Cycling trip through Yunnan: China’s countryside

Story of my first cycling trip through Yunnan

When it comes to travelling, the destination matters, but how you travel and with who. In my case, this was going to be my first cycling trip through Yunnan and my first cycling trip around China, but not the first time traveling with a good friend. We had two weeks of vacation, it wasn’t much, but it was enough to get us where we wanted to go.

I live in China, specifically in Yunnan, an inland province of southwest China. We wanted to go from Kunming to the rice terraces of Yuanyang, about 350 km to the south. We planned to do about 30 – 50 km per day depending on the slopes. If we left on Saturday, by the end of the week we could already be in the rice fields and then the plan was to spend a few days visiting the surrounding villages.

We can’t say we planned the trip very much; we bought all the essential materials for a bike trip, checked our bikes a bit to make sure everything was in place, filled the saddlebags and got going. Our plan was take the straightest way with the help of Google Maps and that’s it.

Although it’s advisable to train before we didn’t do it either. I used the bike to go around town and my traveling companion, who was almost 40 years old, didn’t exercise at all since he was going to school. As if that wasn’t enough, as soon as he decided to accompany me, he bought a second-hand mountain bike and didn’t take it until the same day we went out.

China Bike Tour – Cycling trip through Yunnan:

Day 1Kunming – Dianchi Lake.Day 7Potouxiang down to  Nansha.
Day 2Dianchi Lake – Fuxian Lake.Day 8Up to Xinjie. Arrival to the rice terraces of Yuanyang.
Day 3Cycling around Fuxian LakeDay 9Duoyishu rice terraces.
Day 4Xingyun Lake – Qilu Lake – Yangguang.Day 10Duoyishu rice terraces.
Day 5Yangguang to Jianshui.Day 11Laohuzui rice terraces.
Day 6Jianshui up to Potouxiang.Day 12Return to Kunming by bus.

A cycling trip through Yunnan: Stretch by Stretch

Day 1: Kunming – Dianchi Lake

  1. The first day we take it easy to get sensations. Most of the way was flat or downhill.
  2. We visited the lake Dianchi (滇池湖) and we reached the outskirts of Chenggong (呈贡).
  3. For 50 RMB we stayed in a rather shabby double room of an hotel in a village next to Lake Dianchi.
  4. The trip was marked by the pain in the ass that we felt after two hours by bike. It is what you have for not train in advance…

Day 2: Dianchi Lake – Fuxian Lake

  1. The climb starts passing through inland villages.
  2. We stop to sleep in the city of Chengjiang (澄江) which is a couple of kilometers from Lake Fuxian and we take the opportunity to massage and relax our legs.

Day 3: Cycling around Fuxian Lake

  1. One of the most beautiful days. Flat stretch.
  2. They say that Fuxian Lake (抚仙湖) is the cleanest lake in China and we check that it is surely true. Crystal clear water, tranquility and a wooden footbridge perfect to surround it.
  3. We go down to the middle of the lake through a nice walk between villages and small beaches. At nightfall, we stop in a village on the shores of the lake where we pay 100Rmb to spend the night in a double room overlooking Fuxian Lake.

Day 4: Xingyun Lake – Qilu Lake – Yangguang

  1. Downhill and flat stretch.
  2. We pass Lonely Mountain, a small island in the middle of the lake, and leave Fuxian Lake towards Xingyun Lake (星云湖) y Qilu Lake (杞麓湖).
  3. The two lakes are fine, they are not as beautiful as the Fuxian, but they also brighten your eyes. We were darkened pedaling and about 7 pm we arrived exhausted at Yangguang (杨广), a city at the end of Qilu Lake.
  4. We ended up staying in a giant room with double beds for 60 Rmb a night.

Day 5: Yangguang – Jianshui

  1. Stretch of almost all uphill. At the beginning very green landscape, mountainous and beautiful villages and at the end dry and ugly landscape. The most interesting thing we came across was a Muslim village of the Hani minority.
  2. It was getting dark again, we couldn’t find any place to spend the night and we still had 30 kilometers to go to Jianshui (建水).
  3. We got to a point where the highway started and you couldn’t ride a bike. If we wanted to continue we had to follow secondary roads in the dark until we found a hotel, if there was, of course.
  4. Suddenly a highway toll worker offered to drive us to Jianshui. We were tired and didn’t know where we were going to sleep if we kept pedaling so we accepted her offer.

Day 6: Jianshui uphill to Potouxiang

  1. In the morning we visit the beautiful old part of Jianshui and after lunch we leave for our next destination. It turned out to be another all uphill stretch with steep, but this time beautiful slopes; between green mountains and roads surrounded by giant trees.
  2. Just to arrive at the top of the mountain we crossed with a family that had just sacrificed a pig and they invited us to eat with them to recover forces.
  3. At the end of dinner we said goodbye and went down for about 30 minutes almost in the dark, only with a front light until we found a place to sleep in the village of Potou (坡头乡) por 60 Rmb.

Day 7: Potouxiang downhill to Nansha

  1. The easiest stretch. 40 kilometers of descent through fog and mountains to Nansha (南沙), which is part of the Yuanyang territory.
  2. We stayed in a giant double room for 100 Rmb and went to dinner without depriving ourselves of anything to celebrate. We had almost reached Yuanyang’s rice terraces!

Day 8: Uphill to Xinjie. Arrival at Yuanyang’s rice fields

  1. 30 kilometers of ascent between mountains and almost not a single village where to stop to eat.
  2. At 5 p.m., exhausted and hungry, we were lucky enough to meet a group of young people barbecuing in the open air and they shouted at us to join them. We spent one of the most enjoyable moments of our entire bicycle trip with them eating and drinking beer.
  3. They gave us strength to continue and reach Xinjie (新街) just to see the sunset in the rice fields of the main square. We had made it, we had arrived at our destination!
Cycling trip through Yunnan - Yunnan - Xinjie

Day 9 and day 10: Duoyishu rice terraces

  1. The journey from Xinjie to Duoyishu (多依树) took a long time. It was noticeable that we had been going on for a week without stopping. Without a doubt, the beautiful views of the rice fields during almost the whole trip helped us to move forward.
  2. We finally arrived at what is probably the most famous village in Yuanyang, with one of the most spectacular viewpoints of the rice terraces in the whole area of Yunnan.
  3. We stayed two days in Duoyishu, walking along the rice terraces until we reached the surrounding villages. In one of our walks through the rice fields we were done at night. It was hard for us to find our way back to the village. We spent a long time walking, trying not to fall into the rice fields and even passing through fields jumping a few fences.
  4. A word of advice: if you’re going for Chinese New Year’s, you’d better stay one kilometer from the village, where we end up paying 200 Rmb for a double room. Inside the village the prices were not lower than 500 Rmb.

Day 11: Laohuzui rice terraces

  1. On the second day in the morning we went to Laohuzui (老虎嘴), another of the best known villages of Yunnan.
  2. We went to the same lookout that I had been going for a few years, but this time I finally saw all the rice terraces filled with water. The viewpoint confirmed it again: the cycling trip through Yunnan had been worth it.
Yunnan - Yuanyang - Laohuzui rice terraces

Day 12: End of the cycling trip through Yunnan – Return to Kunming by bus

  1. There is no time to return to Kunming by bike. And the truth is, we don’t even want to. So we took a couple of buses that will take us back. First a van from Xinjie to Nansha, then a bus from Nansha to Jianshui and finally another bus from Jianshui to Kunming.
  2. In the evening the bus dropped us off at Kunming South Station, which is a 45-minute subway ride from the center. They wouldn’t let us in with the bicycles on the subway so we still had to pedal an hour and a half home.
  3. We got home safe and sound around 10pm. We were also exhausted, but had returned with a cycling trip around China to remember.

Is it worth a cycling trip through Yunnan?

This cycling trip through Yunnan not only helped us to have a nice memory of the beautiful rice terraces of Yuanyang and each stretch we passed. We were also able to check that it is more than possible to make a trip by bicycle around China, that it is safe, that it gives you much more freedom and that it allows you to see many more things that with other means of transport you could not see.

It is curious that once at home I still don’t have the feeling of having finished this journey by bicycle. Rather, I have the feeling that this has been just a first step for a new adventure.

If you want to visit Yunnan, take a look at our 14 day Yunnan’s highlights trip and our organized route of 11 days around Yunnan, both we a driver and a guide.

And if you found the post useful or interesting, don’t forget to leave a comment. Thanks!

Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.


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