14 Day Yunnan Cycling Tour

Highlights:

  • This tour will take you to the classic can’t-miss sights of Yunnan province, such as the capital Kunming (known as the “spring city), Tiger Leaping Gorge (one of the deepest canyons in the world, as well as possibly the best trek in China), and the too-good-to-be-true town of Shangri-La, which served as the inspiration for countless myths and legends
  • Yunnan is known for its colorful and intriguing diversity of ethnic minority groups, and in the towns of Dali and Lijiang you’ll fully experience this, as these cities are a haven for minority groups, with the Naxi and Bai ethnic groups being especially prevalent
  • All major cycling and hiking equipment (including bikes) are provided for the trip.

Note:

Please make sure that you are in good physical condition for this excursion, as this trip entails some long and strenuous activity

(B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner)

Detailed itinerary:

Day 1 Arrive in Kunming

You will fly into Kunming, and upon arrival you’ll be met by your English-speaking travel guide. Kunming is the capital of southwest China's Yunnan province, a primarily agricultural province of 45 million. Kunming has a population of five million and is located in one of the world's most geographically, ethnically, biologically and linguistically diverse regions. Situated at 1,900 meters (6,233ft) above sea level and 25° north of the Equator it has a rather unique and pleasant climate for a Chinese city. Kunming is also well known as the Spring City because of its nice climate all year round, and this will make the golfing even more enjoyable.

In the afternoon we will take a stroll along Green Lake. Green Lake (Cuihu) is Kunming's answer to Central Park in New York. Lined with willows, the lake is gorgeous, crisscrossed by small arched bridges in imitation of Hangzhou's more famous West Lake. The best season is winter, when days are warm and sunny and the large flocks of "Laughing Gulls" with their cackling cries as they arrive from their breeding grounds in Siberia. The gulls enjoy the legendary "eternal spring" weather in Kunming. We’ll also walk around the campus of Yunnan University, the regions best university.

Day 2 Kunming-Dali

In the morning we will take a short flight to the ancient city of Dali. The Dali Ancient City is widely acknowledged as "Backpackers' Paradise" in China. Foreign visitors like to stay in Dali ancient city. Some of them live there for months or even years, to observe and study the fascinating culture of Bai nationality. In the so - called " Yangren Street (foreigner's street) " in the heart of ancient city where is always full of foreign visitors, there are several dozens of cafes, western style restaurants, and clothes shops offering services to foreign guests. And it seems that every one of local Dali Bai people in the Yangren Street is a multi linguist.

Once we’ll take a stroll through time in the Dali ancient town. The ancient city of Dali is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations. When visiting the area you can see temples and architecture 1000 years old, buy beautiful souvenirs and objects of art, and learn about the history of the area and of the native peoples. The local customs and architecture is distinctive. A stroll through the ancient city with its stone paved streets, traditional style houses, and numerous gardens is an interesting excursion. You’ll also get the chance to walk down Foreigner Street, which contains Western-style restaurants and bars and English-speaking business owners.

Afterwards, we will take a trek into the nearby mountain of Cangshan. You will be amply rewarded by 5 beautiful highlights of Cangshan Mountain - clouds, snow, moon, peaks and streams. There are 18 famous steams on Cangshan Mountain that dash over waterfalls and rapids, and there are numerous ponds. On the western side of the mountain, there is a river called the Black Hui River. The high mountains produce a show of interesting clouds. The local people even have names for specific kinds of clouds that appear at various seasons, such as “jade belt clouds” and “husband expecting cloud.” We will spend the night at the Higerland Hostel, which will afford you a sweeping view of Dali.

Day 3 Dali

We will get up early to see the sunrise come over Dali ancient town. We’ll do some more trekking on Cangshan, and in the afternoon we’ll cycle around Erhai Lake. The whole lake area is full of interesting and beautiful sites. Lining its banks in the valley are fishing villages, Bai farming villages, ancient temples, historic towns and the ancient city of Dali. You can watch the people live their daily lives in a traditional way. That is an interesting backdrop for the scenery. The local people feel that this big lake with its clear water and its reflections of land and sky as well as the entire region are unusually beautiful, and is another highlight of a visit to Yunnan Province. For the night we will stay at the Sky Sea Lodge.

Day 4 Dali-Jizushan

Today will be a tough day of cycling. In the morning, we will continue cycling around Erhai Lake (15km), and then we’ll depart for the mountainous pass to Jizushan (70km). The mountain used to have many Taoist and Buddhist temples, but many were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It is one of China’s famous Buddhist and Taoist mountains. The area isn’t touristy, but Buddhists come here to worship. And the high peaks have paths that are strenuous to climb, but you’ll find some solitude. For the night we will stay at the Farmer’s Guesthouse in the Jizushan Mountain Town.

Day 5 Jizushan-Dali

Today we will be doing a trek through Jizushan Mountain, visiting many of the famed temples along the way. Our hike will last about 8 hours. There are many temples and structures, but most sites are not well preserved. Since the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), scores of temples have been built on the mountain and repaired many times. The principle preserved buildings on the mountain include Lingshanyihui, Zhusheng Temple, Lengyan Pagoda, Jinding Temple, Copper Buddha Hall, Jiaye Hall, Huideng Nunnery and Taizi Pavilion.

On the tallest peak is a monastery that includes the ancient Jinding Temple and Lengyan Pagoda. The square-shaped pagoda was built after the Tang Dynasty, but it looks similar in style to the Tang Dynasty pagoda in the ancient city of Dali. But this was built at the top of a very high and steep peak. Imagine the work that went into its construction a thousand years ago! The attached Jinding hall has statues where Buddhists go to worship. The original Jinding Temple was moved from Kunming to this mountain in 1637. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way and thousands of stars. If you stay in the accommodations nearby, you can see the sunrise.

Hundreds of years ago, a Chinese traveler in the Ming Dynasty period named Xu Xiake (1586-1641) said: "On the top of Tianzhu Peak, people can admire the sun-rise in the east, a sea of auspicious clouds in the south, Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake in the west, and Yulong Snow Mountain in the north.”

In the afternoon, our van will take us back to the Sky Sea Lodge.

Day 6 Dali-Lijiang

Today we’ll be driving to Dali, with our bikes in tow. When we arrive in the afternoon we’ll first visit the Three Pagodas, one of Dali’s signature landmarks. The Three Pagodas of Dali are famous in China for their size, beauty, and antiquity, and for their preservation. The central one is more than 1,100 years old and is one of the tallest pagodas ever built in China. These pagodas are situated between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, about 1.5 kilometers (.9 of a mile) northwest from the ancient city of Dali. The Three Pagodas are cream-colored, delicate-looking pagodas. They are situated in the shape of a triangle. The tallest and oldest of the three was built during the reign of a king of the Nanzhao Kingdom about 1,150 years ago. The other two were built about 100 years later, probably by the Kingdom of Dali. They are made of brick. They stand at the foot of one of the high peaks of nearby Cangshan Mountain named Yinglo Peak. The tallest pagoda is one of China's best preserved buildings from the time of the Tang Dynasty, and the smaller two pagodas differ in style.

Then we’ll take a stroll through time in the Dali ancient town. The ancient city of Dali is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations. When visiting the area you can see temples and architecture 1000 years old, buy beautiful souvenirs and objects of art, and learn about the history of the area and of the native peoples. The local customs and architecture is distinctive. A stroll through the ancient city with its stone paved streets, traditional style houses, and numerous gardens is an interesting excursion.

You’ll also get the chance to walk down Foreigner Street, which contains Western-style restaurants and bars and English-speaking business owners. The street is popular with both foreigners and Chinese, and is known as a backpackers’ haven.

Day 7 Lijiang

After breakfast, we will cycle out of town to Baisha Village. Baisha village is one of the oldest towns in Lijiang. It is the earliest settlement of the Naxi people and is the birthplace of "Tusi", chief of the Mu clan. In the town there are many ancient buildings built during the Ming Dynasty, including Dabaoji Palace, Liuli Temple, and Wenchang Palace. The well-known Baisha Frescoes are located in Dabaoji Palace. Because of the white sand on the ground, the town was named "Baisha", which means "white sand". In the Naxi language, it is called "bengshi". The architectural complex is made up of two parts, folk residence and cultural sites. The folk residence is called "pengshizhi" which in the local language means "Baisha Streets". The streets all go from south to north. In the center of the old town there is a square where three thoroughfares intersect. Houses and small stores stand on the both sides of these streets. A crystal clear stream winds around all the houses flowing through the small town from north to south.

The center of town features a beautiful rendering of frescoes religious frescoes. The 44 pieces of Baisha frescos were drawn in the early Ming Dynasty. Most of the paintings are about religious stories of Taoism, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. The murals embody the artistic characteristics of the Naxi, Tibetan, Han and Bai ethnic groups. Among them the paintings about Kwan-yin and Sakyamuni are the most famous ones. Now Baisha Frescos, also known as Lijing Frescos have become precious data for the study of China's history of arts and religions.

We’ll then continue our ride to Shuhe, a charming town to visit for all travelers, because there is a traditional Naxi village where you can enjoy Naxi drinking and food at the bank, which is made up of the river and farmland. After lunch and a short rest, well continue riding on the country road to get a feel for rural life. We will arrive back in Dali at a bout 5, and for the rest of the evening we’ll further explore the old town. Today’s total amount of cycling will add up to about 60km.

Day 8 Lijiang-Lashi Lake-Lijiang

Today we will be cycling out to Lashi Lake and the Zhiyun Temple. Lashi Lake is the first wetland nature reserve in Yunnan, and is also a paradise for birds. There are about 57 bird species at Lashi Lake Wetland, and every year, about 30,000 birds migrate there to escape winter cold. There are 9 rare species have been found there, including black-neck cranes and black cranes.

We’ll then cycle through some minority villages (of the Yi and Maxi ethnic group), before riding to the Zhiyun Temple, which is situated in the mountains, making for tough cycling. Zhiyun Temple is one of the five famous temples in Lijiang. It was built in 1727 during the Qing Dynasty. The grand hall can seat hundreds of Lamas, and the architecture is rather special: it has the most number of pillars among the temples in Lijiang. The hall is about 13 meters high, and the doors and windows are all carved with exquisite workmanship with three layers. Peaches grown in the temple are well-known for the big size and sweet taste.

We will then return to Lijiang for the evening.

Day 9-10 Trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge (25km of hiking)

For the next two days we ware going to be making our way through Tiger Leaping Gorge. Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest gorges, and is tucked in between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Mountain. At a length of 17km, Tiger Leaping Gorge is the birthplace of the ancient Lijiang culture, whose people lived in the many caves, big and small, in the side of Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). These caves were naturally formed houses. In some caves, rock paintings and artifacts shedding light on the life of these primitive peoples were found. The rock paintings have now become another attraction of Tiger Leaping Gorge. The gorge is regarded as one of the top ten hiking trails in China.

Day 11 Tiger Leaping Gorge-Shangri-La

After a rest in the morning, we will cycle (25km) from the middle of Tiger Leaping Gorge to the town of Qiao Tou, where our van will meet us to take us to the town of Shangri-La. The name Shangri-la was made famous by the English author James Hilton in his legendary novel "Lost Horizon" where he described a fictitious paradise. However, there is a real Shangri-la in China's southwest Yunnan Province. It is a beautiful land characterized by snow-capped mountains, vast grasslands, idyllic lakes and religious culture. It is a "Utopia" free from stress, pollution and turmoil that plagues most of the cities where we live.

Shangri-La, at the far north of Yunan province bordering Sichuan and Tibet province was a crucial staging point on the ancient Tea-horse Road. The region first became a trade town during the Qing Dynasty and gradually rose as one prosperous business center on the Tibet-Yunnan trading passage. Caravans from South Asia carried horses, carpets, herbs etc through Lhasa, Tibet to Shangri-la to exchange tea and other local products to return.

In the afternoon we’ll take a tour of the Old Town of Shangri-la (known as the Jiantang Old Town), which contain bazaars and markets. The Jiantang Old Town contains hefty Tibetan wooden buildings (some old, and many that look rather older than they are), and several temples built onto a hill in the centre of town. Next we’ll go over to Guishan Park, a lovely preserve with a temple one top that gives you a sweeping panoramic view of the entire city.

Day 12 Shangri-La

In the morning we will cycle to the Songznalin Monastery, the biggest Tibetan Lamasery in Yunnan. Songzanlin Monastery, also known as Guihua Monastery, is one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region. The monastery is located at the foot of Foping Mountain.

Construction of the monastery began in 1679 and was completed two years later. The monastery seems like a group of ancient castles and is composed of two lamaseries, Zhacang and Jikang. The gilded copper roof endows the monastery with strong Tibetan features and the 108 (an auspicious number in Buddhism) columns downstairs also feature the monastery with characteristics of Han nationality. The main halls in the monastery are magnificent, and on both the left and the right sides are wonderful frescos, depicting Buddhist tales and legends. The inside-halls are exquisite with cloisters running through. The cloisters are all decorated with beautiful sculptures and consummate frescos.

Then we’ll depart for Napa Lake, right outside Shangri-La. Several rivers flow into the lake, including the Naizi and Naqu Rivers. The lake is seasonal in that it is dry in the fall and winter seasons, naturally becoming part of the Yila Prairie. During this time, you can see many sheep and cows grazing in the lakebed. After our visit to Napa Lake we will cycle back to Shangri-La for the night.

Day 13 Shangri-La

Without any cycling, today will be a day of relaxation at the Pucaduo Nature Reserve. China’s first national park, This park has an average altitude of 3,500 meters and retains a well-preserved ecosystem within the virgin forests. The must-see scenery in this park includes Lake Bita and Lake Shudu. “Bita” means “a place with a dense oak forest” in the Tibetan language and "Bitahai" means a quiet lake. The Bitahai Lake is surrounded by mountains covered with ancient pines, oaks and rhododendrons, and appears like an emerald in the heart of the mountain. Shudu Lake is located in northeast of Shangri-la and it is one of the largest fresh water lakes on the Diqing plateau. The lake is surrounded by a forest of fir, spruce and silver birch, and is home to lots of wild animals such as bears, golden cats, deer and pheasants.

Day 14 Shangri-La-Kunming-departure

In the morning you will take a short flight back to Kunming, and from Kunming you will fly on to your next destination, ending your trip with us.


        I & R Settler, Bern, Switzerland (translated into English):

We had a safe trip back to Switzerland and we would like to thank you once again for the perfect organization of our Yunnan trip. It was a fantastic trip and we took many impressions (and many photographs) back home. We would also like to express out thanks to our guide "Robert" who's competence and kindness contributed much to this amazing journey. We and my wife wish you all the best and success for the coming new year!