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Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian

The first time I was in Dali Lijiang and Zhongdian (now officially renamed Shangri-La) I realized why so many tourist keep coming there. The sceneries are spectacular but you find sceneries in many other places. The western food then was a good excuse to go there at the time (Dali, Lijiang). Nowadays everywhere in China you get western food. And believe me, many westerners can not live without their bacon and eggs for breakfast!

Entrance ticket for the Tibetan monastery a few kilometers out of the city center in Zhongdian

Entrance ticket for the Tibetan monastery a few kilometers out of the city
center of Zhongdian (Shangri-La)

Another reason was the "other" travelers. Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian were "travelers hangouts", meeting places, an escape from the rest of China. After weeks being in areas where people hardly spoke English it was good to have a chat.

The stupa just before entering ZhongdianBut the main attraction it had to me were the Chinese people themselves. Time seemed to have stand still here. Especially Lijiang and Zhongdian were still very rural. Things have changed, even names, Zhongdian is now officially renamed in Shangri-La.

I came back some years later by bicycle and found things changed. The roads were in better condition. There were more guesthouses.

Dali was under construction and as it seemed to me, not for the better. Lijiang "new city" now was indeed a massive city contrary to my first visit when the new city was just one street with new buildings.

What actually had not changed were the people. They seemed to continue with what they had been doing for so many years: live their life and accepting the increase of tourism for what it was. And it was fantastic!

So, what can you cycle these days in this area of Yunnan. And how much time will it cost you?

Time schedule

The here described area can be done as a separate journey in China. It will keep you busy for 3-4 weeks easily! Don't forget, Yunnan only is as big as for example France. It's ideal for a summer holiday but the long distance cyclist shouldn't feel isencouraged.

Kunming - Dali - Lijiang - Kunming

It's more difficult now to cycle from Kunming to Dali. The old road nr. 320 is after Anning no longer possible to cycle. It is transformer into a motorway. It is possible to get some small provincial roads to Lufeng, Lipingly and Chuxiong.


West China, the road to Zhongdian -  Shangri-La

From Chuxiong you can follow the 320 further to Xiaguan (new Dali) and Dali. You have to find the small road out of Anning.

Staying on the 320 will lead you to the toll gate and you have to go almost all the way back to Anning to find the right road.

The journey to Dali will take 5-6 days. Alternatively you can leave Kunming in the direction of Panzhihua and cycle from there directly to Lijiang, a very beautiful road.

A much easier and better option is to drop your bicycle on the bus and skip the road to Dali. You can take three ways:

  • bus/train to Dali
  • bus to Lijiang
  • train to Panzhihua
The road from Shangri-La to Tibet
The road from Yunnan to Tibet

As it goes in China, in general it's no problem to get your bicycle on the bus or train for a few extra yuen. If the bicycle has to be on top of the bus, make sure it's proper strapped. The new busses however carry your bike inside the bus in the luggage space.

Shaping market, north of Dali
Shaping Market, north of Dali

Although cycling in Yunnan is pleasant, there are things to consider using other transport.

  • Kunming-Dali is not the most interesting part
  • Skipping Kunming-Dali is saving time, so you can visit Zhongdian (Shangri-la)
  • Spend more time exploring the western areas of Yunnan (Baoshan) which are far more interesting then the roads around Kunming
A view on the Jade Dragon mountain near Lijiang

View on the Jade Dragon Mountain

An alternative road

The northern parts of Yunnan has options to do something very different. An interesting option is to cycle first to Wuding and Yongren, on the way to Panzhihua. In Yongren take the road to Dayao where there is a white pagoda to be visited. A bit further on, in Yao-An you find a nice temple. Disadvantage is that you come back on the "320" at Chuxiong and you still have to go a few days westwards.

The road to Zhongdian - Shangri-La
The road to Shangri-La (Zhongdian)

Xiangyun however is 2 days cycling on the 320 from here. Now you can take an alternative road north to Lijiang. This road follows partly a river and will pass by the beautiful Cheng lake. From here to Yong sheng is about 200 and then an additional 130 to Lijiang. This is a great alternative for using the busier road from Dali going north. Keep in mind, you will principally cycle up from 2000 meter altitude in Kunming to 3300 meter in Lijiang.


Shangri-La - Zhongdian

Unfortunately there's only one decent road going north to Zhongdian. From the junction at Baihanchang it's about 200 km on the 214. Some cyclist who do not want to cycle it twice choose to take the bus from either Dali or Lijiang and then cycle back.

I have heard there is now a second road available, which leads from the Tiger Leaping Gorge to Shangri-La. When I visited the Tiger Leaping Gorge this was only a "mule" path but the story goes you can cycle it now to Shangri-La. I have no first hand experience with this road.

Zhongdian or Shangri-La

There is an alternative road to Zhongdian. This old road is used as a horse trekking route to Zhongdian. As far as my knowledge goes, this mountain trail is yet not updated but you can without any problem as far as the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. After that point it's unclear if you can proceed on bike.

Although I have not traveled myself, I was told there is nowadays also a good road that connects Tiger Leaping Gorge with Shangri-La. Please email me if you know about this.

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

The spectacular trek in north Yunnan, 60 km away from Lijiang city.

local naxi lady on the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Map of Yunnan

Map of Yunnan
Map of Yunnan

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Lijiang is a long time travelers favorite. Even now the new modern Lijiang is build, it is the old town that keeps its charm.