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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Russia - 2 July, 2003



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
Singapore - Changi Airport (in transit) . . . .
Seoul - Inchon Airport (in transit) . . . .
Khabarovsk Airport . . . .
Finish Khabarovsk (Hotel Turist) N4828.198' E13503.357' 14 meters 15 km (by minivan)


15 km


Weather: Mostly cloudy, occasional sun, hot and humid.



It is 1 July and we are off on our way for our next big adventure - our trans-Russia and Mongolia.  On this trip we will be hiking the volcanoes of central Kamchatka and taking the trans-Siberian train across Russia with a stop in Mongolia.  We will finish up the trip in St. Petersburg and Moscow before returning back to Kuala Lumpur.


We leave our home in KL in the afternoon of 1 July, taking a taxi to KL international airport.  From there we catch the Singapore Airlines shuttle to Singapore Changi Airport for our connection to Seoul.  We have a few hours to spare in the airport, so we do some shopping (film, books, etc) and claim for the GST on our purchases from our last trip through Singapore.  We then hang out in the SQ lounge, having a glass of champagne to toast our way on this next big adventure.  While there, we are also able to cobble together a decent dinner from the available food.


Then we head off to our gate to catch our flight to Seoul on SQ.  The flight is pretty full, but we have been able to get three seats for each of us, so that we can try to get some sleep on this overnight flight.  We board with no troubles and the plane pulls away from the gate pretty much on time - but when we are a short distance from the gate, all of a sudden the engines are shut off.  After a few moments, the pilot announces that we will have to return to the gate as one of the passengers had forgotten his heart medicine.  What a pain - in the end, we are delayed by about one and a half hours.  We have some concerns - our connecting time in Seoul has now dwindled to only a bit over an hour and as our connecting flight only leaves once a week, it is pretty important that we (and our luggage) makes this flight.  We notify the crew and they say they will take care of it.


While sitting back in my uncomfortable economy class flight, I stare with jealousy up towards business class, when I am surprised to see an old friend and former colleague - Paul Aiello sitting up there.  It is good to go and catch up with him and see what he has been up to.


We land in Seoul - Inchon Airport just at 8 AM and make our way to the door.  We are met by the station manager who says that he has been sent to take care of us and make sure we make our connection.  He has one of those airport golf carts waiting for us and whisks us away to the transfer counter.  At first we think this may be overkill, but only after a long drive do we realise how far things are spaced out at this brand new airport.  It would have taken us a good 20 minutes to have made our way to the transfer desk on foot.  We get our new boarding  passes and we are then taken all the way back to pass through security and enter the departure level.  We are deposited at the SQ lounge where we make ourselves comfortable.


After a short break and a light breakfast, we have to head over to the gate to catch our Asiana flight to Khabarovsk.  As we head out we double-check to make sure our bags have made it on the flight - they confirm they have.  The Asiana flight is punctual and smooth - except for the landing.  The runway is a bit bumpy - it certainly needs some work.  We are finally in Khabarovsk.  Now we just have to clear the many formalities and make our way to the hotel.  It turns out to be much more efficient then expected.  Luckily we were in the forward part of the plane, so we were near the front of the lines.  They took some time to go through the passports, visas and many forms we needed to fill out.  We had three different forms to fill out, two of which were in duplicate.  We got through immigration, and the it was on to migration.  They seem to be the people who monitor you while in the country.  They stamp our forms and let us through.  During this process, our bags had arrived, so we were ready to pass through customs.  We put our bags through the x-ray machine and were sent to some ladies.  They noticed some errors on our forms (where we have to declare all our money and valuables), so they corrected them, had us sign them, and then sent us on our way.  All in all, it took about 30 minutes - pretty good.  Just wish we did not have to fill out so many forms.


Our driver is waiting for us and we load our bags up in his mini-van and head into the city.  The first impressions are of a city that has many similar features to the old Soviet cities that we had seen in Central Asia last summer.  Soviet block style construction that was in bad need of some good cleaning and maintenance.  But the one key change was that there was clear signs of new wealth in the new buildings, renovations and nicer cars and better dressed people.  Our first stop is at a bank, where the driver gives us a chance to change some money.  We want to change some travelers checks, but things do not go as smoothly as they might.  No one there speaks English and it appears that they are not able to cash them today as it is too late to call Moscow to confirm the checks are not compromised.  In the end, we just change some cash and agree that we will come back tomorrow.  The next stop is at the travel agency - Dalgeo Tours - that has made our arrangements in Khabarovsk all via the internet.  We stop by to make our payment.  After we leave the tour agency, our driver takes us to the building where our home stay apartment is located - he wants to make sure we know where it is.  He also makes sure that we have the electronic door key and that it is correct.  Then it is, at last, off to our hotel.


Russia03_CD01_02_web.jpg (69330 bytes)

Our original plan was to stay both nights at a home stay, but we had discovered that the home stay could not register our visa, so we needed to stay in a hotel for one night.  We have gotten a room at the Hotel Turist - another Soviet era hotel in a run-down concrete block.  No problems checking in, just that we discover they only have cold water - what to do?  Our driver helps us with our bags and when we try to tip him when he leaves, he refuses.  Just puts his hand to his heart and smiles and heads on his way.  So nice.  The security guard shows us how we have to show our hotel pass whenever we want to get in (good security) and we meet our floor lady (dezhurnaya), who seems quite nice (in fact, they arrange to transfer us to a quieter room).  We get our room and it is small, but clean and comfortable.  It even has a balcony, overlooking a bus depot and repair yard and some building tops and trees.  We settle into our room at around 5 PM and the first thing we do is crash.  We are very tired and just want to get some shut eye.  After a couple of hours shut-eye, we struggle up and take a much needed shower.  And we discover why ht water is desirable - the water must have just melted from the winter cold.  It is ice cold and it certainly wakes us up - just hope that Jacqui's shrieks did not wake up the neighbors!!!


Time to go find some dinner.  One advantage of being so far north is that at this time of year it stays light until late.  The sun is still pretty far up in the sky.  We head out to find a restaurant.  After walking a few blocks we come across a modern building where we see many people going in and coming out with shopping bags.  It looks like an office building with no big signs, so we decide to check it out.  Turns out to be a shopping center with a huge supermarket.  It must have just been completed with the last 6-12 months.  It still smelled new.  Surprising how uninviting it is from the outside, but this is something that we learned seems to be common around here.


We are able to find everything in this supermarket.  As we wander the aisles under the watchful eyes of numerous security guards (it seems that Russians in this part of the country are not used to shops where you get the merchandise, especially expensive imported stuff, before paying), we even discover the toothbrush cases that we had scoured KL for days for and could not find.  We decide that rather than go and find a restaurant, we buy some food from here and take back to the hotel for dinner.  We pick out a whole roast chicken (after some confusion about how much it would cost), some bread, cheese, fruit, salami and cakes (they had a great selection) to take back with us.


Back at our hotel room, we sit out on the balcony watching the sunset as we chow down on the tasty roast chicken, followed by the creamy cakes.  It is actually very nice and peaceful.  We head off to sleep around 1AM, but have some troubles falling to sleep - maybe the jet lag or because we napped in the later afternoon.  Despite the open balcony window, it is fairly warm in the hotel room.


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