China cycling route map

This is my cycling route around China. It was about 17,000km, and took me 15 months (with quite a few month-long breaks for various reasons).

I roughly followed the initial plan for the first half between Kunming and Beijing, except for really interesting extension through Baiyu and Dege on the Tibetan Plateau, a round trip from Kunming on the Karakoram Highway towards the Pakistan border, and less time spent in the northern half of Xinjiang. The road north from the Taklamakan desert through the Tian Shan mountains (the G217) was really worthwhile. We got half way from Kuche to Dushanzi, which is a bit of a classic route, before turning west towards Ili on account of the road north being blocked by snow.

Once in Beijing the original plan to travel north to Mohe at the Russian border was put aside, and after a round trip to see the start of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan on the coast, I made a new route south towards Nanjing, and then more directly west towards Kunming, without travelling that far south. This felt sensible given the greater industrialisation along the seaboard, and allowed me to go through some wonderful places like Tai Shan, Huang Shan, Qufu, and Jingdezhen. I really enjoyed the whole of Hunan and Guizhou, even if it was a really challenging hilly route at the start of summer.

AddressDescription
Kunming, Yunnan, China The capital of the vast Yunnan province, the same size as France, bordering Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam. Starting at 2000m altitude, the road west goes up and up and up into the Tibetan plateau and the Himalaya.
Dali, Yunnan, China An ancient walled town, centre of the 8th century Nanzhao kingdom that extended into Myanmar, and capital of the Kingdom of Dali that superceded it in 937. Apparently it was one of the 13 biggest cities in the world in 1000.
Lijiang, Yunnan, China The Old Town, up to 1,000 years old, is made up of timber and mud brick houses favoured by the Naxi people. Lijiang was a key town on the trade routes between China and India, named the "Ancient Tea Horse Road"
Litang, Garze, Sichuan, China A major centre of Tibetan Buddhism, this 4,000m high town of 50,000 people is home to a major monastery founded in 1580.
Yushu, Qinghai, China 3,700m high city of 120,000 people, 97% Tibetan, and capital of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous prefecture. The prefecture is home to the official source of the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese civilization, and is also in the basins of the Yangze and Mekong rivers. Greatly damaged by a large earthquake in 2010, in which more than 2,500 people died.
Golmud, Haixi, Qinghai, China Frontier town, start line of the road and rail line to Lhasa, and more than 90% Han. 35km south of here there is a checkpoint where they check for the foreign cyclists trying to sneak into Tibet without a permit. You can take the same road and turn off to Yushu, though, without entering Tibet.
Ruoqiang, Bayingol, Xinjiang, China One of the few small towns on the road bordering the southern side of the Taklamakan desert, which is much less populated than the northern side. Used as a staging point for archaelogists exploring the nearby Lop Nur area, a former salt lake that was also used as a nuclear testing site, home to discoveres of mummies from as early as 2000BC.
Qarqan, Bayingol, Xinjiang, China Qarqan, Cherchen, or Qiemo in Chinese, is an oases town on the southern silk route, visited by Xuan Zang (one of the key figures responsible for bringing Buddhism to China) in 644 and by Marco Polo in 1273. It is a larger town, in the extremely sparse environment east of Hetian.
Hetian, Xinjiang, China An oases town supplied by two rivers, Hetian (Khotan) has a population of 322,000 and a long history, including as part of the Kingdom of Khotan, from 56 to 1006AD. The kingdom was one of the earliest Buddhist states in the world and key to the transmission of Buddhism from India to China.
Kashgar, Xinjiang, China The westernmost city in China, where the north and south branches of the Silk Road meet, Kashgar is close to the borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the gateway to the Karakoram Highway to Pakistan, the highest road in the world. Kashgar's population of 500,000 is more than 80% Uyghur.
Aksu, Xinjiang, China Aksu is situated on the northern border of the Taklamakan desert, more built-up than the sparse southern side, and is a junction between the northern silk road and another trading route over the Muzart pass to the Ili river valley through the Tian Shan Mountain range.
Yining, Ili, Xinjiang, China Yining is capital of the Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture, which borders Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. Yining is in the Ili river basin, divided from the rest of Xinjiang province by the Tian Shan mountain range, to the south by the main range and to the north by the Borohoro range.
Urumqi, Xinjiang, China Capital of Xinjiang province, Urumqi is a modern city of more than 3 million people. It was built up in the Qing dynasty, whish stationed Han, Manchu, and Mongol troops in the city to aid in their efforts to pacify the Dzungar Khanate, the last vestiges of the mightly Mongol empire.
Turpan, Xinjiang, China The ancient Silk Road town Turpan is located in the Turpan depression, 154 metres below sea level. It is the hottest place in China, and the second lowest depression in the world. But it is also an oases town, famous for its grapes, with an ancient irrigation network.
Kumul, Xinjiang, China Kumul, or Hami, is an ancient oases town, famous throughout China for its melons, and near the border with Gansu province. Hami prefecture borders Mongolia to the north, and is where the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts meet.
Jiayuguan, Gansu, China The end of the Great Wall, as built in the Ming Dynasty at least, a huge fort built to defend the Hexi Corridor.
Wuwei, Gansu, China Wuwei is situated in the Hexi corridor, historically the only route from Central to Western China and Central Asia, bordering the Tibetan plateau to the south and the Gobi desert to the north.
Yinchuan, Ningxia, China Capital of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Yinchuan is on the Yellow River. It is also where Genghis Khan died in 1227.
Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China The start of coal country, and a major industrial centre, responsible for a huge amount of rare earth mineral production. The factories near the city spew the toxic byproduct into a vast lake nearby the city.
Qinhuangdao, Hebei, China Where the Great Wall meets the sea, now a major port for China's coal supplies, as well as a famous beach resort, used by the Communist Party for summer retreats and important conferences.
Beijing, China The world's third biggest city, with a population of 21 million and six concentric ring roads to get through before I arrive at the forbidden city in the centre.
Taishan, Tai'an, Shandong, China One of China's "five great mountains", 7,200 stone steps lead to the peak, where emperors would come on pilgrimage.
Dezhou, Shandong, China Home to many of China's clean energy companies, and "Solar Valley", the "clean-tech version of "Silicon valley"
Qufu, Jining, Shandong, China The birthplace of Confucius, and an important pilgrimage site ever since his death.
Huai'an, Jiangsu, China On the Grand Canal between Hangzhou and Beijing, a city with a long history, with evidence of inhabitation 5-6000 years ago, and a place in mythology as where Great Emperor Yu tamed the floods of the Huai river.
Huangshan Shi, Anhui, China At the foot of the famous Huangshan mountain range, with up to 60,000 stone steps leading to the top, built as early as 1500 years ago.
Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, China The centre of Chinese porcelain, with over 1700 years of history making pottery.
Xingyi, Qianxinan, Guizhou, China Qianxinan is the centre of a small autonomous prefecture for the Miao and Buyei minorities, and has the same karst hills landscape as in Guilin and in north Vietnam. A hilly finish line!