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China - Yunnan

Cycling From Shangri La

From the Tibetan town of Shangri-La, across a 3700-metre pass, through one of the world's deepest gorges to an unspoilt town from the ancient tea trading route. Onwards across a mountain range leading to one of China's biggest freshwater lakes. And hence to the capital of the Bai minority people, Dali Old Town. This cycling epic offers more of China in two weeks of pedalling that many people would ever imagine existing. Featuring epic landscapes and a real sense of adventure this tour has become, quite rightly, our most popular.

At a Glance

Total Days: 12

Cycling Days: 9

Difficulty: 7/10

Daily Average: 71km

Off-Road: 5%

Max. Alt.: 3600m


One of his favourite regions of the world, David explored Yunnan Province by bicycle many times before creating this tour. Amazingly, despite China's huge economic growth much of the route remains little changed since his first ride there in 2005, still with quiet roads and breathtaking scenery. Adventurous, challenging, and breathtakingly beautiful, our Yunnan tour quickly established itself as our most popular cycling holiday.


While this is my first overseas tour, the next will have to be truly special to beat this one. Aside from the spectacular scenery, and stunning downhill riding, and engagement in the local culture, the most memorable part of the tour was to experience the genuine friendship and camaraderie that the group displayed on so many occasions.  I was humbled by the assistance that everyone gave me after my fall, and the award ceremonies after each day’s riding was a real treat. Our tour guide David Walker, truly has a special gift of being able to bring people together, sometimes in challenging circumstances, and leaving them with some long lasting memories of an exceptional holiday experience. I will definitely be coming back if Painted Roads will have me.  

David Dowling on China - Yunnan



Himalayan foothills, Shangri-la (Zhongdian), Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shaxi, Er Hai Lake and Dali Old Town. Please Note: Early in 2014 Shangri-la was ravaged by fire. Many of the old wooden buildings were destroyed, some, fortunately, were not. Reconstruction soon began and for the next few years, we can expect the face of the old town to be constantly changing.


Our tour begins in Shangri-La at an altitude of 3300 metres above sea level. At this altitude, each breath takes in approximately 32% less oxygen than at sea level. This will initially leave most people feeling short of breath when exercising. Over a period of a few days at this altitude, the body will adapt and all will be well. Some people may find cycling on Day 2 is too much for them at this altitude, in which case please be prepared for a day off the bike to rest and acclimatise further - Day 2 is an optional ride for those feeling up to it.

If you have the time to spend a few more days in China it may be wise to arrive early in order to rest and acclimatise to the altitude. Please contact us if you require more information.

By Day 3 we will overnight at an altitude of 2500 metres and all possibility of altitude problems will be behind us for the remainder of the tour.


Having just completed the Yunnan, China Tour as my second cycling adventure with Painted Roads I can say that the experience was both challenging and rewarding. I was not an experienced cyclist when I embarked on this adventure but with encouragement and support from your team I believe I have stepped up a notch in my ability, and more importantly in my self-belief of what I can achieve.  Giving up 2km from the top of a 22km climb may have been an option, but as I was reminded, I had done the hard yards and there were “only 2km to the top,” so up I went.  

Jan - Bribie Island, QLD on China - Yunnan


Joining instructions

The tour officially begins in Shangri-La, a Tibetan town in the far north of Yunnan Province. The obvious gateways to Shangri-La are Yunnan’s capital city, Kunming or Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.

Please keep in mind when looking at flights that Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are a long way east of Yunnan Province and Southeast Asian travel hubs such as Bangkok could prove more convenient for people travelling from Europe.

Airlines worth considering for this tour include:

Kunming - Thai Airways Via Bangkok. Emirates.

Chengdu - British Airways direct from London Heathrow - please check BA's website for their luggage policy which allows an increase in allowed check-in baggage weight for a reasonable fee. Also Premium Economy Class has a very generous check-in luggage allowance.

Internal flights from Chengdu and Kunming to Shangri-la’s Diqing Airport are generally operated by China Eastern and can be booked via Ctrip.


The experience that David has with cycling tours truly exhibits with his leadership and organisational skills. Everything from accommodation, navigation, food and refreshments is well catered for.  His knowledge of the road/track travelled is inspiring.  His team of Echo, Cathy (accommodation, food, guide and mental support) and Lee mechanic/driver, really know their environment.  Yunnan  has it all, hills, mountains and cobbles. So many tours where to next?  Thanks again for a fantastic journey.

Deb, Bribie Island Australia. on China - Yunnan


Included in this tour

All accommodation, local guide and Western tour leader, support vehicle (1 or 2 depending on group size), meals on cycling days, snacks during cycling days, drinking water whilst cycling, entrance permit to Tiger Leaping Gorge.



This tour takes place at altitudes entirely above 2000m with climbs to 3600m. It does mean that this tour is harder than many of our other holidays. The effects of altitude will be mitigated by planning to arrive a few days earlier to acclimatise, and while we have made accommodation for acclimatisation to the altitude in the itinerary, and we have a support vehicle, to get the best from this tour we do recommend that you should be reasonably fit. If in doubt do consult your doctor or GP prior to travel.


This was my first bike tour, even though there were some challenging ascents along the way, it was thoroughly enjoyable, the memories of this trip will stay with me for a long time. The group was professionally led by David and Jos, forever close at hand, and with the backup team everything ran ever so smoothly, in a word “faultless”. Thank you David and Echo for the most memorable trip and hope to see you again in the very near future.

Nick Fielden on China - Yunnan



With altitudes varying between two thousand and three thousand seven hundred meters, a wide range of temperature and weather can be expected. It is advisable to bring clothes that will cover temperatures from zero to 30 degrees as well as wet weather gear. May is theoretically a little colder and drier, August warmer and wetter, both seasons though can expect sunshine, rain, blue sky, and cloud.


Bicycle advice

If you are bringing your own bicycle for this tour then most kinds of bicycle, except lightweight racing bikes, are suitable: touring bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, gravel and cyclocross bikes are all fine. There are many long climbs so please consider your gear ratios carefully. The majority of roads we ride upon are well surfaced smooth asphalt, however, there are sections of cobblestone and smooth hard-packed dirt. One section of such surface is 20KMS in length. In case of heavy rain, the dirt sections may, of course, become muddy. There are also some stretches of potholed road with loose gravel in places where extra caution must be exercised.  As with anywhere, conditions may vary. Tyres from 28C in width upwards will be fine.

This tour is all above 2000 metres where the air is dry and can be warm so the ability to carry one or preferably two water bottles is essential (either on your bike or in a backpack). Our back-up vehicle carries tools but please bring any specialised parts your bicycle may need - including a small selection of spare spokes, spare brake pads, spare tubes and a spare tyre etc. A means of carrying your camera, sunblock, jacket etc is also useful – either an on-bike bag – handlebar or saddlebag for example or a lightweight day-pack.


Rental Bicycles

If you do not wish to bring your own bicycle we have our own fleet of good quality hardtail mountain bikes for rent. Please contact us for further details and rental price.

Recommendation: Although our hire bikes come equipped with a saddle if you have a saddle you use and are happy with it is strongly recommended that you use it on tour. If you use SPD type shoes please bring your own matching pedals. We are happy to fit these for you. You may also like to bring bar ends if you use them. Please bring your own bicycle water bottles or hydration pack.

Single supplement.

The tour price quoted on the website is for a twin room share basis. Single room occupancy can be arranged, the supplement price for this tour is as per the website.


Print Itinerary


(meals key: B = breakfast; L = lunch; D = dinner)

DAY 1: Arrival in Shangri-la

In 1997 Chinese experts apparently established beyond all doubt that the fabled Shangri-la of James Hilton’s book Lost Horizons, and Zhongdian in the north of Yunan Province, are, without doubt, one and the same. Zhongdian was officially renamed Shangri-la and was placed firmly upon the map.

Nestling in a wide valley 3200 metres above sea level Shangri-la with its cobbled alleys winding through Tibetan architecture is a wonderful little town for our group to come together.

You will be met at the local airport and transferred to our joining hotel. In the evening we will all come together for a briefing and then head out for our first meal together.

Cycling. 0KMS

Meals. B

Day 2: Shangri-la

This morning the group can come together and either build up our own bicycles or fit saddles and accessories and become acquainted with our rental bikes. For those who are feeling up to a ride at this altitude today's ride is short optional loop ride around the lovely lake of Napa Hai north of the town.

Those feeling the oxygen depletion of altitude may prefer to relax in our hotel’s café today or take a gentle stroll through the lovely cobbled streets of Shangri-La.

Cycling: Optional loop ride +/- 40KMS

Meals: B

Day 3 Shangri-la to Baishuaitai

Our Yunnan adventure begins in earnest after breakfast with the only scheduled transfer of the journey taking us to the top of the 3700-metre pass beyond Shangri-la. From here our ride begins with a 14-kilometre descent on a well sealed and virtually traffic free road.  The day’s next three passes become progressively lower, first at 3500M and then two smaller passes of around 2900M each. The views are of valleys and hills, of rivers and farms and herds and flocks; of Tibetans and other warm and welcoming minority people. There are mountains, big mountains. Some are desolate baron peaks, some are snow-capped, and one - Kawa Karpo, is the perfect pyramid that led the Chinese authorities to concluded that Zhongdian is indeed the fabled Shangri-La from James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizon. The day finishes with a 20KM descent through the wonderful countryside to a village 1200 metres lower than where the ride began.

Cycling: 65KMS

Meals: BLDS

DAY 4: Baishuaitai to Tiger Leaping Gorge

Today's ride is simply breathtaking, a wonderful ride on a road so light of traffic it has been described as the worlds greatest bicycle path. Mountains high and rivers deep, pine forest and snow-capped peaks, and even a small desert. The longest climb of the day is around 11KMS, the longest single descent a stunning 23KMS, all on roads almost traffic of free with a fine sealed surface. The highest peak we ride past is well over 5000 metres and the deepest canyon is the famed Tiger Leaping Gorge where we finish the day in a dramatic setting enjoying tranquility, fresh air, and a well-deserved beer on the terrace of our lodge in truly stunning surroundings.

Cycling. 70KMS

Meals. BLDS

DAY 5: Tiger Leaping Gorge to Shigu

The drama of the high mountains and deep ravine continues this morning as we cycle through one of the worlds deepest gorges. Above us tower high cliffs, and below the green-blue waters of the Yangtze river flow.

Leaving the gorge the scene changes dramatically as we begin to head south. For seven kilometres we follow Hw214, in itself not too busy, but soon we cross the river and join the old road on the far bank of the river. This almost empty road undulates through terraces of barley and oilseed rape and through small rural communities giving us a taste of a different China. We continue cycling through rural isolation until we reach the fabled First Bend of the Yangtze River. Here we follow in the footsteps of both Kublai Khan and more recently the Red Army as we board a small flat bottomed boat to be ferried across the Yangtze. On the far bank of the river, we have a short ride to our night’s accommodation in the small town of Shigu, where the narrow streets wind through old houses that cling to the hillside, ideal for a little pre-dinner exploration.

Cycling. 65KMS

Meals. BLDS

DAY 6: Shigu to Shaxi

If you thought that yesterday was rural, wait until we get underway this morning. We leave Shigu via the back door where we soon begin an 18-kilometre climb along a narrow car-less road surfaced with ancient cobble stones. The gradient is gentle enough but the surface certainly adds an element of challenge as we ride through splendid rural isolation. Dropping down from the high point at 2550 metres we reach tarmac which we follow for the next forty kilometres through a wide valley. The final stretch of the day sees us back on rural roads as we rise and fall through beautiful pine and eucalyptus forests before a fantastic ten-kilometre descent into the idyllic valley in which nestles the wonderful ancient village of Shaxi, our home for the next two nights.

Cycling. 85KMS

Meals. BLDS

DAY 7: Shaxi. REST DAY

Shaxi is special, it gives us a glimpse into how China may have been today had more or the traditional architecture been preserved. For the energetic, there is the option to climb to the sacred Shibao Shan Buddhist caves or take your bike out to explore the countryside and other villages of the valley. An agreeable alternative is to spend the day wandering around the allies or sitting in the central square soaking up the atmosphere over a coffee or beer at one of the cafés housed in traditional buildings.

Cycling. 0KMS


DAY 8: Shaxi to Liantie

With less that fifty kilometres meandering along a rural valley today, we can have a late start and enjoy a last wander through the old alleys of Shaxi. The road to Liantie is quiet passing through farm land and villages following the Yangbi River and culminating in a climb to the town of Liante, a rural market town and our base for the night.

Cycling. 50KMS

Meals. BLDS

DAY 9: Liantie to Xiashankou

Today is devoted to crossing the Chang Shan mountain range.  We begin with a challenging 22-kilometre climb during which we gain over a thousand metres in altitude. We ride through pine, eucalyptus, and rhododendron to the pass at just over 3000 metres above sea level, by which time the mountains have taken on a feel of Scotland.

The descent into the valley beyond requires care as sections of this little travelled road are potholed and dusty. The views are quite stunning as the valley we are heading for drops of out of site beyond the valley through which we first must cross. Our destination for tonight is the hot spring resort of Xiashankou where we can soak away the aches of the days ride in a hot tub before dinner.

Cycling. 65KMS

Meals. BLD

DAY 10: Xiashankou to Jizu Shan

Leaving Xiashankou we soon move onto the small roads that run through fields of rice and barley as we pass through villages and scenes of peasants tending their crops. Upon reaching Er Hai lake - China’s 7th biggest fresh water body, we follow the new scenic road along the east bank to our lunch stop at the lake side town of Wase. The afternoon’s ride is along an all but deserted road that offers beautiful valley views as it takes us through woods and forests and across two passes on the way to our hotel at the small Bai town of Jizu Shan Zhen.

Cycling. 105KMS

Meals. BLDS

DAY 11: Jizu Shan to Dali

The final day of our journey takes on a combination of brand new roads and ancient lanes as we cross hills and vales heading on a more southerly route back to Er Hai Lake where we take a half hour cruise to the ancient capital of the Bai people, Dali Old Town. This old town with its preserved stone streets, traditional white houses and town centre streams is a fitting end to an unforgettable Chinese odyssey. Beers, tea, rice wine and a great meal in a traditional Bai courtyard restaurant are a fitting finale to a wonderful adventure.

Cycling. 75KMS

Meals. BLDS

DAY 12: Finish

The tour ends this morning in Dali. There are so many possibilities for further travel that we have left the end of the tour free for you to plan as best suits your desires and needs. Our agent in Dali is able to provide connecting flights for your journey home as well as onward flights, trains and buses across China and beyond. He can also offer advice and packages for further exploration of China, be it further travel in Yunnan,  a journey to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army or a visit to Beijing.

Cycling. 0KMS



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