A two week motorbike tour in Yunnan province, China

Lode

Active Member
Aug 1, 2012
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This august I just did a two week motorbike tour around the Yunnan province. I am planning to give an impression of this tour by means of a photo report. 
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Into the Chinese Himalaya
I rented a motorbike from Jia at www.ridechina.com, based in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, China. Check out this website, they've got great programs in and around China for group motorbike travel, as well as individual rental. I chose to rent a bike from them. Clutchin in my hand a peace of paper with a Chinese adress, I took a taxi. Some 40 minutes later, the taxi dropped me of at a small motorbike workshop in the west of the city, where my bike stood waiting.
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The motorbike workshop in Kunming
It was a bit of a strange bird, of a Chinese brand named Shineray - model unknown - sporting two enigmatic stickers which read "TOP-formula1". The plastic tank was obviously an aftermarket item, very large but providing a range of over 400km. Electric starter and a sturdy luggage rack on the back made it just good for the job. Nobody around could speak any English (Jia was abroad with a group), but they were clearly briefed about what to do. With gestures I made clear I'd clear I wanted to install my Zumo gps on the bike, which they promptly did. After some instructions - in sign language - I wrapped my duffelbag on the luggage rack and dropped the rest of my stuff in the side pockets.
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Installing the gps
After the guys at the workshop gave me a big smile, I got onto the boulevard for my first kilometers on Chinese roads, confident my gps would bring me to Chuxiong, some 150km to the west, where I had planned my first overnight.
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The Shineray motorbike
I didn't take long before I noticed my gps did not only freeze, but also indicated a point some 12km of where I actually was, rendering it pretty useless. Asking directions along the street invoked only strange looks, so it was pretty much up to me and the moslty Chinese roadsigns. After some luck I found the right road towards Chuxiong.

When I got there some three hours later, after some very poor roads and trough pouring rain, I checked into a local hotel. Then it suddenly dawned upon me I was actually in another town, named Yimen, some 40km off the planned route.  I decided to stay. To be continued...
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Yimen - Dali ancient town

The second day everything seemed to clear up and sunshine was back. I had soon  backtracked from Yimen to the Kunming-Chuxiong-Dali road. Now I had to decide whether to choose the highway or the normal road to Dali, still some 300km away. The normal road is much longer, and in a neglected state since the construction of the new highway and filled with heavy local traffic. The highway was smooth, in a perfect condition, but... not allowed for two-wheelers and guarded by a toll gate.

I decided to follow up on the advice of Singaporean lady biker adventurer Vaune Phan (check www.vaunephan.blogspot.sg) and just dashed quickly passed the checkpoint ignoring the tollway staff. From now I felt wonderful and could gather some speed on the rollercoaster highway to Dali. By mid-afternoon I arrived in the old city of Dali and checked into a local guesthouse.
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Dali is a quaint and touristy ancient Chinese city filled with pedestrian streets with souvenir shops, restaurants, pubs. It has a square pattern surrounded by old city walls and gate towers. It's climate is moderate and it squeezed in between the Erhai lake to the east and a small mountain range on the west.
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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San Ta temple, Dali
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San Ta temple, Dali
Day 3/4 : Dali - Lijang

I left early for a leisurely ride along the Erhai Lake, stopping first at the impressive San Ta temple, just north of Dali.
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San Ta Temple, Dali
North of the Erhai lake the road bended of towards Lijang and I took the highway again which offered spectacular views while ascending to an altitude of 2400m. Lijang is also a historical and well preserved ancient city. It is immensely popular with Chinese tourists and its pedestrian streets are filled to the brim with thousands of visitors. To accomodate this influx, the area of the 'ancient' is being expanded continuously with new 'ancient' guesthouses, boutique hotels, restaurants and shopfronts. It is crisscrossed with small streams and built onto a hill, and has a very nice athmosphere.

I decided to spend a motorbike free day here to discover this old city and to relax.
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Lijang
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Lijang
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Minority lady in Lijang
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Lady from near Beijing working in Lijang
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Dag 5 Lijang - Tiger Leaping Gorge
During my leisure day in Lijang I took the bike to big motorbike retailer and workshop and replaced the battery, which I looked very old and didn't seem to charge anymore I had noticed (after keeping my lights on after a tunnel passage the day before, I could afterwords only jumpstart the bike downhill in second gear). I also replaced the spark plug, which was burnt black and had the carburettor fine tuned.

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Temple along the road from Lijang to the Yangtze river valley

I took the old road down from Lijang to the Yangtze river valley, crossed it, followed the road north and then made the U-torn across the river again towards the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The rest of the afternoon I spent discovering the beauty of the third deepest gorge in the world. Just terrific.

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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My guesthouse for the night
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Dag 6 Tiger Leaping Gorge to Shangrila

Instead of returning to the main road, I pushed through the Tiger Leaping Gorge and via Haba to a small but absolutely beautiful mountain road that bends its way along the Haba snow mountains all the way to Shangrila. When I asked for a petrol station along the way, this old man came up to me, I loved it.
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Filling up old style
The road today was really glorious, as you can guess from these pictures :
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Arrival in ShangriLa
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Shangri La old town
In the afternoon I visited the Ganden Sumtseling monastery in Shangri La.
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Genden Sumtseling Monastery
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Ganden Sumtseling Monastery
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Shangrila - Deqin - Feilal

After a night of fun at the Flying Tigers restaurant, run by a very nice Sino-French couple, I woke up with a bit of a heavy head. That soon cleared up when I saw the impressive landscapes along the way to Deqin.
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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Dechin - Cizhong

After a night almost at the Tibetan Border with view on the Meili Snow mountain range, I descended back down, first following the upper reaches of the Mekong river into the Three Parallel Rivers nature reserve. This is a gigantic unesco protected area where three of Asia's most important rivers (Salween, Mekong and Yangtse) run down a few hundred kilometers only separated by parallel rugged mountain chains. 
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upper reaches of the Mekong river
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This old lady was keeping this Tibetan prayer wheel turning
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I spent the night at this village, famous for its former French Catholic church, topped by a Chinese roof. This village is also still producing vines for making wine.
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Cizhong - Weixhi - Shaxi

Todays' longer ride takes me from the banks of the Mekong river to the town of Weixhi and trough some very rough riding south of it on an unsealed and battered road, and further along a better road to the small village of Shaxi along the old tea-horse trail. Shaxi has all the benefits of a beautiful small historic village, but without all the tourists you encounter in towns like Dali, Lijang en to a lesser extent Shangri-La. The main square is so attractive that I stayed here one more day than planned.
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Shaxi town
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Shaxi town
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Cafe in Shaxi
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After some 1600km the bike was still doing fine, but needed some cleaning...
 

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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Shaxi - Weishan

Last stop along the teahorse trail for me is the town of Weishan. Historical town, little visitors. I'm the only European visitor.
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Weishan
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Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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Weishan - Kunming

Today I turn back to Kunming along the highway. Some 65km before I reach Kunming, the bike loses power, makes a strange rattling noise and when I pull of the highway I also discover a big oil leak. The blue-gray smoke coming from the engine block makes me decide not to take any risks and I decide to contact the motorbike workshop.

Since they don't speak English and I don't speak Chinese, I decide to dial their number on my mobile phone and give the phone to a shopkeeper where I broke down. After some talking, they all seem to get the situation and the shopkeeper explains where to find me. The shopkeeper smiles at mee, points me to sit down on a small chair and makes gestures as to somebody turning a steering wheel. I guess this means they will come to me and I start reading a book and drink some beer.

After a few hours the boys of the workshop show up and put the bike and me into an old van. Driving into Kunming I start to realise that to find the workshop in this city of 4 million would have been quite a challenge on my own.

Anyhow all's well that ends well and after 2000km I look back at a truly fantastic trip.

All ways were Chinese people around who helped me out, either to translate or to get something done. The landscapes were incredibly beautiful and I could recommend this trip to every experienced motorbiker or asia traveller.

If you might have any questions about this trip, let me know !
 

Lode

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Aug 1, 2012
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You can find more pictures here : (even if you do not have a facebook account)

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153597973321337.1073741836.578546336&type=1&l=863c6fb414

and here :

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153616767211337.1073741837.578546336&type=1&l=e6f89de221
 

DavidFL

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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
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Chiang Khong
www.thegtrider.com
Wow - amazing trip & write up - absolutely 5-star guide for the Thailand based China rider dreamers. This is probably the way to go - I wanna go already. You seem pretty organized on where you wanted to go - what guide books did you use if any?    
 

Lode

Active Member
Aug 1, 2012
37
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Thank you David.

I used Rough Guide Southwest China, but because China is evolving so fast, and Chinese domestic tourism has exploded, it is outdated concerning where to eat and sleep.

Anyhow, where to sleep and eat is not a problem at all : checking into a guesthouse or hotel - which are plentiful in most of the towns I went - is easy. You show your passport, they write down the rate (and a deposit sometimes), you fill in the mandatory form and the deal is done. You can check the hotel room first, but Chinese hotelrooms are pretty standard everywhere and quite good too. You might go around choosing the cheapest if you feel like. Expect to pay between 100 and 200 yuan for a very decent room. (Aircon, hot shower, clean bed, towels)

I had planned my route in advance based on the 'Yunnan explorer' tour group program of www.ridechina.com, just to assure it was realistic and feasable. Jia can also give some good advice.

Greetings
 

Lode

Active Member
Aug 1, 2012
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Oh and as for food : just copy a page from a guidebook with some standard meals with the Chinese writing next to it. Laminate it, take it  with you and point at the meal you like. You will allways find at least fried rice, noodle soups and other standard asian dishes. Or just point at another clients plate :)
 

Jurgen

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Oct 23, 2009
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Wonderful and informative report with fabulous illustrations.

Yes! As David, says a dream trip, certainly my greatest dream for a journey outside Thailand. Renting a bike in Kunming seems to be the way to avoid the hassle to drive a bike from home.

As you mentioned, things are changing high speed in China and maybe other possibilities might open soon.

Thank you for posting these enticing information … for sure David will follow up!
 

Ian Bungy

Ol'Timer
Sep 19, 2006
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www.chiangmai-xcentre.com
Very Impressive! And to do this Alone!

What an Experience! You are a Brave Man, Congratulations on Completing a Trip most People could only Dream about. Loved Your Photos such Mountainous Landscape.

I am guessing there will be a Number of People who Read this and be Inspired to do the Trip themselves!
 

Oddvar

Ol'Timer
Mar 18, 2013
442
260
63
Nice. And you got to se Mt Kawakarpo as well. Just cloudy when I was there.

And this is the easiest way to go there. Rent a bike in Kunming and once the temp chinese driver licence is obtained you can pretty much go where ever you want to go.

Bringing a bike from Thailand is an expensive experience. + you need a guide, hotels booked and paid for.

If you come as a group, you have to stay as a group and leave as a group. Lot's of hidden dangers in that.
 

Lode

Active Member
Aug 1, 2012
37
2
0
This is a map of the first part of the trip :

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First half of the tour, northbound

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Second half of the trip, southbound
 

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Lode

Active Member
Aug 1, 2012
37
2
0
I took the risk to do it without Chinese temp license but with international drivers license.

Only at the entrance of the Meili Snow mountain National Park (along the road to Deqin) I - and every other person who entered the NP - were asked for our papers at a checkpoint, probably because this route follows through to the Tibetan border. A man in uniform was clearly making some mother-in-law-like remarks in Mandarin and was shaking my motorbike papers in the air for a litttle while, but was soon calmed down by a friendly lady, also in uniform, sitting next to him, and I was allowed to continue my journey.
 

ntb

Ol'Timer
Aug 18, 2009
69
1
8
Can you tell us what the overall cost was for the trip; bike rental,accommodation,permits,airfare and etc.....

Just a ballpark figure if that's ok
 

Lode

Active Member
Aug 1, 2012
37
2
0
A (very) rough calculation :

Per day cost :
- rental motorbike 30usd (probably more for a newer model) - refundable deposit 1000usd (same)
- accommodation 25usd on average (room with aircon, clean, hot shower, towels)
- food 20usd or less
- gasoline 10usd or less
Total : 85usd per day

Other costs :
Visa cost china : depends on your nationality, where you get it, and service level. Rather expensive. I had it fully serviced in Europe by a travel agent and paid 200euro.

I did not arrange a temporary Chinese drivers license. Took the risk. Worked out ok.

Entrance fees for national parks/temples/other visits : for my tour total around 150usd. Mind that many of these are not cheap and often unavoidable (e.g. Tiger leaping gorge, and everything past Shangrila is considered Meili Shan NP...). They just collect at a road checkpoint.

I flew in from Hongkong to Kunming with lowcost carrier HKExpress.

Taxi to/from airport 15usd one way

And finally some really useful info : a large bottle of Tsingtao beer costs just 2,35usd.

You can not access facebook and loads of other websites in China, except if you use a VPN connection, which worked quite good on iPad. Wifi widely available.

I used the maps.me app, it has an offline map feature. You can download the China map for free. Fairly accurate.

Cheers
 

ntb

Ol'Timer
Aug 18, 2009
69
1
8
That sounds quite reasonable. Thanks for the info and trip report.