The Far East seems to represent a kind of “edge of the world” for Europeans. Indeed, the distance from Moscow to Vladivostok is almost 7,000 kilometres, and the time difference between the Far East and Central Europe is 9 hours. However, this area does not seem as remote for residents of the Far East themselves and for their neighbours from the Asian and Pacific countries. Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, main cities of the Far East, provide direct flights to North and South Korea, Japan, Thailand and the United States, and tourist ships travel regularly to Japan and South Korea as well. The Trans Siberian Railroad, which has routes going towards the Chinese border and Pacific coast, branches out across the whole area.
The winter here is dry, frosty and amazingly sunny, which is very good for one’s health. Thanks to the dryness of the air, one can cope rather easily even in extreme temperatures. Still, the best time for travel is the second half of July and in August and September. Russia’s Far East is situated on the same parallel as Sochi on the Black Sea coast, and the sun shines as warmly about 180 to 200 days out of the year.
The most amazing feature of the Far East for Europeans is the unique natural landscape. The north and south meet here, as well as the biggest continent, Eurasia, and the largest ocean, the Pacific. The taiga, sandy ocean beaches, ship cruises, fantastic marine landscapes, caves, waterfalls and therapeutic sources of mineral water await any visitor to the area. Even the local mountains are unusual: low ranges with round, domelike tops and soft slopes, called sopkas, run parallel from the south-west to the north-east. There aren’t any crags, crests, abysses or bluff canyons here.
In the north of the area, one can find the “Sikhotech-Alin” Nature Reserve: it is the largest of the six local reserves of its kind here. Brown and black bears, elk, serow, wild boar and Siberian stags dwell here, as well as some endemic species of animals, such as forest cats, raccoon-like dogs, Tungusic hare and Amur tigers. Tourists have the chance to take photos of rare animal species, to see primordial sites and a 35 meter high waterfall on the Amgu River. Walking along the riverbank, one can find such semi-precious stones as sards, opals, onyxes and sardonyxes.
Up to 320 bird and over 1,500 plant species, including ginseng and acuminate yew, can be observed in the “Lazovsky” Nature Reserve. The world’s only insular yew forest, with trees of over 1,000 years old, grows in the natural botanical gardens on Petrov Island.
On the territory of Vladivostok, a very beautiful place to see is the southernmost part of the Khassan District: here one may visit Russia’s only natural sea reserve, the “Cedar Valley” Nature Reserve, and the “Khassan” Nature Park with its famously unique example of Ussuri taiga (a liana, coniferous and large-leaved forestland). Photography buffs of all ages come here from Vladivostok, to an experimental cattle ranch located about an hour and a half from the city, where lynxes, bears, deer, reindeer and numerous bird species dwell. 350 out of the 690 bird species known in Russia can be observed in the Vladivostok Region, and bird watching tours are a specific activity in this area that continues to increase in popularity.
Owing to the climate, the landscape features and the beauty of the flora, various forms of active tours, such as adventure, diving, rafting, walking and skiing tours through the neighbouring hills, are being offered more and more frequently in the area. Tourists may travel either to the Yelamov Cascade, which has 27 waterfalls, or to the lotus-adorned Kronstadt Lake. The best time to travel here is in July or August, which is the time of year when the lotus starts to bloom.
Geological and cave discovery tours are popular in the Vladivostok Region as well. At least 40 out of 160 known caverns (including underground manholes, niches, grottos and caves) have been uncovered to this day. Tours to the Mokrushin Cave in the Zarod Mountain depths, a huge five hall underground complex, are especially interesting. Connoisseurs of natural semiprecious stones may travel down some geological routes in the area of Dalnegorsk city.
The area’s capital of Vladivostok, a city on par with European standards, is the closest big city to the Asian and Pacific countries. Vladivostok’s historical centre is quite unusual, and no building repeats another’s architectural design, one can experience classical, Gothic, modern and oriental styles electrically placed one right beside the other.
Vladivostok is placed amphitheatrically amidst the coastal sopkas, from whose peaks a fine view of the Golden Horn Bay and the whole city panorama can be enjoyed. One may take a motorboat ride around the bay and the islands of the Gulf of Peter the Great. The twenty islands found there are almost unpopulated, and all of those who wish to imagine themselves as Robinson Crusoe would be advised to land on any one of these islands for a picnic when the weather allows.
Diving in the gulf is a wonderful experience. One can see a unique underwater world of tropical and sub-Arctic zones. Others may prefer a walk in one of the cityâ€™s forests or parks, or to visit its health centre and Russian baths, as well as the Russian Chamber exhibition with its special Russian Folk Traditions programme, where there is a chance to taste local teas with liquors and extracts made from Far-eastern healing herbs.
The natural landscape of the Khabarovsk Region is amazingly beautiful. Many precious medicinal plants, such as ginseng, eleutherococcus, Chinese schizandra and others can be found here. Eighty-five species of fish dwell in the Amur River: only the Mississippi and Amazon are more diverse in terms of fish species, and opportunities for fishing here are simply outstanding.
There is a unique place on the bank of the Amur near the village of Sikachi-Alyan, where some of the world’s oldest petroglyphs remain whose approximate age is about 12,000 years old. As local legend has it, the petroglyphs were drawn by women at a time when stones were soft as wax and three suns shone in the sky. For over a century, scientists from different countries have been trying to decipher the secret of the petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan.
Over 20 indigenous peoples of Tungusic descent reside in the Khabarovsk Region. There are six peoples native to this land – they are the Lamuts, Neghidals, Orochis, Oudeghehs, Oulchis and Nanaitsy (the most densely populated of the Tungusic nations), as well as the Nivkhs (the only non-Tungusic people speaking an isolated language of unknown origin). All of these peoples, with the exception of the Nivkhs, have the word nani in their languages, meaning “a man of the land”. The traditional occupations of these “men of the land” are hunting and fishing, though their arts and crafts and original folk groups are also quite popular. The sewing of national clothing is one of the most popular arts of the peoples of the Amur area, which combines cut-out and appliqué crafts, as well as use of leather, metal and stones. Robes made of fish-skin and other designs made for the spring and autumn seasons, are the most interesting.
Another unique area of the Far East is the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is one of the few areas on the planet whose nature has been preserved in its wild, primeval condition. Twenty-seven percent to of the peninsula’s territory is considered to be a protected nature zone. The capital of the Kamchatka Region is the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, which is situated on the shore of the Avacha Bay, a place of rare beauty surrounded by a chain of volcanoes. In total, there are 160 volcanoes in the Kamchatka area, of which 28 are active. Among them, there is the Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4,750 metres), the highest and most active volcano in Eurasia. Visitors are also invited for a walking tour along the Koryak Volcano site (reaching 3,200 metres), which is located 25 kilometres away from the capital. There is an ocean beach near the Khalaktyr Airport and three groups of hot mineral water springs on the western shore of the Avaacha Bay, namely Paratunsk, Zhirovsk and Bannaya. The world-famous Valley of Geysers, a unique object in nature, is located between the Karymskoye and Kronotskoye lakes. The southern part of the peninsula is famous for its Kurilskoye Lake, a huge salmon-breeding ground.
The peaks of the Middle Range, which crosses the central part of the Kamchatka Region, are good for walking tours. There are mountainous lakes with warm water and thermal water springs here. Lamut tribe settlements are of special interest in this area, and ethnographical tourism is highly developed here. One may have the chance to communicate with indigenous peoples, to participate in their traditional fishing rituals and to watch dog and deer racing contests. Both riding and helicopter tours are of great interest to the visitors here.
There are excellent opportunities for world-class mountain-skiing. The Moroznaya (“Frosty”) Mountain near the city of Yelizovo is equipped with up to 220 meter long skiing pathways. Especially popular among foreign tourists is heli-skiing, when skiers are helicoptered to the volcanoes’ wild snowy peaks and then try to take on their downhill slopes.