Asian Motorcycle Adventures

Shangri-La China Motorcycle Tour 11-Days on a BMW

ITINERARY for the 11-Day Shangri-La China Motorcycle Tour on a BMW G650 GS starting and ending in Kunming, China.

 
Route map for Kunming to Shangri-La 11-Day motorcycle tour.
 
Next tour dates: 2017 March 23 to April 2; June 1 to June 11; Sept. 21 to Oct. 1.
 
Tour price, all inclusive: USD 5,695.
Pillion passengers: USD 1,695.
 

Most of this tour covers more or less the same routing north of Kunming as our 23-day tour. The main difference is that on this tour we make a 2-day side loop up to Lugu Lake on the Sichuan Province border.

Lugu Lake is considered by many to be the most beautiful spot in China.
 
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The afternoon before the start of the tour there is a participant’s meeting in Kunming and everyone is expected to attend. At this meeting we will explain all you need to know and be made aware of about your upcoming tour.
 

Since no one is immune to jet lag, if you are arriving from overseas, you should plan to arrive in Asia at least 2 or 3 days prior to tour departure – this tour is too intense not to be at your most alert. Kunming is a lovely city to recuperate in. Our hotel is 5-star and in the best location in the city. There will be plenty for you to do while you wait for the tour to begin.
 
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Day #1: 360 kms. 5:30 hours approximate riding time.
Kunming to Dali

 

Quick Synopsis: A long but the easiest ride of the tour. Gives you a chance to warm up to your BMW and get acclimated to the roadways and driving style of the Chinese motorists.

Switchbacks

Switchbacks


We ride from Yunnan’s capital and largest city to Yunnan’s oldest and most historic city, mostly on one of the terrific highways that are springing up all over China.
 

The Bai Kingdom and the Kingdom of Dali were both centered here between the 8th and 12th centuries. In the mid-1800’s there was a major Muslim rebellion that shook the entire region all the way down to Thailand. Repercussions of this conflict were felt way into the early 1900’s. More than a million people were killed in Yunnan Province alone.
 

This historic walled city is well preserved. We lodge in the Old Quarter tonight.
 

It is a short ride tomorrow and a late departure gives you ample time to wander around Dali’s streets and explore this atmospheric town.
 
To read an interesting article about Dali and Shuanglang from the New York Times, click here.

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Day #2: 127 kms. Approx. 3:30 riding time.
Dali to Shaxi

 

Synopsis: Ride to Shaxi, a highly endangered ancient caravan town.

Shaxi old town square.

Shaxi old town square.


The ride today curves around the northern tip of Erhai Lake, then continues northwest towards the Burma border to Shaxi, which seems to be everyone’s 2nd-favorite place on the tour after Shangri-La.
 

Time has seemingly passed Shaxi by. It is considered to be the most intact caravan town remaining on the Ancient Tea-Horse Road when they once numbered in the hundreds.
 

Shaxi’s Sideng Market Square has been placed by UNESCO on their World Monument Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Cultural Sites in the World. The best adjective to describe the square is “wow!”
 

You will have the opportunity to visit this special town before it is overrun with tourists, or worse, destroyed in the name of progress.
 

A gentle river runs past Shaxi and the surrounding farmlands are a pleasure to wander through.
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Day #3: 287 kms. Approx. 6:30 riding time.
Shaxi to Weixi

 

Synopsis: Long ride up the Yangtze River Basis to another town on the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, Weixi
 

It is probably beginning to sound monotonous, but another great day of riding is in store. Today though, instead of climbing up and down mountains, we instead follow the Yangtze River Watershed Basin northwards to Weixi through bucolic farming country.

Nice mountain riding.

Nice mountain riding.


The locals here are inextricably wedded to their lands, living in small farming communities in traditional homes, growing rice, corn, and other basic food crops exactly as their ancestors did for hundreds of generations. Another glimpse into a way of life who’s days are numbered.
 

The great pleasure on today’s ride comes from simply observing the people go through their daily, time honored routines as we putt-putt along on our motorcycles across a landscape as pretty as a painting. It’s hard to ride even a kilometer without jumping off your bike for a quick snapshot.
 

In the afternoon we enter our second UNESCO World Heritage region called the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas. Here, three of Asia’s great rivers, the Salween, the Mekong, and the Yangtze, come tumbling down from their headwaters deep inside the Himalayas. They run in parallel gorges eroded deep into the Earth’s mantle. Only thirty kilometers as the bird flies separate the three unbelievably massive gorges at their narrowest point. We spend the next few days riding into and out of and along each river gorge in sequence. Motorcycle riding just doesn’t get any better than this.
 

As we approach Weixi, we are right back on top of the Ancient Tea-Horse Road that we rode along earlier.
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Day #4: 222 kms. 6:00
Weixi to Diqen

 

Synopsis: Another great riding day to the base of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world in Diqen.
 

Our night’s destination is Diqen, hard on the Tibetan-Chinese border. Diqen sits at 3,400 meters and is surrounded by snow-capped, glaciated mountains. The scenery in this town, wherever one looks, is stunning.

Row of stupas in front of Mt. Kawakarpo.

Row of stupas in front of Mt. Kawakarpo.


North we ride up the raw Mekong River gorge through an otherworldly landscape of raging wild rivers, near vertical cliffs, and towering, snow topped peaks that soar to over 5000 meters. Just another ho-hum day in the saddle on the Shangri-La Motorcycle Tour as we climb onto the Himalayan plateau proper.
 

The base of Kawakarpo, the highest unclimbed mountain in the world at 6,740 meters, is in Diqen. Buddhists from all over Tibet pay homage to Kawakarpo to begin a 240 km. pilgrimage around its base. For some it takes months to complete, because step by step by step they completely prostrate themselves on the ground.
 

Diqen is the northernmost point on the tour and tomorrow we begin the long trek back to Thailand.
 

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Day #5: 186 kms. Approx. 4:45 riding time.
Diqen to Shangri-La

 

Synopsis: The ride to Shangri-La over the highest mountain pass on the tour.

Gandan Sumtseling Monastary

Gandan Sumtseling Monastary


Today we take aim for the place this tour is named after: Shangri-La. Does a sexier-sounding destination exist anywhere?
 

And just when you think the riding cannot possibly get any better, it does. The 5-hour ride to Shangri-La takes us through some of the most stunning scenery on this tour. We hit our highest elevation point on the tour; just shy of 4,300 meters.
 

In this part of China the majority of the people are ethnic Tibetans. They have kept their culture even purer and more traditional than their brethren who actually live in Tibet. Everything is different here: yaks graze in the high mountain pastures and wander along the roadside, houses are built in the traditional Tibetan style, and the cuisine is decidedly different. Yak steak with barley bread and Yak butter tea anyone?
 

A dozen different ethnic minorities wearing their traditional clothing can be seen on the streets of Shangri-La, sprinkled throughout with saffron-robed monks of the Mahayana Buddhist sect.

Ethnic minority ladies

Ethnic minority ladies


After 1,100 kilometers of sitting on a buzzing motorcycle it is time for a rest day, and Shangri-La is the place.
 

Half the rest day should be devoted to visiting Gandan Sumtseling Monastery. Then an afternoon walk through the old quarters will easily fill up the remainder of that day. At night there is always something going on in the Old Quarter’s town square lined with antique stores and shops of all kinds.
 

We found some great restaurants around town that we promise to share with everyone.
 

Day #6: Rest day in Shangri-La.

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Day #7: 265 kms. Approx. 6:45 riding time.
Shangri-La to Lijiang

 

Synopsis: The most spectacular road of them all – Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge


Today we ride the road that takes us through Tiger Leaping Gorge. Perhaps the most spectacular motorcycle road in all of Asia for sure, and we ride it for hours. This fantastic road follows a contour line along the third-deepest gorge in the world. The gorge is formed by the fierce and young Yangtze River slicing a path through towering snow-clad mountains.
 

Impossible not to jump off of your bike every few minutes to snap a few pics.
 

Lunch today is at a simple family-run guesthouse and farm that serves the freshest food you will ever eat.
 

Lijiang, our destination tonight, is the third and final UNESCO World Heritage Site we visit. It is the most popular tourist destination in China, surpassing even Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace. A real party atmosphere permeates Lijiang and it is a great place to meet and mix with the local population.
 

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Day #8: Extra day spent in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Lijiang.

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Day #9: 208 kms. Approx. 5:45 riding time.
Lijiang to Lugu Lake

 

Synopsis: A ride to the most gorgeous natural setting in Yunnan Province.

Lugu Lake

Lugu Lake


Lugu Lake is tucked away in a seldom-visited corner of Yunnan and the road in and the road out is perfect for motorcycle touring; hardly any traffic, spectacular scenery, old-fashioned villages and towns lining the way, plus this region is filled with several ethnic minority groups little touched by the outside world.
 

We sleep tonight in a local inn where civilization as we know it seems light years away.

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Day #10: 370 kms. Approx. 8:00 riding time.
Lugu Lake to Shuanglang

 

Synopsis: Ride to Erhai Lake and stay in the fashionable, artsy town of Shuanglang.
 

Most of today’s ride is between 1,800 and 2,400 meters as we climb deep into the Himalayan foothills. This is also our longest (kilometer-wise) ride of the tour, but all on new highway so we make good time even as it cuts across the mountainous terrain.
 

None of the highways we ride on this Shangri-La Tour are your boring, droning, straight-as-an-arrow superslabs. All will put a smile on your face no matter what type of motorcycle you are riding. Hardly any traffic to contend with.

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake


Shuanglang, our night’s destination, sits on the eastern shore of Erhai Lake. Not that long ago it was a sleepy fishing village. But with the booming of the Chinese tourism industry, it has transformed itself into something of an art and cultural center and is popular with the younger set of new, moneyed Chinese.
 

Shuanglang has developed their lakefront, turning it into a fashionable boardwalk lined with restaurants, bars, and music clubs – great for people watching. The backdrop across placid Erhai lake of the snow clad Cangshan Mountains with the evening sun setting behind them makes for a memorable vista.
 

To read an interesting article about Shuanglang and Dali from the New York Times, click here.
 

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Day #11: 365 kms. Approx. 5:45 riding time.
Shuanglang to Kunming

 

Synopsis: The finale of the tour; the ride back to Kunming where it all began.
 

Pinnacle karst at a bend in a river.

Pinnacle karst at a bend in a river.


We backtrack over the same highway we started the tour on. Too soon it is all over, even though we covered over nearly 2,400 kilometers of the best motorcycle riding in Asia, maybe even the world.
 

Big feast planned in Kunming for our last night together.
 
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Next tour dates: Next tour dates: 2017 March 23 to April 2; June 1 to June 11; Sept. 21 to Oct. 1.
 
Tour price, all inclusive: USD 5,695.
Pillion passengers: USD 1,695.
 
An explanation about why China motorcycle tours are so expensive.
 
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Route map for Kunming to Shangri-La 11-Day motorcycle tour.
 
Watch the videos from our Shangri-La tours.
 
Watch the slide shows from our Shangri-La motorcycle tours.
 
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