South of the Clouds Yunnan Tour

Part 1: From Dali to Shangri-la and the Himalayas

(Part 2)

Riding a BMW 1200 GS Adventure in Yunnan? On those narrow mountain roads where flexibility is a must? I never thought it was desirable riding 260 kilo on those unpredictable, winding mountain roads. In Yunnan, you can never be sure what to expect behind the next road bend. Even if you know the road, you took it a dozen times already, its still full of surprises. Having a lighter, smaller bike, we always thought, is the optimum in this part of the world.

Some sizes bigger than our regular Shineray bikes

Well done GS 1200. Nice scenic view into the valley of Shaxi

First day´s destination: the old town of Shaxi

To fully experience the BMW 1200 GS Adventure in Yunnan, we decided to take her on one of our South of the Clouds motorbike tours. 10 days and 2000 kilometers through the most versatile landscapes – from soaring high snow mountains to lush sub-tropical river scenery. You´ve got it all. Riding day one of our Yunnan motorbike tour brought us from Dali to the old town of Shaxi, which luckily got preserved by a Swiss NGO and therefore saved from the building and re-building boom of China. On the way to Shaxi we got already a good impression of the traction control. 20 kilometers of serpentine roads to the first mountain pass were under construction after the rainy season. Mud, gravel, dust and sand led all the way up to 3,100 meters.

The next two days brought us to the shores of two of Asia´s grandest rivers: the Yangtze and the Mekong. The longer you follow the rivers up north, the less vegetation there is, until you reach the moonlike river gorge of the upper Mekong.  
We were riding the narrow roads near the rivers, through farmland and small villages, all the way up to the foot of the Himalayas for about 500 kilometers.

One of the highlights of the tour is certainly the visit of our Tibetan homestay from where you have a spectacular view upon the Mekong river. Dining with a local Tibetan family in a traditional Tibetan living room with wood carvings, sitting at the fire stove and drinking homemade red wine is a cherished memory for many.

Bike talk: while waiting for lunch riders discuss the many features of the new GS 1200 Adv., such as the auto suspension control and the Enduro riding mode.

The road we took: just before sunset we reached our destination at the upper Mekong valley

Ride and dive into Tibet´s local culture on the South of the Clouds Yunnan motorbike tour

Meili Xueshan (or Kawa Karpo in Tibetan) is with 6,740 meters the highest mountain of Yunnan, located on the edge of the Himalayas. The peak of this mountain, which is sacred for Tibetans, is most of the year covered in snow and attempting to climb the peak is considered a sacrilege.  Fortunately, we did not plan to climb anything on this tour! Reaching this mountain is one of the most spectacular highlights of riding in Yunnan. You get the clearest views early in the early morning – but gear up, its getting cold. From the low Mekong valley (2,200m) to the mountain´s viewing platform its an altitude difference of 1,200 meters which we rode in only 20 minutes.

With frozen hands (no one thought of wearing winter gloves in the warm morning sunshine after breakfast – but no one wanted to stop for gearing up as well) we reached the mountain.

Since Mt. Kawa Karpo is the most northern destination of the South of the Clouds tour, heading south to Shangri-la (3,300 meters) feels like heading to the Bahamas. But this is, of course, only imaginary since we first have to cross Baima Snow Mountain (Baima Xueshan or: the Pass of the White Horse).

We´ve made it! 6,700 meter high Meili snow mountain behind us

Riding along the viewing platform at Feilaisi (the “flying temple”) brings you incredibly close to the snow mountain and the adjoining glacier.

The Pass of the White Horse is 4,292 meters high. For the fearful, a tunnel has recently been opened to avoid the pass and to ensure that those who conquer it have less traffic.