Study Abroad Vladivostok SRAS

Our group at the observation platform at the Three Borders site. China and North Korea are in the background.

Vladivostok Travel Excursions from SRAS

Published: May 3, 2019

Vladivostok is ringed with locations of historical importance. Below are a sampling of some of the trips that SRAS groups have taken in the past as part the cultural package offered with SRAS Programs in Vladivostok. Note that not all trips are taken each session and trips themselves may differ from session to session.

Three Borders: North Korea, China, and Russia

By Morgan Henson

One of the most interesting excursions we’ve taken for my program in Economic Development in the Russian Far East, offered at VGUES in partnership with SRAS, was to the Three Borders Zone (“Три границы” in Russian) so named because this is where the borders between Russia, China, and North Korea come together. Because the course is open to anyone with a strong command of English (the language the course is taught in), the course and excursion are both taken with a variety of international and local students, making it even that much more interesting and allowing us to gain insights not only from the guide, but from the various perspectives of the students. About four hours from Vladivostok, our trip also included a number of stops along the way to see more of the Primorye region and really use our day to the full extent.


Land of Leopards (Земля Леопарда)

The first stop was to the Land of Leopards National Park. This government-funded sanctuary was established in 2012 to protect the indigenous plant and animal species of the area. It spans a 1000-square mile stretch along the Sino-Russian border.

Upon arrival, we drove to the main building, decorated with giant leopard faces and silhouettes, and with a small monument to the creation of the national park. We drove another five minutes further into the forest and were dropped off at the foot of a small mountain where we met another guide who led us on an hour-long hike up the mountain, explaining the significance of different plants and animals along the way. Unfortunately, we did not see any leopards or large predators on our hike, but the views were beautiful. In the distance, Chinese mountains framed the landscape and provided a serene, jungle aura.

While not an outdoorsman, after the initial shock of having to do a surprise hike passed, I enjoyed the hike overall. It was very informative and gave us a chance to see the overwhelming natural beauty of Primorskiy Krai.

Port of Zarubino (порт Зарубино)

Our next stop was to the Port of Zarubino. In class we discussed many different ports and the significance of each for certain industries. The Port of Zarubino was initially a fishing sea port until it was transformed into a trading port in the 1970s under the Soviet Union. Today, a railway connects the port to Vladivostok in the north, the Chinese city of Hunchun in the west, and the North Korean city of Rajin in the south.

Zarubino, although in Russia, has been of great importance to the Chinese government. In 2014, China’s Jilin Province – where Hunchun is located – signed an agreement to help increase port capacity to 60 million cargo tons per year. This port is one of the primary avenues for international cooperation between the influential powers of Northeast Asia.

The Mermaid Diner (Закусочная Русалочка)

We then drove to the city of Zarubino, the name sake of the port, to have lunch at the Mermaid Diner. Although not the flashiest restaurant, the food was absolutely delicious and the staff was very kind to our group. All of us ordered traditional Russian dishes: borsht, pelmeni, cutlets, etc. Some students even ordered a second meal after the first and our guide had to rush us out of the restaurant because she said we were wasting “precious daylight” by sitting and eating too long.

Three Border Zone (Три Границы)

Finally, we arrived to the highlight of the tour. Within a small section of this border region, there is a special economic zone where goods are traded between vendors with lower tariffs than usual – a sort of “duty free zone.” However, due to security concerns of all three nations, because the zone allows essentially more mobility for commerce to mix in the area, it is very difficult to receive approval to visit the actual market. Our group instead visited a viewpoint in the town of Kraskino where we could take photos of both North Korea and China in the background and the town operating below us.

As a student studying international relations and global policy, this area was extremely interesting to visit and being able to see both North Korea and China only a few kilometers away was both beautiful and intriguing.

Korean Independence Memorial

Our final destination before returning to Vladivostok was the Korean Independence Memorial. Located in Russia and placed very near the North Korean border, this memorial commemorated the men who fought against the Japanese Empire for independence in 1909. It features a handprint, which is significant because Korean soldiers historically cut off the first section of their left ring finger to symbolize their dedication and willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country.

At first, I felt that this was just another memorial for a war that occurred long before my time. But there were two South Korean students on our excursion and they began telling us a brief history of the encounter and how Korea never truly gained independence from Japan until after the Second World War. In the middle of speaking, one of the students stopped, asked “is anyone Japanese?” Upon finding out that there were no Japanese among us, she began to passionately tell about how brutal the Japanese occupation was and how, she believes, they continue to be prejudiced against Koreans.

Americans, with few exceptions, have fought nearly all our wars on foreign soil, so it is easy for many of us to remove ourselves from the mental and emotional realities of war. While visiting this memorial, I saw that the trauma of war can linger generations after the war has ended, especially for those on whose homeland the war was fought and held under occupation.

The natural beauty, dramatic history, and dynamic international relations of Russia’s Far East region are entrancing. With a little development, I believe this region could become a viable tourist destination, especially for those who love the outdoors and nature.

Primorskiy Safari Park: Local Wildlife

By Jonathan Rainey (Fall, 2015)

This weekend, we got to make another excursion outside of Vladivostok. This time was not for hiking, however, but to see some of Primorsky Krai’s famed wildlife at the Safari Park. As part of a university sponsored trip, we took a chartered a bus from the university and headed north.

Vladivostok is a fantastic city, and I still have so much left to see, but I really enjoy getting out of the city. Perhaps it’s because I was raised in a small town, but driving down winding roads and looking out across the fields and rolling hills is a serene change from the week’s classes and business.

It took about 1.5 hours to reach the park. From the outside (and certainly from the road) there is not much to see. In fact, our driver passed right by the entrance before circling around to find the correct turn. The park is recessed in a wooded area, and a small ticket kiosk and the exterior fence covered in camouflaged netting is all that’s initially visible.

The price for admission is 600 Rubles, and the tour lasts between 1 and 1.5 hours.

Our tour was a group of about 40-50 people led by one tour guide. The park itself is divided up into several sections that house different types of animals. First up, we saw the park’s primary attraction: the tigers. Different from a zoo, the Safari Park gives the tigers a reasonably large space in which to roam. Three Amur Tigers inhabited the enclosure, and we walked on a sort of raised bridge that kept us out of their reach. During our tour, the tigers appeared very much as the big cats that they are. We found them sunbathing and rolling around in warm patches of grass.

The other sections of the park showed us deer, which we were able to touch and feed; two bear cubs; raccoons; foxes; wolves; and an aviary, which held a variety of hawks, eagles, and owls. Although I felt that the aviary was somewhat small, most of the birds appeared to have suffered injuries of some sort, so I believe that they are probably better off even in the small enclosure than they would be in the wild.

Overall, the experience was good, although I would say that the tour group was too large. Some of the pathways got very congested at the point that offered the best view of the current animal. Consequently, it was difficult to capture good photos along the way. Seeing the local wildlife was a great experience, however, and it was worth the trip.


Paleo Village: The Native Far East

By Michael Smeltzer (Fall, 2011)

This review is also reproduced on Museum Studies Abroad, another site in the SRAS Family of Sites.

Have you ever been curious about who lived in Russia’s Far East before the Russians? Well, the Paleo Village is just the place to learn about the ancient inhabitants of the Asia’s far eastern shores. Located near the city of Nakhodkha (Находха), about three hours from Vladivostok, the “Paleo Village,” an open-air museum, is located on top of an archeological dig site that is still in use today. I was given the chance to visit the museum thanks to the teachers at VGUES through my program with SRAS.

Our excursion, entirely in Russian, began with a time-travel-esque tour through the various epochs of the Far East. Beginning in the Stone Age, our group was shown how the region’s first inhabitants, the Udegetsi (Удэгецы), survived the harsh environment nearly 30,000 years ago. Our tour guide, sitting inside a replica teepee, demonstrated how the natives created tools out of sharp stones to be used for hunting and fishing. We were even given the opportunity to try our hand at making fire using an ancient device.

We next traveled into the Neolithic and Iron Ages, where we were treated to “traditional Udegetsi tea,” which the museum staff informed us was made from the very same berries that grew in the region during those times long past.

After learning about the tribes’ earliest homes, we were invited to participate in several Udegetsi games. As the first residents of the region were primarily hunters and fishers, children’s games focused on making each member as fit as possible. We jumped, fought, shot bows and arrows, and even had a friendly “fishing” competition, all with the goal of making us more productive members of the Udegetsi tribe.

Returning to the modern day, the focus of the tour turned towards the scientific aspect of the museum, that is, its archaeological importance. Group members got to try their hand at being archaeologists. Equipped with shovels and spades, we carefully dug up and sifted through the dirt, looking for archeological finds (археологические находки) in a 10×10 meter section called a matrix. There were also small “archaeology puzzles” available to be solved, like putting together the pieces of an ancient pot. Continuing our study of archaeology, we were led on a hike to see where the archaeologists discovered their original findings. After a few minutes of walking up a dirt path, we came across a moss-covered hedge, which very clearly marked the entrance of the ancient village discovered by the archaeologists. A little further along the path and we got our first glimpse of the archaeological dig, an area about one hundred meters by one hundred meters. Walking around this space, with the sun throwing its occasional rays on the ground, I really got a feeling for what it was like to live there thousands of years ago.

Returning to the main part of the museum with this sensation, I felt prepared to participate in the next part of the tour, a ceremonial blessing from a “shaman” (really just the tour guide dressed up in the traditional shaman clothing). Holding hands, we jogged in a circle to the beating of drums and the ringing of bells. Following this, our tour group was offered ribbons to tie to the trees, symbolizing a wish we could make from the spirits of the land. Each color represented a different type of wish. Red was for a healthy family life, blue, for good grades in school, and green, for money. (I felt I needed a lot of help, so I took all three!) The tour ended in lunch, which consisted of pilaf (плоф), tomatoes (помидоры), ginger bread (пряник), and tea (чай).

All in all, I would highly recommend this tour to anyone interested in not only learning the history of the region’s ancient inhabitants, but especially those who want to get a feeling for what it was like to live in the Primorsky Krai 10,000-30,000 years ago. In order to get to the museum, you either have to arrange a ride through a tour agency (which might be the easiest way), or take a bus to Nakhodka and then catch a taxi to the museum, outside the town, near the village of Ekaterinovka. If interested, perhaps contact the tour agency Lucky Tour (, and they should be able to help set up a bus or taxi for your convenience, or call the museum (4236) 65-88-86 and ask for directions to give a taxi. Also, the museum also allows people, of any age, interested in helping the archaeologists that come every summer, to come and volunteer.

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About the author

Morgan Henson

Morgan Henson is a second year dual-degree master’s student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is studying Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and Global Policy Studies. As a Home and Abroad Scholar, he is focusing on policy issues in Eurasia. The scholarship will help fund his participation in SRAS’s Economic Development in the Russian Far East program at Vladivostok State University of Economics and Services during the Spring 2019 Semester. In his free time, Morgan enjoys watching movies and exploring new locations.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar: $10,000 to Study Abroad

View all posts by: Morgan Henson

Michael Smeltzer

Michael Smeltzer has degrees in Russian Language and Philosophy from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. He previously studied abroad in Irkutsk and, at the time he wrote for this site, was spending an academic year in Vladivostok as part of SRAS's Home and Abroad program.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar: $10,000 to Study Abroad

View all posts by: Michael Smeltzer

Alaina DeLeo

Alaina DeLeo is an undergraduate student at the University of Kansas, class of 2020. She is double majoring in Global and International Studies and Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies and is minoring in Russian Business and Professional Culture. She is currently studying Russian with the Siberian Studies program in Irkutsk. In the past Alaina has studied in Kishinev, Moldova with the NSLI-Y scholarship. After graduation, she plans to pursue a M.A focused on Central Asia and the Caucasus. She hopes to someday work in Russia with the US government in a career related to International Relations.

Program attended: Challenge Grants: Funding for Study Abroad

View all posts by: Alaina DeLeo