The tour is over and I, for one, can’t wait to do it again (next Kunming-Shangri-La BMW Tour dates: September 17-26, 2014 and June 3-12, 2015).
The last day’s ride from Shuanglang to Kunming was 95% over exactly the same route as our first day’s ride to Dali (Shuanglang and Dali being on opposite sides of Erhai Lake). Nearly the entire ride back into Kunming was on a proper four lane, center divided, restricted access toll highway.
Consequently very little happened in the way of sightseeing or adventure on this last day of this tour. And since we rode this exact same route at the beginning of the tour, none of the riders were much interested in taking photos despite it being a nice and clear day.
I am never bothered about riding the same road in reverse because it is a completely different riding experience with completely different curves and sight lines and you see many things you missed on your first riding direction. Plus the road to Kunming really is a terrific highway through scenic mountainous areas, and it is pleasurable to drone away on it on a fine BMW motorcycle. Plus the other vehicles on the highway behave somewhat normally and predictably, for China.
Motorcycles are not allowed on the Chinese highway system, so the riders had to sneak onto the highway around the outside of the support van when it blocked the view of the toll takers while paying its own toll.
Once the bikers were on the highway no official paid them any mind whatsoever because in reality it is a silly rule as the BMWs are far faster than 99% of the other vehicles on the highway and in no way impede the flow of traffic. This regulation is designed to keep all the little scooters and carts off of high-speed thoroughfares.
I will now wrap up this blog without any photos (as none were taken) but I will give you some general impressions about what it is like riding a motorcycle in Yunnan Province. I will also reflect upon the driving style of Chinese drivers who probably take the cake as the worst in the world.
First of all, you have to understand that China, the most populous nation on earth, is a nation of new drivers. Ten years ago hardly anyone owned a car or even knew how to drive one. Five years ago it was a trickle. Today it is a flood with every Chinese citizen wanting to own a car and hundreds of millions of them now in a well-enough financial position to afford to do so.
With all these new cars and drivers on the road, the government is undertaking a massive nationwide roadway infrastructure project linking China’s major cities (over 130 cities in China have a population exceeding one million). Many of the roads are brand new and, from an engineering perspective, perfectly designed, and in Yunnan, they cut through unbelievably fantastic scenic areas. Also many new roads are in the process of being built that will open up areas presently inaccessible or most difficult to get to, like the Salween River valley area in the far northwest of the province abutting Tibet. I am eagerly awaiting the completion of that new roadway.
Also, you must take into consideration that China is a country where nearly everyone is a single-child brought up in a one-child family environment. There is a documented psychological effect to being an only child, where both parents sole attention and resources are focused directly on their single little prince or princess. So, many Chinese, deep inside, have the mind set of being raised as the most important person on Earth! And when this mental outlook is applied to driving, no one else on the road matters and all the other drivers can go to hell. A Chinese driver does whatever the hell they feel, whenever they want to when they are behind the wheel, and little of what they do follows the generally-accepted safe and courteous driving habits as practiced in Western countries.
The following is a general description of what to expect when riding in Yunnan: (Please keep in mind that what I am writing about below are gross generalizations with countless exceptions experienced.)
Always be prepared for the vehicle in front of you to stop suddenly on a roadway for no apparent reason with no warning or signaling and without making any attempt to pull over to the side or off the roadway, even if there is plenty of room to do so.
No one in China seems to be in a rush until they are in control of a motorized vehicle. So they are loathe to slow down or give way or show courtesy.
You can expect to encounter the occasional horrendous gridlock when riding through a small town or village. This also happens on side streets in the cities where space is tight and no one can or will move over to give another vehicle room to pass. Once gridlock occurs the drivers fill up both lanes in their impatience making extracting yourself from this quagmire a nightmare. All of this could be easily avoided if everyone practiced the tiniest bit of patience or courtesy.
A lot of this gridlock is the result of a driver just stopping their car any old place on the roadway to run an errand or do some shopping. Even if a parking spot is available, most times they driver will not use it because they know no other driver will allow them to pull out of their parking spot when they are finished and ready to leave.
The buses on rural roads drive like maniacs, drive smack in the middle of narrow mountain roads, do not like to get passed and will not cooperate by pulling over to the side just a tiny bit to allow someone else to pass them. Then when they enter a village to take on or discharge passengers, they do so in the middle of the roadway as well, blocking everyone behind them.
Chinese driving instructors must be the bravest people in the country. They take student drivers on treacherous mountain roads that are a challenge even for our motorcyclists, and the students don’t have a clue as to how to drive in the mountains plus they drive their vehicle in a terrified state of mind.
You have to always be on the alert for pedestrians; often they do not look either way before crossing a street or roadway. They just cross, and cross the thoroughfare slowly as well. Pedestrians also like to congregate on the roadway and not on the sidewalks.
Everyone is blowing their horns out of habit even if there is no one to toot at, so blowing your own horn when it is needed is often lost in the cacophony and rarely breaks into another driver’s consciousness.
Small motorcycles and scooters will charge into an intersection without slowing down using both directional lanes forcing everyone else to take evasive actions to avoid them. Often there are four or more small motorcycles and scooters doing this simultaneously from all four direction at once in an intersection.
When another vehicle is merging onto your roadway or onto a highway, you are never quite sure which lane they will choose to start driving in. They could drift all the way over into the passing/outside lane, exactly where you are trying to avoid merging road users.
Also slow drivers like to ride in the passing lane. They do not understand the concept behind the passing/outside lane.
When someone is parked they will pull out of their parking spot without looking to see if anyone is coming up behind them. They just pull out forcing you to slow way down or even stop as they begin to block your lane.
There are lots of broken down vehicles everywhere due to the general poor quality of Chinese-manufactured vehicles. Also many are in a decrepit condition, and many lorries break down from being tremendously overloaded with cargo.
This tour is not for 1st-time riders in Asia. You must be experienced with Asian driving practices before you even consider riding a motorcycle in Yunnan.
And even though our Yunnan tours are billed as sealed-road tours, I estimate around 3% of the road sections are virtually off road conditions due to road repair, road construction, and frequent landslide and rock fall sections. A participant must have some bad road and unsealed road riding experience before signing up.
ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES best warm-up ride to become familiar with the Asian style of driving is our Golden Triangle Tour. After completing one of our GT tours you will be ready to ride anywhere else in Asia.
Thank you all for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed it.
And remember: it’s a mighty short trip from the cradle to the crypt so you better get it in while you can.
Don’t postpone joy! Go on a motorcycle ride today.