The final frontier of motorcycle touring in Asia!
Shangri-La Yunnan China Motorcycle Tours – an Introduction
Looking for a motorcycle tour that’s completely different from everything else out there?
Well, look no further because here it is….
How about a ride to SHANGRI-LA?
A Shangri-La really does exist, way up north in Yunnan Province, China, not far from the Tibet border. And the name really does fit this place perfectly.
If China has always been a place you wanted to ride a motorcycle through, this is now possible because ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES is offering FIVE different China tours.
The 1st Shangri-La tour offering is a 23-day tour that starts and ends in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We ride through Laos, enter China, then head northwards onto the Himalayan plateau itself stopping just short of the Tibetan border. This tour covers 4,800 + kilometers of ever-changing terrain and roads.
Our 2nd Shangri-La tour is an 11-day tour for riders whose holiday time is limited. This tour starts and ends in Kunming, China, the capital city of Yunnan Province. Kunming has an international airport so flight connections to here are easy. A late-model BMW G650 GS will be your ride on this tour.
Both tours are luxury tours wherever possible with no amenities spared. How do you define a luxury tour? Well, there will be a support vehicle on your tour that will hold all your luggage so you can travel light and free on your bike and you will never need to lug your bags up to your room. If you are a pillion riders you can hop into the support vehicle if you are tired or when the weather turns bad. The support vehicle driver is a mechanic accompanied with a full set of tool. Sitting next to the mechanic will be a local tour guide who will explain all you do and see.
Most hotels on our Yunnan tours are 4 or 5-star as rated by the Chinese government lodging standards.
All hotels are selected for having a prime location in relation to the region we are visiting; walk out the hotel lobby and you are in the middle of just where you want to be.
In the smaller towns only more modest accommodations are available, but you can be assured we will stay in the best of the basics in these situations. This only happens a couple of nights per tour that we stay in really tiny villages and towns. But this is the real China, the China that is fast disappearing.
All hotels are chosen for secure parking and all should have a wifi network available.
NOTE: Many popular websites are blocked in China by the Great Firewall. Google, Facebook, the BBC, Gmail, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other popular sites will not be accessible once we enter China. So if you have to stay in touch with family, friends, and your business or job, this will pose a problem if you do not make alternative communication arrangements beforehand.
Our 3rd China trip – Chiang Mai, Thailand to Vladivostok, Russia – is a major 5-week expedition and only open to experienced long-distance tourers. It starts in Chiang Mai, rides completely through China from the south to the north, enters Mongolia and rides through it from the south to the north, then enters Russia and ends up in Vladivostok, a major port city on the Pacific Ocean. This tour covers over 9,000 kilometers. We run this tour once a year, the next one starts August 5, 2015.
NOTE: This tour is fully-booked. Don’t miss out on summer of 2016 tour. Space is limited. Send us an email to reserve your spot on this most extraordinary motorcycle expedition.
China ride #4 is from Chiang Mai to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Click on the link to read the details. NOTE: This is not a guided tour.
A.M.A’s 5th China Tour offering is a ride down the Silk Road from Xi’an to Kashgar. This tour is still in the planning stages so please send us an email if you want to be informed when more information is available.
Below starts a rather lengthy introduction to our Shangri-La and other China tours. If you want to skip the description and cut right to the day-to-day itineraries of each tour, click on any tour link above. Otherwise, please read on….
If there is a sexier-sounding destination than Shangri-La I never heard of it. But such a place really does exist, way up north in Yunnan Province, China, hard on the Tibet border.
Shangri-La was made famous in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Yes, this town was created in the mind of a novelist, but literary scholars seem to agree that Hilton based the town he called Shangri-La on a real place in Yunnan called Zhongdian by the Chinese and Gyalthang by the Tibetans. Those ever-resourceful Chinese, after becoming aware of this popular book and movie of the same name, officially changed the name of Zhongdian to Shangri-La and this is what has appeared on every map since then.
In the interim, Shangri-La has existed in splendid isolation for over eighty years.
For most of those eighty years travel was banned to this region and only recently have travel restrictions been lifted.
Today Shangri-La is isolated no more because of China’s rapidly expanding transportation infrastructure coupled with the phenomenal increase in the wealth of the Chinese citizens themselves, who, for the first time in their history have become ravenous tourists making up for lost time.
Whatever you want to call it, Shangri-La is one of those rare, unspoiled places on earth that has to be experienced in depth, and soon, before word gets out and its very nature is corrupted by the hordes sure to come. It is still a difficult place to get to, which makes it all the better for a motorcycle tour.
Before reaching Shangri-La, we ride up onto the southeastern rim of the Himalayan plateau itself and lodge at the base of the highest unclimbed mountain left in the world, Kawakarpo (6,740 meters / 22,113 feet). The reason why no one has ever summited and the reason why no one ever will is because it is now off-limits to climbers as it is one of the four holiest mountains of Tibetan culture and the dwelling place of one of their gods. In fact, in the past, every person who has attempted to climb Kawakarpo has died trying; it is not a good idea to go messing around with anyone’s Gods.
The people who reside in upper-northwestern Yunnan are predominately Tibetans who have become stranded inside the borders of China due to the convoluted politics of the region. Their culture, which these Tibetans hold so dear surrounded as they are by over a billion Han Chinese, is said to be even purer than that which their brethren practice who still live in Tibet. This tour is a chance to witness a way of life that is fast disappearing.
But this motorcycle tour is way more than just a ride up to Shangri-La. Much more is in store. And perhaps the most fantastic and exciting aspect of this tour are the roads themselves. Every day the riding is nothing short of phenomenal. Mind-blowing roads. Mind-blowing scenery. With hardly any traffic (except when we enter one of the cities along the route).
The greatness of these roads can be attributed to the terrain – the Himalayan foothills and the Himalayan Plateau itself. North Thailand and north Laos are mere pimples compared to the area that this tour covers.
The topography is the main reason why this region of China was so remote for so long.
As I traveled through Yunnan for the first time, I found myself pondering how, in the old days, it must have taken a Herculean effort just to travel a valley or two away because of the steepness and scale of the mountains.
Now Yunnan is crisscrossed by several modern, well-engineered, perfectly-maintained roads. And whenever a mountain was intervening in the road’s path, the Chinese just blasted a tunnel through the rock instead of climbing up and down its slopes in a never-ending series of switchbacks.
What took minutes to drive through on my bike had to take the caravan traders of yore a full day and a bucket of sweat to traverse.
On this tour we visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Stone Forest outside Kunming, the Three Parallel Rivers Protected area in northwestern Yunnan, and the ancient tea caravan city of Lijiang. In addition, at least a half-dozen other places we spend time in on this tour are worthy of future consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Before you even consider coming on one of our Shangri-La Tours, or any tour for that matter, you should first ask yourself exactly what do you expect to get out of a motorcycle tour?
Most people would say before anything else they want good riding and good roads.
After that you would probably want a good motorcycle to ride. And also good weather – not too hot, not too cold, and not too rainy.
Most people would also desire comfortable lodgings each night with delicious and interesting foods to dine on every day.
The majority of people would probably say they want to experience a place with a unique culture as well as a unique environment.
And finally everyone would wish for a safe place to do this all in, free of bandits, insurgencies, and crooked or over-eager police.
Well Yunnan offers all of this, in spades! So why not come to Asia? ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES has been touring through China since 1990 so you will be in experienced hands.
ASIAN MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES is both licensed and bonded with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and holds an inbound as well as an outbound tour license.
Our ground handlers in Laos and China and Mongolia are similarly licensed and bonded.
Two rest days are included in the 11-day tour. We spend one in Shangri-La and the 2nd on in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Lijiang.
Four rest days are built into the 23-Day tour. This will allow ample opportunity for everyone to explore several truly unique places at their leisure. Just be sure to bring a camera wherever you go, a good one, because anywhere you point it, a great photo is waiting.
And on our Chiang Mai to Vladivostok Expedition, we have seven rest days built in that we spend in the most interesting itinerary stops. But we also have kept several more days in reserve that we can spend when desired along the route.
Samples of GPS tracks from the roads on this tour are displayed in the header image above. Please be aware that these tracks do not show the elevation changes, which are formidable indeed. As you can see you must be an experienced motorcyclist to handle this type of riding.
And also be aware that these GPS tracks do not show any changes in elevation, which are formidable indeed!
This tour is only open to riders who are 100% comfortable and familiar with the driving habits of Asian motorists. Only you know if this sentence covers yourself. Please do not overestimate your ability.
To say the driving style of Asian drivers is undisciplined could be one of the biggest understatements in the world. When on a bike, you have to be ready for the most bizarre driving moves unfolding around you at all times or else you are going to get hurt. And the last thing we need on an expedition such as this is for someone to have an accident.
Luckily, for the majority of the tour the traffic is light and is not much of a factor.
If you are an adventurous eater, if you relish new flavors, exotic seasonings, unusual ingredients, and new ways of preparing things, than the food on this tour will definitely be a highlight. It certainly was for me and for many other participants.
On this tour we go out of our way to introduce you to the most renowned and unusual dishes each region has to offer.
But the food on this tour can be a problem for some so we warn you ahead of time. All we will eat three times a day (except when we are in the largest cities) is Chinese food in all its infinite varieties. No one will go hungry as there will always be a bowl of noodles, vegetables, rice, eggs, chicken, pork, and fish to eat.
If you need to identify beforehand what everything is that goes into your mouth, if you need to eat only fat-less meat or food without bones or shells, if the decor of a place, or the lack of it dampens your appetite, or if the appearance of a kitchen is of great importance to you, then you may not be satisfied with the table fare coming your way. If you have special dietary requirements (besides being a basic vegetarian) this may also may prove difficult to meet on this tour.
Our ground handlers, though, will go out of their way to order dishes that should appease even the pickiest of eaters.
An explanation about why China motorcycle tours are so expensive.
We offer five different motorcycle tours inside China of varying distances and durations.
Our Kunming – Shangri-La 11-Day BMW Tour starts and ends in Kunming. the capital city of Yunnan Province.
Our Chiang Mai – Shangri-La 23-Day Expedition starts and ends in Chiang Mai, Thailand. You can ride your own bike on this tour or rent one from us.
We are also offering a 5-Nation 40-Day motorcycle expedition that visits China, Vietnam (extensively), Cambodia, and Laos, starting and ending in Chiang Mai.
Our final guided tour, the Chiang Mai to Vladivostok, Russia Expedition starts in Chiang Mai, ends in Vladivostok, Russia, lasts five weeks and covers over 9,000 kms.
We have one more tour offering through China but this one is an unguided tour to the Mt. Everest Base Camp.
Click any link above to read about each tour’s itinerary and details.
Click to view a slide show of photos from our past China trips.
Click to view videos of our past China trips.