Taking you through Primorsky Krai

We leave the Vlad Motor Inn, on the northern outskirts of Vladivostok, ready for a long day (with only a 30 day Russian visa, we need to motor to cross Russia, Mongolia, re-enter Russia and exit before the end of the 30 days) and excited to be starting this leg of our trip. The weather is not the best (just very wet fog again) but we are grateful it isn’t raining.

Just left Vladivostok city limits

Typical Soviet era apartments along the way

Beautifully painted houses brighten our dreary day


95% of cars in this area are right hand drive, reportedly a major cause of accidents

Such a good road this A-370!!

First road works

No time to wait for the steam roller

Where we had an early dinner outside Luchegorsk

Just south of Luchegorsk – it’s getting brighter!

Luchegorsk city limit monument

I have pinned a gostinitsa on our MapsMe – will they have a room for us we wonder?

Heading to Astoriya Gostinitsa (yellow and cream house) for the night, Luchegorsk

All I could find in the news about Luchegorsk that evening were articles on the town having being besieged by an invasion of 36 hungry bears back in Sept 2015! I am glad we weren’t there then.

We made good progress on day 1, having covered 470kms so we plan on covering only 270kms today and have the whole afternoon to visit Khabarovsk.

Our early morning fog north of Luchegorsk

Beautiful birch forests north of Luchegorsk

Typical Russian house, Dormidontovka

Old Russian church, Dormidontovka

Look!!!!! Blue skies!!!

Khabarovsk city limit monument

Lenin Square, Khabarovsk

In front of the Grado-Khabarovsk Cathedral of the Assumption of the Mother of God

Memorial to victims of WWII from Khabarovsk – so many dead…yet wars still continue…

Close up of the Memorial to victims of WWII from Khabarovsk – was there anyone left in the city?!

Spaso-Transfiguration cathedral, Khabarovsk

Street vendors, Khabarovsk

Bringing power to your home, Khabarovsk

One of many parks we walked through in Khabarovsk

Lenin street, Khabarovsk

Army Surplus store selling camouflage and equipment, Khabarovsk

I thought I’d make the most of the wifi here to share these photos with you now (no time for much commentary this time) as we don’t know what it will be like further along the Trans-Siberian Highway.

Anyway, all is well with us both, the road has been great, people friendly as always, the food pretty good too and I even had a cup of my favourite coffee from Ethiopia in Khabarovsk!! Life is good. And once again, thank you to our faithful followers for your messages and comments – it is great to feel connected to you all. Don’t expect to hear from us for a few days now. Til next time…

– Anne

Vladivostok

Two hours out of Vladivostok, the sea is as still as a mill pond. We are outside on the top deck, wondering if we can see land yet. The fog is thick, a lone seagull is following us: land cannot be far, yet I see nothing. We have slowed down. It is beautifully eerie. The stillness belies the excitement I am starting to feel. We are told docking will be delayed due to Russian war ships ahead. Then we stop and I can now just barely discern the grey outline of islands. The excitement is suddenly palpable: a young girl skips towards her mother as soon as she too spots one island, a young man re-enacts the famous Titanic pose while his friend takes a photo of him, Russians returning home start moving their bags to the exit.

Our crossing to Vladivostok was so calm!


Half an hour from docking, we see the culprit of our delay going the other way – maybe he was docked in our spot.

Vladivostok port is huge, so many freight carriers, cranes, tugs, the activity is on either side of the port is fantastic – to think that we are at the southern tip of Russia, so far from the capital! The famous bridge is barely visible, then we see the famous Vladivostok sign above the ferry terminal. What can I say? My excitement cannot be contained. Everybody is taking photos, selfies, photos for each other.

Why were were delayed a Russian Navy Sovremenny-class destroyer the Bystryy (715) – Быстрый -Quick (or Rapid)

Tugs preparing to lead us into Vladivostok port


Jong and his lovely wife


Vladivostok ferry terminal


One of the ferry staff had told us, the group of 12 motorcyclists from Korea plus the 3 Japanese motorcyclists who joined the ship in Japan, to wait in a particular area. Pretty impressive how he tracked us all down! It turns out that all motorcyclists and car drivers, ie all the passengers who just brought hand luggage on board, are to disembark first.

We are here dockside in Vladivostok

Immigration and customs security is painless and as we enter a ‘holding hall’, we are greeted by a cheerful and welcoming Svletlanya, our agent Yuri’s partner. There are 5 of us on her list as all the Koreans are being handled by another agent, 3 Japanese and us. One is missing and we wait over an hour for him. It turns out that he is travelling with a car and a motorcycle (?!) and wanted to leave a minimum in his vehicle… At least we had time to sign the dozen pages of customs forms each which Svletlanya had prepared for us by the time he arrives with the largest suitcase I have ever seen and boxes on a makeshift trolley!!

Yuri, from Links Ltd, picks the 5 of us up in his van and takes to our respective hotels. It is an interesting introduction to Vladivostok, driving past an unfinished Hyatt hotel, unoccupied for the past 5 years for some reason, up steep narrow muddy paths to a hostel to drop one of our Japanese (he changed hotels the next morning!) and manoeuvering in rush hour traffic remind us of the Russian road ‘rules’. Then once we have all checked in, Yuri takes us to a bank to get Rubles, and a telecom company for Sim cards. We bump into our Korean friends there!! It feels like we have met up with long lost friends. It is amazing how the travelling community bonds so quickly! Yuri recommends a place nearby for dinner, Republic, a chain of restaurants in Vladivostok, and the 6 of us trundle off there and we invite 3 Koreans to join us. No more Kimchi!!! I will not miss it… I don’t think…

Communist era mural – Vladivostok is far but still ours said Lenin


Yuri


Vladivostok train station

Inside Vladivostok train station


The next morning was an incredibly efficient customs process: Yuri and Svetlanya had everything in hand between them, like a well oiled machine. She was already at the customs office when Yuri brought us over just after 9am, having started the process for us before we arrived and Yuri then drove and took us here and there, to various offices, getting more forms signed. By noon, we were all done and ready to leave the port on our bikes. As always we will write up the border process on our blog, but for now, I would like to say that we highly recommend Yuri. All my communication with Yuri over the past few months and once we arrived has been fantastic. Anyone needing to ship to or from Vladivostok should contact Yuri Melnikov, Links, Ltd, email: ymelnik@links-ltd.com or yuri.melnikov.links@gmail.com, web site: http://www.links-ltd.com. And he goes out of his way to help in any way. When we left him, he was going to take one guy to a hardware store, another to buy a motorcycle jacket and the other somewhere else.

This Japanese carried his new motorbike in his new car

Some days back, I had asked Yuri if he could recommend someone to take us on a tour of some of Vladivostok’s tunnels. Well, there again, he went ahead and organised it for us and our 3 Japanese motorcyclists joined us. I am glad we had time to bed down our new Heidenaus in Korea as the fog is so thick today, it is like rain. The convoy of Yuri, the Korean in his van and the 4 motorcycles wend our way through Vladivostok traffic up to Fort 7, not before turning off the road up a windy muddy track. Our first bit of off road on the Heidenaus – it feels so familiar so quickly.

Following a Japanese car following Yuri through Vladivostok


Russia acquired the area that contains Vladivostok in the 19th century: China and the Mongol empire had controlled the area first, but China, afer a war with Britain felt it no longer had the resources to control the area and overestimated Russia’s military power of the time so agreed to hand the area over through the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 rather than risk another conflict. Vladivostok was initially created as a military outpost. Considering how far it was from Russia’s political political centre, and due its proximity to Japan, Korea and China who all eyed Russian territories, Russia had to fortify the peninsular. The first fortifications were built in the 1870-1890s. A series of 16 forts and several hundreds of smaller structures were built on the Peninsular and Russian Island and comprise 140kms of tunnels. We visited Fort 7, which is now a ‘museum’, open for tours. It was built in 1910, has a network of 1.5kms of tunnels, of 5m thick walls. Interestingly, while Fort housed 400 military personnel, had stores and ammunitation that could keep them underground for 2 years, the forts and tunnels were never required to be used to defend Vladivostok. A sometimes creepy feel, especially as you walk along uneven terrain, down steep long passageways, in total darkness apart from your personal tiny torch, it was nonetheless fascinating to visit.

About to visit Fort 7, Vladivostok

Map of Vladivostok’s 16 forts

Fort 7 tunnel which has a network of 1.5kms of tunnels

Part of Fort 7, Vladivostok

Fort 7 original canon, Vladivostok

On Fort 7 outside wall

Time to leave Vladivostok fortress, still foggy at 2pm


2 hours later, it is time to bid Yuri farewell and godspeed to our fellow travellers as we head out of Vladivostok and they return to town. A brief but memorable stay in Vladivostok for us.

Communication from now on will be intermittent but we’ll do what we can. Better get some sleep now before our first long day.

– Anne

“I am sailing, I am sailing”

We look out of our hotel window eastwards as the morning sun climbs higher over the Sea of Japan, which, in a few short hours, we will set sail upon. Today is the first day of real adventure on this trip according to Anne, I however feel that when we set off from Vladivostok, we will be on our way back. Interesting that we each have different views on how we perceive the road ahead, but both agree that then last two months have been very comfortable, certainly reflected by my expanded waistline.

View from our hotel in Donghae, Seoul


Which way to Donghae passenger terminal?


We had scouted the location of the Passenger Ferry Terminal on arrival yesterday since highway 42 ended at the main port entrance where we ascertained our entrance was around the corner. A five minute ride in non existent Sunday morning traffic had us entering the port and being directed to join a group of four motorbikes parked outside what we learned was the ferry logistics office. Other travellers, who what where: questions in our minds as we park alongside a mixed bunch of bikes, all really loaded, including spare tyres. We quickly learn that three of the four are Korean brothers setting off on a six month journey that will take them across Russia, Mongolia to Europe ending in Spain in December. They all speak good English and over the next half an hour, we are joined by another six motorbikes and scooters all with Korean riders. We have a small army of adventurers with everything from BMW1200GS to 110cc scooters, maybe a motorcycle enthusiast can identify all the models, I could not.

Some of our band of motorcycles


All new Korean Facebook friends


Almost all are carrying replacement more off-road oriented tyres, their current road ones are all partially used. We have no spares but put new, what we think are, long life tyres in Vancouver, Heidenau K60 Scout. It would be interesting to do a comparison on how we all ended up. Ours must last until Turkey some 10,000 miles / 16,000 kilometres distant, which, based on previous experience, should be doable. We shall see.

You call that a top box? THIS is a top box!!


We have become so used to seeing western adventure motorcyclists in our travels, online and in electronic media that we forget that others, ie Asian, have that thirst for adventure as we do. We exchange blogs, look at each other’s bike setups. Anne and I are taken with the mesh seat covers which create ventilation passages for air to flow. Our Scotoiler attracts some interest as did our panniers and spot lights.

We all have to undergo the same customs process and this is detailed in our Visas and Borders section. We do get to ride without helmets, at 30 kph, to the customs inspection area. It is always a nice experience to have the wind in your hair, even for a couple of minutes, but I would not risk it on the highway. We spend a couple of pleasant hours, mostly waiting before the Customs inspection is complete and we ride into the bowels of the ship to leave Streak and Storm to their slumbers.

Riding around Donghae port, wind in the hair


Waiting for VIN inspection and x-raying of all our belongings


We have to then go in reverse through immigration, security, and customs to collect our hand luggage and then return in the opposite direction. We had a booking made for us, but still had to pay and collect tickets so we joined a somewhat chaotic scrum at the booking/ticketing counter that shared the same space as the access to customs/immigration. Still it all worked out and half an hour or so later we have passenger tickets in our hand as we climb the gangplank onboard the ‘Eastern Dream’. We are told our cabin is open, we do not have to collect our key? Open the door and guess what, we are sharing! Our advertised 2 person cabin now has four floor mats jammed in so closely that the outside mats are bent upwards by the wall. Even in the 90 person room you get a curtained off bunk. Not what we are paying USD$200 pp for! Our Russian roommates kindly leave to allow us to change from our motorcycle gear and then Anne feels a visit to the information office is warranted.

Our private 1st class cabin, really?!


We are told that four to a room is company policy for first class, even though the advertising pictures show two mats per room. We are told to come back at 15:00, but shortly afterwards we are approached by a staff member to be told the other couple has vacated our room, hopefully to one of their own and we have our own place. All I can recommend is that you are probably better off in a cheaper bunk bed than pay this amount for a shared room where the sleeping mats run up the wall to fit. We would do that if we came this way again. We find different maps onboard rating these rooms as first and second class cabins, company greed at work here I think.

In preparation for departure we are treated to a lifejacket demonstration, unlike the airlines I have flown with, they show the light works and test the whistle. I think the airlines could learn something from this. Now where is the cupboard with our lifejackets?

As we get underway I can hear playing Rod Stewarts ‘Sailing’ over the loudspeakers. For mostly Korean, Russian and Japanese passengers someone has a sense of humour, I wonder how many people get it. We sail out of Korea having only spent a few days glimpsing this intriguing country. We have so many questions, what is Korea’s history?, why are roofs and walls painted blue? We both agree that we would like to return, not on motorbikes, and see and learn more, probably as a stopover on the way to Europe one day. As always, we have met kindly and generous people whose paths we will never cross again and their actions cannot be returned by us. It reinforces our view of the positive nature of people around the world, not just when major tragedies strike, but everyday kindness that exists worldwide.

As I am writing this blog, Anne plays a Dido song which has the words , “I will go down with ship” ha… I prefer Rod Stewart “Sailing” any day, it has an upbeat floaty appeal to me. Must stop looking at the lifejacket cupboard.

The sea is calm, a big benefit for fair weather sailors such as ourselves, may it last the full 22 hours of the journey across the Sea of Japan. Hey, is that not the place where what’s his name lands all the missiles he fires? Maybe a moving ship is like being on a motorcycle in a lightening storm, keep moving and you are insulated by the tyres. Must stop looking at the lifejacket cupboard. At least we have four.

On the ‘Eastern Dream’ ferry from Donghae to Vladivostok


I think there must be a good couple of hundred passengers and we have not seen most of the motorcyclists again. We have meal vouchers, the benefit of being first class passengers, interestingly at meal time, the majority of diners are Korean or Japanese, the Russians seem buy the instant noodles and eat them in their rooms or on deck.

We wake to calm, thankfully but misty views as we plough on towards Vladivostok. Breakfast and lunch pass without the low cloud lifting, we must pack to be ready for arrival.

All ready to pack, now if I can only get those lifejackets in the top-box…..Stop it

– Anthony

42: the answer to life, the universe and everything

For those of you who have read the book ‘Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams, the title is self explanatory. For those who have not read this series of books, ‘Forty Two’ is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. In our case, the answer to a little challenge: how to cross Korea from west to east, avoiding all major highways.

In Korea, motorcycles are not permitted to travel on expressways, the main direct highway system between cities. Travel must be done on secondary roads and we discovered that highway 42 starts close to the Incheon airport where Streak and Storm arrived and runs across the country to our port of embarkation for Vladivostok at Donghae on the east coast. A good starting point.

We will need to overcome a number of challenges in this journey, the first being that the only two roads connecting Incheon and the mainland are expressways, but luckily there is a small ferry service which will give us access to the mainland. Our second will be to cross the Seoul Capital Area which has a population of some 24 million people. Still we are always up for a challenge so off we go. We start with broad avenues and no traffic, excellent. Someone here in Incheon built all the road infrastructure around the airport way ahead of any population development. Easy riding.

We are blessed with sunny weather, which will allow us to bed in our brand new, and very slippery Heidenau K60 Scout tyres that need 200 km / 120 miles to be run in to both settle the tyres on the rims and scuff the tyres to remove any chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

Early urban planning, Incheon


We track the ferry down and find ourselves waiting with one car and about 20 foot passengers. I cannot say I am looking forward to riding the new tyres on a metal deck but off we go, slowly. The ferry’s deck is fine, but appears to be well spotted with bird droppings? The source of the droppings becomes apparent as hundreds of seagulls start to circle the ferry in a clockwise direction, Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ comes to mind as the ferry slowly backs out, but no people throw food to the seagulls as they pass the deck. Our car driver spends the journey in a losing battle to keep seagull droppings off his car. We suffer one pannier strike, for luck I assume.

Waiting for our ferry to mainland South Korea


Down the steep ramp onto the ferry


Anthony doing the U -turn on the ferry


On the ferry to South Korea’s mainland


Ferry to Incheon on the mainland


We depart the little ferry, up the ramp and through a giant amusement park that would dwarf Sydney’s similarly located Luna Park. A couple of minutes later we are in the thick of it, riding in Seoul proper has begun.

I have found that Korea is a visual assault on the senses, Hangul (한국말) as the language is called seems to adorn buildings, street signs and vehicles, sensory overload when one is also trying to ride and follow the GPS. Highway 42 starts almost immediately after we leave the ferry, interesting how this one road links our ferry disembarkation and embarkation points. We quickly realise that the easy riding days back around the airport are over as we try to adapt to the Korean driving style. In addition to the no expressway rules for motorcycles, we had read that we must always stay in the right hand lane, not overtake and only pull out to turn left 30 metres from the junction! We understand these rules apply to all slow moving vehicles, trucks, buses etc, but as usual this information comes from websites that rank highly but may be dated. How does one determine what is relevant?

Typical road signs on route 42


Oops, wrong turn, Seoul

What we have learned about the Korean driving style is as follows:

– Fast acceleration and heavy breaking are the norm, scary in the rearview mirror when you are slowing for red traffic lights
– Red traffic lights are sometimes treated as advisories only, especially when turning right, use your own judgement
– Changing lanes is indicated when the bonnet/hood of the car next to you starts to get closer, but does not illicit horn honking or road rage
– Highway speed limits of 60 kph are always exceeded by at least 20 kph except where there are speed cameras
– Busses will pull out in front of you, especially to turn left.
– Motorcycles do overtake and travel in the centre or left lanes.
– We have yet to discern the signs for hairpin bends!

There will be a video, but as usual the best bits are missing as I am busy riding, not thinking of filming at that time.

Anne has planned a route today of a couple of hundred kilometres to a forested area south east of Seoul, we would have to see how the GPS will cope having turned off the main roads option to avoid expressways. This plan quickly evaporates as we make slow progress through the crowded streets. Our aim now is to get out of Seoul then see where we are before making a decision on the day’s destination.

Anne has written up a list of 43 forbidden expressways and 8 different road numbers to get to the first temple which she is carrying in her water pack for quick reference. The problem is that some backroutes directly lead onto forbidden ones so you have to be very careful. We don’t want the police closing the expressway to chase after us as we have read!!

Traffic lights seem to dominate the landscape, at every intersection it seems equal time is allowed for all permutations of crossing, I am surprised we are not bombarded with street vendors given the captive nature of the traffic, coffee anyone while you wait? An hour after leaving the ferry, we have progressed about 8 miles or 12 kilometres, the Greater Seoul Area is endless. We are lucky to find that although we have no idea what the signs say, number 42 is displayed at each major intersection so we at least know we are heading in the right direction. The occasion miss leads to an interesting combination of back streets via the GPS to recover our momentum.

Loud electronic advertising along the side of this truck, Seoul


Rice paddy fields, Icheon


Progress is made slowly: at the end of the day, we will have spent six and a half hours riding to cover only 77 miles / 120 kilometres, we really are the 2slowspeeds. After a number of hours in the saddle, we start to see trees. Seeking a hotel, we head for a forest resort, identified on my GPS and Anne’s Mapsme app. Sounds like a great location to rest after a busy day, unfortunately unlike Canada which has seen ski resorts become summer destinations, everything is closed. We are directed to the next town, Icheon where we find a grand looking hotel, well a grand looking Korean hotel, where the room is completely empty, bedding including mattresses are in a cupboard. It is nice however that each room here has a vestibule, no shoes allowed inside, just like home for us. We have also realised there is no 4th floor as the words for ‘four’ and ‘death’ sound similar in Korean, Chinese and Japanese. This manifests itself in tetraphobia, the fear of the number four. A word I did not know and a great addition to the scrabble board. A meal at a Japanese restaurant outside our hotel rounds off the day. Sleep follows quickly.

Our hotel room in Icheon, Korea


Where to find breakfast, well, one we can understand, we walk the rows of shops trying to make sense of the contents, then hey presto a place to buy WD40 one element missing from our arsenal of glues and gasket makers due to the high flammability of WD40 clashing with Dangerous Goods clearance for the flight from Vancouver to Seoul.

Everything you could ever want from belts to bearings here in Icheon


Got our WD-40 in Icheon


A 24 hour resturant offers bone soup for breakfast, we are not that ‘Local’ yet. Broth is tasty but he photos of the soup with bones in it and the pungent smell puts Anne off. Further searching leads to ‘Paris Baguette’, a Korean company that has now gone global with 3,500 branches provides ‘authentic French baking’. Croissants and coffee, we are saved. With our slow first day, we decide to travel directly but slowly towards Donghue on highway 42. We cannot afford to miss the weekly ferry as our Russian visa has a fixed starting date. Progress is sedate as we leave cities behind but the hilly and undulating nature of the terrain, plus the highways 60 kph speed limit our progress. We try to find a group of temples en-route, but the GPS and Mapsme lead us to a blocked entrance. As I have wondered before, what is the provenance of the data that supports our global maps? Traffic has thinned considerably and we are now scooting along at a fair clip, keeping up with local traffic. We have however been introduced on a regular basis to one of our lesser favoured surfaces: grooved concrete. This wet/icy anti skid road surface gives an unpleasant wobbly feeling and we have found it to be used here on downhill sections near traffic lights, tunnels, bends etc. We know the answer is to slow down and relax, but still not a pleasant surface.

Korea’s unpleasant road grooves


Along highway 42


Auraji, home of the Jeongseon Railbike, Korea


Auraji, Korea


Civilisation hugs the narrow valley floors with tree festooned hillsides looking down on us as we zig and zag eastwards. I never get the feeling we are out in the wilderness, on our route anyway. A short stop in Jeongsoenup and the purchase of a single bottle of Coca Cola introduces us to the shop owner who, while, we are sitting outside her shop brings us a green tea ice-cream each. While I eat mine, Anne cannot eat cream based products, she returns again with two local energy drinks as gifts. When we complement her on her plants outside her shop, she immediately runs into her shop, gets a parcel out of her fridge and hands it to Anne: two massive cucumbers. We cannot exchange words, but we understand she has two sons, both living away and sadly her husband has passed. Her actions speak for the generosity of people to strangers. We are lucky to have met her.

Our lovely shopkeeper


Our shopkeepers gifts


Our generous shopkeeper and her smile


As the afternoon wears on we reach Imgyemyeon, a small town at the junction of highways 42 and 35. A towering hotel by local building standards beckons and we will stay two nights, this place has a nice feel to it. Dinner is a Tofu and mushroom dish and we learn our host makes the tofu from scratch, another memorable meal and we are now just 50 km from the coast.

A day packing and sorting and exploring Imgyemyeon, covered in a separate blog entry, followed. Saturday morning and we are off with our sorted load and extra fuel containers filled. It is interesting that at each gas/petrol station they will only fill to the automatic stop level, regardless the amount of pleading ‘Full, Full’. They just will not exceed that limit.

Sinheungdong mountain ranges, Korea

Some sharp twisties climbing and descending make for the most enjoyable ride to date. Much closer to the type of riding we favour. The highway 42 does actually finish at the port main gates, a real ferry to ferry road. We have ridden across Korea and now the adventure begins.

Which way to Donghae passenger terminal?

– Anthony

PS how to entertain small children at a wedding, now where are those permanent markers?

Kids having fun with the Just Married couple’s car, Donghae, Seoul