We were told by an English speaking PSB officer in Kunming that there are no closed areas in Yunnan.
South of Kunming and Dali you should take a mosquito net and consider other anti-malarial precautions. The locals don't seem to believe in malaria, even in the far south, but they take it seriously just across the border in Laos. Insect repellent is hard to find in China, however mosquito coils and insecticide are readily available in the places where they are needed. Sun cream is hard to find in most parts of China but it is fairly widely available in Yunnan although not usually of good quality.
See the penultimate paragraph of "Cycling in Sichuan" for information on the road from Derong (Sichuan) to highway 214 and thence to Zhongdian.
From Zhongdian highway 214 is roughly flat for 50km and then crosses a 3300m pass and begins to descend towards Qiaotou (Tiger Leaping Gorge) and Lijiang. Tiger Leaping Gorge is at about 2000m. The road into the gorge is good and the tour buses all stop after 13km so it is quiet after that. About 30km from Qiaotou there are two ferries across the Yangtze that link with a road to Lijiang, I believe that the more eastern ferry (old ferry) has quite a reasonable approach track, but we were misinformed and so pedalled back to the highway. See here for more Lijiang and ferry info. There is also a road north to Zhongdian that our friends rode, see www.geocities.com/aliingi/, a long section was unmade. Riding south from Qiaotou the highway becomes fairly busy and there are frequent guesthouses, near the "first bend" we turned east towards Lijiang and crossed a 2600m pass (about 700m of climbing from highway 214) before descending 200m to Lijiang.
May 2005, Bill Weir adds: I highly recommend the backroad between Zhongdian and Tiger Leaping Gorge via Baishuitai. Except for an 11-km section of unpaved road over a pass, it's beautifully paved. Also highly scenic. The unpaved section begins just after the first turnoff for Bitahai Lake (coming from Zhongdian) and ends 0.5 km beyond the pass. The top of pass is between KM 35 and 36. The KM posts along this road are the distance from Zhongdian.
April 2006, Alice and Andoni tell us that the road from Tiger Leaping Gorge via Haba and Baishutai to Zhongdian is now fully paved and very beautiful.
From Lijiang we headed back to highway 214. The maps are wrong here, at the foot of the pass mentioned above (about 25km west of Lijiang) there is a junction and a quiet road slowly climbs a 2900m pass (about 500m of ascent) before descending steeply 500m to the village of Baihanchang (accomodation) where it rejoins the highway. The highway drops 200m over the next 30km before climbing 400m. 50km before Dali (old town) there is a spa village with several hotels where the natural hot water is piped into swimming pools. Great for a really good wash for sweaty cyclists! Approaching Dali the road gets quite busy, from Dali to Xiaguan the road is a dual carriageway but it has a cycle path both sides.
May 2005, Bill Weir adds: Another option is the new highway between Lijiang and Dali. It takes only two days and goes via Heqing; there's one big pass. A good place to stay halfway is a basic hotel in Xiyi, south of Heqing. I don't know whether the old or new highways are best; the new highway is shorter and eliminates the backtracking west of Lijiang.
From Xiaguan we went south towards Weishan, the road climbs a 2400m pass (Xiaguan and Dali are around 2000m), then drops steeply to 1800m. From Weishan south to Nanjian (where it meets highway 214) the road is delightful, it is perfectly surfaced and drops gradually by 400m over a 40km distance. Nanjian is at 1400m, from there we followed highway 214 over a 2100m pass, then down to 1800m. 40km from Nanjian we turned off the highway towards Jingdong. The first 10km were a stony dirt road but a new section of road that bypasses this was almost finished. The dirt road leaves the highway at the south edge of a village in which the highway crosses the river, the new road leaves the highway about 1km further south. The rest of the way to Jingdong and beyond to Zhenyuan is tarmac and gently downhill through picturesque rice paddies.
From Zhenyuan (1100m) we headed east on a new tarmac road (tarmac roads also went south towards Pu'er and south-west to Jinggu Daizu Yizu Zizhixian / Weiynan) over a 1700m pass then down to a river at 1000m (46km east of Zhenyaun, accomodation), then over a 2300m pass and down to the Yuan Jiang (Red River) at 600m. As well as at the river, there was accomodation 73km and 82km east of Zhenyaun, the latter is virtually at the top of the second hill. The scenery was lovely, terraced rice paddies and forest. Then we went down the valley for 50km before turning west again and going up. The tarmac stopped soon after we began going uphill and did not appear again until we reached Mojiang. The pass was about 1950m, there is accomodation in a village virtually at the top of the pass. We suspect the tarmac continues down the Red River valley to Yuanjiang, although the maps mark this as a track!
From Mojiang we went 7km west along highway 213/323, then turned south on a dirt road towards Jiancheng. The road wasn't too bumpy and had fairly frequent accomodation. 112km from Mojiang at a junction (no accomodation) we crossed the river and began climbing, the road turned to cobbles. The road climbed for about 900m over 20km to another junction where there was accomodation and the surface improved enormously. It then undulated for 30km, much of which had tarmac (surfacing work was in progress so soon it will all be lovely new asphalt), to Jiangcheng. Jiangcheng is a friendly little town where you get absolutely anything mended, there is internet access in the back of a computer shop by the "leaping bull" statue.
From Jiangcheng we headed west on a smooth asphalt road for 34km to a road junction (accomodation). Leaving town we climbed 200m, then descended 500m to a river, then the road undulated, slowly gaining about 100m. At the junction we turned south for Mengla onto a good dirt road. The tarmac continued west towards Simao and the dirt got bumpier as we went south. Leaving the junction we climbed 300m, then descended 400m and then the road was up and down. 40km from the junction we climbed another pass, this time for 400m and descended 400m on the other side. 75km from the junction there is a village with a tarmac highstreet, this is the last accomodation before the highway (52km). The tarmac ends as soon as you leave the village and I lost count of the number of passes, the first was the biggest, a 400m climb and descent. The road also deteriorates, first it becomes rutted mud and then it gains an inch thick covering of dust. At the point where you reach highway 213 (marked as highway 214 on some maps) there is a large village called Mengxing with accomodation and shops.
We went south on highway 213 / 214 towards Mengla. The road was perfectly smooth, a little narrow but not busy. We climbed a 400m pass, descending 350m on the south side to Mengyuan (accomodation). Then another slightly bigger pass followed by a smaller one and we were in Mengla. From Mengla it was a pleasant slightly uphill 60km to Mohan and the border crossing to Boten. Mohan has numerous guesthouses, restaurant and shops, a bank (they advertise money change but probably want to see your exchange certificates to change your yuan into anything - unlike in Laos, they will change dollars and maybe other currencies into yuan) even an internet cafe. There was a lot of building going on when we were there.
The border crossing was the easiest since western Europe, we completed departure cards and then an English speaking officer stamped our passports and pointed south. There were no customs forms or checks. A tarmac road leads for a couple of kilometers through no-mans land to the Laos border post and Boten. See the Laos cycling info for information about Boten.
While in early April you may find the passes north of Zhongdian blocked by snow, by late April it was too hot in the south (over 30°) for us to ride in the afternoon. In southern Yunnan we had some spells of heavy rain, interspersed with several sunny days in a rows. All heights are from my wristwatch altimeter, accuracy +-100m, I include them because maps rarely show relief information.
Home Country info index China general info China diary