Turning Our Backs on a Lake to Walk the Great Gorge Instead

So the plan was to spend the time waiting for our visa extensions by cycling a 6 day loop around Lugu lake, north east of Lijiang. It’s meant to be a very beautiful place and is home to the last practising matriarchal society on the planet.

We had a late start because despite the relatively early night, we (and by we I mean mainly me) was feeling a little delicate after our antics the night before… That rice wine is strong stuff! 

Anyway, the head was a little groggy. After a late breakfast/lunch we get going and cycle the long steady ascent up to Lugu lake. 

It’s a steady climb for about 20km and I’m not feeling the best, but at least we have the beautiful Jade Peak Mountain in front and a very strong and helpful tail wind behind us.

The road is fairly busy with coaches who we assume are making their way to the mountain cable car.

I decide I still need some music to get me through so blast out Urban Hymns, The Verve on the tandem’s stereo system… Thanks Richard Ashcroft, I needed that. 

At 1.30pm and having completed 20km we reach a toll gate. We have never had to pay at a toll gate before so we cycle up assuming we’ll be waved on through. 

We’re not. Instead we’re told we have to pay 320Y each!!!!! We laugh and explain that we’re not going to visit the mountain and we’re heading on through to Lugu lake (where we knew we would have to pay another 200Y admission fee).

‘You still need to pay the ticket to use this road’ says the woman. ‘if you don’t want to pay there is an alternative road to Lugu’.

After consulting the map we see that this alternative route would add another 80km onto the loop around the lake – a days cycle basically – and we were already running behind schedule due to our late start. 

We pleaded but she wouldn’t budge. 

Taking stock of our options and considering carefully our overall China schedule we decide to turn back and cut the Lake from our plans completely. 

Both feeling disappointed (mainly because we feel we have wasted one of our 60 precious days in China) we turn the bike round and head back down the road to Lijiang.

It’s down hill but the now gale force wind is right in our faces, blowing us across the road… Paddy is cursing at his phone because he’s managed to lock the language OSM map permanently into Chinese. As we battle with the elements I manage to check the Lonely Planet guide on my phone kindle app for the bus schedule from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge. The last bus would leave at 3.30.

‘We can try and make it’ yells Paddy over the howling wind from the front. 

‘OK’ I scream back. 

We had an hour and a half to cycle the 20km back to the hostel, pack for the two day hike, explain to our non-English speaking host that we needed to leave the bike and most of our bags there, and find a taxi to take us to the bus station. It would be tight.

At 3.25pm we’re sitting panting in our seats on a bus heading to Quiatou. After a mad dash, we had made it – just! We were on our way to hike the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge. The day wouldn’t turn out to be completely wasted!

P.S – there was also another bus which left at 6pm…. 

P.P.S – we managed to miss our stop on the way up and found ourselves 30km further up the road than we needed to be… Luckily our nice bus driver flagged us down another bus and we got there in the end!

The Highs and Lows of Lijiang

The day before we left Shaxi I had had a well needed phone catch up with my friend Jo via Skype. She asked me what had been the hardest thing about the trip so far and I had struggled to think of anything… 

‘I’m sure there’s lots of things but I can’t really think of anything that has been that challenging’ I had replied.

This is probably quite telling, and sums up our trip very well I think. There has definitely been some challenging days but they have been far outstripped, and easily forgotten when I consider all the great moments. The human capacity to adorn rose tinted spectacles is quite amazing sometimes!

Due to the nature of travelling by bicycle things of course go wrong and there are days where things break, we have to change plans, or one of us is a little low or cranky with the other. It’s rare for a day to go by without at least one of us getting a little frustrated. 

These frustrations are short lived however and are, more often than not, swept from our minds by a local we meet, a tasty lunch we eat or an amazing landscape view. When I consider how stressed I was in my last job I feel very lucky that we made the decision to come away and that even my worst moods are easily erased by something as simple as a hearty lunch. 

Our time in Lijiang is a good example of all this and has certainly been a mixture of highs and frustrating lows. 

We cycled into the sprawling white city of Lijiang at 5pm, pretty good going considering we had had a 110km day with two medium climbs. Before calling it a day and finding our hostel we decided it was worth making a visit to the PSB office (closes at 5.30pm) to ask about extending our visas. 

With the good news that it would only take three days, we could keep our passports while we waited, and that the visa extension would be added from the final date of our current visa (rather than the date we apply), we agreed to go ahead and get the extension over and done with here. 

We knew that applying for our visa extension in China would be a pain and would likely take the best part of a day. Firstly we needed to get an ‘address registration’ slip from the local police station. 

We were staying in a very cheap youth hostel near the Old Town which our cycle friends Geart and Systke had told us about. The upside of this was that we were only paying 40Y a night, the downside was that the owners had no understanding of why we needed to find the nearest police station.

In the end they directed us to the nearest station (200m up the road) so after a quick home cooked porridge breakfast we cycled across to see if we could explain what we needed. After some painful English-Chinese communication the guys at this first station said they couldn’t help us and that we needed to cycle across town to the Xian Police station. 

We hopped on the bike and cycled through the rain to the other side of Lijiang. It took us a good while to locate this second police station but once we were there at least the guy behind the counter seemed to understand what we were after. We were taken upstairs and we handed over our passports and our hostel’s address. It soon became apparent that there was a problem and we were told that we were in the wrong place and that we needed to register at the police station in Changshui as that was the closest one to our hostel. 

We ask for directions, jump on the bike and cycle the full length of town again. 

When we arrive at police station number three we are told that yes, they can issue a registration certificate, but the woman who does it is in a meeting and won’t be back until 3pm. Both of us are slightly cranky by now…

Another annoying administrative hurdle we had to complete before we could apply for our visas is the need for ‘special passport photographs’ to be done (annoying we weren’t allowed to use some from our existing stash we had with us). Luckily, one of the two licensed photography places we needed to use was just around the corner so we could at least get this task completed without too much hassle. 

Being snapped – the photos were also photoshopped (Paddys shoulders got moved up and down and some blemishes on my chin and my rat tails hair got smoothed over!

We then spend a painful hour trying to get cash out with our Caxton card from every ATM in town. I wait with the bike while Paddy admits defeat and goes to use our debit card instead. I sit down on a nearby bench where a bird presides to poo on my head. 

This does NOT improve my mood. 

‘It’s supposed to be lucky you know’ Paddy says as he wipes it out of my hair with a tissue. I say nothing…

We spend the rest of the afternoon visiting the Merida bike shop where we tick off some of our shopping list – a new saddle and warm hat for me, fleece glove inserts, and a new helmet insert for Paddy. 

We like ticking things off our list and this combined with a good lunch means we’re back in a good mood again. 

We get back to the police station for 3pm and meet the lady who can issue the certificate. She frowns at the hostel address and then asks us if we have a telephone contact for them. 

After a quick phone conversation with the hostel she puts the receiver down and says ‘sorry we can’t issue you a certificate for this hostel, it is not in our area. You need to go to The Old Town police station. They should be able to help you’

We groan and check out watches. We have two hours until the PSB closes. We get directions and jump on the bike. We’re not allowed to cycle through the old town itself so we have to get off and walk most of the way to the police station. By this time it is raining heavily.

When you are at the right police station, getting your registration certificate is a quick and painless task. We finally had ours but it had taken us all day to get this single slip of paper.

We hurry over to the PSB office and hand in all our paper work. The man glimpses briefly at our certificate, nods, hands it back and proceeds with our application. All that for a simple 5 second check! Arghhh!!

Those of you who are reading this after a day of frantic emails, report deadlines and perhaps cross words with your boss might be thinking ‘big deal’ but for us this was very frustrating.

As I said at the beginning, our frustrations are often wiped away easily and we spent the evening blowing off some steam by enjoying a beer (and regular cap fills of 57% rice wine) while walking through the beautiful lanes which make up Lijiang old town. 

  We walk through the cobbled streets lit by traditional red Chinese lanterns and cross over streams which are decorated with little floating ‘candle boats’ shaped like lotus flowers.

The streets are busy with people and the stalls and live music make us feel like we are in some sort of festival. We gorge on a delicious street food meal of traditional spicy chicken stir fry, potato cakes, dumplings and Naxi ‘baba’ flat bread.


We keep walking and reach a square and end the night by going to a very lively club which is filled with very cool, happy go lucky Chinese people. It’s a huge party, complete with a bouncing dance floor, balloons, a live DJ and (a rather terrible) MC. 

The drinks are 50y per beer!!!!!!! We buy one to share but are soon given another by the guy sitting next to us. We return the kind gesture and quickly make friends by sneakily passing shots of rice wine to him. 

It’s amazing how quickly we find our party personas again and we’re soon up on the dance floor pulling some shapes and providing a lot of entertainment to our fellow clubbers.

Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos because we were having such a great time. 

There’s nothing that a good dance can’t fix!