Getting a visa for Russia requires that you get an Invite. We obtained our invite over the internet from http://www.onlinevisa.ru/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We dealt with Korotaeva Ksenya email: email@example.com. Ksenya was excellent, very responsive and is recommended. Basically onlinevisa.ru can provide you with any type of invite you want. We got a 6 month multiple entry business invite. If we had a three month visa then we would have had to ship our vehicle before the visa was issued which we did not feel comfortable about doing. If you are going to Mongolia or Kazakhstan then you will need a double entry visa. If you are going to both then you will need a multiple entry visa which is only available by getting a business visa.
Getting a Russian visa seems daunting at first but it is really not as bad as it seems. First you need to get an invite. This has to be initiated by a firm in Russia and approved by the Russian authorities. Once you have the invite getting a VISA from the relevant Russian Embassy or Consulate in your home country is just a formality.
There is much written on how to get a Russian Invite and Visa. Two particularly good WEB sites are http://www.waytorussia.net/RussianVisa/HowToApply.html and http://members.aol.com/imershein/Page2.html
For a business visa the Russian Embassy or Consulate in Australia requires an original copy of the invite. If your visa is longer than three months or is for multiple entry then you will also need to include an aids certificate which your doctor can provide.
Details on getting a Russian visa in Australia can be found at the Canberra Embassy or Sydney Consulate WEB sites.
Russian Embassy in Canberra 02-6295-9474 Open 9:00 to 12:15
78 Canberra Avenue
Griffith ACT 2603
Russian Consulate in Sydney 02-9326-1866 Open 9:00 to 12:15
7-9 Fullerton Street
Woollahra NSW 2025
For a six month multiple entry business visa, we had to supply an original copy of the invite, an aids test certificate from a doctor, a completed visa application form and a fee depending on how quickly we wanted it processed.
On arrival in Russia it is important that you register with the OVIR within three business days. Most tourist hotels will do this for you for free or for a minimal charge. The Ekvator (Equator) Hotel and Hotel Vladivostok will do this for you on the spot if you are staying at their hotel. The rules also say that you need to register whenever you change cities. We typically stayed in a cheap tourist hotel every few weeks just so we could get a registration stamp.
Always check to make sure that the expiration date on your temporary vehicle import document matches the expiration date of your visa. We met one group that were pulled up at a police check point and were told that their temporary vehicle import document had expired. It took them many days of working with officials to get this corrected in order to avoid having their bikes impounded (or confiscated)!
The Mongolian Consulate in Australia WEB site http://www.acay.com.au/~sckscp/moncon/ has all the details on how to get a VISA. You can get your VISA in Australia before leaving home or in Russia from the Mongolian Consulates in Irkutsk or Ulan Ude.
Australian citizens do not need a VISA for Korea, Finland, Norway or any other country in Europe.
We would not recommend arriving in Vladivostok for at least one week after the container is due to arrive because in our experience ships never arrive on time and it is much cheaper to pay port storage fees (US$10/day) than stay at a hotel. Having said this, Vladivostok is a lovely city and you can easily spend four or five days winding down and exploring the city.
To fly from Australia to Vladivostok we flew via South Korea but could have also flown via Japan. There are only two airlines flying from South Korea to Vladivostok.
Korean Airlines http://www.koreanair.com.au has regular flights and can be booked from overseas.
Vladivostok Airlines http://www.vladavia.ru/avia_eng/flights_info_view.php3?internal=0 also have regular flights but these can only be booked from an agent in Korea or Japan. I contacted Vladivostok Airlines by Email and they were very helpful and said that they would take a booking by email and that we could pay on departure in South Korea.
Click here to see some interesting pictures to put your mind at peace regarding shipping your prized motorbike or vehicle.
We shipped our vehicle and motorbike from Australia to Vladivostok, drove through to the UK and then shipped back to Australia from Southampton. There are two ways to ship a vehicle. One is in a container and the other is Roll-On-Roll-Off (commonly referred to as RORO). There are advantages and disadvantages of each.
RORO as the name implies is when the vehicle is driven on and off the ship. This is usually much cheaper and easier than having the vehicle placed in a container. The disadvantage however is that the vehicle is more susceptible to being damaged and theft of items in the vehicle is a real possibility. We have configured our vehicle so that the back of the vehicle can be locked up and safe from thieving hands during shipping and have never had any problems. RORO also has the added advantage that you can usually deal direct with the shipping line overcoming the need to use a shipping agent. On arrival you can do the paperwork yourself however getting a customs clearance agent to do the work may save you a lot of time and headaches.
CONTAINERs come in 20 foot and 40 foot lengths. Most 4WDs such as a Toyota Landcruiser or Landrover will fit in a 20 foot container. We were able to just fit our Landcruiser and BMW motorbike into a 20 foot container. If you have two vehicles travelling in convoy then you can save a little bit of money by shipping the two vehicles in one 40 foot container. A 20 foot container typically has inside dimensions of 2.34W, 2.292H, 5.895L. Note that the door sizes are slightly smaller than the interior container size so this needs to be taken into account when sizing up a container. Note that we needed to take off our rooftop tent to fit the vehicle in the container. To pack the container and get it to the docks you will need to find a customs clearance agent. The shipping line will normally recommend someone who can do this for you.
We had three options in shipping from Australia to Vladivostok. The same options exist if going in the reverse direction.
1/ Ship direct from Australia to Vladivostok.
2/ Ship from Australia to South Korea and then take the Dung Chung passenger/vehicle ferry to Zarubino (Jarubino) Russia. Korea does not require a Carnet du Passage and so this is a big advantage over Japan.
3/ Ship from Australia to Japan and then take the ferry from Fushiki to Vladivostok. To temporarily import a vehicle or motorbike into Japan a Carnet de Passage is required so this is an added cost which makes this option unattractive.
When we considered the total cost of option 2 and 3 and the extra time this would take we decided to ship direct from Australia to Vladivostok.
Silver Wind Corporation
We used Silver Wind to ship from Australia to Vladivostok. We have nothing but positive words to say about this company. They were excellent and come highly recommended. They have offices in Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) and Vladivostok.
Silver Wind Corporation
470 Collins Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Phone: +61 (03) 9614-6336
Fax: +61 (03) 9614 6338
Name: Bill Nickel
Australia to Vladivostok Costs:
Shipping (20 foot container) US$1870
Port Charges: A$274 port charges in Australia and Vladivostok.
Container Charges: A$685
Russian costs: US$150
There is a weekly schedule usually leaving on a Sunday from Melbourne and then going to Sydney and Brisbane and then on to South Korea. The container is then transferred to another ship for the journey to Vladivostok. The total shipping time from Melbourne is 24 days, Brisbane is 19 days. If there is a delay and the ship is late arriving in Korea and misses the connection on the ship to Vladivostok, then it will take an additional week. In most instances Silver Wind only requires a few weeks notice to ensure that there is space on the ship. The vehicle needs to be on the docks two business days before the ship departs.
Make sure you keep the vehicle export documentation as this will be required when you bring the vehicle back into Australia.
The customs clearance agent we used was:-
280 Boundary Road
(corner Fitzgerald Road)
Contact: Michael Duckwoth.
Phone: +61 (08) 9931-0744
They picked up an empty container, packed our vehicle and motorbike at their warehouse in West Melbourne and delivered the container to the Wharf and did the customs clearance. Note that export documentation made mention of the fact that the vehicle and motorbike would be returned to Australia to facilitate re-importing the vehicle back into Australia.
Silver Wind Corporation
15/2 Fontannaya Street
Vladivostok 690091 RUSSIA
Phone: +7 (4232) 400-779 or 400-423 or 400-781 or 402-179
Fax: +7 (4232) 268-073
General Director: Vladimir Zhenikhaylov
Vladimir speaks excellent English.
General Manager: Vladimir Myachin
Vladimir speaks basic English.
The Silver Wind Office is in a very convenient location and is within walking distance from the Ekvator (Equator) Hotel or Hotel Vladivostok.
The container can stay on the docks in Vladivostok free for 7 days. After this there is SMALL storage fee of approximately US$10/day. We were charged US$150 importation fees in Vladivostok. The Australian office billed us for this amount which was easier than paying for it in Russia.
Marina Averinov, who at the time was the receptionist at Silver Wind, was a great help in assisting us with the formalities. Unfortunately, Marina no longer works for Silver Wind.
Shipping one vehicle and one motorbike in a container from Australia to Vladivostok cost us a total of US$2565 (A$3665) including all port costs at both ends.
Other alternatives in shipping from Vladivostok to Australia
Other travellers we know shipped from Australia to Vladivostok using the following two companies:
FESCO - US$3500 in total for 3 motorbikes in one container
This was arranged by
147 Svetlanskaya Street
Eugene (manager but has limited English)
Maria and Olga speak good English
Interbridge Forwarding Corporation
15/2 Fontannaya Street
Vladivostok Russia 690001
Phone: +7 (4232) 300-041, 300-059
Manager: Olga Lotosh
This firm is in the same building as Silver Wind Corporation.
This is the third time we have used Wallenius Wilhelmsen Shipping lines. We found them to be very good to deal with and come highly recommended. They have a RORO service between the UK and Australia via South Africa. They typically have a ship leaving every 10 days. As this is a RORO service you can deal directly with the shipping line bypassing the costs associated with a shipping agent. Shipping is very straight forward.
UK Southampton Office:
Southampton Euro Terminal
Telephone: +44 (0) 2380 637233
Facsimile: +44 (0) 2380 334263
When we dropped the vehicle off we had to provide them a copy of our Australian Vehicle Registration Certificate and an estimated vehicle cost. You can drop your vehicle off at any time and they will hold it at no charge until the ship leaves. The vehicle needs to be delivered a minimum of three days before shipment.
We were quoted.
Ocean Freight - GBP1005.00
U.K. THC - GBP 35.00
U.K Docs/ Customs - GBP 125.00
All costs were paid on arrival in Melbourne in Australian dollars.
We shipped to Melbourne however we could have also shipped to Fremantle, Sydney and Brisbane.
Melbourne: (03) 8699-3000
Clearance Agent in Melbourne
Clarke Customs Pty Ltd
37 Pine Street
Hawthorn Vic 3122
Phone: (03) 9854-3000
We ended up paying US$2778 (A$3804.64). This included all costs including UK fees, shipping, and all costs on arrival in Australia. We could have saved some money by doing the customs clearance ourselves but given that we do not live in Melbourne it was easier to have an agent do this for us.
A word of warning. The Australian Agricultural Department are paranoid about plant and animal material coming into Australia. Even though we spent considerable time cleaning our vehicle we were required to have our vehicle steam cleaned by an authorized agent. This cost us A$300, which I have included in the above costs.
There are any number of shipping lines going between Australia and South Korea. Shipping costs to Korea are around US$600 plus port charges. From Sokcho Korea there is a regular ferry service to Jarubino (Zarubino) Russia which is south of Vladivostok. I have heard of a couple of overlanders taking the ferry from Russia to South Korea but have not heard of anyone doing it in the opposite direction. If you do it or know anyone who has, then please let me know.
Dong Chun Ferry has an office in "Morskoi Voksal" in Vladivostok. The Oriental Shipping Agency (OSA) and http://www.vostexp.vl.ru/english/ticket/ship.htm both appear to be agents in Vladivostok.
Here is an Email I got back from Dong Chung Ferry Company when I enquired about doing this route.
DONG CHUN FERRY CO., LTD.
Cargo Market Team
Manager: Kyoungsoon Shin
3F Ankuk Bldg. 175-87, Ankuk-Dong, Jongro-Ku, Seoul, Korea
Phone: +82 (02) 720-7756~7 or +82-(02) 720-0271-4
FAX: +82 (02) 720-7767 or +82-(02) 720-5003
MOBILE: +82 (011) 9062-7014
We are pleased to quote you our scheduled ocean freight and other charge as follow:
before May, 17 - two times a week(every Monday, Thursday)
after May, 18 - three times a week (every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
2. cost for a passenger
US$150 per a passenger from Sokcho in Korea to Zarubino (Jarubino) in Russia
3. cost for motor bike and vehicle (exclude customs clearance in Korea & Russia)
a) ocean freight
US$300 per a motor bike
US$500 per a vehicle (4X4)
b) other charges (in Korea)
THC: US$5 / CBM
WARPHAGE: US$0.2 / CBM
DOCUMENT FEE: US$13 / BL
?1CBM-measurements (1m X 1m X 1m)
4. you can drive directly onto the ferry.
5. transit time from Sokcho in Korea to Zarubino in Russia
17 hours (one day)
loading time - 4:00PM, discharging time - early the next morning (AM 10:00)
6. if you have Russian visa then you should make a booking one week prior.
8. we can not help you with insurance or any customs clearance.
There are any number of shipping lines going between Australia and Japan. Shipping costs to Japan are around US$600 plus port charges. A Carnet du Passage is not required for travel in Russia, Mongolia, Scandinavia or Europe but IS required for Japan. This makes shipping via Japan less attractive.
If you are on motorbike then you could also consider flying your bike from Australia to Japan. Note that a number of people have reported that QANTAS does not require a bike to be crated which is quite a saving.
Information on the ferry that goes between Vladivostok Russia and Fushiki Japan can be found on the following WEB pages:-
Chris Lockwood lives in Japan and can provide a lot of information on travelling around Japan and on the ferry between Japan and Vladivostok.
Eurastours, Inc.(Former Japan-Soviet Tourist Bureau, Inc.)
Morie Bldg.4Fl 1-26-8, Higashi-Azabu,
Tokyo 106-0044, JAPAN
Tel: (03) 5562-3381
Fax: (03) 5562-3380
Email: use feedback page http://www.euras.co.jp/en/index.html to contact firm
BUSINESS INTOUR SERVICE
3-rd floor, 1, Okeansky Avenue (Sea Terminal)
Vladivostok, 690091, Russia
Phones: (7+4232) 497-391, 497-393, 300-146
Fax: (7+4232) 411-829
The Bizintour office, on the the third floor of the Vladivostok Sea Terminal, can do all the paperwork for getting a bike or vehicle off the ferry terminal for US$100. You might be able to do this yourself, but considering that hotel prices in Vladivostok are not cheap, paying US$100 may very well save you money. Bizintour may also be able to assist you with any other issues you have in Vladivostok.
Marine Insurance is available to cover loss or damage during shipping. We have never taken out marine insurance. If you want marine insurance then ask the shipping agent for details. Click here to see some interesting pictures of people who may have wished they had marine insurance.
A Finish company Ingonord (http://www.ingonord.com) can provide vehicle insurance for Russia however when we contacted them they told us that we needed to go through a broker. They suggested firstname.lastname@example.org but they never returned our call.
In the end we just bought insurance in Vladivostok from
DAL ACFES Insurance Company
Phone: +7 (4232) 410-971 or 411-010
Fax: +7 (4232) 410-990
We dealt with Sergey Rakuta who spoke excellent English. Their office is on the way to the port. The insurance policy we bought included 3rd party insurance and theft. Three months cost us US$135.
You can buy green card insurance for Europe at the Finnish or Norwegian border. Nobody at the Norwegian border asked whether we had insurance. We had to ask them. We paid US$126 (900NK) for one month cover. http://www.vakes.fi/lvk/english/index.jsp?cid=lvk_en_frontier&hid=18.04.02 provides a guide as to the cost of Green Card Insurance at the Finish border.
We asked about Insurance in Mongolia but we simply got blank looks whenever we asked. We therefore did not have insurance in Mongolia.
This is one question that we all want to know. Unfortunately this is also a difficult question to answer as it all depends on your budget and level of comfort. We found that the costs of staying in a modest hotel in a city worked out to be a similar price as spending a day travelling on the road and camping at night. In this case hotel costs were replaced with fuel costs. We travelled with one 4WD vehicle and one motorbike, a total of three people. Our costs averaged out at the following:
US$38 per day per person
US$34 per day per person
US$12 per day per person
US$21 per day per person
Moscow and St. Petersburg
US$67 per day per person
In Russia fuel ranged from between US$0.45 cents per litre in East Russia to US$0.35 cents per litre in West Russia.
In Mongolia fuel ranged from between US$0.44 cents per litre to US$0.52 cents per litre.
Fuel in Norway cost US$1.15 cents per litre or three times what we paid in Western Russia so make sure you fill up with fuel before leaving Russia or arrive in Russia with empty tanks.
Knowing what the exchange rate is when arriving in any country is good to know before hand so that when you change money on arrival you know whether you are getting a good rate or are being ripped off. http://www.xe.com/ucc/full.shtml is a great WEB site to get currency exchange rates. This WEB page allows you to convert between all currencies of the world. We made this table before leaving.
Russian Rouble (12-May-04)
1 Rouble = A$0.05 cents
1 Rouble = US$0.035 cents
A$1 = 20 Rouble
US$1 = 29 Rouble
Mongolian Tugrik (12-May-04)
1 Tugrik = A$0.0012
1 Tugrik = US$0.00086
A$1 = 815 Tugrik
US$1 = 1165 Tugrik
EURO (12-May-04) used in Finland
1 Euro = A$1.7
1 Euro = US$1.189
A$1 = 0.59 Euro
US$1 = 0.84 Euro
Norway Kroner (12-May-04)
1 Kroner = A$0.20
1 Kroner = US$0.14
A$1 = 4.85 Kroner
US$1 = 6.90 Kroner
Swedish Kroner (12-May-04)
1 Kroner = A$0.18
1 Kroner = US$0.13
A$1 = 5.41 Kroner
US$1 = 7.73 Kroner
British Pound (12-May-04)
1 Pound = A$2.52
1 Pound = US$1.76
$1 = 0.4 Pounds
US$1 = 0.57 Pounds
Korea Won (1-Jun-04)
1 Won = A$0.0012
1 Won = US$0.00087
A$1 = 830 Won
US$1 = 1,160 Won
US$ to A$ (12-May-04)
US$1 = A$1.44
A$1 = US$0.70
US$ to A$ (12-Oct-04)
US$1 = A$1.38
A$1 = US$0.73
In Russia the best way to get money is from an ATM. There are ATM machines, called Bank-O-Mats, in all reasonably sized town. All dispense roubles and some even dispense US$. Whilst we took a supply of US$'s with us we never used them in Russia as getting money from an ATM was so easy. In Russia very few people will accept payment in US$ so there is little reason to carry US$ except maybe as an emergency.
When we were in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, there were a couple of ATM machines but these did not accept foreign cards. Since then I am told that the ATM machines in Ulaanbaatar now take foreign ATM cards - Maestro/Plus/Cirrus/Star. There is at least one VISA cash machine but this is effectively a cash advance so be careful with the interest rate. It is easy to change US$ cash into Mongolian Tugrik at any of the big hotels or with a money changer. You need to change all the money you think you will need into Tugrik in Ulaanbaatar. Changing US$ anywhere else in the country will be difficult. We were able to change Russian/US$ currency into Tugrik at Altanbulag, the Mongolian border crossing North of Ulaanbaatar.
Prior to 2002 the only way to enter or leave Mongolia overland was by train to either China or Russia. If you had your own vehicle then you had to either have a local drive your vehicle across the border or put your vehicle on the train. In 2002 the land border North of Ulaanbaatar at Altanbulag (Mongolia) and Kyakhta (Russia) opened to tourists. In 2004 two additional land borders were opened to tourists - Tsagaannuur (Mongolia) and Tashanta (Russia) in Western Mongolia and Ereen Tsav (Mongolia) and Solovjovsk (Russia) in North East Mongolia. The border crossing at Zamiim Uud (Mongolia) and Erenhot (China) is also open to tourists in Southern Mongolia however taking a vehicle into China is VERY expensive and requires a pre-arranged guide. All border crossings are open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
Take care driving in Russia. Russian drivers can be aggressive; they can and do take risks. We pulled out to overtake a Lada only to find that another vehicle then overtook us. We did not feel comfortable at all with three vehicles on a two-lane highway and a truck coming in the opposite direction. For safety we drove with our headlights on at all times.
In Russia, vehicles drive on the right hand side of the road (as in Europe and the US). This is fine in Western Russia where most of the vehicles are Left Hand Drive. In Eastern Russia however the majority of vehicles are Right Hand Drive (as in Australia or the UK) as a result of having been imported second hand from Japan. Driving a Right Hand Drive vehicle in a country which drives on the right hand side of the road is not nearly as bad as it may at first seem. A passenger, sitting in the middle of the road where the driver should be, is a great help to give advice on overtaking.
Bitumen roads in Russia
are typically rough and often pot-holed. One minute you can be
on a reasonable bitumen road and the next minute it can be a
rough pot holed track. As a driver you need to always be
alert. We found 80 km/hour was a good speed. Roads are
well sign posted in Russian so finding your way is rarely a
problem. As the roads are often rough we ran with lower tyre
pressures than we would do at home. This places less stress on
the vehicle and results in a much smoother ride for passengers
and vehicle alike.
In 1903 Russia built a Trans-Siberian Railway line linking St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. Even though there was a railway line, it was not until 2004 that one could actually drive from one side of Russia to the other. The problem had been that there was a 2000km section in Siberia where there was no road. Foreigners called this the "Zilov Gap" however nobody in Russia knows it by this name. This meant that anyone wanting to drive from one side of Russia to the other had to place their vehicle on a train. For a number of years now, work has been underway to complete a road linking east and west Russia. This is a massive undertaking. The countryside is hostile being permafrost or virgin taiga forest and requires the building of over 250 bridges. Russia is spending 30% of their entire road budget for the next five years (and have done so for the past five years) to complete what will be a 2000km 4 lane highway. There is an unbelievable amount of heavy road building equipment along the entire length of this road, all working 24 hours a day. As of June-2004 some small sections were complete, the majority was a huge construction zone, whilst some sections were no more than a temporary track following the trans-Siberian railway line or a thin layer of rock and gravel laid on top of the swampy taiga. You can find a map in Russian on the state of the new road as of 2004 at http://www.amur-trassa.ru/images/history2/1.jpg. Pictures of the new road between Kharbarovsk and Chita can be seen at http://dreamers1.com/russia/Ulan_Ude/Ulan_Ude_Pictures.html.
On the new section of road there are plenty of places to eat. As far as accommodation is concerned, we camped and therefore did not look for accommodation. Having said this, we only remember seeing the odd guesthouse (gustiniza) but other travellers have reported that accommodation is available if you ask around. Most railway stations have some form of accommodation. I am sure that the Russians, being as hospitable as they are, would invite you stay with them if no accommodation was available. If you have the space then I would take a small tent for emergencies. We measured the maximum distance of 300km between fuel stops however locals told us that fuel is available every 200km, but I suspect this would mean travelling to small villages off the main road.
Considering the huge investment being spent on this section of road, its condition will improve rapidly. Today the road is a challenging adventure but this will not last long. When complete, there will be a trans-Russia highway starting in St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland, and ending 11,000km later in Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan.
There is an interesting article announcing the opening of this new road by President Vladimir Putin in 2004 at http://www.tlc-exped.net/Transsib-Road.html.
Beware of police check points and stationary as well as mobile police radar. They stop traffic both ways and we have seen them turn around and give chase to a speeding vehicle. Police checkpoints are usually before you enter town and again when you leave town and at irregular points between towns. We stuck to about 80 km/hr on the highways and 40 km/hr in the built up areas.
Whenever we got stopped at a police check point, the usual questions pertained to our nationality and whether we were tourists, where we came from and where we were going. They usually like to check our passports and hotel registration stamps. Only on a couple of occasions did they ask to see our vehicle import and insurance papers. Sometimes they were quite happy with a driver's licence. Most times they were just curious and interested to look at our vehicle and chat about our trip. Russians love motorbikes. Wherever we were people admired Tom's space age BMW F650. The police were no exception. A number of times Tom took them for a ride which made their day.
Some of the traffic police can be very strict and pick up on things like crossing an unbroken white line. Once, Tom crossed a double white line right in front of a police check point. The police pulled Tom up and wanted to fine him but after much discussion, humour and smiles he was let off with a warning.
We don't remember ever having to pay a road toll in Russia.
Mongolia must have one of the least developed road systems in the world. Major roads shown on maps of Mongolia are usually little more than a track. There are very few bridges and almost no signs. Despite this there are tracks which criss-cross the length and breadth of Mongolia. We typically averaged around 30 km/hour. When we travelled through Mongolia we only had a few days of rain. In a few sections, the track was slippery and there were a number of water crossings but nothing that caused the vehicle or bike any problems. We only used 4WD on a couple of occasions but mostly as a precaution. There was only one instance where we really needed 4WD but in this case there was a longer alternative route we could have taken which did not require 4WD. Many of the tracks go at an angle to a hill. This made us very nervous especially considering our high centre of gravity due to a roof rack loaded with equipment. Having a vehicle with a low centre of gravity will definitely make you feel more at ease travelling through many parts of Mongolia.
We were concerned that we would need mud tyres in Mongolia. In reality the tracks were mostly a natural surface and rarely rocky or boggy. If there was heavy rains then this might change however I suspect that the roads would dry out reasonably quickly. Any strong all-terrain tyre will do fine. We ran Michelin XZY tyres. These are an excellent tyre for overlanders. They are very touch and have14 ply sidewalls with one ply steel. As the roads were often rough, we ran with lower tyre pressures than we would normally run with. This places less stress on the vehicle and results in a much smoother ride for both passengers and vehicle alike.
There are no police check points in Mongolia. We did come across a few toll road booths which surprised us. These were set up to pay for road improvements, typically the upkeep of the few bitumen roads in and around Ulaanbaatar, Khakhorin and Ulaangom. We were charged 1000 Tugriks (US$0.86). Motorbikes were free.
In reality any vehicle or motorbike can and has crossed Russia (and Mongolia to a lesser degree). A vehicle passport (Carnet de Passage) is NOT required for Russia or Mongolia.
One should take an International Drivers License. These are cheap and available from your local Automobile Association. If you hand over your International Drivers License at police check points and then get into a sticky situation then you can always leave knowing that you still have your real license. Photocopies are also accepted at many police check points.
As far a setting up your vehicle or motorbike it is really a matter of personal preference. We would recommend that you take camping equipment.
These days with items such as Laptops, Camera's, Mobile Phones and other electrical equipment a 110V or 240V Power inverter is a handy piece of gear to carry to keep your equipment charged up. Years ago inverters were expensive but these days they are relatively cheap and usually much cheaper than buying 12 volt chargers.
For an overland traveller, motorbike or vehicle security is always paramount. Having items stolen or worse still having your bike or vehicle stolen is not only expensive but could also mean the end of your holiday. 24 hour secure parking is readily available in all cities, is close to major hotels or shopping centres and is relatively cheap.
CTO - these are small garages. Garages are common along the highways and in towns. Just look out for the CTO sign.
WNHOMOHTAX - these are shops which repair and balance tyres. It is pronounced as shinnomontage.
In Russia, there are many of these little CTO's and shinnomontage in every little town and city. They are very resourceful and can fix or weld any crack in the motorbike frame or change your tyre. In Chita, we found a wholesale shop that sold everything from biscuits, shampoo, plates, tinned food to tyres, batteries, oil and radios, TV's and cooking utensils. We were also taken to a big market shed that sold all kinds of second hand tyres and engines.
In Mongolia, there are also small garages and tyre changing places in the small towns and provincial capitals. These are not always obvious, so ask around as the business could be within a fenced off yard. We had to get our roof rack welded but had to wait two hours before electricity would come online for the welding equipment to work.
Diesel and Petrol/Benzene is readily available in both Russia and Mongolia. The longest distance between fuel stops is 300km although this was rare. The norm is much less than this.
Petrol (or Gas) is called Benzene in Russia and Mongolia. 92 Octane or greater is unleaded and is available throughout Russia and Mongolia. In Russia you typically see 86, 92, 95 and sometimes 98 octane fuel.
In Mongolia some smaller towns may only have 80 Octane leaded fuel but any of the bigger towns will have A-93 unleaded fuel. Wherever you see Korean KIA taxis you will find unleaded fuel.
The Diesel pump is always marked with the Russian Cyrillic D sign (Д). Diesel is ready available and is easily distinguished by looking for the dirty oily pump. Sometimes one fuel stop will only sell Benzene or Diesel but not both. In this case there will be another fuel stop in town selling the other fuel.
Almost no fuel stations have water or air.
In Mongolia fuel stops can be found by looking for a very high lightning arrester pole rising out of the ground.
Diesel is a very oily messy fuel and most fuel nozzles in Russia leak so filling up can be a messy affair. Therefore I would recommend that you take with you a supply of disposable rubber/plastic gloves or keep some wet ones handy to clean your hands after refuelling.
We took two propane cylinders for cooking. We filled these before leaving Australia. We did not have to fill our gas bottles as we mostly bought lunch and/or dinner. We certainly saw GAZ bottles in Russia so if you need to fill a cylinder look for the GAZ sign or ask around.
Buying fuel in Russia (and Mongolia) is very different to what we are used to at home. First you need to take the nozzle and insert it into your tank. This is necessary because often the on/off valve does not work. You must estimate how many litres you want to buy. We recommend keeping a little pocket calculator handy for purchasing fuel. Next stroll up to the Babushka sitting behind the little window with grills. Punch in the number of litres of fuel in your calculator or write the number of litres and type of fuel you need on a piece of paper and show it to the babushka in the window. She will write down the roubles you need to pay or will yell it out or you can work it out for yourself as the prices are all tallied up to the litres on a sheet of paper beside the little cashier window. Once paid, the babushka will start the pump. Sometimes fuel will immediately start flowing. On some pumps there is also a button on the pump that you need to press. Don't order more fuel that you need. Often the pumps are straight through or the pump nozzle cut-out does not work which means that fuel will go everywhere once the tank is full. If the babushka is serving another customer and does not see your predicament then fuel will continue to flow until your number of litres are dispensed. As you can imagine this is a very messy affair and especially dangerous if you use benzene. If you have bought too much, and assuming that the excess fuel has not spilt on to the ground, then you can ask for a refund. It is far easier to make sure that you never order more fuel than you need. If you really want to fill your tank then one way is to carry a spare fuel container. Under fill your main tank and spare fuel container and then use the container to fill your main fuel tank. In this way your main tank will always be full .
I think it makes little difference whether you travel from Vladivostok to Europe or vice versa. It would perhaps be slightly easier to travel in an easterly direction as travel in West Russia is a little easier and there is more English spoken. Conversely, if you travel in a westerly direction and you finish your trip early then you can spend the extra time touring Europe. If you finish early in Vladivostok then you are really at the end of the line. Your only other option would be to take the ferry to Japan or South Korea.
The most popular time to travel through Russia and Mongolia is during the summer months. The ideal time is between mid May and the end of September. Travelling through Mongolia during the Naadam Festival is a real highlight. Naadam Festivities occur throughout Mongolia during July-11 through July-13.
If you plan to travel to Magadan (North of Vladivostok) then you may want to wait until late June to allow the rivers to subside (or for the rivers to freeze in winter!).
During the summer months the days are VERY long, often with only a few hours of darkness. This is a real trap. If you are not careful it is easy to travel 12 to 14 hours a day. Unless your time is limited our recommendation is to travel by the clock, not by sun.
We struck particularly
good weather. Even in summer you can get a cold snap and snow,
but in general the weather during the summer months (June,
July and August) is around 20 degrees C. Summer is also the
Russia has ten time zones. It seems that every time you reach a new city you are in a new time zone. Here is the time zone of each of the main cities you are likely to travel through.
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Murmansk, Nizh.Novgorod, Kazan
Irkutsk, Ulan Ude, Mongolia
Chita, Skovorodino, Tynda, Svobodnyy, Yakutsk
http://www.timeanddate.com/ is a good reference to get times for cities around the world.
http://education.yahoo.com/reference/factbook/refmap/big/18.html and http://www.epm.com/timezone.htm have good maps showing time zones of the world.
You will read on the net that GPS receivers are forbidden in Russia. For instance, the Lonely Planets "Russia & Belarus" guide (3rd edition, 2003, p. 73) says that GPS devices may not be brought into Russia. The US State Department Consular Information Sheet on Russia also documents the fact that GPS receivers should not be taken into Russia without a special permit. Before leaving home I read that the rules in Russia have changed and that GPS's are now legal and that GPS receivers can be readily purchased in Russia. This Russian Geocaching WEB page http://www.geocaching.ru/?pn=19 sums up nicely the issues of using a GPS in Russia.
Welcome to geocaching Russia! Enormous territory and variety of places of interest make the game extremely interesting. Come and see ancient monasteries, charming country estates, ruined churches hidden in the forest, high mountains and deep canyons - and find/place a cache there!
Is it legal in Russia?
This is a common question. Russia is a post-communist country with strong traditions of governmental control over private life and citizens' movements. However, the situation has changed in last decade. Being a GPS owner today is not a crime in our country. GPS receivers are available at local stores and there are many sites in the Internet containing information about satellite navigation and related issues (including geocaching.ru).
Formally, a GPS owner must obtain permission from authorities to use his/her device. This rule seems to be obsolete and almost no one follows it in real life.
We suggest that people who use GPS for geocaching purposes in Russia follow two major "don'ts":
1. Don't show your GPS receiver to police or any local authorities who can extort money from you under the pretence that you have no permission.
2. Don't use GPS near military objects.
Taking into account these conditions, Russian geocaching community avoids placing caches in urban areas.
When we flew into Vladivostok we simply carried our GPS through immigration and customs and nobody paid any attention to it. We travelled through Russia and Mongolia with the GPS mounted on the dash of our vehicle. Police check points saw our GPS but either took no notice of it or were interested to see it working. Nobody ever indicated that they were prohibited.
Roads in Russia are well sign posted (in Russian) and straight forward. Therefore, a GPS in Russia is really only useful in getting in and out of cities. We found very good Garmin maps for all cities and they were very useful in Navigating in and around the very many large cities.
By contrast, major roads shown on maps of Mongolia are usually little more than a two wheel track. Mongolia has almost no signs. Finding one's way around Mongolia is a real challenge. We found the GPS to be extremely useful, but often only to validate that we were going in the right direction and confirming the directions the locals had given to us. Even with a GPS one still needs to know which road to take. The Mongolians have their own GPS system (Ger Positioning System) which involves asking directions at every GER and following the vague sweeps of the owner's hand until you get to the next GER. In each town there are roads radiating out in every direction. When asking for directions people will point in the direction you need to go. This does not mean that you take this road or that road. It means that you keep taking roads or tacks that lead you in the direction you need to go.
So to summarize: In Russia, a GPS is not required but is useful for finding your way in and around the many large cities. If you are going to Mongolia then I would rate a GPS as VERY USEFUL if not mandatory. If you have a GPS then my recommendation is to take it with you.
These are the maps we used in Russia and Mongolia.
1/ We bought a Russian Road Atlas from a bookshop when we arrived in Russia. This was quite useful. There are quite a few to choose from. Take your pick. If you can find one that includes Russian city maps then that is a bonus. It is unlikely that you will find an English Atlas.
2/ In Ulaanbaatar we purchased "Road Map of Mongolia" from the GUM (Department Store). This map was quite good. The one unique thing about this map is that it included distances between towns. Note that Mongolia is one of the few countries in the world that has next to no formal road system. Big red roads that are shown on the maps linking major towns are nothing more that tracks. To add to this challenge there are also almost no road signs. Navigating in Mongolia is quite an art.
3/ Garmin GPS World Map (Vector Map).Garmin produce a World Map for use with Garmin GPS receivers but can also be viewed on a standalone PC or Laptop. Whilst there are inaccuracies in the maps the cities and towns are reasonably accurate. Even with the inaccuracies this product is still very good and is the best we found covering the whole of Russia and Mongolia. I highly recommend this map.
4/ Mongola Map (Raster Map). http://www.mapmatrix.com/tmhtm/mapcat.html sells a very good Road Map of Mongolia. There are free versions available on the WEB at http://www.mapmatrix.com/t-m1028/smallpg/13101s.pdf and
http://www.cityofnanaimo.com/asia/Mongolia/MongoliaRf.pdf but these are locked and cannot be printed or used with OziExplorer. I purchased the map from MapMatrix (email: email@example.com) and printed it. I also calibrated the map and used it with OziExplorer (http://www.oziexplorer.com). By connecting the GPS to the Laptop I was able to plot our position in real-time on the map. I recommend this map.
5/ Russia Garmin GPS Maps (Vector Map). The following WEB pages have Garmin GPS Maps for Provinces (also called Regions or Oblasts) and Cities. We did not find the Provinces very useful as the Garmin Worldmap was better. We did however find the City Maps VERY useful. We had no paper maps of any Russian cities. We navigated through all the big Russian Cities using these City Maps. Having a GPS plot your position on a detailed city map worked very well for us making travel in and around the Russian cities straight forward and far less stressful. Note that a couple of the city maps were accurate but the calibration was off slightly. At first this was confusing but once we worked it out it was a simple matter of taking this inaccuracy into consideration.
Home page of Russian Garmin Maps
Russian Provinces Garmin Maps - not as good as Garmin World Map.
Russian Provinces Garmin Maps (converted to English)
Russian City Garmin Maps
Russian City Garmin Maps (converted to English)
6/ Russia Garmin GPS Maps (Vector Map). Similar maps to corsar.avtostop.ru can be found at
Russia Provinces (converted to English)
7/ Fugawi World Map (Raster Map).
I only found these maps after we completed our trip. The maps look quite good. These can be printed or you can connect your GPS to a laptop running Fugawi or OziExplorer (www.oziexplorer.com) and then plot your location in real time. The maps come calibrated for Fugawi however I have calibrated the files for use with OziExplorer. http://www.fugawi.com/docs/maptopoframe.html
Road signs in Russia are very good but they are all in Russian Cyrillic. We strongly recommend that you learn the Russian alphabet. Russian Cyrillic is phonetic so if you can pronounce the word then it will be easy to follow an English Map.
Navigating through Mongolia is quite a challenge. We saved the GPS track of our travels through Mongolia which may be useful for those travelling the same route or part thereof. I have created two zip files of our route through Mongolia. Mongolia-OziExplorer-Track.zip is the track for use within OziExplorer and Mongolia-Mapsource-Track.zip is the track for use within Garmin Mapsource. Both these applications can load the tracks to most GPS's. Within each zip file there are six tracks covering different sections of Mongolia and one combined track covering all of Mongolia. Note that it is up to the reader to learn how to load and manipulate these track on a GPS.
DISCLAIMER: Please use this route as a guide. There are tracks going everywhere in Mongolia. Over time some tracks will deteriorate and new tracks will replace the old tracks. I have removed a couple of detours (and wrong turns) so the track provided should be fairly accurate with one exception. At around 30km north east of Tsagaanuur (N49.66135 E90.21353) the road was flooded and we had to make a detour. As a result the track in this area is definitely not the main route and is not the route you would normally want to take.
Whilst we saved the GPS track of the road between Kharbarovsk to Chita (Zilov Gap), we have not posted it here because the road is well sign posted and will change as the road works progress.
I built an OziExplorer Database of Place Names for Russia and Mongolia. Russia_Mongolia_OziExplorer_Place_Name_Database.zip can be copied and then extracted to "c:\program files\oziexplorer\names search" and then in OziExplorer you can search on Place Names to locate towns and points of interest. This will only work with OziExplorer. If you use Garmin MapSource then your best option is to use Garmin Worldmap which contains a similar Place Names feature.
Western style supermarkets can found in every Russian city. These carry a wide variety of perishable and non perishable foods as well as the usual personal hygiene items, wines, beer and vodka. One can buy almost anything. We were able to buy breakfast cereals like cornflakes and muesli. We also tended to stock up on UHT long life milk as it is difficult to get milk in the smaller towns throughout Siberia. Maybe most families keep a cow for their own milk supply or the Magazine (small neighbourhood store) might have sold out of fresh milk very early in the morning. In any case, the big city supermarkets have plenty of fresh milk in stock.
Away from the cities, food can be bought in the local fresh produce markets. If near the Kazak or Uzbek area, then one is in for a treat as the markets will carry an assortment of spices such as paprika, chillies, turmeric, coriander and peppers. These markets also sell fresh and frozen fish, red meat and poultry meat.
There are also small little grocery shops (called a Magazine) in the very small rural towns that stock eggs, pasta, tomato, frozen meat (fish, pork, chicken etc), mayonnaise, biscuits, bread, cucumber, potato, and carrots. One can also buy shampoo, soaps, toilet paper, tooth paste, tinned meats, cigarettes, cheese, salami sausage, bottled water and liquor. Not all small shops sell long life or fresh milk. We brought a small amount of milk powder from Australia. In some places, one can buy apples, oranges and banana. Now these Magazines are not always easy to spot as they are not very well advertised and not always obvious to a passing tourist or overlander. So just ask the locals. Inside the store all goods are shelved behind a counter and one has to ask for items by name or point. In the small shops you pay for your groceries direct. However in the bigger stores, the storekeeper weighs and then writes down your prices on a slip of paper. You then take the slip of paper to the cashier and pay. Then you can go back to the storekeeper and collect all the shopping.
Russian bread comes in all shapes, shades and sizes depending on where you are. In Lake Baikal, we found a little stall that sold sweet pastries and sweet breads. In most other city and rural bread shops or magazines, the bread is quite heavy and dark like rye bread. The lighter wholemeal type of bread is also available.
In some parts of Siberia, we have come across locals selling potatoes, carrots, strawberries and berries on the roadside. These come from their own little plots of vegetable garden and are a great way to boost their disposable income. We also bought wild mushroom, raspberries and fish from roadside stalls. In the Lake Baikal region, we bought smoked Omul fish which was very tasty. One can stock up on some smoked fish as these will keep quite well.
Due to the big biting flies, mosquitoes and long hours of driving, we found it more convenient to buy lunch and dinner from the local cafes which can be found in every town and often between towns along the highway. There are signs on the roadside with KAFE written on them. A good indication of the quality of food is by the number of trucks and other vehicles parked outside. Don't be put off by flies buzzing around. The entrance and windows have gauze and lace curtains to screen out most of the insects. The standard of hygiene in most of the Russian food cafes/ stalls is excellent. Most of them even have a small wash basin with a bit of running water and soap and paper towel for customers and staff to wash their hands. In many places, we saw shop keepers picking up biscuits using a small plastic bag so as not to contaminate them. Once inside, take a quick look around the tables to see what people are eating and then go up to the counter and point to whichever dish takes your fancy. We found this to be the most effective way of ordering food instead of trying to decipher the menu. After a while, you quickly learn the names of the dishes and are able to ask for them confidently at the counter. We liked the tomato and cucumber salads that come with a spoonful of mayonnaise sprinkled with dill. We also enjoyed the shashlik, fried chicken, mashed potato and vegetables with roast lamb and many variations of borsch soup with bread. Bread is served according to individual slices required. The cafes definitely serves Vodka, tea, coffee, juice and all grades of beer. Sometimes the beer is un-refrigerated. Eating in cafes is also a great way to meet the local people. Don't be put off if they seem very quiet, shy or unfriendly. Keep smiling and greet them in Russian and if you make eye contact they will soon warm to you. Food was very inexpensive in all the cafes. We paid the same prices as the locals and we never felt that we were overcharged or cheated.
In Mongolia, we stocked up on food in Ulanbataar. Outside the capital city, food can be bought in the local markets and small grocery shops. There are also small cafes or Guanz that serve goulash, butz and fried pancakes with a lamb filling. The little grocery shops have less of a selection than in Russia, however we were able to buy eggs, pasta, carrot and potato and there's always plenty of instant noodles on the shelves as a back up. Bottled water, Mongolian vodka, beer and cigarettes are found in every little store. Not all stores carry everything so you may need to visit a few stores.
We again bought lunch and or dinner in Mongolia whenever we came into town for convenience. It was always very inexpensive.
We recommend bringing the very minimum in food items as most can be bought locally. Do bring your favourite spices, muesli bars, energy bars, chilli sauce, powdered milk for emergencies and Vegemite. For those of you who have the luxury of space in your vehicles, here is a list of food items we brought with us from Australia:
Tinned fruit, rice, pancake mix and maple syrup, vegemite, powdered milk, chilli sauce, packet soups which can also be used as seasoning for meat, chilli powder and flakes, salt and pepper, a packet of pasta, 6 tins of Danish ham, tinned salmon/tuna, dry crackers and packets of lemonade powder which can be added to water. We also brought 4 packets of muesli to start off with, muesli bars, dried apricots, dates, sultanas/raisins and a can of light olive oil spray for stir- fries and pancakes.
We also kept Solvol in a soap box and a brush near our water outlet for hand washing. Solvol is an abrasive grease cutting soap which is great for removing car grease, oil and diesel.
All through Russia and Mongolia, we drank the local water. We did not have to treat the local water and did not experience any tummy upsets. However if you prefer to be on the safe side then bottled water is readily available everywhere. In fact, some of the city folk we met drank bottled water.
All across Siberia, we obtained water from community taps that are located on the roadside on the outskirts of town or water pumps in a central part of the village. Look for the little children or grandma pulling a cart or pram with one or two milk cans. If you see one then it's a good sign that they are heading for the water pump.
In Mongolia, we were able to get water from a central pump house or wooden shack. It may not always be obvious so you may need to ask. Some towns have water delivered to the door by a vendor on a donkey cart with a 44 gallon drum. One can buy water from him or get him or one of the locals to show you to the pump house where you can fill up your water tank for a small fee.
We travelled across Russia and Mongolia during the summer months from June through to September. The days were quite warm and the nights cool. If the mosquitoes and biting flies are not a problem, then you could wear shorts, t-shirt and sandals during the day with a light polar fleece for the chilly nights. When the insects got bad, we wore long sleeved cotton shirts and long trousers with socks and running shoes. We sprayed our clothes with Permethrin to fight off the mossies. We also had wide rimmed slouch hats with attached mosquito netting. We found wearing polar fleece around the campsite at night also helped to stop the mossies from biting through although we did not dare sit outside for too long. We each had good breathable rain coats to brave the rain and wind for the few times that we encountered cold, wet and windy weather. This was mainly when we were in the Artic Circle around Murmansk in Russia and North Cape in Norway.
We also brought beanies, gloves, thermal underwear and woollen socks but these were rarely used. When it was wet and muddy we wore leather work boots. These were very durable and suited for wet, muddy ground.
In Russian towns and cities, one can buy very fashionable clothes and shoes in the shops or GUM stores. Some of the shopping malls have exclusive European/American signature stores. Any day to day clothing can be purchased cheaply in Russia. For any specialty camping clothes, we suggest you bring them with you. There is definitely no need to bring hair colour dyes with you as these are very widely available and popular with many Russian women!
In Mongolia, there are stores in the capital city Ulaanbaatar that sell traditional silk clothing, boots and hats. For souvenir clothing, we suggest that Ulaanbaatar might offer a good variety to choose from. Outside of Ulaanbaatar there is little to spend your money on.
In Russia it seems like everyone has a mobile phone hanging around their necks. The Russians we met were amazed that we did not have a mobile phone and could not understand how we could possibly consider doing such a trip without a mobile phone. If we had a mobile phone I don't know who we would have called if we had needed help! Mobile phone coverage is available in most big towns and cities. The local carriers have roaming agreements with phone companies in the west so if a mobile phone is important to you then by all means take one. You could also buy a pre-paid phone card in Russia if you wanted to.
Internet Cafes are readily available in all reasonable sized towns and cities. They are cheap at around 1rb per minute or US$2 per hour. In some cities we accessed the internet at the Post Office but usually they were just private enterprises aimed at the local citizens.
We took a Laptop with us and found it useful to upload maps to the GPS, download our track from the GPS, to write Emails and to update our WEB page. Even though we had a Laptop, in most instances it was easier to use the PC's at the Internet Cafe. Most Internet Cafes had no problems letting us connect our Camera but many did not like the idea of us connecting our Laptop.
We did try burning a CD and this worked well transferring files from the Laptop to the Internet but was often problematical trying to copy files form the Internet to CD. Most Internet Cafe PC's did not have a CD burner or did not have the burning software installed. This meant that we had to get an Internet Cafe worker to burn the CD which was either not possible, difficult due to the language barrier, or cost extra.
We eventually concluded that transferring files between our Laptop and the Internet using our Camera was the easiest and was rarely a problem. The Camera Memory Card appears as a local disk to a PC. We updated our WEB page and wrote our longer Emails on our Laptop and then transferred these files to our Camera. Then at the Internet Cafe we connected the camera to the PC and uploaded the files to the Internet. To transfer files from the Internet to the Laptop we did the same thing in reverse. This all worked very well.
Some internet cafes had Microsoft Messenger or Yahoo Messenger installed and configured. In these instances we were able to communicate with family back home. Both these products also have a voice capability (called VOIP or Voice Over IP). On a number of occasions we spoke to our family and daughter. This is free if the audio connection is from PC to PC. From PC to Phone there is a small charge, typically a few cents per minute to call the US, Australia or Europe. Considering the very high costs of making an ISD phone call, using one of the computer based phone products is a great way to stay in touch and save a lot of money.
If you like to keep up with World Affairs when you are on the road then a Short Wave Radio is a useful item to take. A Digital Short-wave Radio is recommended as the station frequency can be stored and recalled for later use. VOA (Voice of America), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and Radio Australia all transmit to Russia and Mongolia. We used a Grundig YB400 which also features dual-time and an alarm clock. For more details on short-wave radios and reviews on many of the available Short-wave Radios refer to the Radio Netherlands Short-wave Guide WEB page. Trying to randomly tune into an English transmission is very tiresome. I would recommend that you print out the Short Wave programming and frequency guide before you leave home so that you can directly tune in to the right frequency.
BBC World Service:
Voice of America:
We used a Sony DSC-V1 digital camera with a 4x optical zoom lens. It is a compact model, is easy to carry in your pocket and is ideal considering we are not photography buffs. Our friend had an Olympus C-750 with a 10x optical zoom which was great for bringing things up close and for taking pictures of people.
Always ask before taking photos of people. This of course is easier said than done. In the Altai region, we met an Austrian father/son couple who were in trouble with the police because an Altai elder took offence to pictures being taken of some celebrations happening in front of a local hotel. Photo taking was a very sensitive issue for these village people. The Austrians were pursued by the police and the village elder for half the morning and they had to return to the police station to straighten things out.
We predominantly camped throughout Russia and Mongolia only staying in hotels when we were in big cities. In Russia we looked for a quiet track off the main road and camped somewhere out of sight. We found that old disused gravel pits were great places to camp as there were typically not visible from the road, the ground was firm and there was no under growth. Camping too close to the road is not good as they can be very noisy. Likewise, a number of times we did not realize that we had camped very close to the trans-Siberian railway line. It is amazing how busy this railway line is. Even in the middle of the night there are trains at up to 15 minute intervals.
Whilst there are lovely places to camp in the forests or alongside a river or lake, in Siberia the ever friendly insects make it difficult to sit outside and enjoy camping for any length of time. We usually had to make a quick retreat to the safety of our tent. We brought bottles of Permethrin pump spray for protection against ticks and mosquitoes. This we have sprayed on our clothing and tent openings. We also had Ultrathon personal insect repellent. It is very messy stuff but helps keep the mosquitoes at bay when one has to go to the toilet. The mosquitoes are very friendly all across Siberia and on the road to Murmansk. Another helpful protection against the insects is the wide rimmed hat with mosquito netting attached on the outer rim of the hat. This stops the mossies and biting flies from landing too close on one's face. A light polar fleece sprayed with Permethrin also helped stop their long stings.
If you have the room, one solution to the mosquito problem would be to bring a gauze tent, big enough to accommodate table and chairs and cooking equipment.
We chose not to get immunised against Japanese Encephalitis.
In addition to the usual prophylactic antibiotics, we took some chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets as a quick but effective remedy against mild stomach and intestinal upsets. We each had a mild episode of intestinal upset that was nipped in the bud by chewing Pepto-Bismol tablets. Apart from that, we stayed in excellent health.
Mongolia is a campers paradise. All land is publicly owned so you are able to set up camp almost anywhere. We often had local herdsmen or children visit us when we set up camp but they always kept their distance and were never interfering. Some may actually come to visit you in their jeeps or on their horses and try to offer vodka and goat cheese, but will leave you in peace after they have satisfied their own curiosity and extended their hand of hospitality and friendship.
As a whole, mosquitoes were not a problem in Mongolia. Do try out one of the tourist Gers if you get a chance. We stayed in one near Khahorin, just for the experience. Very cosy indeed!
We stayed at the Hotel Pekin which is in down town Moscow and has secure parking right at the front of the hotel. Moscow has a very good underground metro train system so you can save money by staying near an underground train station further out of town. The 1980 Olympic Village is now a system of five hotels. Hotel Izmaylovo has 8000 beds, has ample parking and is a next door to Izmaylovsky Park Metro. If you can prearrange a Home Stay then this would be a great way to meet the locals.
We stayed in a ground floor self-contained two bedroom apartment with secure parking. The managers, Alex and Oksana Torozorova, spoke good English and were very helpful. This was a very modern and nicely decorated apartment with satellite TV, mini refrigerator and washing machine. Alex and Oksana will come to meet you anywhere in the central city area and escort you to their apartments and help you settle in. There is a very good Mexican restaurant named "La Cucaracha" just a few doors away. They can even arrange your registration for a fee which is a great help and peace of mind. Alex and Oksana's apartments are highly recommended. We paid 100 Euros per day, which is not cheap, but considering it was only one block from the main street and within walking distances of many of St. Petersburg attractions such as the Hermitage, it was good value.
Apartment Managers: Alex and Oksana Torozorova.
We stayed at the Hotel Equator (Ekvator) which overlooks the Amursky Bay and is within walking distance to the esplanade and downtown Vladivostok. The rooms are very basic but are serviced daily by the friendly housekeepers. We had a small two room apartment. There was a telephone, small TV and even a working refrigerator. Hot water is available in the mornings and evenings. The rooms are sparcely furnished with a small table and a chair in addition to the two single beds in each room. The toilets, as is the case with toilets in other Soviet era hotels and many third world countries, do not handle paper very well. That's why every toilet has a waste basket for soiled toilet paper. These get emptied daily, so don't worry! We paid US$60 for three people in a two room flat.
Hotel Equator (Ekvator)
20 Naberezhnaya Street
Vladivostok Russia 690091
Phone: +7 (4232) 412-060, 412-290, 300-110
Fax: +7 (4232) 411-384
Right next door is the Hotel Vladivostok which is a popular hotel for overlanders. Rooms here cost US$70 per room per night. This hotel has secure parking right out the front of the hotel.
10 Naberezhnaya Street
Vladivostok Russia 690091
Phone: +7 (4232) 412-808
Fax: +7 (4232) 412-021
We used the services of Alexie at Tourist Agency Voyage-Torg-Service to book our Hotel room in Vladivostok before we left Australia. Alexie was very helpful and answered our email questions promptly. He can book any Hotel in Vladivostok for you. He can also arrange to pick you up from the airport for US$30 which is much cheaper than taking a taxi.
Vladivostok pr. Krasnogo Znameni 59, office 407
Phone +7 (4232) 454-465
Fax: +7 (4232) 459-483
Most hotels we stayed at cost between 500 and 800 roubles and were very basic - no more than 1 or 2 star. The rooms can be run-down, musty and dank in appearance but it is amazing how the place grows on you after a good shower and a satisfying meal especially after being on the road roughing it for a week. Some hotel prices even come with breakfast and one is allowed to inspect before taking a room. Upon checking in, one gets a hotel registration ticket with your name, room number and passport number. You then jump into the elevator or hike up the many flights of stairs till you come to your floor. You will be greeted by the floor lady, usually a Babushka with a bee-hive hairdo, who will hand you your room key after checking your registration ticket. Keep these hotel registration tickets secure as security in some of the bigger city hotels will ask to check them. The good thing about most of the hotels is that they are usually in a great location right in the heart of the city. This allows one to walk to the internet cafe, theatre, supermarket and other places of interest.
When in Russia and Mongolia, one must take time out to visit the various art galleries and museums, attend a ballet or two and catch one of the cultural shows. The Russians certainly can put on a very good performance whether it is the ballet or musical ensemble or cultural shows. For the theatre and ballet performances, we bought the cheapest tickets 250 roubles (US$8) which gave us a bird's eye view of the whole theatre, the colourful ceiling and ornate chandeliers from the top of the circular stalls. This made it very affordable for us to go to a ballet or show almost every night in Vladivostok, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Lonely Planet gives a list of all the different museums, gardens, palaces and theatres to go see. Note that in summer, many of the ballet and theatre companies are on summer vacation or overseas tours. The fine arts museums and palaces are worth every rouble even though tourists pay a premium of up to 20x the price a local pays.
While strolling in the grounds of the Decembrist Church in Chita, our ears caught the sound of music from the church within. To our delight, we were invited in to listen to a music recital. There were a couple of soloists accompanied by a pianist, cellist and violinist. We were told that this was a recital of works by Glincka and Pushkin. We later met the organiser of this recital who said that she belonged to a Chita music ensemble and that they would be very glad to put on an impromptu concert for passing tourists/groups who might be interested in Russian folk or classical music. Her name is Elena Alexandrovna, phone +7 (3022) 235-960, 324-256.
We found it very helpful to have learnt the Russian alphabet and some conversational dialogue. We found a very user friendly interactive Russian CDROM course which we were very happy with. The CDROM and workbook can be found at http://www.ruslan.co.uk/. It was tough going at first, trying to grapple with a completely different alphabet and sounds. Fortunately, Russian is a phonetic language so one can't go too far wrong once one learns to sound the alphabet. We took with us the Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook which was a very comprehensive tool to help us communicate in Russian.
Learning Russian made our interactions with the Russian people so much more interesting and meaningful. It is amazing how being able to speak a few sentences can just break the ice and allows one into the Russian way of life at a deeper level. The usual topics of our conversation start off with where we are from and where we are going. Then we get asked our occupation and about family and how we have the time and money to do an overland trip. We get asked about whether we have had any trouble with the police, our impressions of Russia and Mongolia as a country and our thoughts about the people we have met. Sometimes we get asked to autograph their money, chocolate box or postcards. We have also exchanged postcards, been invited to take part in a photo session, given watermelons and even had our meals paid for! We have experienced an enormous amount of goodwill from the Russians and Mongolians. The ability to speak a little Russian just made the experience so much more enjoyable and gratifying.
Learning the Russian Alphabet is also invaluable in reading the road signs in Russia.
In Mongolia, the older generation Mongolians speak Russian so we were able to communicate quite well. The younger generation speak a little English. Mongolian is now the main common language. We learnt a few greetings in Mongolian and got by with some Russian, English and Mandarin. The Lonely Planet Mongolian Phrasebook is also a very comprehensive language guide to assist with communications.
If you want to convert any Russian WEB pages or text to English then WorldLingo.com does a very good job of this.
To Convert a WEB page
To Convert Text
A number of the people we spoke to while preparing our trip through Mongolia recommended that we take a guide. These were travellers who had used a guide when they travelled through Mongolia and suggested to us that a guide was necessary to overcome the language and navigation difficulties. Personally we always prefer to travel unaccompanied. Fortunately we knew enough Russian by the time we got to Mongolia that language was not a difficult problem. Having a GPS was reassuring and gave us confidence that we were travelling in the right direction. Having completed the trip without a guide we do not feel that one is necessary. If you feel uncomfortable travelling alone then by all means pick up a guide in Ulaanbaatar. If you do take a guide try and ascertain if the guide is experienced and has travelled the route you want to take otherwise you may find that the guide does not add much value other than as a language translator.
Here is a list of WEB pages covering other people who have travelled through Russia or Mongolia.
When we were in the Altai we met Shane Dwyer, Phil McMillan and Don Brown on three motorbikes who are fellow Australians from Melbourne doing a similar trip to us but in the reverse direction. They have written an excellent article on their experiences in Russia.
Mark and Michelle
Matt Glitman, Henning Lorenz and Shaun Munro's trip through Russia and Mongolia in 2003
In 2004 Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, two British Film Stars rode BMW motorbikes from London to New York via Kazakstan, Mongolia and Russia. Their multi-million dollar budget was slightly more than our budget but they did produce a DVD and book of their journey.
Tom Bierma, who travelled with us by motorbike.
Information on Travelling Through Russia
Russia and Central Asia by Road by Hazel Barker
Lonely Planet Russia and Belarus
Lonely Planet Russian Phrase Book
Lonely Planet Mongolia
Lonely Planet Mongolian Phrase Book
The Journey and the people
The drive from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg or Murmansk is quite a journey. In many ways the highlight of the trip was not one or two particular events but rather the excitement of doing the trip, the drive, the countryside and especially the people. The one thing we will never forget is the kind, thoughtful and lovely people we met in Russia and Mongolia.
If there must be an event or not-to-be-missed highlight then it would be the following.
Got to say it again. The thing we will never forget is the people and friends we made along the way.
Russia Day 12-June
Independence Day parade and celebration in Vladivostok was a very colourful event that took place in the large city square. After the official speeches and National anthem, the parade began with little children in colourful costumes beaming with excitement and waving to their parents in the crowd. This was followed by the older children and adults from different schools of dance swirling in their chiffons, silks, taffeta and velvet traditional costumes. The parade progressed to a very well organised concert which lasted at least four hours. The performers sang and danced with much enthusiasm and skill that it moved some of the older spectators to tears as they were reminded of the history of the motherland. The traditional segment was then followed by the contemporary with rock bands and groups playing Dixieland music. The crowd was certainly enjoying every moment of it as there were families and couples dancing and clapping to the music. Our description does not do this justice. This event was superb, had excellent performers of all age and very professionally organized.
St. Petersburg is our favourite Russian city.
Altai (Altay) Region
The Altai (Altay) Region south of Novosibirsk was another highlight with breathtaking scenery. This region boasts some tall spectacular mountains with dense pine forests. It is traversed by a fast flowing river conducive to white water rafting. There are a few white water rafting companies that have set up summer campsites along the sandy shores of the river.
We hope that you enjoy your trip through Russia and Mongolia as much as we did. If you have any corrections, additions or any other questions that are not answered here then do let us know.
Geoff and Kienny Kingsmill