2015-05-31T09:35:20+00:00April 19th, 2015|Lee & Paul Update|

We leave Lijiang and it is 6 degrees. The day before was a rainy, cold day with the prediction of snow where we are headed! But we wake up to the most perfect day one could wish for – absolutely magnificent! As soon as we break the city traffic we start climbing and we come into view of the Yangtse River – this is where it starts it’s journey through China. We ride alongside it and I am reminded of reading to my kids when they were little “The Story of Ping” – what a wonderful tale that is of the little yellow duck.


Riding along the Yangtse River

The mountains become steeper and the river narrows and then we are at the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge – with a million other Chinese tourists! Not a white person in sight!!

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge

The sound where the rock splits the water is said to sound like a bellowing tiger!

The sound where the rock splits the water is said to sound like a bellowing tiger!

Wang tells us that the road we are taking from here to Shangri-la (200km) will have no traffic – only locals – and motorbikes are allowed! As we leave the tourist spot we climb and the road is just cut in to the side of the mountain – literally – no armour guard railing around here!! And there’s lots of random rocks on the road so they could fall from anywhere at any moment!


We reach Middle Leaping Gorge where we stop for lunch at an International Hostel and a Frenchman talks to us about trekking around these parts and his motorbike experiences!! We are all totally in awe of our surroundings – the weather, the road and how lucky we are to be having this experience! If we had taken the other tour group with a support vehicle we would not have come this way. Ride China really know the roads. We head over mountain after mountain on a road that snakes up and down taking us through very remote villages.


Their crops meander down the slopes in terraces and form quite a picture with the differing colours of wheat and rice harvests. We stop often for photo opportunities and around every corner is another magnificent snow-capped peak that we haven’t seen before. It is breathtaking and so serene with the absence of traffic – this definitely rates as the best motorbike ride ever!


The people in the villages are starting to change in looks and dress and we feel like we are in the pages of National Geographic – it would be easy to stop and just photograph the people. Lots of animals free-ranging everywhere – the best moment was when a tiny, black piglet took off in front of my bike for about 30m – his little legs going ten to the dozen! The temperature is a pleasant 18-22 degrees and we are climbing to 3,600m. Mark’s Honda Transalp is not happy at altitude – has no throttle power and Pete’s old R80 is running a bit rich. The KTM’s are carving it up and enjoying their European heritage! We all donned our warmest gear for this ride (a day like the one before and it would have been freezing!) and it’s interesting to see what each person has. We all have heated grips and Paul, Pete and I have thermals. Mark has some over-handlebar glove protectors but little else! I have a heated vest from Victoria and it’s proving a treasure and my possum wool socks! Pete’s secret weapon is his balaclava. On the last peak the vegetation becomes tundra and we start seeing grasslands with sheep and yak grazing (and on the road!). Paul and Wang have a large black yak come between their bikes! As we descend it is like we have crossed a border as the grasslands become vaster, the houses start to change and the people are very different.


Traditional clothes are everywhere – lots of black with bright colours.


We come into a town and the houses are absolutely massive – two to three stories – with lots of elaborate timber carvings (Wang later tells us they use 100 year old trees and the government is trying to put a stop to it as they are running out of timber!!). The windows are small and their is generally a large high-walled courtyard with gates – they must experience incredible winds in the winter. Around the villages are chorals for the yak with huge drying racks for their feed. It’s a sensory overload as we come into Shangri-la and drive on the cobblestones.

Under construction

Under construction – the carving and painting detail must be painstaking

Wang directs us to our hotel in a back street. We are to take the bikes up steps and into the foyer but without motor please! Their is a massive glass atrium over the foyer and this seems to be the norm for a lot of the buildings – a sun trap when it’s cold.


We walk up town and enjoy a Chinese Hotpot for dinner. We are to have two nights here to acclimatise us even more to the altitude – and a day off to visit the Tibetan Monastery. We sleep with thermals on again and the heater going! Breakfast is vegetable dumplings and pork steam buns – yum. We take the local bus up to the monastery and it passes through another traditional village – lots of photo opportunities here.



We see the monks in prayer, where they live and what incredible craftsmen they are – as Paul says – they have all the time in the world to paint all day!

You can see the origins of folk art - intricate detailing

You can see the origins of folk art – intricate detailing

It is 2.7 degrees when we leave Shangri-la and there isn’t a cloud in the sky – absolutely beautiful and fresh. On the outskirts of town the houses are more spread out and there are grasslands with yak crazing and the snow-capped peaks on the horizon. The super highway takes us up a mountain and becomes another incredible engineering masterpiece – god knows how much these roads cost – with their mammoth bridges and endless tunnels. We turn off on to a minor road and follow a tributary of the Yangtse River through a gorge that goes on for miles. Mountains flank either side of the river cutting and are dry, brown and barren – but down at river level there are trees and houses with terraces for rice and wheat. The women in their colourful clothes make a striking contrast with the green of the crops – and there are now donkeys, pigs, yak, cows and some chickens wandering the roads. As we travel further into the gorge the water becomes a beautiful aquamarine in places – away from the road construction and bigger villages. We have entered the Kham eastern Tibet region and the houses are different again – more medieval lines but still with the carved wooden window frames and colourfully painted.



The seal ends abruptly for roadworks, or just a stretch that hasn’t been fixed – so we have to keep our wits about us. Eventually, we start climbing and the terrain seems to be a native pine. The road climbs and each time we come over the top there is another set of snow-capped peaks – just beautiful. Our last climb of the day reaches 4.150m and far below we can see our destination for the night so we descend again.


Coming in to Xiangcheng is another monastery with an amazing wooden entrance all intricately carved (the pieces of timber used are massive) right near the road. We are now on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan Province. Driving in to the main street is like being in another world – the women are wearing ankle-length dresses  and a lot of the men wear hats. Wang takes us to the nicest restaurant in town and my favourite dish is the sweet and sour pork – done to perfection and not too sweet.


On Two Wheels


The bikes have great crash bars and gorgeous mudflaps

The bikes have great crash bars and gorgeous mudflaps.

So cute!

So cute!

Tibetan bling!

Tibetan bling!

We leave Xiangcheng and descend altitude to another river gorge which we follow for quite some time until the inevitable ascent – another minor road – and mainly sealed. This time we climb to our highest point of 4,700m – to put that in perspective, Mt. Cook in N.Z. is around 3,700m and Mt. Kosciusko is around 2,200m! It is very cool and barren but a wonderful wilderness. Mark only just makes it to the top in first gear but that doesn’t stop him throwing snow on me as I ride past him!!

Picnic lunch at 4700m - quite surreal!

Picnic lunch at 4700m – quite surreal!

We descend again on to a plateau with another really interesting village where the houses blend in to the colours of the prairie. Yak are wandering the streets and it’s a whole other world!


From here the road suddenly becomes an amazing highway – quite new and absolutely perfect – not unlike the Snowy Mountain Highway! It is time for a blast and some high-speed cornering!! Lots of switchbacks but the occasional yak to remind us of where we are!

Part of motorcycle heaven!

Part of motorcycle heaven!

From a lookout and across a vast grassland we can see Litang – our home for the night. The wind across the prairie is very strong and dust blows in waves around town but it’s all so interesting and unique. We are still at 4,100m and any over-exertion results in breathlessness. Pete has been having respiratory issues and bought some cans of oxygen which seems to be readily available (just in case).

Trying to blend in...

Trying to blend in…

We leave Litang and immediately start climbing again – this time it’s another new road that becomes another motorbike heaven – it just keeps coming and coming! We get to 4,400m and start descending again with incredible switchbacks, corners and brilliant surface. We pull up at a lookout at the same time as a group of Chinese motorcyclists coming the other way. They are riding from Shanghai to Lahsa (Tibet) and two of them were on scooters! It is over 6,000kms each way and they will take a month. We had a photo session with them and they were a very happy bunch.


The road is called 318 and is apparently renowned as China’s most scenic and a pilgrimage for pushbikes – their are heaps of Chinese on bicycles on this route and they wave to us – we can’t help thinking they are truly mad as the magnitude of these roads is mindblowing (apparently it takes them three months). With no warning, the road turns to shit – this is the bit they will bypass altogether – and it’s rock and holes and powder and it’s first gear for me. The way up goes forever and I overheat when a very slow car stops me on a corner. Paul and I wait 15 minutes for the bike to recover. The views are again spectacular with more magnificent mountains – and we are blessed again with the weather! Lunch is in a small village right beside one of the unique houses that scatter through all this region – I talk to a couple of small boys and then ask the mother if I can look through her house! It is so interesting and the rooms inside are monstrous and every skerrick of wall is covered in murals – not dissimilar to what the monks do in the monasteries. She indicates that she has done the work. The rooms are set up for large gatherings and there is lots of colour everywhere. Everything is hand done – from the stone walls, the carved and painted window frames, furniture. The clothing on the people in this region is a cross between quaker and black Americans in the slave era – with more Tibetan colours. It’s like they are in fancy dress and we are in another time.

Lunch stop and the house I went inside!

Lunch stop and the house I went inside!

We take another amazing super highway to Chengdu – and a stop for two nights. Time for oil changes, repairs and a chance to see the giant pandas – but Yunnan Province…we will never forget you – your beautiful motorcycle roads, your wonderful foods, incredible scenery that we never imagined, your unique minority groups…what an absolutely amazing experience!

Story of the Week


Only in China do they call overtaking lanes up a hill the “climbing lane”.

Only in China do they use umbrellas while they ride their scooters, and talk on the phone and hold the baby!

Only in China do they NOT redo roads – they just build a brand new one right next to it!

Only in China do they call the truck safety ramps “escamp ramp”.

Only in China do you enter a tunnel and it’s about 32 degrees – then 10km later when you come out the other side of the mountain the temperature has dropped 15, it’s pelting down and visibility is nilch!

Only in China does your guide put plastic bags over his motorcycle boots when it starts raining…


Only in China can every road side stall for miles have oranges, the lunch stop gives oranges away and yet no-one can do orange juice!

Only in China do cars honk and pass you in a tunnel that is pitch black when a truck is coming the  other way!

Only in China do they fill your bike to overflowing, then as you’re leaving indicate that your bike is leaking!!

Only in China do you pass only when there IS oncoming traffic!!

And Only in China do you hear the constant drawn out hoick as they build up a big spit – and every time it turns your stomach – even though to them it is quite normal!

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  1. Barnsie April 22, 2015 at 10:44 pm


    Why were your eyes so puffy? Late night, something you ate, allergie to beer?

    What is the cheapest beer so far? And it has to be drinkable!

    Did you have any issues at 4500m?

    • Lee April 25, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Bee stings mate! How’s things going?

  2. Wayne Draper April 21, 2015 at 3:08 am

    Looks like you guys are having a fantastic time and hopefully you guys stay safe but the story is great to follow and it’s good to see Paul spreading his humour around, he so makes me laugh. Keep up the good work guys and l am looking forward to the next chapter. Seeing the pandas sounds like so much fun.

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Thanks Wayne! Great to hear from you and the pandas were awesome! Looking forward to getting back to Facebook so I can see regular shots of the twins..hi to all xxxx

  3. Keith and Carolyn April 21, 2015 at 1:14 am

    Wow, just amazing. Keep it coming.

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 10:52 am

      See you in Canada maybe!! xxx

  4. Bruce Newey April 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm


    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Thanks cuz…

  5. Runt April 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Well you can take the mother away from the boy but not the boy away from his mother…….half way round the world and at the top of the earth and Paul can still find the local CWI meeting. Did he win the basket weaving prize ?

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Not to my knowledge Ga! But he made them all laugh…

  6. alison morgan April 20, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Another great chapter Lee and still making me smile and learning .Great photo of Paul with the locals.Take care love Alison xxx

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      I could photograph people all day given half the chance!! I like that I’m making you smile xxxx

  7. colleen April 20, 2015 at 5:55 am

    That was fantastic reading, found myself grinning away, all the great insights and awesome photos! Looking forward to the next missive. I like hearing how you are all taking good care of yourselves and each other. Reassuring!

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Thanks Colleen! We are a good team… xxx

  8. Beverley April 20, 2015 at 2:53 am

    Amazing landscape! Sounds like you are having a blast. What an adventure!

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      It’s the adventure that just keeps coming….

  9. Mike April 20, 2015 at 2:31 am

    Just fantastic Lee!

    Great writing, pics, and what an adventure. I’ve Been following along wish you all safe and fun travels. Wish I could have made the trip!

    Mike (Colorado, USA)

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

      I bet you do Mike! Best wishes and hope your wrist is recovering…

  10. Phil Prince April 20, 2015 at 1:21 am

    Hi Guys
    Have enjoyed reading about your travels in China. Some spectacular scenery at altitudes we don’t get in Australia. Evol and I have recently ridden down to Cooran to help friends celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Phil was Doug’s best man. Phil has also retired so we are heading to Tamworth to be there for his mother’s birthday on 24th April.
    Take care with the Yaks and keep the newsy reports coming.

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      No worries…will do! Enjoy retirement!

  11. Ros Keay April 20, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Hi Lee,
    Thank you for your amazing ” travel log”. What an incredible journey you are both having. You write so well and the photos are beautiful……I feel like I am going on this trip with you! I look forward to reading your next post. Stay safe. Ros x

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks Ros – great to hear from you! Glad you’re enjoying the blog xxxx

  12. Wendy and Paul April 20, 2015 at 12:10 am

    Definitely a book. This is funny and so interesting to read. So glad we met you in Chiang Mai. Keep shining.

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Cheers Wendy…interesting the twists and turns of life hey?! You never know where our paths will meet again…

  13. Mary Batty April 19, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Hi Guys, I see a book in creation here, what a truly memorable time you are having and thank you so much for sharing it with us, we can’t be there in person, but we certainly are there with your words and loving every minute.

    Look after yourselves and the possum socks !! X

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Love my possum socks! Nothing worse than cold feet!! Pleasure to share Mary…xxx

      • JILL STONNELL April 23, 2015 at 9:42 am

        Hey Lee, Amazing read I am riding every corner with you 🙂 🙂 In spirit anyway – I also have possum socks they are the Bomb when it comes to riding bikes in the cold 🙂
        Stay Safe guys and kep the stories coming.xox

        • Lee April 25, 2015 at 3:28 am

          Thanks Jill! Always Kiwis at heart aren’t we!! Glad you’re enjoying it xxxx

  14. Annie April 19, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    WOW! What a read! Amazing experience and the journey is in it’s early stages. Looking forward to the next post – makes me feel like I’m there! Love you xxxxxx

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks BFITWWW xxxx

  15. Hilda Pye April 19, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Amazing shots and great reading! Love the photos of the locals. Keep it coming:))

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Will do Hil xxx

  16. Jim April 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Lost for words again – truly great adventure!!!!!

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks Jim Bob xxx

  17. Sandy April 19, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    We are experiencing every kilometre and tasting every mouthful! Thank you for the most amazing read. Keep it coming. Take care, Love to you both. S & T

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:27 pm

      Hello favourite peoples!! Hope you’re good xxxx The day we hear from you is the day we are at the Terracotta Warriors – is there something in that?!

  18. No. 1 Daughter April 19, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    Looks amazing Mum!! Dad looks right at home with all the local women, the painting of Dad from Cuba wasn’t far off – Mr Miyagi. Can’t help but notice there’s bikes but no beers in this one?

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      Hello No. 1!! He does look at home doesn’t he! You’re right about the beer – we’re in the home of tea drinkers – can’t always get a beer! But when we can – we sure do!!! Love you xxxx

  19. Sue & Alex Hird April 19, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    WOW!!! How are you ever going to beat that section? Just amazing, the diversity and the scenery and EVERYTHING! So happy it’s all going so well now. XO

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      We keep thinking that but then another day starts and it’s pretty awesome!! Heading left on the Silk Road and the Gobi Desert next…sometimes hard to believe we’re doing it!! xxxx

  20. Pete April 19, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Cool country you guys are experiencing.
    Bet I would have been pushing my bike up some of the mountains.

    Take care……… Take only photos & leave only footprints (oh & tire marks :-).

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      China is very cool Pete – so glad we’ve made it happen! Reckon they’d be some good hunting in them hills! xxx

  21. Aunty April 19, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    You write so well Lee! Almost like being there as I read it! Lots of love xxxxxx

    • Gail dickason April 19, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Lee I know you are a fantastic artist but I didn’t know you could paint in words. You are going to have to put this in a book obviously. What a incredible adventure and to think just a few weeks ago you were sitting at the table looking for bike boxes. Stay safe and continue having fun. Tell Paul the shells look great on the table !! Gx

      • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:56 pm

        Thanks Gail – Paul was pretty chuffed with those shells wasn’t he?! Sometimes keep pinching ourselves we are out here doing it!! Glad you’re enjoying the blog…keep in touch xxx

    • Lee April 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks Aunty…love you too xxx

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