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Cycling Around Erhai Lake

By in Travel on

Bike trips in the surrounding countryside are a popular excursion for visitors to Dali Old Town (大理古城). Short trips to Erhai Lake (洱海) or to nearby villages can be a great way to get out of the touristy centre and get some exercise.

With Erhai Lake being so dominant in the Dali geography, it's tempting to tackle a lap as an extended bike excursion. Cycling around lakes can be a straightforward undertaking (water's flat, right?) but some planning is still worthwhile.

On a recent trip, GoKunming cycled a portion of a lap, from Xizhou (喜州) clockwise to Xiaguan (下关). Here's how it went down:

We cycled north from Xizhou on the Dali-Lijiang road (大丽线), a two lane asphalt road. If you start at Dali Old Town or Xiaguan, a better choice is the smooth eight lane concrete G214, which also follows the west side of the lake, but further from the shore than the Dali-Lijiang road. Both roads are well surfaced and gently undulating, but the G214 has less vehicle traffic.

As you approach the north end of the lake, the roads converge until they're in sight of each other, and you'll need to cut across to the road nearer to the shore in order to continue the loop. It's in the village of Jiangwei (江尾) that you'll turn off the main road, shortly after crossing a couple of water channels.

We'd covered 15km from Xizhou by this point, and couldn't help noticing we'd done it rather fast. Despite feeling pretty strong after our ride from Kunming to Dali, the large energy-generation turbines up on the hill gave us a better clue: this region gets some strong winds.

After Jiangwei, the road surface is rough for approximately 20km, due to age and construction traffic. Yet another highway is being built by the lake, this time along the east side. Expect detours and an unclear route in the northeast quadrant of the lake until construction is complete. It had rained the day before we did the loop and some sections were very muddy, with our speed falling to less than 10km/h.

This section will take you past Shuanglang (双廊), distinctive for its peninsula and small offshore island. Shuanglang would make a great place to stop for some lunch.

Just south of the village of Qingshan (青山) the road improves considerably. It's recently been resurfaced, and would make for some very fast riding were it not for the strong southerly headwind. Weaker riders might prefer to plan a ride that goes north on this section.

The road stays right by the shore for pretty much all of the east side of the lake. You'll pass the village of Wase (挖色), which also has lunch options, the tiny island temple of Xiao Putuo (小普陀) and later the big two-peaked island of Hai Dao (海岛).

At the south-east of the lake, the road from Dali airport joins the lakeside road and the traffic load increases. The road surface remains good though, and some shelter provided by the hills means that a fast pull into Xiaguan is possible. As you enter Xiaguan, there's an option of staying on the main road and heading uphill into the town, or staying by the lake.

Advance planning here will serve you well - we took the road into town so we could head to the bus station. If you're continuing around the lake, the lakeside road will be the more pleasant ride, but be sure to have an idea how to connect up to the G214 again to complete the loop.

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I just cycled along the lake for a bit on the West side. There is a new road more or less hugging the lake side which is great for cycling. The road is reached from the road leading from Dali (Old town) to Caicun Warf. 3/4th of the way down you find the road there crossing the fields. The road is surprisingly well sign posted Erhai lake round road (also the cut off to Xizhou is not indicated). Where the road leads south I don't know but it would be nice if it started in XiaGuan.

Cycling from XiaGuan to Dali on Road#221 I stayed on the cycle part which is separated by the car part by a crash-barrier. This might save you from cars but on the other side there is a several meter straight drop into the paddy fields. Near Dali that track was suddenly blocked by two truck-loads of fresh dung blocking the way so a proper cycling track into Dali would be great.

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