13 Days Yunnan Cycling Tour from Kunming to XishuangBanna and Boten (Laos Border)

Starting a 22-day adventure that takes you on a thrilling cycling journey from China to Thailand, weaving through a tapestry of dramatic landscapes, lush forests, traditional villages, and vibrant ethnic minority communities. As you pedal along, you’ll conquer rugged mountain trails carved out by local hill tribes, and enjoy leisurely afternoons exploring bustling temples, markets, and savoring regional cuisine. With well-paved roads and occasional mountainous terrain, this moderate-paced tour is designed to balance physical challenge with cultural immersion, accompanied by knowledgeable guides and logistical support. Along the way, take in breathtaking views and experience the unique charm of each town and village, making this an unforgettable journey through the heart of Southeast Asia.

Introduction

Get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Yunnan Province, China, as you embark on a 13-day cycling journey from Kunming to XishuangBanna and Boten, the Laos border. This scenic route takes you through a diverse range of landscapes, from the rolling hills and traditional villages of the Dali region to the majestic mountains and tropical forests of XishuangBanna. Along the way, you’ll encounter a rich cultural heritage, including ancient tea plantations, traditional minority communities, and historic towns with a rich history. With its well-paved roads and stunning scenery, this tour is perfect for those looking for a mix of physical challenge and cultural immersion.

Highlights:

  • Cycle from China to Thailand, with charming scenery along the way.
  • Have grand view of Yunnan and learn more about culture of Laos and Thailand, especially Buddhist culture.
  • View some famous spots and Buddhist Temples.
  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lijiang Old Town
  • Hike to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of China’s most famous hiking trails

Brief Itinerary:

  • Day 1 Arrive in Kunming
  • Day 2 Kunming-Yuxi
  • Day 3 Yuxi-Huanian
  • Day 4 Huanian-Ganzhuang
  • Day 5 Ganzhuang-Mojiang
  • Day 6 Mojiang-Tongguan
  • Day 7 Tongguan-Ninger
  • Day 8 Ninger-Puer
  • Day 9 Puer-Dadugang
  • Day 10 Dadugang-Jinghong
  • Day 11 Jinghong-Menglun
  • Day 12 Menglun-Mengla
  • Day 13 Mengla-Mohan-Boten-Na Teuy

Google Map

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Kunming

Sightseeing and Activities: Arrive in Kunming
Accommodation: Kunming
Meals: Lunch

  • A Warm Welcome Awaits
    • Upon your arrival, your dedicated guide will greet you at the airport’s arrival hall.
    • The guide and driver will escort you to your hotel, where you may check in and take a well-deserved break.
  • Get Ready to Ride
    • In the afternoon, meet your guide once more to familiarize yourself with your bike.
    • Take a test ride to ensure everything is in working order and get comfortable on your new set of wheels.
  • Freedom to Explore
    • With the formalities out of the way, you’ll have the rest of the day to explore the city at your own pace.
    • Take time to soak up the local culture, visit popular attractions, or simply take a stroll through the streets – the choice is yours!

Day 2 Kunming-Eshan

Sightseeing and Activities: Kunming-Eshan
Accommodation: Eshan
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Dianchi Lake in Kunming

  • Leaving Haikou Behind
    • After lunch, your companions bid you adieu and ventured into the dusty roads ahead, braving the rain that was soon to follow.
    • The 60km journey from Haikou to Yuxi was not without its challenges, as the road turns to dust for a 10km stretch near the base of Dianchi Lake, making for slow going.
  • A Brief Respite
    • However, things soon improved, and you passe through Zheng He’s hometown of Jinning, a famous Chinese explorer.
    • A brief incline at kilometer 65 marked the end of our ascent, followed by a scenic descent. You have to exercise caution to avoid the heavy truck traffic.
  • A Refreshing End
    • Unfortunately, Your ride came to an abrupt end with a torrential downpour.
    • But it is all worth it in the end, as just two kilometers west of Yuxi lay a natural hot springs oasis.
    • To your delight, every room in your hotel boasted its own private outdoor hot tub, the perfect way to unwind after a long day on the road.

Day 3 Yuxi (玉溪) – Huanian (化念) – 78km, 5 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Yuxi (玉溪) – Huanian (化念) – 78km, 5 hours of riding
Accommodation: Eshan
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Back to Reality
    • After a chilly morning, you would ready to hit the road once again.
    • However, just you begin your ride, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain.
    • The weather forecast had predicted clearing skies, but it seemed like the universe had other plans.
  • A Muddy Mess
    • As you left Yuxi to encountered a gentle climb, accompanied by a road under construction.
    • The first 10km are particularly treacherous, with mud so deep that even motorcycles struggled to make progress.
    • Luckily, most of the worst sections were on a long descent about 15km into the ride, and if you are feeling brave, you could ridA Muddy Masterclass
  • A Muddy Masterclass
    • You stopped for lunch in Eshan at the base of the mountain and treated our bikes to a car wash to get them sparkling clean.
  • A Scenic Finish
    • The next 35-40km were a joy to ride, winding through mountains with plenty of small hills to conquer. You finish your ride with an 18km descent into the town of Huanian, nestled in a valley surrounded by white plastic farmland. Unfortunately, you arrive late and found no open restaurants, so you have to settle for instant noodles in our cold hotel room – a far cry from the luxurious dinner we enjoyed the night before!!

Day 4 Huanian (化念) – Ganzhuang (甘庄) – 69km, 5 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Huanian (化念) – Ganzhuang (甘庄) – 69km, 5 hours of riding
Accommodation: Yuanjiang
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

<h3>Reevaluating the Plan</h3>

As I began to think about biking in Yunnan in January, doubts crept in. But, upon closer inspection, I realized that the tough riding is mainly confined to rainy days – a rare occurrence in this region. With great roads ahead of us, including some daunting climbs and thrilling descents, I decided it was still worth the challenge.

<h3>Scenic Splendor</h3>

As we pedaled through Southern Yunnan, the breathtaking scenery unfolded before us. The incredible productivity of the land became apparent, with sprawling factories and endless expanses of healthy farmland planted with an astonishing variety of crops. Our route took us past a massive steel plant and numerous other industrial sites, as well as picturesque farmland teeming with life.

<h3>Technical Troubles</h3>

Despite the day’s beautiful scenery, we faced some technical issues along the way. Two flat tires and minor adjustments to our brakes and derailleurs slowed us down, but we persevered. As dusk approached, we descended into the charming town of Ganzhuang, where we were greeted by a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

 

beginning to reconsider biking in Yunnan in January, but I still think it’s worth it as it’s only tough riding when it rains, and I think rain three days in a row is pretty rare here. Great roads all day today, with some big climbs, but even bigger descents.

The scenery in Southern Yunnan is breathtaking and you can really begin to realize its incredible productivity. On the way today we passed several factories, including one massive steel plant, and endless amounts of healthy farmland planted with just about anything you can imagine. We had a few technical difficulties today including two flat tires and some minor adjustments on brakes and derailleurs which slowed us down quite a bit. Around dusk we descended into the pleasant town of Ganzhuang.

Day 5 Ganzhuang (甘庄) – Mojiang (墨江) – 99km, 7+ hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities: Ganzhuang (甘庄) – Mojiang (墨江) – 99km, 7+ hours of riding
Accommodation: Puer
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

In retrospect, we should have done more miles the day before to cut off some today. The day started with an 8km warm-up climb. A short, fun, but somewhat unsatisfying descent followed and led us into a massive climb at about the 13km mark. From here we began to slowly climb for what seemed to be most of the day.

About 10km up there is a hot spring, and if you climb down to it you can have lunch while soaking your feet in the 43 degree (105 degrees Fahrenheit) water. Lunch was basic: eggs boiled in the hot spring – not in the same water we were soaking our feet in – and cold rice noodles. After lunch we continued to climb the rest of the 35km hill, gaining 1,600 meters in elevation. A series of smaller hills followed, the last being an excruciating 7km climb until our final descent into Mojiang.

Day 6 Mojiang (墨江) – Tongguan (通关) – 74km, 6 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities: Mojiang (墨江) – Tongguan (通关) – 74km, 6 hours of riding
Accommodation: Puer
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Tongguan Town and The Ancient Tea Horse Road in Mojiang County, Puer

After reluctantly accepting some gifts of rice wine, we hopped back on Old Road 213. The morning was filled with some great cycling, we whipped through the countryside. A great 15km descent down to a large river ended our morning and we had a delicious lunch just on the other side of the bridge. Some of the specialties were wild bitter fruit (山苦果) and some wild olives that mildly resembled the taste of olives.

After lunch, we followed the river upstream for about 25km, soaking up the beautiful view of the fertile valley. Towards the end of the day we began climbing slowly back up to the expressway and over a mountain. Some amazing views of the sunset and then a couple of kilometers’ descent into the new town of Tongguan.

The hotel was nice, but there wasn’t much in the town except for a “park” on top of a nearby hill with a golden Pegasus on top. There is a poorly built museum there too, showing off some artifacts of the Old Tea and Horse Road. If possible I would look for lodging in the old town of Tongguan just before you get to the new town. It seemed a lot more lively.

Day 7 Tongguan (通关)– Ning’er (宁洱) – 89km, 6 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Tongguan (通关)– Ning’er (宁洱) – 89km, 6 hours of riding
Accommodation: Puer
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Kunlu Tea Mountain in Ninger County, Puer

A late night of drinking with the mayor of Tongguan and a long morning of him showing us around and giving us bricks of tea (…great, more weight to carry) meant a late start, but we still managed to do almost 90km. In between the old and new town of Tongguan, we bore right down the hill and cruised the 17km descent to the river. From there the road flattens out and follows the river for quite some time. The road is great for cycling here and the views of the river bank and coffee plants are breathtaking.

At about kilometer 70, we took a right towards Ning’er and joined all the traffic of the expressway, as it was still under construction. It was about a 12km climb in heavy traffic with no shoulder, and then a shorter descent into Ning’er. A different route would be recommended if the expressway is still under construction here.

Day 8 Ning’er (宁洱) – Pu’er (普洱) – 47km, 3.5 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Ning’er (宁洱) – Pu’er (普洱) – 47km, 3.5 hours of riding
Accommodation: Puer
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

A nice short day, but still not one to joke about. Again, we were riding in heavy traffic, and with the rain it was quite miserable. Pu’er sits considerably higher than Ning’er and we most definitely felt it. Climb after climb with very short descents. I was surprised by the integration of the coffee and tea plants everywhere and wondered about the benefits; a peaceful sign, maybe, of bringing our differences together.

Day 9 Pu’er (普洱) – Dadugang (大渡岗) – 78km, 5 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Pu’er (普洱) – Dadugang (大渡岗) – 78km, 5 hours of riding
Accommodation: Xishuangbanna
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

We spent a wonderful night in Pu’er as guests of Fudian Bank which was followed by wonderful weather all day.

Unfortunately, one of our team members, Jin Feibiao (Feibao’s older brother) fell on a descent early this morning before the road had a chance to dry. He rode another 20km to lunch, where he took a van to Jinghong to see a doctor. The diagnosis was a broken collarbone, and he flew back to Kunming for further treatment. He will be certainly missed on our trip.

Out of Pu’er we hopped back on Old Road 213 (a left turn at the southwestern end of the city). The road climbs for the first 5km and then descends quickly for about 8-9km more. A section is under construction at the 22km point making the short climb quite difficult. The rest of the day sees only small hills until the 68km mark where it begins to climb all the way to Dadugang at the top of the hill – be sure to stay right at the fork at about 76km to continue up and not down to the expressway. Dadugang only has two hotels and the one down the hill is basic, but with hot water and all rooms are on the first floor.

Day 10 Dadugang (大渡岗) – Jinghong (景洪) – 83km, 5 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Dadugang (大渡岗) – Jinghong (景洪) – 83km, 5 hours of riding
Accommodation: Xishuangbanna
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

It was a bit cold on top of the mountain this morning, but after a great breakfast feast of rice noodles, youtiao and bean soup, little baozi, and dumplings we headed out into the fog.

The first 10 km was a wonderful warmup, we were shooting up and down atop the ridge. If it hadn’t been so foggy, I’m sure it would have offered beautiful views of the surrounding tea country. After the warm up, there is a fast 11km descent back to the expressway and into the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve. From there the old road continues to decline, winding around the hills as the expressway cuts right through them. At kilometer 47 for the day the road flattened out and a few kilometers later we had lunch at Xiaomengyang (小勐养).

Just before the town there is an intersection with the expressway. The first left is the expressway and the immediate second left heads towards Mengla. If you take the second left it is only 23km to Jinghong on all new roads. We were told the old road was much longer and a lot harder to bike. The new road was indeed nice, but you had to first climb a steep 6km hill before the long fast descent into Jinghong.

At the first traffic circle take a left and follow it to go over the bridge and soak in the views of the Mekong and the city. We took ten days getting here, including one day’s rest in Mojiang. With our group size and heavy loads, I would say we did pretty good.

If you were just two people with light loads it could easily been done in a week’s time, but don’t forget to take some time to absorb the beautiful sights of southern Yunnan. From here we will head south to Mengla and across the border into Laos where we plan to take a month cycling from the north to the southern tip.

Day 11 Jinghong (景洪) – Menglun (勐仑) 65km, nearly 3 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Jinghong (景洪) – Menglun (勐仑) 65km, nearly 3 hours of riding
Accommodation: Xishuangbanna
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Ranran is a star at the Wild Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, Yunnan province

Jinghong was a wonderful place to rest for two days. Aside from the amazing food, the incredibly friendly people and the beautiful weather, it was just nice to rest the legs (and the butt!) after battling Yunnan’s mountains for over a week. Jinghong also sits in a very strategic location. As the capital of Xishuangbanna, it also has very easy access to Southeast Asia. Before departing, our team received some more letters from the governor of Xishuangbanna to be delivered to Southeast Asia as well as the ones we are already carrying from the Kunming mayor.

From Jinghong we backtracked our route a bit, crossing back over the Mekong (or Lancang River 澜沧江) in the northeastern part of the city and up the mountain we had descended just a few days earlier. Make sure you exit the expressway in the beginning following signs to the National Forest and not towards Wild Elephant Valley.

With fresh legs, we zipped right up the 13km mountain. At the top of the hill, the road splits: left is back to Kunming and right heads toward Mohan and Laos. After you take the right the road turns into an expressway, but there is little traffic, a wide shoulder, and a much quicker shot to Laos then any of the other alternatives. From here the road evens out for two or three kilometers, then it drops slowly for about 25km to where we had lunch.

The views were incredible, with vast mountain ranges covered with tea trees and eventually nothing but rubber trees. There were a few short tunnels on the descent, which was much better than having to go around the mountains, so be prepared with lights, especially in the back. After lunch it was a straight shot to Menglun only 23km more.

Among the huge rubber tree plantations in Menglun lies the largest botanical garden in China, worth a visit just on its own. It also doubles as an internationally accredited science academy. We stayed in a hotel inside the park, but there are plenty of options outside it as well.

Day 12 Menglun (勐仑) – Mengla (勐腊) 80km, 4.5 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Menglun (勐仑) – Mengla (勐腊) 80km, 4.5 hours of riding
Accommodation: Xishuangbanna
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

From Menglun we hopped back on the expressway, called Erji Lu (二级路), which soars above the valleys and cuts right through the mountains. Be sure to have all your lights handy again, as we passed though about 15 tunnels today, two of which were over 3km long.

Outside of Menglun there is a slow, steady 20km climb which ends with a 3km tunnel and then descends back down about 12km. About one kilometer after the toll booth at the bottom of the climb is Mengyuan (勐远), a good resting point with plenty of options for food and drink. After lunch, the road began to rise again steadily, passing through numerous tunnels until the final 10km where it descended into Mengla (a right hand turn, 1km off the expressway).

Mengla is a big town with many options for sleeping and eating. On top of this it is only 46km from the Laos border. If you’re up for it, there is a wonderful park about 18km away (we took a bus) called Sky Tree Tropical Rainforest Park (望天树热带雨林公园), which has the world’s highest canopy walk of 38 meters and plenty of entertainment and wilderness to keep you busy a few days.

Day 13 Mengla (勐腊) – Na Teuy, Laos – 67km, nearly 4 hours of riding

Sightseeing and Activities:Mengla (勐腊) – Na Teuy, Laos – 67km, nearly 4 hours of riding
Accommodation: Laos
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

It is only 46km from Mengla to the border town, Mohan, on the expressway. It is a bit hilly but the road is great and you barely notice the hills. It’s a good idea to leave some time for the border crossing, but we had no trouble at all. It cost me 300 yuan to get my visa on arrival. The next town in Laos is Boten, only 3km from the border.

We decided to continue on as border towns are infamous for crime, and this one didn’t seem to be any different. A little less than 20km down the road lies the intersection of the roads leading to Luang Namtha (right) and Oudomxay (straight) in the town of Na Teuy. There are two basic guesthouses here, and a few restaurants, both Lao and Chinese styles.

Recommended Hotels

Destination 5 Star 4 Star 3 Star Hostels
Kunming Sofitel Hotel Kunming Jinjiang Hotel Kunming Longteng Hotel Local Hostel
Yuxi / / / Local Hostel
Puer    / / / Local Hostel
Jinghong(Xishuangbanna) InterContinental Hotel Jinghong Dai Garden Hotel Jinglan Business Hotel Local Hostel

Service Included:

  • Accommodation with daily breakfast as indicated in the hotel list;
  • Chinese lunches as listed in the itinerary;
  • All land transfers & transportation with private air-conditioned car;
  • All transfers and sightseeing with skilled English-speaking tour guide;
  • All entrance fees as mentioned in the itinerary;
  • All government taxes;
  • Luggage transfers between hotels;
  • Travel Agency’s Responsibility Insurance coverage

Service Excluded:

  • Any arrival and departure international airfares or train tickets;
  • Any meals which are not specified in the tour itinerary.
  • Chinese visa fees;
  • Excess baggage charged by Airlines;
  • Single room supplement;
  • Tips to guides and drivers;
  • Personal expenses and gratuities to service staff.
  • Personal travel accident insurance.
  • All optional programs;

Travel Tips:

  • Visitors are advised to always carry changes of clothing due to the large variations in temperature between day and night.
  • The climate is relatively dry, so drink more water every day.
  • Protecting oneself from strong UV radiation at high altitude.
  • Protecting oneself from altitude sickness. Lessen the effects of altitude sickness, avoid strenuous exercise and have plenty of rest.
  • Respect local customs , habits, and religious beliefs.