Difference between revisions of "Vladivostok"
Revision as of 22:33, 15 December 2010
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.
Golden Horn Bay, along the south of the city center, is the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. For that reason, Vladivostok was off-limits to foreigners during most of the Soviet era until 1992, when it was re-opened for tourism. The city centre, at the edge of the water, has sweeping boulevards of ornate, century-old buildings; magnificent, decaying, and in dire need of a scrub. Further out, on the steep hills overlooking the bay, a similarly decaying group of Soviet blocks provide accommodations for most of the city's residents.
January is bitterly cold at -14 C, and August is fairly warm at +24 C. August and September bring the most sunny and pleasant temperatures.
The Trans-Siberian Railway runs between Vladivostok and Moscow, with stops in major Russian cities like Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, and Ekaterinberg. Fares are from $200 single. Trains to Harbin, China take around 30 hours and cost $50.
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 $200 USD 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 two-way fare of $380 (deck class). The Ro-Ro ferry Eastern Dream calls weekly on Tuesdays, and it takes 18 hours to reach Korea and 12 more to Japan with a 5-hour stop in Donghae. 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. 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).
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 off the city center, has two airfields with four paved runways, and is able to receive most major types of aircraft, except very large ones such as Boeing 747 or Boeing 777. 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 planning of further upgrades are underway. Currently, the main connection from the airport to the city is via local and shuttle buses (running to the Vladivostok bus station).
The airport's anchor airline is Vladivostok Air  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.
The busiest destination is Moscow. In 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 barely served daily, usually service is 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; Niigata, Toyama and Osaka in Japan; 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 this route 5 times a week (in 2009) and offers flights from the continental US 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, which is now served only by chartered flights to Narita airport.
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 $800 for 1.5 hours plane ride to Seoul. Vladivostok Air  bargains similar extortionate prices for tickets to its Japanese destinations for the same 1.5 hours plane 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, but it remains a thing to see in the future.
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/fromBeijing. See Harbin and Suifenhe pages for more details.
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 trolleybuses to funicular railway. By far the most common is the bus, both large route buses and marshrutka shared taxis (which generally follow bus routes). Buses are extremely crowded but frequent; the fares are flat and range from 11 to 17 roubles (as of 2010). Hop on bus in the back and then pay the driver as you exit from the front.
Access to the outlying areas is generally best done by bus or suburban commuter train. 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's no meter, because most companies and freelance drivers charge a flat rate of ~300 R ($10) for one hour. The rate is usually negotiable, but not below 150 R ($5) per hour. Expect to pay at least this much for a single journey over a short distance also.
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, and tailgating are widespread.
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.
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.)
Russia's Pacific Fleet is parked in the waters off the coast of Vladivostok, in Golden Horn Bay. A walk along the waterfront on Korabelnaya Embankment offers the closest views; to get any closer, you'll have to enlist. Photographs with an average-sized camera shouldn't attract any trouble, but be mindful of your surroundings lest an enterprising police officer 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. 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.
The Far Eastern National University  is one of the top five Russian universities and has over 35,000 students. It offers Russian courses online  for foreigners at $200 a credit or on campus. The Vladivostok State University of Economics  also offers Russian courses for foreigners  at decent prices. Both universities can set you up in their dorms as well as do the necessary paperwork for you to study in Russia.
There's a GUM department store on Svetlanskaya, across from Ploschad Bortsoy Revolutsy, 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.
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.
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.
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. There will also be dodgy money-changers near Sportivnyaya Harbor.