Windshield Views from the Far East (Russia)

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Hop in the Land Cruiser, buckle up and enjoy the views from our windshield as if you are behind the wheel or riding shotgun. Can you feel the energy of the trusty diesel coming to life at the turning of the key? Enjoy the ride – we have some 2,000 kilometers to go (Here you will find our maps and guidebooks for this trip).

Russia’s Far East comprises the country’s extreme eastern territory. Often thought of it as Siberia the locals are quick to point out that, no, this is not Siberia. For one the Far East borders the Pacific Ocean and Siberia doesn’t, and, second, its climate is distinct (oceanic vs. continental climate).

 

Vladivostok

Counting 600,000 inhabitants, Vladivostok is Russia’s largest port and situated on the Pacific Ocean. In 2015 Putin gave the city (and surrounding districts) the status of a free port which was one of the reasons to spend a lot of money on improving the city’s infrastructure.

The main privileges for residents are the possibility of obtaining state land, fiscal benefits on property and on land tax, and the free customs zone.

We wrote about Vladivostok here and here.

We ferried our Land Cruiser from South Korea to Vladivostok, an important port for Russia with some impressive infrastructure such as massive bridges.
Don’t hold your breath. Not all roads in Vladivostok are wide and empty. Expect to get stuck in some traffic jams.

 

Primorsky Krai (south of Vladivostok)

Marvel at what this little corner (900 kms long and 280 kms wide) of Russia has to offer: 6 natural reserves, 13 wildlife sanctuaries, 3 national parks and about 900 natural monuments! In Primosky Krai live only about 2 million people (1,5% of all population of Russia) and 615,000 of them live in Vladivostok. The average population density is 12 people per square kilometer. It’s a rich region in terms of nationalities with, among others, people from Central Asia, Korea, Japan, China, India, and different groups of native people (the Udege, Nanai, Oroch, and Taz).

We drove hours without seeing a soul. We’d have all the washboard to ourselves! It was freezing when we were here (in March) which was the main reason we didn’t stay as long as we would have wanted to. But for the short time we did, we had some great adventures (read about them here).

Time to explore a part of the fabulous coast of the Primorsky Krai District that abounded with incredible narrow tracks and rough camps that invited to linger.
Barely half an hour from the asphalt and we got thoroughly stuck.
Solitude and silence reign.
No leopards or tigers crossing the often empty roads.

 

East Primorye: Land of the Tiger

 

“… And we saw our tiger!

Faded to orange in summer,

with black on this golden fur,

as a dragon that left the temple,

with his back as a mountain range,

he descended from the heights.”

~Ilya Selvinsky (Russian poet 1899-1968)

 

We didn’t see a tiger, or any wildlife for that matter. Maybe they were still all hibernating. Roads were long and empty, campsites along the coast offered fabulous views. We’d love to come back one day, in summer, and follow more of the coastline all the way up.

Were it not for freezing temps we would have stayed longer but alas, it was better to drive than to sit outside in a camping chair.
Forest fires are a major problem in East Russia. Natural causes, cigarette butts, empty bottles, or simply set on fire in order to earn money (no permits required to cut dead wood, contrary to cutting living trees).
From Vladivostok, more than 2,000 kilometers cut through forests and taiga  (a biome characterized by coniferous forests consisting mostly of pines, spruces and larches).

 

Around Khabarovsk – Birobidzhan

An easy-going 200 kilometers of asphalt that runs parallel with the Trans-Siberian Railway. Better known for adventurous journeys among non-Russians, it is, in fact, a super busy railway with lots of endlessly long cargo trains and railway crossings are part of the route.

No shortage of wood in this part of the world.
Thousands of kilometers of forest. More of the same yet never boring. Snowy fields, blue skies, and rainstorms alternate, as do asphalt, dust and mud.
Through the pipes, hot water is transported to homes, but not all homes have running water though.
Those guards that pop up from the ground make sure you stay put.

 

Amur Highway

The idea of having to drive 2000 kilometers through the wilderness to get from Khabarovsk to Chita was a bit daunting, to be honest. But long stretches of the Amur Highway (or Russian Route 297)  turned out to be among the most scenic landscapes we have seen. As if the distance wasn’t long enough, we took our time to check out some of the sand paths leading into beautiful birch forest.

This road trip included the eastern section of Amur Highway, a stretch that the until some 10 years ago was infamous for being undrivable – its pavement was finally concluded in 2010.
To make sure you understand the red light, the text emphasizes, “Stop”
Time to get off the main road a bit and check out some of these beckoning forest trails.
We’re approaching the border of the Far East with East Siberia. See you on our next trip!

Only a short part of the Amur Highway runs through the Far East and continues east to Siberia. More on this route in our next Windshield-Views episode. Stay tuned!

Did you enjoy this Windshield-View episode? Here is another one on Asia.

For more on Road Travel, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

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