Yunnan trip on Xinyuan 400 Part 3 -Lijiang and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Lijiang with YuLong Snow Mountain in the distance

The town of Lijiang is overlooked by the beautiful snow-capped Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). I saw this as I walked to my breakfast and was startled as two days before I was in the metropolis of Shanghai and now I was looking at this mountain with its snowy peak standing on a bridge over a canal.

Me at Yulong snow mountain, Yunnan.

I rode out to the mountain. I pulled up in a cold wind and happened to stop next to a parked car full of Chinese men they asked me in a bit of a hostile way “What are you doing?” I realised someone pulling up on a motorcycle with a mask on next to their car was a bit suspicious “Taking pictures” I said. Then five guys piled out of the car and started grinning, all taking selfies with me and the bike. They had ridden from Guangzhou together and this was their destination. Several days together in a car.

On the way to the mountain, some big adventure bikes zipped past me, weaving through the traffic-mostly tourists mixed with the white slow speed control cars which patrolled up and down the road to the mountain at a crawl to stop traffic.

The bike at YuLong XueShan

 

I met the BMW lot in the rough looking dirt car park outside the national park. They had two expensive BMW 1200GS’s and a fancy looking Toyota four-wheel drive. Girls were standing on the roof of the four by four taking pictures. I and took pictures of myself, the bike and the mountain and left. As I was going, one of the riders said Anquan Xian (Saftey First. ) I found that touching, as I was riding alone.

I was heading towards a Naxi village in the mountains. I had hoped I could stop here then go on to the more remote Lugu lake further North.

This wasn’t to be. After a day of riding, I was in the hills and the light was fading. I came over a rise and defended steeply into a valley as it got colder and the sun went down. I pulled into a town on the steep slope into the valley. The road was strewn with trash as there had been a market there and stray dogs mooched around. I pulled the helmet off and asked a store holder packing up if there was anywhere to stay. She directed me to an inn further down the road.

The bike parked in the courtyard of the guesthouse.

This place was great. Like a homestead on the hillside. I parked the bike inside the gated courtyard of the house and watched the chickens running around inside. I was given a meal of Fresh chicken soup and a fried dish with rice which was delicious. I slept well in the cold room but rose before sunrise, somewhat uneasy about the ride ahead. I thought I’ll just turn round now, Then when it came time to leave, after visited the outhouse in the morning and saw may massive spider’s webs slung across the trees around in the morning light. Their hosts waiting for breakfast. There was even one on the sunny door.

Yunnan trip on Xinyuan 400 – Part 2

 

The bike just outside Dali

 

After a night in Dali, I got up early to go and meet Hendrik. It was a bright, sunny morning.  I found him in a suburb near the center of town and he talked me over the bike- a Chinese adventure style bike- a Shineray xy-400gy (XinYuan鑫源 xy-400gy. It’s clearly modeled on the much larger BMW 1200 GS, but actually, the engine is a copy of the Honda XR400- a stalwart dirt bike. This machine is a bit heavier than the XR400 and this particular one came with big aluminum panniers.

Hendrik had quoted me a fair price for the rental and after signing forms, showing my ID and driver’s license and giving a deposit, I was given full protective ware and I was off…

Stopping for watermelon on the roadside

I spent the first day taking the bike around Dali and secured it outside a hostel in town after trying to get it in their back door Outside was fine, under a camera.

I headed North, up beside the lake out of Dali on straight roads and felt the thrill of overtaking.

Calamity strikes 

The first calamity of my trip happened in a small market town outside Dali. In an effort to squeeze through traffic, I managed to scrape a car that was stuck in the jam. We waited for police for a long time and things got a bit heated. They seemed to just want payment. Finally, police arrived but on a different errand- to unclog the town of traffic. They settled it quickly with me paying 200 yuan for the owner’s repair.

This was a really stressful start to the trip and had me questioning its veracity. Should I be doing this?

After this event, the road took me up into the hills. There were beautiful views and lots of trees but the road had heavy traffic, including lots of trucks.

 

At one point, I saw a large area of dirt next to the road and thought I’d test the bike’s off-road ability. Upon going down the track that led into this area, I looked up to my right and saw a bunker on the hill above the flat area with slits in the front designed as gun holes. “an army training ground!” I thought in sudden alarm and smartly started turning the bike around. Off-road shenanigans will definitely have to wait.

My frozen face

This day ended with the sun setting on a wide plane and snow-capped peaks in-front of me- towards Lijiang. I was freezing, racing into the wind with my open faced helmet.

The town of Lijiang is a famous tourist destination, home to different ethnic minorities, most notably the Naxi (Nah-Shee)people who, in times before, had their own pictographic writing script. Now it’s a place with a lot of bars and handicraft shops (cue bongos and ocarinas). Actually, if you ask any Chinese person, they will tell you that Lijiang is a place to find one night stands. I was however determined to have an early start, and after a bewildered wonder around the old town retired.

I had found a hotel outside the old town and the jovial boss allowed me to drive up the steps and park the bike right inside the hotel foyer. Excellent.

First thing in the morning, I went to get a neck warmer/face mask. My face had been battered by the cold wind.

Lessons learnt

Hang back in traffic

Remember the width of this bike with the aluminum panniers.

Yunnan trip on Xinyuan 400 – Part 1

 I was revising for my Chinese driver’s license in September 2016. Also, at this time, I was casting around to see if I could rent a motorcycle somewhere in China.  My spotlight was on Yunnan province, which is down in the South East and famed for its beauty. Deservedly so, because in the North it has the foothills leading to the Tibetan Plateau. In the south, it is subtropical as it meets Laos. Yunnan is also home to many ethnic minorities in China, such as the local Naxi, a sizeable portion of Tibetans and others, such as the Dai people.

Is there anywhere to rent a motorcycle in China?

I really only found two places that rent motorcycles in Yunnan province. One was a Chinese operation who had mini off-road tours from Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. I liked their outfit because they seemed to have 250cc dirt bikes and manageable tours.

Whenever I contacted them, however, they would send me a simple email back. It just stated the price of the tour and that they’d be happy to take my money on the dates I wanted. Hmmm.

The other company was tibetmoto.de. Their site mentioned that they have short and long tours as well as rentals available. The owner of the company, Hendrik actually rang me to discuss my plans and needs. I thought that represented real customer care and attention.

Only six months later I found a closer rental place. It was fifty meters from my workplace in Shanghai. But that’s another thing. Odd.

To Dali, Yunnan…

I flew down to Kunming and took a bus to Dali. This used to be an old hippie hang out some years ago. In fact, when I was in Yunnan, ten years ago a guy told me that dope grows wild outside the city walls and that local farmers feed it to their pigs. Now it’s a fully developed stop on the Chinese tourist route. Complete with those shops selling ocarinas and drums with young female students sitting playing the same song, the guys making taffy by stretching it. Also, a middling swarm of Chinese tourists.

Arriving in Dali.

Actually, though, a few things struck me about Dali. It’s in a beautiful location with mountains on one side. These rise up to the West of town and Dali  is situated on the shores of a huge lake.

Also, I met a Peruvian guy who said he’d been going there for years. He was selling handmade jewelry from stones he’d collected on his travels from India, SriLanka and other far-flung places. He said that in Dali, there are many travelers who have small businesses like this. I’ve found this to be true. A friend of mine who interviews nomadic and freelance Chinese workers frequently comes to Dali to talk to people.

After looking through his wares on the small trestle table he had set up on the street, I said goodbye and he said as we left his stall, with a wry smile “When you are tired of the big smoke, Dali will be here waiting for you”.

Another feature of Dali which is awesome for someone with a new motorcycle obsession is the number of bikes… everywhere.  Shanghai is a desert where motorcycles are concerned so this was great to see.  In Dali, there are many custom made bikes parked around the small streets outside the little restaurants and artsy coffee shops.

 TBC…

Sidecars in Shanghai

Meeting a sidecar 

This is a short story about my journey (excuse the pun) with sidecars in China. It starts on a Spring day last year, I’m walking to work as usual and waiting for the lights to change to cross over towards my workplace and there, right in front of me, idling at the lights is a bright red vintage looking motorcycle and sidecar. I cross the road and see that the rider is a foreigner, so I just blurt out “nice bike! ChangJiang750, right?” I’d read about this bike a lot.

 

Enter the ChangJiang 750

The weird motorcycle license endorsement

Now let’s go back seven or eight months to when I was attending the driving license test centre to get my Chinese license. The young lady behind the counter says that my license is for three-wheeled motorcycles, I thought “no! There’s been a mistake. I wanted a motorcycle license, I haven’t done all this just to get some moto-taxi license have I?” The English speaking lady then explained to me that my new license INCLUDES sidecars – the top level of license “okay I thought, nice addition, but…”

Back to the red sidecar

So I’m stood in front of the sidecar and I say “ I have a license to ride that!” The driver explained that this bike belonged to a tour company which gives motorcycle sidecar tours around Shanghai and they are looking for new drivers. When the lights change, he pulls over and takes my contact details.

Some weeks later, after having a telephone conversation with the CEO of that company and having met the lead trainer and marketing manager, I’m in the bucket of a sidecar to be taken for training. Over the next few weeks, after learning the differences in handling with a sidecar (you drive a sidecar and ride a bike) compared to two-wheeled bikes and improving my skills, the trainer, Arthur, from France takes me to some locations around Shanghai.

Me riding on a day out for a kids charity.

Riding in and driving sidecars

From the very first stop, it was like someone lifting the lid on Shanghai. I had lived here for more than two years and thought I knew the city, but no… hidden away were old colonial mansions, industrial relics and crumbling housing estates, all with a story detailing Shanghai’s decadent and sometimes dangerous past.

I started to go out with the company on rides and taking passengers, people who’d just arrived in the country and sharing this new (old) side of Shanghai with them. It was fresh and exciting. I got to learn the character of this old bike and see this flourishing city with new eyes.

So, by chance- having been given a rather rare endorsement on my driving license. And then, suddenly, being presented with an opportunity in the shape of a bright red motorcycle, my recent passion for motorcycles took form, gave me so much and a chance to share as well.

The Astrid Apartments. Shanghai is full of Art deco architecture.

To take an extraordinary glimpse of Shanghai or get an unforgettable gift for a relative or friend, contact insiders experiences and mention this blog for a 5% discount on their sidecar tours. You can also do jeep tours in China’s interior with them.