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Northern Asia Topics specific to Russia, Central Asia (also known as "the 'stans"), Mongolia, Japan and Korea
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  #1  
Old 28 Jul 2005
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Sakhalin Island - safe?

Now for the horror stories...

I'm trying to get to Sakhlain from Wakkanai, Japan by ferry either by bike (Transalp) or truck (Bighorn).

So far, we've obtained international licenses and international car plates, but are now stuck at the "Letter of Invitation Point".

A few Russian tourist agencies have offered to provide us with one, after we transfer $1500 US to them via Western Union (including hotel bookings).

Since I'm not about to pay cash in advance, we're stumped: how to get the darn LOI?

Meanwhile, my wife has been collecting horror stories about Sakhalin from her friends in Japan, along with the Japanese Embassy in Sakhalin:

- foreigners are being robbed by Russian youth at gunpoint

- cars and bikes are stolen frequently, even old smokey 4WDs like mine, and old Transalps

- a Frenchman was recently murdered in Sakhalin; several Japanese tourists attacked

- don't even think about going out at night

- every car MUST have an alarm

When a self-professed member of the Russian mafia heard about our trip (long story) he said basically the same things, and even offered to 'protect' us while in Sakhalin.

Has anyone been to Sakhalin, and if so, is it as bad as 'they' say?

GL


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  #2  
Old 28 Jul 2005
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Location: Nagano, Japan
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While I haven't been to Sakhalin Island, I have travelled in other parts of Russia. Basically, don't leave your bike or gear unattended. Park in a guarded parking lot or hotel lobby. Cities are more dangerous than the countryside. Stay away from groups of young men sharing a bottle of vodka. You should be fairly safe, however there is no guarantee anyplace in the world. I have had a bike stolen here in Japan!
For agencies that will give a letter of introduction, search the HUBB. The topic has been covered before.
http://www.waytorussia.net and http://www.visatorussia.com offer services for a price far less than the $1500 you have been quoted. (I am not endorsing them, just saying what I have seen).
If you know Japanese, search for Sakhalin Touring in Japanese and you will find many Japanese tour reports.
I know of some American guys who went on Goldwings last year. So anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
E-mail me and I can put you in contact with some who have actually been if you need more info.
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  #3  
Old 28 Jul 2005
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priviet,

as they say in Russa. I travelled Sakhalin by bike in 05/2003 and I took a cargo boat from Otaru. Wakkanai is easier with the ferry, but more expensive.

I had an international numberplate for my bike (which was registered in japan) but nobody ever looked at it in Korsakov. Japanese papers worked fine, but the customs are corrupt and wanted money - I did not pay anything playing the stupid tourist with a lot of stamps in the passport and a few old russian visas.

I dont think somebody will steal the bike, but as Chris said, you must lock it away at night in a paid parking lot (stoljanka). A car is more interesting for them.

Sakhalin is a very isolated place, also getting to mainland of Russia is difficult. Some police check points, but on a bike they suspect a Japanese traveller and after I told them in Russian that I am German, no more problems.

Go and Enjoy - dont pay 1500 usd for an invitation

Learn Russian and learn how to drink Vodka, but as Chris said, stay away from drunken people in the street.

Greetings from France

mika



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  #4  
Old 20 Aug 2005
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Location: Somewhere in Asia
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Well, I used a company called WhiteNights (http://www.wnights.com/) to get visa tourist vouchers and arrange a four day home stay in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Before we even paid, they faxed us the tourist vouchers. We then applied for our visas, received them in two weeks, and then paid for our homestay only - no charge for the vouchers.

If all goes well once we get to and back from Sakhalin, I'll recommend them very highly.

DH

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  #5  
Old 22 Aug 2005
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In my experiences (two motorcycle trips in 2003 and 2004 and several public transportation or car trips), Russia is quite safe for traveling. Of course, you can get mugged, but you can get mugged anywhere.

Knowing some Russian definitely helps, and the Cyrillic alphabet is a must. Outside of the main cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow very few people speak any English. German works surprisinly well in occasions.

Roads wary from pretty good on the main highways to horrible in the countryside and smaller towns, but for an offroad bike that isn't usually an issue.

Getting spares for motorcycles can be difficult outside of the main cities, and even there the parts most likely have to be ordered. But if you're lucky enough to have an Ural or something similar, then there will be parts and people with repair experience in every village.

Keeping the bike at night in guarded parking places (stoyanka, pronounced "stajanka") is always a good idea. This way only thing ever stolen from me in the country has been some petrol overnight.

Gas stations can be found on main roads usually near cities. 92 grade fuel is available pretty much everywhere, and 95 (and even 98) is becoming quite widespread because of the big number of cars imported from central Europe.

Have fun! Russia is a very interesting country to visit.

Some pictures from my trips:

http://www.routamc.org/gallery/russia-2003/

http://www.routamc.org/gallery/black-sea-2004/

http://www.routamc.org/gallery/lapland-2003/

http://bergie.iki.fi/gallery/2005/shnjaka/

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  #6  
Old 23 Aug 2005
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Hi, for your invite try www.getrussian.com I got my invite from them and had no problems getting the visas or with entry/exit to Russia. The invites are very reasonable about £30.00 and are issued over the internet within a few minutes you then print off a hard copy of the invite from your computer and use this to apply for your visa. If the original is needed for some reason get russian will mail it to you or the embassy your applying through - very helpful and fast. I can recommended them 100%. remember to get your visa/invite verified within 3 days of entry to Russia or you could have problems.I was only in the western area of russia this trip but I have to say I travelled alone and found the russians to be friendly and helpful. security was a problem in places but generally secure parking can be found or in my case the bike was kept in the front hall/foyer of places I stayed this seemed to be the normal thing to do. Its a great country great people and just be sensible as always about your own security.
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