Sakhalin Island is one of the most interesting and controversial constituents of the Russian Federation. Formerly a part of Japan, during World War 2, tens of thousands of Korean laborers were taken to the island to work for the Japanese Empires war effort. Sakhalin truly is one of the most off the beaten track and unique islands on earth.
Following World War 2, Sakhalin became a spoil of war and was given to the USSR along with the Kuril Islands, leaving the Koreans on the island stuck in a limbo that many remain in today.
During Soviet times, many people were exiled to what was at the time the most remote part of the Soviet Union.
The status of Sakhalin Island and, to a greater extent, the Kuril Islands has dominated relations between modern Russia and Japan. While its future remains unclear, it is now an integral part of Russia.
Today Sakhalin Island is one of the least visited parts of the Russian Federation, boasting amazing nature, Japanese historical relics, Soviet history and a “pure” Korean population. It does not get much more off the beaten track than visiting Sakhalin.
Getting to Sakhalin Island
Apparently, Stalin tried to create a tunnel from mainland Russia to Sakhalin, but it ended up in complete failure. Currently, there are no plans to rejuvenate the project, so you will have to make do with either the ferry or flying.
Previously a special permit was required to visit Sakhalin, but now it is the same as visiting any other part of the Russian Federation.
Sakhalin island – Ferry From Vanino to Kholmsk
The ferry is, without doubt, the most fun way to get to Sakhalin, but alas, it is not all that practice if you have time constraints. There is a timetable for the ferry, but unfortunately, the reality is that it can leave anytime between its scheduled departure and the next 40 hours. We used the ferry on or first-ever tour to Sakhalin but now do the flight option.
How long does the Vanino to Kholmsk take? It takes 12-16 hours for the ferry to get from Vanino to Kholmsk. The worse the weather, the longer it takes.
In the summer there is a ferry linking Korsakov at the southern tip of the island, with Wakkanai on the northern tip of Hokkaido. This is particularly interesting if you are trying to travel around the world without flying.
Flying to Sakhalin Island
Before the advent of coronavirus, there were numerous flights from across Russia, South Korea and Japan to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Quite how readily available these will be after normal play resumes is anyone’s guess.
Taking the Train to Sakhalin Island
The train network shows you how bing Sakhalin is. Getting from one side of the island to the other will set you back 13+ hours. Trains tend to be unreliable and a little infrequent. Check out the Russian Railways website here.
What Is There to See and Do in Sakhalin?
Sakhalin might not exactly be the world’s party capital, but if you are interested in nature, colonial history, Korean history and the contemporary history of the USSR, then Sakhalin has a lot to offer.
Lake Tunaycha (Озеро Тунайча) – Only 45 KM from the capital this beautiful area makes a stark contrast to the grey capital and Soviet architecture.
Tyuleniy Island (Остров Тюлений, Seal island) – You guessed it, you get to watch seals here! For obvious reasons, this is best during summer months, as is Sakhalin in general. Similar to Rason in North Korea, which can easily be combined with a Sakhalin tour.
Visit Shinto Temples – There are a number of Shinto temples that can be visited in Sakhalin.
Visit Sakhalin Koreans – As part of our tours, we arrange visits to Korean families who are still residents on the island.
Talk to Russian exiles – As part of our tours to Sakhalin, we arrange to meet families that were exiled to this region, but still live here.
Diving in Sakhalin Island – The water might not be the warmest, but Sakhalin offers some amazing diving opportunities for the intrepid.
Getting Out of Sakhalin Island
Getting out works pretty much the same as getting in, ferry, or flight. There are ferries to Japan for those wishing to extend their journey, or it is possible to fly or ferry to Vladivostok and then onto Rason in North Korea. YPT can, of course, arrange to help with this.
If you are interested in travelling to Sakhalin check out Soviet Wastelands.