Kholmsk (Russian: Холмск, khohlmsk; Japanese: 真岡, mah-oh-kah) is a port town in Sakhalin Oblast facing the Tartar Strait, with a population of some 35,000 people. An utterly drab city, the only reason to visit here is the ferry connection to the mainland.
Sakhalin is a special designated border region, movement of foreigners is limited. See "Disembarkation procedures" at right.
To enter Sakhalin you are required to register with local authorities. During disembarkation you are required to provide your ferry ticket, passport and registration stamps. After all passengers have exited you will be taken to the customs office for an interview, and your passport will only be handed back to you after the interview is completed. During the interview you have to provide information on the purpose of your visit, exit point and date, and accommodation. No English is spoken, so having the above information written in Russian is advised.
There is a daily overnight car ferry  from Vanino on the mainland, nominally departing Vanino at noon, and arriving in Kholmsk the next morning; however, sailing schedules are often disrupted by bad weather. In Kholmsk, ticket sales are at the office of SANES. Ask people at bus or railway station for direction. In Vanino, tickets are bought inside the train station. Prices start from 600 руб. Continuing from Vanino, there is a daily train connection to Komsomolsk-on-Amur that continues further south to Khabarovsk and Vladivostok for access to the Trans-Siberian mainline.
Mini- and regular buses depart for Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on the parking lot, right outside the ferry terminal. Minibuses are the most convenient and take 45 minutes to connect with Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (300 руб), however normally you will have to wait for the minibus to fill up. There are also some scheduled public buses:
- Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk – Bus 516 – 06:00, 07:00, 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00 (5, 7)
- Nevelsk (Moneron) – Bus 525 – 09:40, 11:30, 12:40, 15:30, 18:10
Banks, buses and places to eat - are all only a few minutes walk from the ferry station, along the main street. As with most other minor cities in Russia, intra-city transportation is mainly provided by a fairly disorganized network of minibuses. If you need to get outside the city center, your best bet is to ask a local.
See and do
There is a small beach northwest of the ferry terminal. If you made it this far, the Soviet house blocks probably aren't that much of a novelty anymore.
- The Municipal Natural Science Museum (Холмский муниципальный естественнонаучный музей), ul. Morskaya 14, ☏ . Daily 10:00–17:00. The museum contains various collections of marine animals collected during the Russian explorations and later research of the Okhotsk, Bering and Japan Seas. There is supposedly a quite unique collection of rare mollusks and several rock and mineral samples from Sakhalin and the Russian Far East, which includes a rare exhibit of petrified wood from Shikotan. The collection is topped off with stuffed fish and birds and a collection of seashells. If nothing else, it's a place to kill time waiting for the ferry. Foreigners 10 руб.
- Marine Biology Museum (Холмский музей фауны моря), Sovetskaya str. 23, ☏ .
There are a few uninspiring – but as authentic as they come – restaurants and cafes along Sovetskaya Street, the main drag.
- Utes (Кусиро), 46 Sovetskaya st., ☏ . Pricey restaurant and nightclub.
- Restaurant Kholmsk (Холмск ресторан), 60 Sovetskaya st., ☏ .
There do not seem to be expats living in Kholmsk, and tourists in this area are few and far between. If you really need a drink, jump into a local pub, and enjoy the startled look on everyone's faces as you place your order.
- Chaika Hotel (Гостиница Чайка), 4 Pobedy Street, ☏ . Fairly modern, this post-Soviet-era hotel run by the ferry company was built in 1995. Conference facilities available. From 1800 руб.
- Hotel Kholmsk (Гостиница Холмск), 60 Sovetskaya Street, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Near the ferry terminal, this is the place to crash if you have to wait out for the ferry. Has a pub with food and drinks, and can help with train tickets from Vanino. Singles from 1200 руб.
The unpopulated areas of Sakhalin have some stunning scenery. However, independent travel in these regions are only for the truly adventurous; an alternative is paying shameless amounts of rubles for one of the fairly frequent organized tours provided by travel agencies in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
- Moneron – Go diving or bird watching on the tranquil island of Moneron off Sakhalin's south-western coast. Access is by chartered boat, from the small village from Nevelsk some 50 km south of Kholmsk.