In order to keep being loyal to our “no planes policy”, we had to figure out how to get to Japan by boat after completing the Trans-Siberian stretch in Vladivostok. Browsing the online info, we got to know there is a year-round service that connects by sea three different countries in less than 48 hours: Russia, South Korea and Japan.
The service is run by DBS Cruise Ferry, a South Korean shipping company operating as a sole supplier for this itinerary
The ferry currently (2016) sails each Wednesday at 2 pm from Vladivostok (Russia). It is then supposed to arrive to the Korean city of Donghae the following day at around 10 am. The final harbour of Sakaiminato (Japan) is finally reached about 44 hours later on Friday at 9 am.
The entire journey schedule may be found on the company website as well:
You can also note that between the arrival and departure to and from Donghae 8 hours elapse (arrival at 10 am on Thursday; departure due at 6 pm on the same day).
Below you have all the main topics explained at length:
The price chart is summarized online as follows: http://www.dbsferry.com/eng/02_ticket/ticket04.asp
However, we got a discounted fare of 228 USD (+760 Rubles terminal tax to be paid before departure in local currency) by sending an email to email@example.com with our booking request. The price was the cheapest we could find. We are unsure if the reduction was part of a special promo; the result of reserving online; or just the correct price (thus the online info being incorrect). This is what we received in September 2016.
As pointed out on the website:
“Online reservations can be done only for ferries departing from Korea”
Therefore, if you are leaving from Vladivostok, you have two options to book your ticket:
- Like us, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They answer quite quickly.
- Call 02-750-1515
Have also a look at the company’s notes about reservations on their website: http://www.dbsferry.com/eng/02_ticket/ticket01_step01.asp
We just sent an email around 2 weeks in advance and that was more than fine. You are requested to only reply with the scanned copy of your passport to validate the booking. That’s it.
No need to pay beforehand or to provide your credit card details. Email confirmation and scanned copy of passport are enough
3. Ticket collection:
Although you may pick up your ticket the same day of your departure, we advise to do it at least one day earlier to avoid possible queues. We went the previous day and found nobody waiting there.
The DBS office is located inside the Sea Terminal (closely connected to the train station by a handy bridge) with the following address: Nizneportovya street 1, office 124
The office is located on the first floor on your left (coming from the main entrance).
Just a few remarks here:
- The price is converted in local Rubles and the amount is due in that currency.
- No electronic payment was accepted. But you have one ATM in the main hall of the sea terminal or the nearby train station.
- The terminal tax (760 Rubles) can only be paid on the departure day (at the same company desk).
4. Departure procedures:
Show up near the DBS office around 1-2 hours prior to the scheduled departure time (so around 12 am). You will soon notice the long queue standing in the way.
Remember to pay your terminal tax at the DBS counter and take your receipt. They will later ask for it
The boarding procedures are indeed quite lengthy and meticulous:
- Passengers are allowed to pass a first screening and going downstairs in small groups.
- They are then kept for a few minutes in an underground waiting room.
- Ticket control starts.
- Painstaking luggage, passport and visa checks are carried out.
- Passengers are allowed to walk to the moored ferry.
When we were there, the above operations took quite long and the boat left the harbour with around 1 hour delay. Understandable tough.
5. Inside the ferry-boat:
The boat is quite big but does not carry vehicles. Just passengers. And mainly Russians. There are 3 indoor floors plus two external decks. All in all it is easy to move inside.
The cheapest tickets are associated with individual “capsule-berths” quite comfortable, endowed with privacy-keeping curtains to close the cabin. Inside you have a wall light to read
For the same basic price, you can even opt for a floor futon in Japanese style : ). In this case no privacy at all. You are left in open space.
Among the several facilities in the boat, we can mention:
- Small bar restaurant
- Essential mini market
- Information desk
- Dancing and karaoke room
- Big restaurant hall
- Male and Female Saunas (for free)
- Souvenir shop
- Duty free shop
During the sailing hours people are free to wander in the boat. Nevertheless, given the limited number of seated places in common areas, most of the passengers prefer to chill out in their respective sleeping spots. At the time of our crossing passengers were quiet and friendly.
6. Meals and restaurant service:
The general ticket does NOT include any meal on board. We then advise to purchase supplies in Vladivostok before departure.
You can also buy food in the ferry in three main areas:
- The essential mini market on the second floor, open until late;
- The small bar next to, also open till late in the evening;
- The big restaurant in an isolated, upper compartment, open during very strict and specific hours:
7:30 to 8:30 for breakfast
12:00 to 13:00 for lunch
18:00 to 19:00 for dinner
A speaker dutifully warns passengers about the imminent opening (in three languages) and invites them to buy the coupon tickets (for a fixed value of 10 USD, 1000 JPY or 10,000 ₩) at the information desk (2nd floor).
Note that only USD, JPY or Korean Won are accepted inside the boat. Russian Rubles are not useful at all here
The meal session inside the hall is quite frantic indeed: the famished customers throng in a tight queue at the tickets control and subsequently around the free buffet. The mantra is “all you can eat”, provided that you have enough time to do so! Everything is so fast that your digestion will probably be badly affected : ).
You can purchase beer and alcohol quite easily at the minimarket, an Asahi vending machine (2nd floor) and a duty free shop (2nd floor). Price is quite expensive though.
The journey: Day 1 (Leaving Vladivostok, Russia)
After the meticulous procedures, the boat left Vladivostok port with one hour delay at 3 pm. The first minutes inside the winding bay are really fascinating: you will skirt the main peninsula until you round (on your right) the delightful Tokarevskiy Lighthouse at the end of the thin Mys Tokarevskogo. On the other side (left) you can inspiringly contemplate the wild Russkiy Island, connected to the city by a long, symbolic bridge.
The boat will later enter International seas, without any more close sights.
At night, however, we could distinguish some “ominous” lights in the distance, probably from the North Korean territory
Nevertheless, what struck us most turned out to be the bright and luminous stars blinking in the dark sky. In the wavy and blind silence, we spent some relaxing moments in contemplating the evocative glow above us, easily visible to the naked eye.
The journey: Day 2 (Arrival to Donghae, South Korea)
The second day starts with the morning arrival at Donghae, South Korea. At around 10 am the boat is approaching the pier.
Almost all the passengers get ready to descend and mill around the first floor lobby, in good position to take the exit stairs. Before the arrival, the ship crew inquires about the passengers intentions. In our case, we decided to remain inside the boat, which you can do without any problem. You just have to stay in the bar on the second floor for a few hours, until the disembarkation is finished and the cleaning process has been carried out. At around 4 pm you are allowed to leave the “confinement area”. We got also relocated to a different room and floor (3rd).
If you desire to leave the boat, you have to fill out the immigration paper (ask the information desk for this) and get your passport stamped in and out
We considered easier and cheaper just stay inside (moreover South Korea would be part of our itinerary in few weeks).
At around 5 pm the first passengers start to access again the boat. At 6 pm the ship resumes its route, with fewer people on board, mostly Koreans this time.
The new stretch is shorter than the previous one but tougher in terms of undulation, due to the horizontal crossing (from Korea to Japan). We strongly advise to have a light meal in that evening : ).
The journey: Day 3 (Arrival to Sakaiminato, Japan)
The last section of the trip is very brief. After breakfast the speaker announces the looming docking in the small port of Sakaiminato, Japan. At around 9 am the first passengers started to disembark. You are officially in Japan!
This time the border procedures are quite straightforward: a rapid passport control is followed by a more thorough (but friendly) luggage review.
Remember to ask for (to the information desk, 2nd floor) and fill out the immigration paper. This is compulsory to enter Japan !
After that you will access to a hall with bathroom and some other services, among which the money exchange. However, be mindful that there is no ATM available for foreign cards at the terminal. You will therefore have either to arrive with local currency or exchange it there.
In Japan ATMs for foreigners are usually located inside post offices, “7-eleven” shops or certain international banks like Citibank, for example. All local ATMs won’t accept foreign cards instead
Finally, in front of the terminal a free shuttle bus (running around every 20 minutes) will drive you to the close Railway Station for further displacements.
To sum up, the boat trip is fairly pleasant and relaxing, apart from the “wavy” second night. The best sights for us were the Vladivostok bay right after departure and the starry first night. The atmosphere inside the ferry is calm and people are on the whole silent and respectful.
All in all we reckoned the ticket fare quite expensive, given that no food whatsoever is offered there. If you want to see the positive side of it, however, look at the two nights of “free” accommodation
Although stand-alone meals and drinks are a bit costly, you can get good value from the “all-you-can-eat” buffet in the main restaurant. The disadvantage is that you have to eat at fixed hours, stand in queue and keep an eye on the fast clock.
Nevertheless, for the matchless pleasure of arriving to Japan by this unconventional means of transport, these minor flaws are by far negligible. Another adventure is on!