Explore Russia’s Far East - RFE19
Number of Days: 21
Russia’s Far East – an area of vast river deltas, great lakes, mountains, gulags and extremes. This tour takes you, quite literally, to the edge of the world.
Our journey begins in Eastern Siberia and the city of Irkutsk. Sitting close to this imposing municipality is mighty Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world and Russia’s spiritual heartland. We then fly north to Yakutsk, capital of Sakha region, an autonomous region larger than India. We then board a cruise ship that will take us on an overnight voyage on the mighty Lena River to the UNESCO site of the Lena Pillars. Our adventure then takes us into the Russian Far East proper and the city of Magadan, made famous by Charlie Boorman and Ewen MacGregor’s attempt to ride the 2,000-kilometre Kolyma Highway – one of the most remote and rugged roads in the world. Situated on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk, this is where Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’ unfolds and yet it has some of the richest bird and marine life found anywhere in the world. Moving south to Khabarovsk, discover one of the most surprising cities in Russia. This architectural gem, just 30 kilometres from the Chinese border. Possessing magnificent Tsarist architecture, Khabarovsk is one the major hubs of the Trans-Siberian railway and fittingly, we have an overnight rail journey from there to Vladivostok. After exploring there we fly to the island of Sakhalin - close to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, this is rarely visited by foreigners. Disputed for many years by Russia and Japan, and with a complex and compelling nature, it is a fascinating melting pot of the two nations. From here we fly to Sapporo, Hokkaido.
Tour commences Bangkok 06 August 2019 and concludes back in Bangkok 26 August.
Day 1: Bangkok – Irkutsk
Depart Bangkok S7 762, 17.25. Arrive Irkutsk 23.55. Irkutsk is the capital of Eastern Siberia and dates from 1661. A major city on the Trans Siberian railway, it was once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. Today, Irkutsk, which is situated on the Angara River – the only river to flow out of Lake Baikal – has been beautifully restored and once again is a marvellous Siberian jewel. Accommodation: Courtyard by Marriott, Irkutsk.
Day 2: Irkutsk
This morning we drive out of Irkutsk to the pretty village of Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal. Formed some 25 million years ago, Baikal is the world’s deepest lake and almost every statistic about it is astonishing. We enjoy an informative briefing about the lake on a visit to the excellent Limnological Museum. B,L,D
Day 3: Irkutsk – Yakutsk
Irkutsk is the capital of Eastern Siberia and dates back to 1661. A major city on the Trans Siberian railway, it was once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’. Today, Irkutsk, which is situated on the Angara River – the only river to flow out of Lake Baikal – has been beautifully restored and once again is a marvellous Siberian jewel. Today we explore this lovely city including the Siberian mansion which was home to the exiled Decembrists including Sergei and Maria Volkonsky. After dinner we transfer to the airport for our flight to Yakutsk.Depart Irkutsk Yakutia Airlines R3 494, 20.45. Arrive Yakutsk 23.50. On arrival in Yakutsk we transfer to our hotel. Tygyn Darkhan Hotel, Yakutsk. B,L,D
Day 4: Yakutsk – Lena River Cruise
The lowest temperature ever recorded on the planet, -64.4°C, occurred in Yakutsk and the city has never recorded a temperature above freezing between November and March. However, summers are warm and short with daily maximum temperatures occasionally reaching +30 °C, making the seasonal temperature differences in the city the greatest in the world. It is also the largest city built on continuous permafrost, and many houses are built on concrete piles. This morning we begin a sightseeing tour of the city including the Yakutia Treasury. Late afternoon we board the Demyan Bedny for a two-night cruise on the Lena River, the easternmost of the three great Siberian rivers which originates in the Baikal Mountains and flows 4,400kms north to the Arctic Ocean. B,L,D
Day 5: Lena River Cruise
This morning we enjoy breakfast onboard before arriving at the Lena Pillars, which are located some 260 kilometres south of Yakutsk City. The pillars are a series of rock formations which were laid down in the middle Cambrian Age when the region was covered by sea. The formation of the pillars was the result of the extremes of the Sakha climate; frost and ice expanding and shattering the rocky joints, forming jagged stone buttresses, dissected by deep vertical gullies. Comprising alternating layers of limestone, marlstone (lime and silt rich mudstone), dolomite and slate, the pillars rise to a massive 100 meters in height and extend for some kilometres on the banks of the Lena River. They are now a part of the Lena Pillars Nature Park and a designated UNESCO Natural Heritage Site. After a briefing we disembark and explore the area, climbing to a lookout point with fantastic views of the Lena River. Overnight we cruise back to Yakutsk. B,L,D
Day 6: Yakutsk
One of the oldest cities in Siberia, Yakutsk was founded in 1632 by Cossacks. Built on the right back of the Lena River, it was originally known as Fort Lenskii and was renamed Yakutsk in 1647. Today the city is one of the most important in eastern Siberia and is a base for scientific expeditions to the Far East and the Arctic. As a territory in the extreme North of Asia, its dramatic cultural history pushes its boundaries as far west as Central Asia with a cultural legacy that stretches as far as Greenland. A region bigger than India, it has a vast, varied, and extreme landscape. Accommodation: Tygyn Darkhan Hotel, Yakutsk. B,L,D
Day 7: Yakutsk
Yakutsk did not grow into a city until the discovery of large reserves of gold and other minerals in the 1880s and 1890s. These reserves were developed extensively during industrialisation under Stalin. The rapid growth of forced labour camps in Siberia, was also a major factor in the city’s development. Indeed, Yakutia has 20% of the global diamond stock and are the most highly valued diamonds in the world. Today we visit the Yakutia Treasury, which is home to massive collection of precious stones, the incredible Mammoth museum and the Permafrost Kingdom housing an ice bar and wonderful ice sculptures. B,L,D
Day 8: Yakutsk – Lake Buluus – Yakutsk
Today we take a ferry across the Lena to the small town of Nizhny Bestyakh and drive on a road that cuts through dense larch forests to the magnificent Glacier of Lake Buluus. The glacier is formed by the extreme ice winds and temperatures during winter. The ice is so thick that it doesn’t melt over the summer and maintains a constant +4C +6C. B,L,D
Day 9: Yakutsk – Magadan
this morning as we transfer to the airport for our flight to Magadan. Depart Yakutsk R3 409, 05.50. Arrive Magadan 09.40. Magadan lies on the Sea of Okhotsk in the beautiful Nagayev Bay. Founded in 1930 during the Stalin years, it was a major transit centre for prisoners destined for labour camps. It is one of the most isolated towns in the world, connected to Yakutsk, 2,000 kilometres away, by the infamous Kolyma Highway, also known as the ‘Road of Bones’, because the skeletons of the forced labourers who died while constructing it were laid beneath or around its foundations. The road became known around the world after Charlie Boorman and Ewen MacGregor attempted to complete the journey to Yakutsk in the film, ‘Long way Round’. Often referred to as ‘the small Leningrad’, Magadan has a Baroque style that is engulfed by Stalinist architecture. This morning we visit the ‘Mask of Sorrow’, a remarkable sculpture that depicts a crying face, with the tears made up of smaller and smaller crying faces, symbolising the eternal grief of the Kolyma gulag region during the Soviet era. We also visit the natural history museum which showcases the life and history of the indigenous populations of the Far East — among them the Evens, the Chukchi, the Nanai and the Eskimos. Accommodation: Hotel VM Central, Magadan. L,D
Day 10: Magadan
This morning we head for Magadan sea port for a full day cruise that will reveal the many beautiful bays along the coast. The Sea of Okhotsk is one of the world’s most biologically productive seas. River drainage combined with intense intermingling of waters by the straits and winds and the upwelling of deep, nutrient-laden ocean waters, are all favourable to marine life. In the short summer months, when temperatures warm the sea, there is a marked increase in activity. The area is home to the majestic Steller’s sea eagle and numerous seabirds such as guillemots, puffins, auklets and fulmars. Waterfowl and many migratory species are also well represented. Marine mammals include four species of ‘ice seal’ – bearded, ringed, largha and the beautifully marked ribbon seal. There are also steller sea lions, northern fur seals, sea otters, and several whale species. B,L,D
Day 11: Magadan – Khabarovsk
This morning we continue exploring Magadan. After lunch we transfer to the airport for our flight south to Khabarovsk.
Depart Magadan HZ/SU 5613, 15.50 Arrive Khabarovsk 17.30
Khabarovsk sits on the Amur River, some 30 kilometres from the Chinese border and 648 kilometres from Vladivostok. Unlike its southern counterpart however, Khabarovsk was never closed to foreigners and today the city is international with an increasing Asian presence who want to visit ‘Europe style’ in Russia’s Far East. Indeed, vast amounts of money have been poured into Khabarovsk and the city’s magnificent Tsarist architecture has been beautifully restored. It’s a city of parks and gardens as well as a lovely river promenade which boasts chic bars and restaurants. Accommodation: Sopka Hotel, Khabarovsk. B,L,D
Day 12: Khabarovsk
After breakfast we start to explore this surprising pearl on the edge of the great taiga forests. In the afternoon we cruise down the Amur River, the world’s tenth longest, that forms a natural border between the Russian Far East and North-eastern China. The Amur River is an important symbol of, and geopolitical factor in, Chinese—Russian relations. Indeed, the first permanent bridge across the Amur, the Khabarovsk Bridge, was completed in 1916, allowing the trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway to cross the river year-round without using ferries or rail tracks on top of the river ice. The area in and around the Amur River is home to 95 percent of the world’s Oriental white stork, as well as significant numbers of cranes and other birds. B,L,D
Day 13: Khabarovsk – Vladivostok
Among the indigenous people in the area around Khabarovsk are the Nanai people. After breakfast we drive 75km north of the city to the small village of Sikachi-Alyan located on the Amur River where we spend the day with this fascinating and friendly people, learning about their traditions and culture. On our return to Khabarovsk we transfer to the railway station and board Russia’s great rail flagship, the Trans-Siberian, for our overnight journey to Vladivostok. Connecting Moscow with the Russian Far East it has a total length of 9,289 kilometres making it the longest railway line in the world and has connected Moscow with Vladivostok since 1916. Built between 1891 and 1916 under the supervision of Russian government ministers personally appointed by Tsar Alexander III and his son, Tsar Nicholas II, the completion of the railroad marked the turning point in the history of Siberia and the Russian Far East, opening vast areas to exploitation, settlement, and industrialization. Depart Khabarovsk Train 2, 19.31 B,L
Day 14: Vladivostok
Arrive Vladivostok 07.07 On arrival in Vladivostok we transfer to our hotel and later begin to explore this beautiful city, which has often been likened to Naples and San Francisco. After lunch we take a boat ride around the harbour. There are three distinct harbour areas: the fishing harbour, naval base and the commercial port, which stretches along Golden Horn Bay. Afterwards we head to Amursky Bay for a panoramic view of Vladivostok. Accommodation: Lotte Hotel, Vladivostok. L,D
Day 15: Vladivostok
Today we drive 60km out of Vladivostok to Primorsky Safari Park. Originally designed as a safe haven for injured animals, the park, which is 40,000 square kms, welcomes visitors to see Siberian tigers, Siberian stag, dappled deer, roe deer, wild boar, black bear, brown bear, wolf, fox and other wild animals in their natural habitat. B,L,D
Day 16: Vladivostok – Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk An early transfer to the airport this morning for our flight to Sakhalin Island.
Depart Khabarovsk SU 5606, 10.10. Arrive Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk 12.50. Sakhalin Island is separated from the Far East Russian mainland by the Tartar Strait and from the Japanese Island of Hokkaido by the Perouse Strait. The island is approximately the same size as Scotland and has a population of 600,000. The capital of Sakhalin, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was founded in 1881, and this afternoon we start to explore the city visiting Gagarin park, before heading up to Gorny Vozduh for magnificent views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Accommodation: Gagarin Hotel, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. B,L,D
Day 17: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
This morning we drive out of the capital to a wonderful monument of nature. One of the most impressive places on the coast of Sakhalin, Cape Giant is surrounded by sand beaches lapped by the azure waters of the Sea of Okhotsk. The cape is reached through dense taiga and steep passes. There are many grottoes, created by the wind and waves, where massive bird colonies are located. Huge rocks nestled in the cosy bays at the cape – which from afar resemble the profile of a warrior, are the reason Cape Giant got its name. As the tide retreats from the bays a Sakhalin delicacy is revealed, sea urchins. This caviar is considered a superb food that increases the ability of the body during physical activity and accelerates the recovery time by quickly normalising the level of leukocytes. B,L,D
Day 18: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
Between July and September the magnificent sight of mass salmon spawning occurs. After breakfast we head out of the town where we board a boat to sight whales including the critically endangered Western Pacific grey whale, for which the coast of Sakhalin is the only known feeding ground. Other endangered whale species known to occur in this area are the North Pacific whale, the bowhead whale, and the beluga whale. B,L,D
Day 19: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk – Sapporo
Depart Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Aurora Airlines HZ 4536, 09.30 Arrive Sapporo 09.05 Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s fifth largest city. It is also one of the nation’s youngest major cities. In 1857, the city’s population stood at just seven people. In the beginning of the Meiji Period, when the development of Hokkaido was started on a large scale, Sapporo was chosen as the island’s administrative centre and enlarged according to the advice of foreign specialists. Consequently, Sapporo was built based on a North American style rectangular street system. The city became world famous in 1972 when the Winter Olympics were held there. Today, it is a lively city well known for its ramen, beer, and the annual snow festival held in February. On our arrival we begin to explore the city visiting Mount Moiwa and Odori Park which is located in the heart of Sapporo’s downtown, providing residents with a lush, green escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. From east to west, the park spans about 1.5km and covers over 78,000 square meters. Accommodation: Mercure Hotel, Sapporo. B,L,D
Day 20: Sapporo
After breakfast we visit the Naritasan Antique Market which is located next to a Buddhist temple and specialises in old Japanese pottery, textiles, and other antique goods. In the afternoon we visit the Sapporo Beer Museum, the birthplace of beer in Japan since 1877 and still today one of the most popular beer brands in the country. B,L,D
Day 21: Sapporo – Bangkok
Depart Sapporo TG 671, 10.30, Scheduled arrival Bangkok 15.30. On arrival in Bangkok connect with flights for onward travel or enjoy a stopover to explore Thailand. B
- Meals as per final tour itinerary: B = Breakfast, L = Light lunch, D = Dinner
- Coach or minibus transport on tour.
- Flights as per final itinerary.
- Hotel accommodation on a twin share basis in listed hotels or similar.
- Airfares other than stated as included, visas and insurance
- Extra meals, snacks and drinks
- Tips and any optional tour or other activities not stated as included in this itinerary
- Meals as per final tour itinerary: B = Breakfast, L = Light lunch, D = Dinner
- Prices from $26,395 per person twin share