
The city has recently stepped in by reinstating the municipal bus company with newer buses and better controlled drivers. All municipal buses are equipped with electronic payment system and trackers, as the city also pushes to equip all the buses with the tracking hardware. The positions and waiting time for the equipped buses could be seen at the Bus 125 website, and major stops are gradually being equipped with electronic timetables.
Access to the outlying areas is generally best done by bus or suburban commuter train elektrichka. The train station is accessible and a great way to see neighboring cities like Khabarovsk.
There are a number of taxi companies, and hailing one is easy. There is no meter because most companies and freelance drivers charge a flat rate of RUB300 for one hour. The rate is usually negotiable but not below RUB150 per hour. Expect to pay at least this much for a single journey over a short distance.
Although it is the main port of used Japanese car imports in Russia, the century-old streets of Vladivostok are ill suited to heavy traffic. They are usually filled to capacity and traffic jams are common, especially in rush hours. The local driving style is also rather aggressive; and speeding, cutting off, tailgating and ignoring recently-changed traffic lights are widespread. Despite this, car horns are rarely heard.
The city centre is only a short walk from the train station, and most of the sights can be reached easily on foot. Aleutskaya St runs north/south, passing the train station; head north to Svetlanskaya St, which is the main east/west road for the city.
As much of Vladivostok is situated on steep hills, walking can be physically demanding. The ice and wind in winter and the conditions of the pavements mostly preclude bicycle use.
However, MTB and weekend bike tours are very popular among the people for there is quite a lot of scenic places hard-to-reach by vehicles but still worth the effort. The most attractive destinations range the closest islands and the coastline even when the ice covers the bays.
If you've arrived in Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian, at the end of a trip that began in Moscow, head straight for Sportivnaya Harbor. The still waters of the sea will likely provide sweet relief after several days on the train. However, if you're fresh off a ferry from Japan or Korea, head up to Svetlanskaya and Ploschad Bortsov Revolutsy for a stroll to get your sea legs back. (Both destinations usually have food and drink vendors.)
Civil engineering buffs can gawk at the numerous construction projects peppering the city streets in preparation to 2012 APEC Summit, including the two enormous bridges across the Golden Horn Bay and Eastern Bosporus strait (the Rissian Navy officers first exploring the area were big fans of Istanbul harbour), the latter of which would be a largest cable-stayed bridge upon its completion. Locals are more ambivalent about all that construction, but the bridges and hotels nevertheless already have become a frequent visitor attractions.
Russia's Pacific Fleet (not all of it, mind you, just its destroyer squadron) is parked right in the downtown, in Golden Horn Bay. A walk along the waterfront on Korabelnaya Embankment offers the closest views; to get any closer, you will have to enlist. Photographs with an average-sized camera shouldn't attract any problems, but be mindful of your surroundings or an enterprising police officer might invent a fine for you to pay.
Museums and memorials
If you're a connoisseur of Lenin statues, don't miss the one overlooking the train station from the west, next to the post office (the popular joke goes that the World Proletariat Leader says "You're going the right way, comrades", while pointing at Japan). There are also some interesting statues heading east on Svetlanskaya, both Soviet-era and abstract.
If you'd like to swim, the beach at Sportivnaya Harbor is the place to do it (not Golden Horn Bay, where the Pacific Fleet is parked). Be sure to salute the half-submerged mermaid statue out in the water. Alternately, in the winter, locals aren't shy about strolling out on ice.
There are also Japanese, Korean, German, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian centers in the university.
There's a GUM (former Kunst&Albers) department store on Svetlanskaya, across from Ploschad Bortsov Revolutsii, and electronic stores further east that can help with power converters and the like.
Local markets are spread throughout Vladivostok and provide the basic groceries for a neighborhood. Some even have a butcher but most all provide sausages and frozen meat. Larger markets sell clothing, shoes, and everything else imaginable in addition to food.
Sportivnaya Market is the largest market in Vladivostok. Its maze-like warrens are full of people selling most everything. There is a large Chinese presence here, and knockoffs and Chinese imports abound. The range of food sold at this market is fabulous but is probably a bit unusual for everyday fare.
Sunday morning brunch at the Vlad Inn (below) is a tradition for the handful of ex-pats living in the city.
Magic Burger, Subway, Cinnabon, Royal Burger, RestoGrad (РестоГрад), Baskin Robbins, Country Fried Chicken, Magic Bell, beer restaurant network Republic (Республика) could be easily hit in the center.
Russian dorm rooms in Vladivostok range from awful to OK. Generally, foreigners are dormed in reasonable accommodations, but you should know exactly what you are getting into before arriving. Important things you might take for granted include: private or communal kitchen and bathrooms, number of roommates, number of clothing washers and dryers.
The Far Eastern National University (above) offers reasonable dorm rooms but foreigners are separated from Russian students, so if you are looking for more Russian immersion, ask them about arranging a home stay.
The hotels in the city center are targets for huge tour groups, who block out availability for weeks on end, so reserve in advance if possible.
A few roads can only be crossed by poorly-lit underground passageways, which can be a bit nerve-wracking at night. Beggars tend to congregate near the doors, including children with very quick hands, so cover your pockets as you pass.
Although you'll see plenty of locals stripping down for a swim on the boardwalks off Naberezhnaya, take care; there is plenty of rusted metal about. Stick to the beach unless you're very confident in your tetanus shots.
The main post office is on the other side of Aleutskaya from the train station. Internet access is available on the first floor of the post office. There are a few Internet cafes in the town center.
ATMs are easy to find, and most are connected to international bank networks. Otherwise, many hotels have exchange desks, although some have exchange rates decidedly skewed in their favor. Banks are the most obvious choice for currency exchange. There will also be dodgy money-changers near Sportivnyaya Harbor.
Mobile operators are the same as anywhere in Russia: MTS (МТС) and Megaphon (Мегафон). Local NTK (НТК) will automatically switch your Beeline (Билайн) phone to roaming service. Buying a SIM card needs a passport in Russia. Refilling locations are QIWI terminals or salons of mobiles: Evroset (Евросеть), Svyaznoy (Связной) and Sotoviy mir (Сотовый мир).
Free wi-fi locations in the city center:
The number of wi-fi spots is over 130 which are availiable in most of cafes in the downtown.