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Russian Far East/Russia

Introducing Russian Far East

Commonly mistaken for 'Siberia', the Russian Far East is actually further from Moscow, more remote and colder. It's also pretty big. Larger than Europe, it is comprised of taiga forest, snow-splattered or forested mountains, and northward rivers. Few foreigners make it here. Even trans-Siberian goers usually cut south from Baikal to Mongolia, missing the Far East entirely. There's a lot of thrillingly untouched turf though, with great (often costly) options for hiking, rafting, cross-country skiing, dog sledding and fishing. Best are encounters - on streets, in train carriages - with locals who may be surprised you made it here at all.

The southern strips of towns run along the eastern stretches of the pan-Russian trans- Siberian and BAM railways. The former sees more life, as it reaches the region's cosmopolitan leaders Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, both with tsarist-era buildings and sushi. The BAM is a gritty Soviet effort to connect Russia with some purpose-built '70s wasteland towns and more appealing, tsar-styled communist creations like Komsomolsk-na-Amure. Across the Tatar Strait is oil-booming Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands, still claimed by Japan.

Up north, beyond train tracks or reasonable roads, surprising Yakutsk is the heart of Russia's largest political division: Sakha Republic, home to many Yakut people (and a lot of horse meat on menus). The rugged 'Kolyma Highway' leads a couple of thousand kilometres over mountains and marsh to Magadan, a Gulag-built town overlooking the Sea of Okhotsk. Dangling towards Alaska, the Kamchatka Peninsula is simply one of the world's most beautiful places. Dotted with smoking volcanoes, fields of hardened lava and bear tracks, much of Kamchatka requires some money and a tour to reach.