Getting from Vladivostok in Russia to Harbin in China overland using train and bus is not a smooth ride but it works. We did not find much information hence we will describe how we did this border passage but there are probably other ways as well.
The first step is to get to the border on the Russian side. We booked a bus ticket from Vladivostok Bus Station (Владивосток) to Pogranichny (Пограничный), which is the border, using vl.ru and it cost about 940 RUB. Booking link. The site is in Russian and is possible to translate but searches of departures and destinations has to be in Russian. The departure is “Владивосток” and the destination is “Пограничный” (borderline in russian). There are only two buses a day. To get all the way to Harbin in one day we took the first bus at 08:50, which arrives at the border at 13:40.
The bus station in Vladivostok is located north of the city and is reachable by public bus which takes about 40 minutes. Coming of the bus, the station is a bit hidden and it was hard to find the correct entrance to the building. Basically you enter the yard and see a long, rectangular building. Follow it to the right and you see a few small shops and stands at the corner. Above the stands you will see a small sign up in a tree saying “Bus station”.
The waiting hall has toilets and a couple of small shops. Since we already had the tickets it was easy for us to find the right platform. We showed our tickets to the bus driver to make sure we were on the right bus. Big backpacks have to be put in the trunk for an additional fee of 135 RUB. The ride takes about 5 hours and makes a short stop in Ussuriysk (Уссури́йск). After that, the bus makes multiple stops in small villages before it reaches Pogranichny, which is the end station. The station is basically a small house on the outskirts of the village, so don’t worry if it looks like you got dropped off in the middle of nowhere.
The next step is to take a short walk to the tourist bus station, which is about a kilometer away.
When arriving at the tourist bus station we noticed a lot more activity and people waiting for transfer. You will find the ticket kiosk in the building below, where you can buy tickets to Suifenhe (Суйфыньхэ) which is the closest city on the chinese side of the border. The tickets costs 1500 RUB per person and have to be paid in cash, but there is an ATM available in the waiting hall. We arrived at the end station at 13:00 and got a ticket for the border bus at 14:20. We are not sure how frequent these buses depart.
On the ticket you will get a number written which corresponds to the license plate of the bus you should jump on. The bus was waiting just outside of the ticket hall and there were security guards checking that we had proper passports and visas. The trip consists of two parts, one to exit Russia and one to enter China. In both you have to take all you luggage of the bus and go through security and passport control. After exiting Russia you enter the bus again and take a short ride on bumpy dirt roads before getting to the Chinese border buildings where the bus drops you off. Hence you do not enter the bus again after the Chinese passport control.
As Swedish nationals it took us quite a while to get through the border control on the Chinese side. After rigorous control by at least a dozen officers we were allowed into the country. Be prepared to fill out a form (so bring a pen) and answer a lot of questions from the officers, regarding your trip and purpose of it. They were polite and just curious to make sure that you are entering with the right intentions, it should not be a problem.
When arriving in China the time zone changes and you get back two hours.
We entered China around 15:00 (17:00 russian time), meaning the entire bus ride and border crossing took about 2.5 hours.
At the exit there are a bunch of taxi drivers offering a ride to the city and there are no public transport alternatives. When we looked at the map the distance to the city did not look very long (~3km) so we decided to walk. In reality it is quite a bit longer, it took us 1.5 hours to locate the station and walk there. One reason it took us that long was that we weren’t prepared that Google Maps would not work very well. We recommend to come prepared. Firstly, the connection to Google is blocked. Secondly, the map data is not correct everywhere and thirdly, the GPS position on the map is not reliable. We recommend taking a taxi to the train station, but make sure to research the price beforehand and bargain with drivers.
When arriving at Suifenhe train station getting a ticket to Harbin is quite easy. Just follow the signs towards “Ticket office”. We took the high speed train at 17:20 to Harbin, which cost 147 CNY and took about 3 hours.
Well in Harbin it had taken us 15.5 hours and 55€ (2 575 RUB + 147 CNY) per person.