26 October 2011
It's been many years since Dali Old Town became a fixture on the Yunnan backpacker trail. The Cangshan mountain range to the west and Erhai Lake to the east make the walled town a great hillside redoubt into which to retreat from days or weeks on the road.
And some road it was — little more than ten years ago, a bus ride from Kunming to Dali would have taken you as long as 12 uncomfortable and unreliable hours. There was no train.
The G56 highway's changed all that, but the old road remains, a beaten and pockmarked section of China's National Highway G320, a 3,695km-long streak of asphalt that runs from the coast in Shanghai to the Myanmar border in Ruili.
No motorist headed to Dali from Kunming would elect to drive this route, but for two-wheeled vehicles, which are not allowed on the G56 highway, it's all that's available. It's a squeak over 400km. We researched the route, set aside four days, packed our bicycle panniers and rolled out of Kunming.
We were familiar with the road to Anning (安宁) from single-day rides out from the city. Renmin Lu (人民路) takes you to the edge of the city, track south on Chunyu Lu (春雨路), and you can get onto the G320 from the roundabout at the southern end. A short climb over a saddle in the western hills, and you're out of the city.
From there it's a steady downhill to Anning. The bike lane is currently in a poor state, so you're best off in the car lane. Fortunately traffic's not too heavy, due to the G56 highway taking the bulk of it.
In Anning, around 300m after crossing the Tanglang River (螳螂川), make a left onto Kunwan Xi Lu (昆畹西路) otherwise you'll end up funnelled onto the highway, and likely bound for an uncomfortable encounter with the cops. Kunwan Xi Lu will track you through town and back out onto the G320. There's a sign to Lufeng (67km to go) as you leave town. We stopped for some lunch after 57km, at Lupiao (禄脿).
There's no big shocks on today's ride — we encountered some sections of poor surface before lunch, but after Lupiao things smoothed out. The day's main event was a descent, which starts at 76km, and runs for 9km. This empties you onto the Lufeng valley floor — a few steady ups and downs and you're there — a new concrete road leads you off G320 from the Geological Park (地质公园) along the western edge of Lufeng.
After finding a hotel we set about guzzling several glasses of fruit juice, after which we strolled though the nighttime activities in the main square — dancing, games, rides — noise and neon surreal after a day on the bike.
The numbers: 102km, 4hr38 rolling time, 22.1km/h average. All told, a longish but fairly manageable day, and good preparation for what's to come.