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Cycling into Yunnan's jungle: From Yuxi to Jinghong by mountain bike

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GoKunming contributor Guo Duomi set off during the Chinese New Year holiday with Lady Guo to cycle some of the roads less travelled in central and southern Yunnan. Here he shares with us details of his journey from Yuxi to Jinghong by bike.

Day 1 – Yuxi to Tonghai (51km)
The first leg of the journey was the two hour bus to Yuxi (玉溪) which enables you to miss a tough day's ride out of Kunming. When the Dianchi Lake cycle path is completed this may be worth reconsidering, as would cycling to Chengjiang (澄江) and then taking the quieter roads along the west of Fuxian Lake (抚仙湖) to Jiangchuan (江川).

The first few kilometres take you out of Yuxi's industrial west on a crowded and dusty road. At the top of a hill you turn off the main road to enjoy a quiet stretch into the hamlet of Yanhe (研和镇). From here you join the highway for a climb of around 10km offering reasonable views of Yuxi's surrounds. After this there is a short descent followed by a long and straight roll into Tonghai (通海).

Tonghai is a friendly town whose attractions include the expansive Qilu Lake (杞麓湖), at which a passing groom getting his wedding shots taken may wish to take a spin on your bicycle.

Day 2 – Tonghai to Jianshui (80km)
A short climb out of Tonghai sees you pass the entrance of the motorway to Jianshui (建水) and then take on a massive 25km descent into Gaozhai (高寨). The road is reasonable quality but the combination of heavy fog and a wet road meant that is was pretty cold and uncomfortable going on a January morning.

The road forks at Gaozhai with Jianshui 50km away whilst Shiping (石屏), which looks about the same distance on a map, is 90km away. The road to Jianshui is good quality and undulates through a series of villages and towns, snaking past the expressway from Tonghai and the railway under construction, culminating in a reasonable climb and descent into town.

Jianshui bristles with historic sights and has large and vibrant old town. It offers not just warm people but ridiculously warm weather in the depths of winter – making a nice departure from the frosty temperatures that the 'spring city' of Kunming proffers during a cold snap.

Days 3 and 4 – Jianshui to Shiping and back (120km return)
As you leave Jianshui you pass what seems to be every headstone manufacturer in Yunnan. After about 5km you reach Twin Dragon Bridge (双龙桥), an impressive 17 span Qing Dynasty bridge still in regular use by the locals.

A further 10km or so on you will find yourself at the entrance to the village of Tuanshan (团山), site of the Zhang family Gardens. This complex was created by a prosperous merchant family over many centuries and, whilst now a tourist site with a 20 yuan entry fee, it remains a living community home to a population 80 percent of which are surnamed Zhang.

Spending the extra 10 yuan on a guide is well worth it (even if you don't speak much Chinese) as you will be taken into many otherwise inaccessible areas of the gardens and you'll have the footbound old woman pointed out to you - though photographs are a no-no.

Moving on from Tuanshan you shadow the expressway on poor roads until the village of Baxin (坝心站). From here you divert to the southern shore of Yilong Lake (异龙湖), passing by racks of tofu skin drying in the sun until you double back into Shiping. Shiping tofu is famous as the best in Yunnan and, just like the Guinness in Dublin, it certainly seems to taste better when sampled at the source.

Day 5 – Jianshui to Yuanyang (79km)

Departing Jianshui to the south you are faced with 35 kilometres of almost constant climbing on decent quality roads. The pass above the town of Goujie (狗街) marks the beginning 40km of descending roads which are poor but offer some awesome scenery. Steep slopes near and far provide your first view of terraced rice fields and stunning views of the dammed Yuan River (沅江) shortly follow.

The descent takes you level with the reservoir along a few kilometres of horrible dirt road before arriving at the positively subtropical town of Yuanyang (元阳). Yuanyang is also known as Nansha (南沙), the town of Xinjie (新街) which is sometimes also called Yuanyang was our target destination and lies a further 30km of steady climbing south. This could make a challenging conclusion to your day's riding or you could fork over 10 yuan and pop your bicycle on the roof of the local bus to be chauffeured up in (relative) style.

Day 6 – Yuanyang (Xinjie) rice terraces (40km)
In Xinjie you have the option of hiring a vehicle for the day to take you around - a necessity if you want to see the terraces at sunrise and/or sunset and you don't have decent lights. You do risk the chance of seeing nothing due to fog however. Heading out at your own leisure on the bike allows you to go when visibility has improved. About 10km of climbing out of town will take you to the turnoff for the spectacular Bada (八大) and Duoyishu (多依树) terraces which are a further 8 and 15 kilometres away respectively on a gently undulating poor quality dirt road.

Continuing back along the main road a further 5 kilometres will take you to the pass with a further 8 kilometres down to the Tiger Mouth terraces. From here you can keep on heading south to Lüchun (绿春) and through the rolling hills all the way to Jinghong (景洪). Reports are that the scenery in this region is pleasant but a little repetitive.

Days 6 and 7 –Xinjie to Jinghong
Given time constraints we rolled down through the fog into Yuanyang and bussed it to Jinghong overnight via Jianshui. A trip to the hot springs just south of town proved a relaxing day trip however the 'back streets' route to the springs offered by the map in Mei Mei Café is quite difficult to follow.

Days 8 and 9 – Jinghong to Banna Wild Elephant Valley and back (110km return)

Crossing the Mekong – here known as the Lancang River (澜沧江) you follow the main road past the tollbooth until the roundabout. Taking the hard left will lead you to the road from which the number three road to Mengyang (勐养镇) branches off on your right. Requiring a lengthy climb past rubber and fruit plantations on a deteriorating surface followed by a long descent into the back of Mengyang means this road is not recommended.

From Mengyang continuing along the secondary road which shadows the expressway requires a short climb of around 5km followed by a pleasant descent to the Elephant Valley entrance. The dilapidated tree houses which are a favourite with western tourists are a long walk into the reserve. Promotional material suggests that your best chance of seeing a wild elephant is in the early morning. At around 9pm however the darkness was pierced by an oddly familiar elephant sound and we were treated to the spectacle of a five strong herd taking a drink and having a mess about in the stream below.

Arrival of the megaphone led tour groups at 9:00am the next morning made one understand why the elephants preferred to make a nocturnal visit.

The return voyage sees you retrace your steps to Mengyang and then shadow the expressway until the turnoff for Menglun (勐仑, a lazy 110km away). Don't be put off by the fact that the signs don't show Jinghong as a destination – after about 5km in you will reach a turn off for the secondary road to Jinghong which descends all the way back to the Mekong/Lancang.

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Is this really yunnan's jungle?


The elephants are a bit a of a giveaway...

"Days 3 and 4 – Jianshui to Shiping and back (120km return)"

but absolutely no mention of Shiping.
Editing oversight?

Reading oversight.

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