Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
Posts: 2
Joined: 18 Aug 2017, 1:18pm

Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby cbmward » 18 Aug 2017, 1:26pm

I'm planning a tour from Shanghai to Kunming, cycling for three months across China. I am interested in any general advice, but also have a few specific questions!


I gather "Zhongguo Qiche Siji Dituce" (China Auto Drivers' Atlas) was the best general map; is this still true?

Has anyone had any luck navigating with GPS in China, either on an iPhone or with a bike computer?


The general advice seems to be 'don't camp', but I'm wondering whether it's worth taking a sleeping bag and a waterproof cover?


Does anyone have any suggestions?

Thank you!

User avatar
Posts: 4046
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 4:57pm
Location: London

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby Sweep » 18 Aug 2017, 6:35pm

Out of interest, what's the issue with camping?

A paranoid authoritarian government that mistrusts anything that smacks of freedom?

User avatar
Posts: 827
Joined: 25 Oct 2009, 7:45pm
Location: Aberdeen Scotland UK

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby matt2matt2002 » 18 Aug 2017, 8:32pm

Out of interest ( I'd love to bike there myself )
What is the visa situation?
3 months? Need to renew it? Where how how much?
How and how much to obtain one here to start your off?
Flying from UK?
2014 Scottish End2End 1 month
2015 Pamir Highway Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan for 2 months
2016 Sri Lanka for 1 month.
2017 West Coast of Scotland. Herbrides Lewis Harris 2 weeks
2018 Ethiopia.5 weeks.
All on a Thorn Raven with Rohloff hub.

Eman Resu
Posts: 55
Joined: 4 Aug 2016, 5:04pm

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby Eman Resu » 18 Aug 2017, 9:06pm

With constant new road building in China printed maps could be out of date. I've relied on (in Mandarin but the major roads are numbered in the universal Indo-Arabic). Baidu maps has street view in the major conurbations which should help you to get out of cities and towns. A US citizen near to where I was working claimed that GPS navigation with an iPhone was possible.

I've been to China for extended periods on 4 occasions and have cycled extensively and freely each time. These were day rides so I can't really answer the camping question.

Hope this helps in some way.

Posts: 1835
Joined: 13 Jan 2007, 11:28am
Location: Essex

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby simonhill » 22 Aug 2017, 6:03pm

I've cycle toured in China a couple of times (2x2 months) about 5 and 6 years ago.

I might be able to help on a few things, are you still out there?

Posts: 2
Joined: 18 Aug 2017, 1:18pm

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby cbmward » 29 Aug 2017, 4:45pm

Thank you all for your replies.

In answer to the visa question, it's a two year tourist visa in which you have to leave China every three months.

Slightly intimidated by the Mandarin on Baidu Maps; does anyone know what the main buttons mean / which is which...?

In terms of camping, I think I will travel with a sleeping bag and a waterproof cover, but stay in cheap hotels most of the time.

Richard Fairhurst
Posts: 1113
Joined: 2 Mar 2008, 4:57pm
Location: Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby Richard Fairhurst » 29 Aug 2017, 5:54pm

There's a chap on Reddit (who used to post on crazyguyonabike) who has a lot of advice about Chinese touring. He's if you can cope with disappearing down the rabbit hole that is Reddit! - maps, journey-planner, route guides and city guides

Posts: 1835
Joined: 13 Jan 2007, 11:28am
Location: Essex

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby simonhill » 29 Aug 2017, 5:56pm

I hadn't realise that they are now issuing 2 year visas. You are lucky, it used to be only 1 month that you had to extend often with lots of requirements eg US$100 per day in the bank. Now I know they are doing the 2 year ones for UK citizens, I might make a few more trips there.

Re maps. What people used to do was get a local Chinese road map, available in decent book stores. Also have a decent European one eg Nelles. You can then plot your route on the Nelles but get Chinese place names, etc from the Chinese one. China use the same numbers (1, 2, etc) so you can read the road numbers OK.

Chinese characters are easy to copy and literacy is high, so just show your destination and you will be pointed on your way. You can also use it to work out directions from roadsigns which are rarely in English outside the major cities. Most towns are 2 or 3 Chinese characters.

People often think Chinese characters are difficult, but they are much easier to use and copy, even if you don't understand them. Try doing this with Burmese, which looks like a string of spaghetti hoops.

Re Route: I just followed the old highways. China has built hundreds of new motorways and these have left the old A type roads for cyclists and local traffic. These roads are usually well paved and have plenty of towns and very little traffic. Many of the service stations and restaurants have closed because of lack of traffic, but there are enough towns etc to keep you fed, watered and offer accommodation.

I sometimes rode smaller roads, but these were still big enough to show on something on the scale of the Nelles maps. Much smaller than this and they probably aren't going anywhere.

I see no reason why you shouldn't use some sort of GPS, as long as your base maps are good. Be aware that a lot of websites are blocked or restricted in China.

Are you aware of crazyguyonabike website? Loads of journals there for cycling in China.

Why do you want to cycle from Shanghai? It is one of China mega cities and you will be riding for a few days before you get out of the city. Also the whole east coast is very industrialised and polluted (I'm told). Personally I wouldn't want to cycle there.

Yunnan is wonderful for cycling and you shouldn't end there. Some of the best cycling is west and south from Kunming.

I didn't camp, but knew someone who did a few times. The problem is that the country is very densely populated and every bit of good flat land is usually taken. There is also a security issue of wild camping. I think it may be illegal as you are meant to stay in registered accommodation every night.

Most towns have a few hotels, some of reasonable quality at a cheap price. I did have some problems with them not being able to register me because they needed a chip enabled Chinese ID card for their computerised check in. I always got round it or found a less fussy hotel.

A sleeping bag is a useful safety blanket, but I never take one.

What time of year are you going. Climate in China is pretty extreme.

User avatar
Posts: 2021
Joined: 8 Mar 2010, 8:58pm

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby Redvee » 30 Aug 2017, 1:29am

Have a look at EverEast website, this couple are riding ever east around the globe and are currently in China. Although the website won't have any details that you're looking for they will have had to go through all the hoops to get there and can no doubt offer some advice on the matter.

Posts: 212
Joined: 27 Aug 2007, 8:14pm
Location: North London

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby steve.y.griffith » 13 Sep 2017, 3:55pm

Re camping unless you are in very remote area you will be picked up by the police. Plenty of cheap hotels ask for 客棧Guest House.Pay from £5 to £14 ,often family run places .I would recommend not going near Shanghai it's the most developed part of China and very crowded even by Chinese standards Navigstion on the older roads is hard for anon Chinese speaker.
I would recommend going across the south IE Hunan into Jiangxi and reach the coast in Fujian. More mountains far more out of the way rural locations eg Ancient towns,
I regularly do Cycling trip from a base in Western Hunan not far from Huaihua great riding some wonderful old towns ,rice terraces etc. Places like Hongjiang 洪江 and Chadong茶洞
Not need to carry a sleeping bag travel light you can get most things in China except good waterproofs ,cheese and shoes over size 42.
VISA you should be able o get 2 year multiple entry 90 days a trip easily for about £200

Posts: 1
Joined: 21 Sep 2017, 4:12pm

Re: Cycling Across China (Shanghai to Kunming)

Postby MiaFey » 21 Sep 2017, 5:31pm

As a Chinese national I'll be happy to help out if you have any language issues. I haven't done any cycle tours in China myself so can't really help you with route planning etc but re camping point I'd also say no camping. I don't think you'll go though any part that is too rural to have any decent guest houses/hostels etc.

Re maps, any printed map may be seriously out of date, and certainly not cycling specific. I though Baidu Map has ENG version? Or try Gaode Map, I heard rumors that it has incorporated features for cyclists. Navigating in towns/villages/smaller cities without knowledge of the language might be challenging... Maybe it is worth looking at group/club tours that are available for this route. Out of big cities you won't find many useful signs, signposts, or local help due to language barriers.

I agree that Shanghai is very crowded. But cycling in the big cities are actually not that difficult. The roads are much better, very well partitioned with designated cycle lanes (lanes that are physically separated from the motorist part). You may not be able to break any records there in terms of speed, but you'll have no problem touring through the city. Or try one of the many station-free bike sharing schemes there. It's great fun.

And - get yourself one, if not more, decent lock!!!

There are many items you could buy cheap once you are in China. Especially bike accessories etc. But cycling clothes, especially good ones, are not cheap so bring your own if you have preferred ones.