China trip part two

Feb 23, 2003
Spent a few days in Shangri-La. Somehow I thought it would be a cute and small city. It was actually pretty large. The actual name of the city is Zhongdian. But the city fathers felt there was similarities between the city and the city of Shangri-La made famous in the book Lost Horizons. So they renamed the city Shangri-La. Plus that name could not hurt tourism. ...Sort of a typical sprawling Chinese city. Here is a city view from the graveyard.

And a street view. Wide streets with lots of small shophouses selling everything you could imagine.

A graveyard right next to my guesthouse.

A cherry blossom tree in the graveyard.

Twilight view of a huge tower located next to old town. It slowly revolved and was quite striking at night when it was lit up.

Here a temple located on the outside of town. It was being freshly built.

Not to be a cynic, but......All this stuff was built in the town in the last few years. Even the area that looked pretty quaint and old , that was called amazingly enough old town, was all built in the last couple of years. It is all part of the plan to promote tourism in the area, with the Chinese government pouring in big money. Seems to be working as there were in fact a lot of tourists, both Chinese and foreign.

Had some time on my hands so pulled out the oil filter. Hmmm lots of metal.
Not a good sign. Am thinking of renaming it the metal catcher...

Saw this sign in the Portola Cafe in town. Had not heard this before.
Mark Twain truly was a genius for pithy comments.

Had waited two days in town for the office of TTB to open. When they finally did the answer for a permit for me was no. Shit !! Was comtemplating simply running the border. However the night before I was going to leave got some bad news from a fellow traveler. Turns out the week before some Tibetans who had American passports staged some sort of Free Tibet protest while in Tibet. So now there was a big clampdown in effect, with the travel permits being checked everywhere. So much for sneaking in...Ok, change of plans.

Time to head to Chengdu for some rest and recovery. From there onto the desert of the nortwestern corner. So here is a small lake just outside town.

Elevation of Shangri-La was about 3200 meters. From here the road just keeps heading up, following rivers up canyons many times.

Mystery junction, not shown on my pretty detailed map that is in Chinese.
Also could not match up the symbols, so had to wait until a car came by to ask directions.

Distant overseas cousins of "Brighty of the Grand Canyon". First ones that I have seen in China.

In this particular area the mountains were very dry like the high desert. Except here they were a LOT taller. Loved the contrast here between the mountains and the greenery of the river fed valleys.

Yeah baby !! Chinese twisty sign.

You can see here it was not kidding.

This style of house was everywhere. I had heard of rammed earth houses,
has just never seen one before. Makes perfect sense for cold weather as the walls were very thick.

Here is one being built. Think they form each row, pound it down, and wait before removing the form and putting a new row on top of the one before.

An enclave. The north facing was always blank, I think for solar heat purposes.

Village kids along the way. They were so excited to see pictures of themselves I thought they were going to pee in their pants.

My first big pass. That is meters by the way......:evil

Tibetan prayer flags were everywhere at each pass.

It was damn cold at the top, with a stiff breeze blowing. Here is some snow by the side of the road just below the pass. Brought back memories of Alaska for me.

View down to Xiengchan where I spent the night.

Temple along the way down.

Reach town early evening. Stayed in a great room in a completely empty new hotel for the price of 130 yuan. It was very surreal, as the whole town looked brand new, and had a bunch of villagers wandering around . Just do not understand the economics here. Think there is some sort of goverment program develop certain areas, regardless of ecomomic needs.
Mar 15, 2003
Looks like I got the "first comment". I didn't remember you being such a good photographer. Very envious, but also happy that you made it with all the preparation you have done. Too bad you couldn't get into Tibet but still quite and accomplishment.


Oct 6, 2006
Twain's full quotation on travel:
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime."

More of Twain on travel....

With such a detailed and inspiring travelogue, Robert's journeys should have been subsidized by some company. Well, maybe Zhong Shen is out; they might not like the reports on their bike's lack of reliability...



Mar 5, 2006
Some confusion as to Robert's whereabouts.
Considering that the above report was posted here on the 13th.
This report had originally been posted on ADVrider "china or bust" on 9th May.
DavidFL updated us on 11/5 that RH had managed to get in to Tibet.
Also confirmed by China-based CrazyCarl [ADVrider] on 12/5.
So whilst I understand why he has posted the above I am surprised he has not amended it to his current whereabouts since he must have had i/net access on the 13th - tho nothing from RH on ADVrider since.
I only hope that he has not been forced to retreat from the forbidden kingdom.
Maybe David has a status report or GPS reference point?


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Yeah well Robert did succeed in getting into Tibet.

30 mins ago got his latest SMS....

His 1st night was at Markham, 4,100 metres up 70 kms inside Tibet.
But he was hit with altitude sickness & had to return Liang? for some “tricky Chinese medicine,” then headed back towards Tibet when Zippy started to play up, rather severely.
Robert’s patience finally ran out & he decided it was a terminal case for Zippy this time round; so he’s sold the bike & currently sitting on a bus practicing jai yen-yen headed for Chendgu & his next adventure.
There is a further cruel humourous twist in this latest episode of RH's China ride, but I can’t bear to tell it & will leave it to Robert to delightfully reveal.

Regardless, "Wrong-way Robert"'s a real adventurer, right out there doing the biz, while us in Chiang Mai are safely stuck at home in the rain, huddled over our computer's cheering him on. Go Robert go.

I'll swap you a wonky arm for a ride on Zippy anyday....


Mar 5, 2006
"Wrong-way Robert"'s a real adventurer, right out there doing the biz, while us in Chiang Mai are safely stuck at home in the rain, huddled over our computer's cheering him on. Go Robert go."

Very true words.
Let's hope he has the energy to buy one of the better Chinese Enduro bikes and have another crack and this time make it to the Potala.
Tho I suspect some real R'n'R is due.
Oct 17, 2006
Read every word , looked at every picture, truelly enjoyed !!

( seems you were lucky with your bout of hight sickness. I had some most uncomfortable moments back in Peru, up from Lake Titikaka )
Feb 23, 2003
Up early the next day, and off towards Litang. I saw a fair amount of these pretty elaborate markers along the way. Maybe someone died there ??

Doing a long climb out to the top of this pass I notice that my rear wheel slipped out on me a couple of times. I then looked more closely at the road surface and realized that in the high altitude sun the tar had melted on the surface of the road. So it was sticky and slippery at the same time.

The road kept climbing higher and higher. Pretty soon the terrain is completely barren, and looks like the moon. As I cross the pass feeling sort of weak , and the bike is sputtering, I glance down at the GPS. Let's see,
4722 meters = 15,492 feet. Ok, that explains the weak feeling.....

The pass, along with the required prayer flags.

The road drops down just a bit, and then turns into a sort of plateau covered in large rocks. Have never seen anything that looked it before.

And who do I meet in the middle of nowhere, on top of a cold, high, deserted pass? Fellow lunatic bikers of course!! We both stopped immediately with big smiles on our faces. They did not speak a word of english, and I did not speak a word of Chinese . But we were both bikers......They were so excited to see me, and took endless pictures of me with each of them. Made me feel like a movie star .....

These Chinese guys are making me feel bigger than normal. No wonder everyone is staring at me all the time.....

A barren little town along the way. Looked like a pretty bleak place to live to me.

This entire mountain area was covered in prayer flags. It was a pretty impressive sight.

Now finally reach the town of Litang. It is a bit like a wild west frontier town, with the people there not looking Chinese in the slightest . It felt like a sort of interface between the Tibetans in the west, and the eastern Chinese.
The men all wore hats cocked at an angle. Funny as hell to see them blasting down the highway on their motorcycles with their hats on, and smoking a cigarette. The town is very high, about 4000 meters. Too high for crops, so the main business was cattle that would graze in the open fields. Hence the frontier town feel. I stopped here for lunch. I seemed to be a big hit in town, as everyone would stop right in my face and stare at me. By the time I finished lunch there was a huge crowd outside. Here they are seeing me off.

The view looking down at the town of Litang as I am headed west towards Chengdu. The town is set in a very large open plain area, where the grazing of the cattle is done.

The road east from Litang. It climbed up to a little over 4000 meters,
and just stayed there at a high elevation for a very long way. It was not up and over a pass, more like staying up at a very bleak plateau.

Finally drop down to the small town of Yajiang where I was going to spend the night. Just as I am pulling into town I run into a group of bikers. They were flying club flags, and turned out they were headed to Lhasa. They were impressed that I seemed to be a pretty serious biker, and invited me to go along with them to Lhasa. Yeah baby !!! When I asked about the permits required, they laughed and said no problem. Music to my ears. So the next morning we all head down the road I had just come down the day before, west towards Lhasa. Yippie !!
Without speaking Chinese, eating is more of a problem than you would think. When I try to sort of sign that about anything on a plate is fine, I think they are paralyzed with fear that they will serve the only foreigner they have ever seen the wrong thing. So sometimes they will shake their heads no when I come into a small cafe to eat. But now traveling with the Chinese guys, let the good times roll !!!!!
One fabulous meal after another. Here is a giant bowl of fish soup served at a highway cafe in the mountains.

The bottle on the left is some sort of mysterious energy drink they were all drinking to help them
with the high altitude. The bottle on the right is a glucose solution in a solid glass vial that makes it
look like a serious injectable drug. They drank both of them a lot.

Some of the company watching us eat. Had a feeling they lived nearby in the mountains, and came down to the restaurant for something to do. This girl really struck me as she had such a mournful
look on her face. She was 12 years old. Her cheeks were burned red from the high altitude sun and the constant cold wind. I had to really work hard to make her smile.

Some older girls that were outside.

And of course the big send off after lunch.

A group photo along the way.

Here one of the " Scooter Guys ". Two young guys on 125 CC scooters with tiny
street tires, that they were going to take all the way to Lhasa. These Chinese
riders are hard core to the max. A small dufflel bag, and a 4 gallon gas can strapped on.

Spent the night in Litang. Here is the giant breakfast bowl, with eggs and noodles. The night before had another great meal. There was
a bowl of meat that turned out to be yak meat. Was pretty good !!

Next morning is very cool and rainy. Suit up and away we go. This guy had a very well prepped Yamaha 250, the best bike in the group. Need waterproofing for the feet?
No problems, throw some plastic bags on your boots. Have to remember this trick.
Hey that snow is looking pretty close.....

Finally at the pass, we are in fact being snowed on. A stunning development for me, having spent the last 7 years in the tropics.I had on good gear plus the electric vest, so no problem. It was a wet snow, so the biggest issue was keeping dry.
Mar 5, 2007
This is by far the best post I've yet read on GT Riders. Absolutely amazing photos, all the more interesting as I was in Litang myself on May 25, 1998 having hitch-hiked part of the way as I couldn't get a bus ticket (off-limits area to tourists). Indeed it was days before I saw another Westerner, on the way down to Chengdu from Litang. I spent the night in Litang in a hotel with a broken window, howling wind and snow flurries. Unlike Robert I had little warm clothes. I was lying in bed, trying to stay warm when I heard disco-type music thumping not far away. Figuring it would be warmer there, I got up and followed the sounds. Sure enough there was a disco hall with all of 4 people there. A Tibetan female physically dragged me onto the floor (I'm only 5'-6") and I pretended to dance. Suddenly a song I recognized came on and I decided to really dance up a storm. Within 3 minutes I thought I was having a heart attack. My heart was trying to explode through my rib cage. It took about 3 minutes to settle down, and I was gasping for oxygen the entire time. That altitude is not to be treated lightly!

I've got a couple of prize photos from Litang, one of a cowboy smoking a cigarette, leaning on a pool table, stick in hand, knife at belt. Oozing more attitude than James Dean ever did. Another is a road crew of Tibetan females, building the road with picks and shovels only.

On both the bus ride up and down from Litang there was snow on the dirt highway and passengers were openly praying. In fact my bus slid off the road, thankfully on the mountain side, into a ditch. No one knew how to get the bus out of the ditch, and I finally applied my New England Yankee experience and convinced them to put a board under the tire (nearly bald, which further increased my anxiety) for traction.

I have dreamed of doing what Robert did ever since my own trip there. Thank you sir for providing me with the pleasure of reading about your trip!
Jun 13, 2010
Hi, first i wanned to tell you that your trip is amazing, i am actally in jinghong i bought a Kinro 150 and almost ready to leave how could you mannage to get the chinese driving licence and the immatriculation plate and how much did you pay??
Did you met a lot of policemen and had you manny problemes with them?? do you think i can go without plate number?
Do you have some other tips to give me i wanned to go until lanzhou from here??
Where are you actually, are you still in China?
I wish you everythink good.
Kind Regards Loik Emery from Switzerland