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Cycling in Yunnan

Yunnan China is a favorite for many cyclists in China. It is located (roughly) in south west China and borders Myanmar (Burma if you like) and Laos. The province is as big as France in Europe. Contrary to France, people travel in travel in a relative small area in the south west province of China. Most of the province is simply too remote for the time people have available. Cyclists do have more time.

Rural countryside of north Lijiang
Rural countryside of north Lijiang

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan and for many travelers their first view of Yunnan. At an altitude of almost 2000 meters it is advised to take some rest when arriving by plane. Kunming is most likely your starting and/or finishing point in Yunnan.

There are principally 6 areas to cycle:

I will give you of all 6 a short description:

Lijiang - Dali - Shangri-La (Zhongdian) and the road to Sichuan

Dali and Lijiang is the most visited area of Yunnan and many travelers see not much more then these two cities.

Both cities are blessed with a long history and a great cultural background. Some cyclist choose to fly (or take a bus) to Lijiang and cycle back to Kunming, thinking it's all the way down. In fact it is as hard to cycle either way.

Most cyclists take the Dali-Lijiang-Zhongdian route and fly or take a bus the other way. However, if you cycle to Dali and Lijiang, you may consider either following the road north to Zhongdian (now renamed in Shangri-La) and from there to Litang and Chengdu.

Womens day in Lijiang

This is a hard road with climbs to over 4000 meters altitude. Not recommend to do in winter as there are not many place to stay in between Zhongdian and Litang.

Alternatively you can cycle all the way Panzhihua and from there either back to Kunming or go north to Sichuan. The road from Lijiang to Panzhihua is very scenic and in good condition. From Panzhihua to Chengdu is a long way. The road in both directions is busy road. You might consider a train or bus from here.

Although I have not done it recently, I was told it is possible now to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge trekking and continue from here through the mountains to Shangri-La. As I did the trekking in 1997, I do not have the updated info, but there's a good story to tell!

Temple in Yunnan

The following pages deal with Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La (Zhongdian) and the road to Sichuan:

Two photos of my first trip to Lijiang, 1987 Two photos of my first trip to Lijiang, 1987
Two photos of my first trip to Lijiang, 1987

Xishuangbanna and the road to Laos

Xishuangbanna is the second most visited area in Yunnan. It takes about 10 days to cycle on the old National Road from Kunming to Jing Hong. Some parts of the road are in good condition, other areas are not. However, this should not set you back, it's a great road to cycle, especially now all the main traffic goes through the expressway.

More about the road to Xishuangbanna and all the towns in between.


Baoshan is an area in Yunnan that does not get the attention it deserves. I didn't like Baoshan as much as Tengchong, one of then oldest settlements in South West China is a nice old town close to the Burmese border.

There are over 80 steaming fountain hot streams and boiling fountains. Ten of them spout hot water of 90 C and upward.

It's a couple of days cycling from Dali and from Baoshan you can make a loop to Tengchong and Ruili at the Burmese border (you can't cross here unless you are in a booked tour).

Street in Tengchong
Street in Tengchong

Back in Baoshan you could cycle to Xishuangbanna, a road I have no experience with.

Tonghai - Jianshui and the road to Vietnam

Cyclist on the way to Guangxi or Vietnam should take the route through Tonghai and Jianshui as this road is scenic and especially Jianshui is certainly worth a visit with a beautiful old Confucius temple and a beautiful bridge just outside the city in the middle of the rice fields.

Somewhere in Yunnan
Somewhere in Yunnan

Shilin (Stone Forest) and the road to Guizhou

Stone ForestThe Stone Forest at Shilin is another of the most visited areas in Yunnan. The park is only a tiny piece of a huge area. If you ask me, there's really no need to visit the park.

You can stay in Shilin and hike out in any direction and get lost in the enormous fields with natural erected stones.

From Shilin, you can continue on the way to Guizhou.

Zhaotong and the road to Sichuan

North east Yunnan is seldom visited. It makes sense though. There's not a lot that will attract mainstream tourism. I cycled once from Sichuan, Yanjin to Junlian and then to Zhaotong. There are few reasons to travel this road. Near Junlian lies a Bamboo forest which is a good visit.

North Yunnan, close to Tibetan border

The north east of Yunnan is scenic though not spectacular. Most of the road is well maintained and you will be able to find quite easy accommodation.

Lijiang old town in 1987


A good map is essential for traveling around. The best maps, as usual are the Chinese produced maps. The Chinese provincial maps are in Chinese so you may want to use an English map too. I found the Chinese maps incredible accurate and in many occasions better than the western maps.

You can find them in the Xin Hua bookstores. And if you don't want to use the Chinese produced (and in Chinese) maps, check one of our maps.

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Yunnan Xishuangbanna

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Map of Yunnan

Map of Yunnan
Map of Yunnan

The road to Guizhou

Some of my best memories of China I keep on the journey from Kunming to Guizhou. Here is why:

The road from Kunming to Guizhou

Entrance Tickets in China

China has a reputation in handing out nice entrance tickets when you visit a site. I have scanned some of my collection. See for yourself

Entrance tickets

and more entrance tickets