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Sakhalin Island
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Introducing Sakhalin Island

El Dorado for oil-struck businessfolk, and ‘hell’ to Anton Chekhov in 1890 (not to mention the thousands and thousands of prisoners shipped here from the late 19th century), Sakhalin Island (Остров Сахалин) these days is decaying in chunks and booming in others (such as its hub, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk). It’s frequently beautiful too – much of it is filled with a wild terrain of forests, islands of seals, streams full of fish, slopes for skiing and lots and lots of bears – ‘much bigger than Kamchatka’s’, one native assured us. Relatively cheap flights can get you here, but prepare to open the purse strings once you’ve arrived: Sakhalin is no place for shoestringers.

You’ll see more foreigners in Sakhalin than anywhere else in the Far East, but the vast majority are here to do biznes. If you’re in that boat, definitely make a point of getting out of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and exploring Sakhalin’s wild side. The main 948km-long island is one of 59 (including the Kuril Islands) that make up the Sakhalinskaya Oblast (Sakhalin Region). Sakhalin’s weather is despicable. It was practically snowing in mid-June when we last visited. Summer is brief. August and September are the best months, mosquitoes notwithstanding.