The last bastion of an enormous country, the Russian Far East is a remote region that few travellers visit, probably because you really need to be motivated to travel across such a large area. Although it can be reached by plane, the best way to travel over this land is on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which takes you from Moscow to Vladivostok in seven days. You can then travel north to explore the large open spaces, the steppes and the Pacific coast of this little part of Russia. Away from the 'trendy' feel of Moscow and the cultural richness of Saint Petersburg, the Far East shows another side of this unique country.
Surface area : 6200000.0 km2
Population : 6800000 inhabitants
Time difference : +11h
Most shops are open from 9:00am to 8:00pm Monday to Saturday, and they sometimes close for lunch. Some grocery shops are open on Sundays.
On the list of things you should take back home, there are the essential bottles of vodka, tins of caviar (make sure you take note of how to preserve them), matryoshkas (Russian dolls), ushankas (fur hats) and, for collectors, badges and medals bearing the effigy of Lenin, stamped with the red star or the hammer and sickle. As far as luxury products, clothing, alcohol, cigarettes and perfume are concerned, the local markets are full of counterfeit products, so much so that the prices are sometimes unbeatable. Traditional handicrafts (varnished wooden boxes, china figurines, amber necklaces, embroidered scarves, icons) and animal furs (fox, mink) are safe buys, but exporting antiques is strictly forbidden.
Russian cuisine is very diverse and, in general, tables are lavishly laid out. The day begins with a fairly substantial breakfast. Lunch is eaten in the early afternoon and is usually light. Emphasis is placed on dinner, which is eaten around 7:00pm.
Fishing is one of the main activities on the coasts. The local cuisine is therefore heavily influenced by seafood. Salmon and sturgeon are commonly found in dishes. Although crayfish do not come from the sea, they are also included on the menu. Likewise, the Russian people love all kinds of meat, especially pork and mutton. Most of this meat is boiled or well-cooked and, unlike in Western countries, you'll struggle to find a rare steak.
Finally, it is impossible not to mention caviar, a well-known luxury product bought in tins or by weight. 1 gram costs approximately 85 pence, and smaller portions usually consist of 100 or 125 grams of caviar. In these remote areas of Russia, there is plenty of vodka. It is part of everyday life for all families. In the supermarkets, you will find as many shelves stocked with vodka as you would with wine in France. Try to opt for factory-made brands that are bottled and labelled rather than the local kinds that could have come from anywhere. Otherwise, you could easily end up drinking poor quality vodka made with strange ingredients.
Due to the harsh climate, it is advisable to visit this Russian region between May and September. Temperatures are milder during these months, although there may still be rain or snow. Throughout the rest of the year, you will be faced with temperatures as low as -30°C.
Visiting the Russian Far East is a chance to gain access to a well-preserved region where nature reigns supreme. Although it isn't at the end of the world, it is close! Ensure you pack the essentials for your stay, as outside the cities, supermarkets are few and far between!
As an added precaution for all trips: take photocopies of your passport and ID photos with you. These will be very useful in the event that you lose these documents.