South of the Clouds Motorcycle Tour2021-03-12T13:36:32+00:00
Map of Ladakh Motorcycle Tour

South of the Clouds – Southwestern China Adventure

Along the Yangtze and Mekong into the Tibetan Himalayas

Our South of the Clouds tour has been our most popular China motorcycle tour since 2016. We’ve now reworked it from the ground up, adding new roads and mountain passes for an even more exciting and varied route through previously untraveled regions, including the most striking highlights and motorcycling routes of southwestern China. China is a vast country – roughly the same area as the United States. It is characterized by expanses of desert and steppe, the highest mountains in the world in the Himalayas, and the densely populated megacities and ports of the east coast.

According to the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet, if you could visit only one of China’s numerous provinces, Yunnan would be the clear choice. Yunnan means “south of the clouds”, and the province is literally the far end of China from the perspective of Beijing, the country’s northern power center. In Yunnan, you can still experience the authentic China as it was before the country’s industrialization.

The scenic beauty, the wealth of natural diversity and the exciting panoramic roads not only left a deep impression on the Lonely Planet authors, but us as well – prompting us to open our first “motorcycle office” in Shangri-La nearly ten years ago. The scenery on this motorcycle tour through Yunnan is so varied that it’s like crossing a continent.

Yunnan borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, a region of towering mountains, gorges and rice terraces. The foothills of the Himalayas, the mighty Yangtze and Mekong rivers, subtropical landscapes and the different peoples and ethnic groups that have preserved their own cultures, religions and languages over the centuries all add to the rich experience. The highest elevation of Yunnan is the top of the holy Tibetan mountain Kawa Karpo at 6,740 meters, the lowest point is on the banks of the Mekong at only 470 meters. In between, you can look forward to the twistiest mountain roads and passes, cultural highlights and ancient towns, great Chinese food, and of course plenty of adrenaline on the ride.

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Our China motorcycle tour starts in the legendary Shangri-La. Shangri-La belongs to the Tibetan regions of southwest China. It lies in a wide high valley, surrounded by grassland with grazing yaks and mountain ranges that mark the beginning of the Himalayas. From here we enter Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest in the world, surrounded by dramatic, soaring cliffs and a majestic 5,500-meter mountain range. We follow the Yangtze westward and take a virtually deserted mountain road to a tiny stone village that was built high on a cliff to protect its inhabitants from marauding river pirates. After crossing a pass at almost 4,000 meters, we arrive at the turquoise blue Lugu mountain lake. Its shores and the surrounding mountains are inhabited by the Mosu people.

We’ll take a break to visit Lijiang, a historic UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as other beautiful locations in this high valley, situated at an altitude of 2,600 meters. From there our journey takes us back to the Yangtze, which we follow down into a subtropical landscape. As the temperature rises, wheat fields soon give way to small farms of banana trees and tea plantations. Still riding along the Yangtze, we reach Dali, a former kingdom at the starting point of the ancient Tea Horse Road, a trade route linking China to Burma and India. Dali is located between the 42 kilometer long Erhai Lake and the 4,000-meter Cangshan Mountains, which we are going to tackle the following day. We then reach the Salween River, which rises in a remote corner of the Himalayas and flows across the border into Burma. Following the many curves of the river course northward, we reach the Tibetan border and cross a nameless pass. From there, a spectacular descent takes us to the banks of the Mekong deep in the Himalayas. Forbidding, moon-like mountain landscapes and canyons await us in this region, which is inhabited by ethnic Tibetans. We’ll come across a green oasis tucked away in a side valley and spend the night in a traditional farmhouse belonging to a local Tibetan family, and get to know the life and culture of the Tibetans. The next day, we’ll explore the course of the Mekong, the last of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan – Yangtze, Salween and Mekong – a nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We’re approaching the high point of our journey – riding on tracks and through gorges, we have fantastic views of the 6,740-meter Kawa Karpo mountain and soon reach the Mingyong glacier that descends from its summit. We’ll spend the night at the foot of the mountain, at the “flying temple”, and enjoy the spectacle of the snow-covered peak at sunset and sunrise. On our last riding day on the way back to Shangri-La, we’ll have one last opportunity to savor the full splendor of the Himalayas. Over hundreds of bends, we’ll wind our way up the Pass of the White Horse, the highest of the tour at 4,292 meters, and down to Shangri-La, bringing us back to the alleys of the beautiful, entirely wooden old town of Dukezong.

If you want to get to know the authentic Middle Kingdom and its spectacular scenery, far from the crowded cities and standard sights, this tour is for you – join us and explore China in a way that only few have done before.

Highlights South of the Clouds

  • the entirely wooden old town of Shangri-La, with the world’s largest Tibetan prayer wheel
  • the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan – Yangtze, Salween and Mekong – a nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • the Tibetan regions of northern Yunnan in the Himalayas
  • the route along the Salween river on the border to Burma and the newly-opened pass from the Salween valley to the Mekong
  • an overnight stay with a local Tibetan family in a small village on the Mekong
  • the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lijiang and its 5,500-meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain massif
  • the majestic headwaters of the Mekong and the 6,740-meter Kawa Karpo
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge – one of the world’s deepest, with cliffs soaring to more than 3,000 meters
  • the 4,292-meter Pass of the White Horse
  • the rustic cliff village deep in the gorges of the Yangtze
  • the Lugu alpine mountain lake and the lands of the Lisu, Mosu and Yi ethnic minorities

2021
16.10. – 30.10.

2022
19.03. – 02.04.
15.10. – 29.10.

Shineray X5 400: 2.980€
BMW F 800 GS: 3.780€
BMW G 310 GS: 3.280€
Pillion: 2.380€
Single Room: +495€

15 days / 14 nights / 12 riding days

Accommodation in mid-range hotels and guest houses.

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South of the Clouds Motorcycle Tour Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Shangri-La

Our China motorcycle tour starts in Shangri-La, in the southeastern foothills of the Tibetan Himalayas at 3,300 meters above sea level in Yunnan Province. The name Shangri-La is derived from centuries-old Tibetan legends that describe a place in the Himalayas where there is no aging, no illness, no death – and thus no suffering – where people live together in peace and harmony. A kind of heaven on earth. The English novelist James Hilton popularized the idea in the west with his 1933 bestseller, Lost Horizon.

Shangri-La can be easily reached on domestic flights from Chengdu, Kunming and other Chinese cities. A new express train also runs directly to Shangri-La from Kunming, offering its passengers a close look at spectacular landscapes. Contact us for info on how to get to Shangri-La – we’ll also be happy to book your domestic flights.

We’ll pick you up from the airport or train station and bring you to the hotel near the old town. After a short break at the hotel, we’ll get acquainted over dinner in a traditional Tibetan restaurant with regional specialties and good local beer.

Arrival in Leh
Road to the Hemis and Tikkse Monasteries

Day 2: Warm-up run in Shangri-La

Today we’ll visit the ancient Tibetan town of Dukezong, which was built entirely of wood almost 1,000 years ago. Shangri-La, which lies in a broad valley surrounded by mountain ranges, was once a major trading post at the crossroads of the Tea Horse Road linking China, Burma and India, and the Silk Road heading west.

A Buddhist temple and the largest prayer wheel in the world with a height of 21 meters overlook the valley from the small “turtle mountain” in the heart of the old city. It takes eight strong men and women to set the prayer wheel in motion – but then good karma is assured! After lunch, it’s time to saddle up and ride through the surrounding Tibetan villages and farms on the Shangri-La plateau. Country roads take us past wheat and potato fields to the grasslands surrounding Napa Lake, where yaks often graze on its shores.

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We’ll have plenty of opportunity to get accustomed to our bikes on a relaxed lap around the lake before arriving at Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery, also known as Little Potala Palace. The monastery, which was built in 1679, is modelled after its big brother in Lhasa. It belongs to Gelugpa (yellow hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism and has three main halls with gigantic Buddha statues. Depending on the season, up to 500 monks live in simple accommodations around the monastery.

We’ll then head back to the old town of Shangri-La.

Distance covered: approx. 70 km

Day 3: Into one of the world’s deepest gorges

From Shangri-La, the road winds its way through grasslands with grazing yaks and evergreen forests up to a 3,700-meter pass. We’ll continue through the land of the Naxi and Lisu ethnic minorities, who often be found living in very basic wooden huts. The unbelievable winding road with its numerous switchbacks courses through valleys and over many small passes to the White Water Terraces. Lime-rich water from the sacred spring at the birthplace of the Dongba religion flows down the slope and forms the beautiful white terraced pools. We then reach the foothills of the 5,396-meter Haba, a mountain whose snow-covered peak can be seen from the road, and descend into Tiger Leaping Gorge. The lower we go, the warmer it gets, and here, deep in the Yangtze gorge at “only” 1,900 meters altitude, we’ll ride past banana trees and cacti – we’ve reached the subtropics in only one day.

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Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest, with the 5,500-meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range towering over it. Sheer cliffs of up to 3,000 meters plunge to the bottom of the gorge. It’s no less than 3,790 meters from the summit to the deepest point. The road is not secured by crash barriers, and it winds its way through numerous bends on the way to the highest point of the canyon and to the viewing platform.

In the early afternoon, after arriving at the guesthouse, we’ll hike down into the gorge to Tiger Leaping Stone. The rock, which stands amid the raging whitewater of the Yangtze, is accessible via a wooden suspension bridge. We’ll then climb steep ladders that take us back to the road and the guesthouse. The hike into the gorge is optional, of course, and nothing speaks against simply spending the afternoon decompressing with a cool beer.

We’ll stay the night in the guesthouse in the gorge.

Distance covered: approx. 190 km

Snake Buddha statue at Likir Monastery
On our way to Fatu La Pass

Day 4: The cliff village at the Yangtze

The cliff village was built in the 7th century on an inaccessible rock to afford protection against plundering Tibetan hordes and river pirates. From there, we’ll have a great view of the shimmering, bluish-green river and narrow valley. The journey there take us through tiny, remote hamlets, and narrow country lanes alternate with steep, single-lane mountain roads – and at the end of the riding day, we’ll tackle an exciting track down to the Yangtze river.

We’ll spend the night in the small village in a simple guesthouse with a view of the Yangtze – one of the longest rivers in Asia. There we can get to know the lives of the local Naxi people.

Distance covered: approx. 120 km

Day 5: To the fantastic alpine Lugu Lake

We continue to follow the Yangtze and cross the river on a spectacular bridge. The road then winds its way up to a 4,000-meter pass. We’ll spend the entire day on fantastic, virtually deserted mountain roads with amazing vistas.

At Lugu Lake, which lies at an altitude of 2,700 meters and is surrounded by a deep evergreen forest, we’ll spend the night near the shore with a view of the lake. Small rowboats are available for exploring the islands in the lake. This area is inhabited by the Mosu people, one of the last matriarchal societies in the world. The lake shore is lined with small Buddhist temples and a number of short sandy beaches.

Distance covered: approx. 210 km

Across the water to Chilling
Khardung La Pass in the Indian Himalayas

Day 6: The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lijiang

In the afternoon we’ll reach Baisha, a town near Lijiang in which time seems to have stood still. The traditional houses bear witness to a rich architecture that has remained much the same for centuries. Baisha is the less touristy counterpart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lijiang, and is only ten kilometers to the north.

We’ll have a free afternoon in Baisha.

Distance covered: approx. 220 km

Day 7: Sightseeing in Lijiang

Black Dragon Pool – a landmark of southwestern China – and further highlights of the town. Small bars offering local libations will vie for our attention in the evening.

Camel ride in the dunes at Diskit
View of Lake Pangong

Day 8: The Nanzhao Kingdom near Dali

The day begins with a ride across the vast Lijiang plateau. Soon we’ll find ourselves descending to the banks of the Yangtze. Time for some more fun on back roads with little traffic that wind their way through the small banana and tea plantations of the local farmers. In the afternoon, we’ll reach an old town near the 42 km long Erhai Lake, the “ear lake” – with a bird’s eye view and a lot of imagination, it looks a bit like an ear.

We have an optional excursion to Dali, the former capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom, in the afternoon. The town is on the banks of the lake at an altitude of 2,200 meters and framed by the eleven rugged 4,100-meter peaks of the Cangshan Mountains. In Dali, we’ll visit the Buddhist temple complex of the Chongsheng Three Pagodas that dates back 1,200 years and bears witness to the region’s rich history.

Distance covered: approx. 290 km

Day 9: Following the Tea Horse Road to Shaxi

Shaxi is a historic town on the Tea Horse Road, a trade route that once linked China with Burma and India. The Chinese had silk, the Burmese and Indians had tea to trade, and so horse caravans made their way over the high mountain ranges. Even today, much is still reminiscent of that time: the old town built entirely of wood, the arched stone bridge over the river and the village square with its wooden theater stage have witnessed a lot of history. We’ll take a walk through the old town and visit a traditional courtyard house dating back to the Qing Dynasty.

The mountain road to Shaxi is remote and twisty, taking us through small villages and past colorful rice and grain fields. On our ride to Shibaoshan – the “stone treasure mountain” – we’ll see the oldest stonemasonry works of southern China, and get an impression of how prosperous, well-connected and important the place was already 1,200 years ago. There are also impressive Taoist temples carved into a rock face on the mountainside.

Motorcycling along the banks of Lake Pangong
At the Chang La Pass

Day 10: Into the Salween valley

We’re approaching the most remote region on this journey. In the afternoon, we’ll reach the mighty Salween river, known in China as the Nu Jiang, which is 2,815 kilometers long. The road takes us through steep gorges, always along the river that flows from the Tibetan Himalayas down to Myanmar, Thailand and then into the Andaman Sea.

Distance covered: approx. 300 km

Day 11: Riding along the Salween in the Tibetan Himalayas

We’ll follow the course of the river to the north, parallel to the Burmese border, and make a few photo stops. Today’s highlight is the view of the first loop of the Salween on its way down from the plateau. During our ride we’ll gain some altitude, and at the end of the day we’re back at almost 2,000 meters and very close to the Tibetan border.

Distance covered: approx. 290 km

Lake Tso Moriri

Day 12: Visiting a Tibetan family on the Mekong

We’ll cross a 3,870-meter, nameless pass that links the Salween with the Mekong gorge. The region of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan – Yangtze, Salween and Mekong – is a nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This road is brand-new – it’s not completely paved yet and can be quite adventurous. The descent from the pass is breathtaking with its vistas of snow-covered Himalayan mountains. The other side of the pass takes us into the fascinating gorges of the upper Mekong. Here a Tibetan family awaits us in their traditional farmhouse, nestled in a green oasis in a small village with ancient walnut trees. Tonight’s dinner will include homemade wheat brandy and red wine.

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From roof terrace, we can look out at the 6,740-meter peak of Kawa Karpo. A small saddle above the village offers a spectacular view of the Mekong. The Tibetan family offers us insights into the lives of the local people and their culture that you simply can’t get elsewhere.

Distance covered: approx. 140 km

Day 13: The Mekong and Kawa Karpo – the king of the eastern Himalayas

We’re approaching the high point of our journey – riding on tracks and through gorges, we have fantastic views of the 6,740-meter Kawa Karpo mountain and soon reach the Mingyong glacier that descends from its summit. Our team knows the best, largely uncharted routes in the region. We’ll spend the night at an altitude of 3,400 meters at the foot of the mountain, near a viewing platform and the “flying temple”, and enjoy the spectacle of the snow-covered peak at sunset and sunrise. Kawa Karpo is one of three sacred mountains of the Tibetans – on special years, thousands of Tibetan pilgrims come to the mountain, circumambulating it on an arduous, week-long trek.

Distance covered: approx. 100 km

Ride over the wooden bridge to Shakti Valley
crossing a stream in the Shakti Valley (Leh)

Day 14: The Pass of the White Horse

On our last riding day on the way back to Shangri-La, we’ll have one last opportunity to savor the full splendor of the Himalayas. Over hundreds of bends, we wind our way up the Pass of the White Horse, the highest of the tour at 4,292 meters, and down to the banks of the Yangtze, where we’ll visit a remote Buddhist monastery. Our journey ends in Shangri-La, back amongst the alleys of the beautiful, entirely wooden old town of Dukezong.

Day 15: Goodbye, and have a safe trip home!

Transfer to the airport and departure from Shangri-La.

Don’t Miss Out On a Wonderful Experience

Book your Tour Now -South of the Clouds Tour

We can accommodate only 14 motorbikes on this tour.

Since our tours get filled up fast, please book our South of the Clouds Tour now to avoid disappointment.

Our Next available tours are as follows:

2021
16.10. – 30.10.

2022
19.03. – 02.04.
15.10. – 29.10.

Book Now

Included Services

  • all overnight stays in mid-range hotels and guesthouses
  • the motorcycle of your choice; third-party, fire, and theft insurance coverage with a deductible
  • motor oil, spares, mechanic service
  • breakfast and dinner, mineral water during the whole tour (in the support vehicle)
  • entrance fees support vehicle for luggage and passengers, with a spare motorcycle
  • an English-speaking tour guide on their own motorcycle
  • all group transfers to and from the airport

Excluded Services

  • international flights
  • lunch
  • drinks
  • travel cancellation and return transport insurance
  • fuel
  • individual transfers between the hotel and airport

Questions & Answers

What do I need to bring along for a motorcycle tour?2020-01-06T11:30:46+00:00

You will definitely want to bring your riding suit with protectors and a helmet. You will also need motorcycle boots or lighter riding shoes and gloves. While your gear should be breathable in hot climates, you need to be ready for anything at high altitudes and in the Himalayas. We recommend winter gloves, warm socks, liners for jackets and trousers, a scarf and face protection. Rain gear is a good idea if your riding suit is not waterproof.
Please note that we do not hire out clothing. We believe that your own riding gear will fit best and thus give you the best protection. If you forget anything, we’ll find a solution, however. We often have spare gear with us, or we can point you in the direction of a shop.

Do I need travel insurance and travel health insurance?2019-12-18T06:24:21+00:00

We always recommend that you take out travel insurance to cover costs incurred if you need to cancel the trip due to illness or other reasons. When shopping for travel health insurance, make sure the policy covers the potentially high cost of medical evacuation to your home country. Both forms of insurance can save you a lot of money in an emergency and we recommend them unreservedly. In many countries, your national motoring organization can provide the coverage you need.

What should I keep in mind when riding with a passenger?2019-12-18T06:24:20+00:00

Riding two-up is almost always possible. In difficult terrain or on rough tracks, every passenger has a guaranteed seat in the support vehicle to keep things relaxed for both rider and pillion.

Do pillion passengers have a guaranteed seat in the support vehicle?2019-12-18T06:24:16+00:00

Yes, all passengers have a guaranteed seat. In bad weather or challenging riding conditions, they can switch to the support vehicle at any time – and back to the bike when conditions improve.

How big are the groups? What’s the minimum number of participants?2019-12-18T06:24:15+00:00

Groups generally consist of 8 to 14 riders and 2 to 6 passengers. The minimum number of participants is 6 riders.

What’s the Classic Bike Adventure travel team like?2019-12-18T06:24:12+00:00

Our European tour guides are skilled motorcyclists and inveterate travelers who love India. They’re resilient in the face of stress and know the history and culture of the regions they cover. Our Indian mechanics are experienced Enfield specialists who all speak English and are happy to help with any technical problem, great or small.
A stand-in rider is always available. More information on our travel concept is available here.

What do I need in the way of documents?2019-12-18T06:24:09+00:00

You will need your passport, national driving license, international driving license and flight ticket. Please be sure to make photocopies of all of your important travel documents and carry them separately. They can be invaluable in an emergency.

Do I need a driving license?2019-12-18T06:24:05+00:00

All riders must have a valid motorcycle driving license issued in their home country. An international driving license is also required. Be sure to contact the relevant authorities in your home country well in advance for more information on obtaining an international driving license.

Will I need maps?2019-12-18T06:31:37+00:00

Simple street maps are often available locally. The best road maps are available from the German publishers Reise Know How and Nelles. These are only available in specialized bookstores or online.

Where can I stow my bags?2019-12-18T06:24:02+00:00

Your baggage will be carried by the support vehicle. Please don’t pack too much – remember: less is more. From time to time, we’ll have to carry our baggage over short distances to the hotel. Baggage is not insured, so please be sure to purchase your own baggage insurance for the trip if necessary. Your personal items for the day are best kept in the saddlebags or your daypack. Tank bags – including magnetic ones – can be used on the Enfields, but we don’t provide them.

What’s a typical day on the road like?2019-12-18T06:22:49+00:00

A travel day normally begins at 8 am with breakfast. Around 9 am, after a short briefing by the road captain, it’s time for the day’s riding, the mileage of which can vary quite a bit. Plenty of time will be available for lunch and coffee breaks, of course. Depending on the day’s mileage, we’ll reach the destination hotel between 3 and 4 pm.
Since our tours vary considerably, we may also hit the road at 8 am on high-mileage days – which is also nice, because then we have the whole day ahead of us.

Why we’re starting and ending our Tibet Motorcycle Tour in China2019-11-22T09:42:55+00:00

In the wake of the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and road construction in many parts of the country, the journey from Kathmandu to Lhasa has not only become time-consuming, but also dangerous. The entire route from Kathmandu to the Chinese border at Rasua Gadhi on the Nepalese side and Gyirong on the Chinese side is currently a construction site. The road surface consists of sand and large stones, and it’s extremely dusty. Numerous trucks also use the road. Not even enduro enthusiasts would enjoy the ride. We would also have to factor in the time-consuming border procedures on the Nepalese and, in particular, the Chinese side, that can take up to a full day.

Starting and ending the Tibet Motorcycle Tour in Kathmandu would thus mean putting up with the same route and dealing with comparably long border procedures twice on the same tour. Regardless of what other organizers may think, that’s not our idea of a fun Tibet Motorcycle Tour. The road conditions and waiting times would not exactly be the highlights of a ride to Everest Base Camp. In our opinion, it makes no sense to start and end a tour with a focus on Tibet as its highlight in Kathmandu. And besides, a fleet of state-of-the-art bikes is waiting and ready to roll in Tibet.

If you want to discover the best Nepal has to offer – and not just see it as a transit country – we recommend our Magic Nepal Motorcycle Tour, or our spectacular Mustang Motorcycle Tour. On our Tibet Motorcycle Tours we hardly ever take the same road twice – we only have the most beautiful routes, and we don’t waste precious time at borders. We want you to remember your ride to Everest Base Camp as a true highlight.

What kind of bikes will we ride?2019-12-18T06:26:11+00:00

Depending on the specific tour, the following bikes are available for our motorcycle tours in Tibet and China: The BMW models G 310 GS, F 800 GS and R 1200GS, as well as the Shineray X5, a 400cc single-cylinder enduro.

How much is the deposit for the bike on China and Tibet tours?2019-12-18T06:26:03+00:00

The deposit for the motorcycle varies depending on the choice of bike:
Shineray X5 400: EUR/US$ 500
BMW G 310 GS: EUR/US$ 1,000
BMW F 800 GS and R 1200 GS: EUR/US$ 1,500

Tour Concept by RC Hendrik

About RC Peter