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Drive or ride from Southeast Asia, through China, to Central Asia and even Europe
View in Google Map: Laos – China – Kazakhstan
Duration: 20 Days, 5150km
China’s megacities and rural areas, world natural and cultural heritage sites, area that can only be passed through but cannot be accommodated, tibetan areas, oldest tibetan buddhist monasteries, Silk Road, Xinjiang uygur region
Starting from the warm and humid Xishuangbanna area, we go all the way north, passing through China’s most famous travel route: Dali-Lijiang-Tiger Leaping Gorge, all the way to Shangri-La. This is the hinterland of the Hengduan Mountains of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the junction area of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. The paradise of peace, tranquility, eternity and mysterious beauty in “Lost Horizon”.
From Shangri-La, we will spend about 6 days traveling through the Tibetan areas of Yunnan, Sichuan and Qinghai, approaching the source of the Mekong River, visiting extremely important ancient Monasteries along the way, and arriving at Dunhuang, an important town on the ancient Silk Road.
From Dunhuang, we will first visit the UNESCO world cultural heritage – Mogao Grottoes, and then follow the ancient Silk Road into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In Xinjiang, we will have about a week to visit the historical and cultural center of the Uyghurs.
From tropical monsoon climates through highland climates to continental arid and desert climates; From warm and humid tropical rainforests through the Tibetan Plateau to the hottest and driest regions of China; And from Buddhist cultures to Islamic cultures, this will be an AMAZING once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Gather 1 day in advance in place not far from the Laos/China border
Enter China in the morning. The tour guide will wait in the China Immigration Hall and assist in customs and border inspection procedures. Drive to mengla for vehicle and driver formalities.
Obtain Chinese temporary number plate and temporary driver’s license, buy china sim card, let’s hit the road.
Visit opportunity: We will pass through ethnic minority autonomous counties: Yi and Hani autonomous counties.
There are many places worth visiting in Dali: Dali Old Town, Three Pagodas, Cangshan Mountain, Erhai Lake, Shaxi Ancient Town, Xizhou Village, Zhoucheng Village…
At a maximum depth of approximately 3,790 meters (12,434 feet) from river to mountain peak, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world. The roaring Jinsha River (part of the Yangtze River) and beautiful mountain peaks are within easy reach. Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking is a world-class hiking route and one of the most classic hiking routes in China.
Drive to Shangri-La and Visit Duzongke ancient town and Ganden Stumtseling Monastery. Since James Hilton imagined Shangri-La in his bestselling 1933 novel Lost Horizon, a host of Himalayan areas have laid claim to this earthly Eden.
But only one place—Zhongdian in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province—has officially gone by the name Shangri-La County since 2001.
The region covers a stunning land of snowcapped peaks and plunging parallel gorges carved by three of Asia’s mightiest rivers. UNESCO recognized Three Parallel Riversas a World Heritage site and called it “the epicenter of Chinese biodiversity.”
In the novel, the people who live in Shangri-La are almost immortal, living hundreds of years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance.
Batang County borders Xiangcheng and Litang County in the east, Derong County in the south, Mangkang, Yanjing, Gongjue County in Tibet and Deqin County in Yunnan Province across the Jinsha River in the west, and Baiyu County in the north.
There are very few foreign tourists here because the Tibet Autonomous Region is opposite.
Visit: Palyul Monastery & Kathok Monastery
Palyul Monastery, also known as Palyul Namgyal Jangchub Choling Monastery and sometimes romanized as Pelyul Monastery, is one of the “Six Mother Monasteries” of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded in 1665 by Rigzin Kunzang Sherab in Pelyul in Baiyü County, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Sichuan province, on the eastern edge of Tibet in Kham. The monastery is the seat of the Nam Chö Terma of Terton Mingyur Dorje. Drubwang Padma Norbu (Penor Rinpoche) was the 11th throneholder of the Palyul lineage. Upon his mahaparinirvana in March, 2009, Karma Kuchen Rinpoche became the 12th throneholder.
Kathok Monastery, founded in 1159, is the oldest monastery among the “Six Mother Monasteries” of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located in Baiyu County, Garze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China, an area traditionally called Kham by Tibetans.
Kathok Monastery is located in Baiyu County, Garze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, on the east side of the mountain range at an altitude of 4,000 meters. The entire temple complex is located approximately 700m above the valley floor and is accessible via a dirt road containing 18 hairpin turns.
Kathok was a famous early Nyingma monastery that later had many branch monasteries in the Dokhang region and other areas. It is also believed to have influenced the spread of Nyingma monasteries known as the “Six Mother Monasteries”.
Padmasambhava, before the monastery was built, spent 25 days visiting the area. The monastery is renowned for its academic excellence and has produced some of the greatest scholars in Tibetan history, such as Katok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755) and Getse Pandita Jigme Tse Wangchuk beads.
The accommodation conditions at Kathok Monastery are relatively poor. If you mind, you can return to Baiyu County for accommodation. But we recommend staying at the Monastery.
Today we drive to Shiqu County, under the jurisdiction of Garze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, is located at the junction of Sichuan, Qinghai and Tibet provinces on the southeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
On the way we visit Derge Parkhang (Dege Sutra-Printing House), one of the most important cultural, social, religious and historical institutions in Tibet; China has named it a National Protected Heritage Site. Founded in 1729 by Denba Tsering, the fortieth King of Derge (1678–1739) with the spiritual and literature assistance of the 8th Tai Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne, the Derge Parkhang is an active center for publication of Tibetan Buddhist sutra, commentaries, and thangka as well as works of history, technology, biography, medicine and literature. Books are still being made in the same way as they have been for almost three hundred years: handprinted from hand-carved wooden blocks.
Visit opportunities: Sershil Monastery & Bagemani Stone Wall
Sershil Monastery, the largest Gelugpa monastery in the Kham region and has the only Buddhist Monastic University in the Kham region that is qualified to teach and bestow the highest Tibetan Buddhist geshe degree. Home to 1300 monks, Sershul Monastery is the largest Gelug monastery in Kham, and the religious center of Sêrxü County—the highest, largest, poorest, coldest, and most remote county in Sichuan Province.
Sershul Monastery, founded in 1760, has six existing temples. It has more than a dozen living Buddhas and nearly a thousand monks (at most, there were more than 3,000 monks). It is divided into Xianzong Temple and Tantric Temple. The temple houses tens of thousands of Buddha statues and Buddhist scriptures, including a sculpture of Maitreya Buddha, known as the second largest Buddha in Tibet.
The largest temple, which is more than 300 years old, contains two great chanting halls devoted to Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug Order. It also contains many precious relics including one of Je Tsongkhapa’s teeth preserved within a sacred chorten (stupa) in the upper gallery.
Bage Mani Stone Wall, the longest Mani stone wall in the world, located in Sershul (or Shiqu) County, northwest Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the Bage Mani Stone Wall consists of rows of piled-up Mani stones, engraved or painted with Tibetan Buddhism sayings.
Since Sangye Phuntsok the first Bage Rinpoche laid the first Mani stone on the Tashikhar grassland in 1671, countless pilgrims around the country have visited and added holy stones to the site. The result is a wall that stretches 1.75 kilometers in length and stands about 3.5 meters high, embedded with more than 3,000 stone statues and over 6,000 Buddhist scriptures including Kangyur and Tangyur.
We will keep driving to Madoi County.
Drive to Golmud, a county-level city in the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province, China. It is now the second-largest city in Qinghai and the third largest in the Tibetan Plateau (after Xining and Lhasa).
Drive to Dunhuang, a county-level city in Northwestern Gansu Province, Western China. Dunhuang was a major stop on the ancient Silk Road and is best known for the nearby Mogao Caves.
Dunhuang is situated in an oasis containing Crescent Lake and Mingsha Shan, named after the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. Dunhuang commands a strategic position at the crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Route and the main road leading from India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, and also controls the entrance to the narrow Hexi Corridor, which leads straight to the heart of the north Chinese plains and the ancient capitals of Chang’an (today known as Xi’an) and Luoyang.
Mogao caves: Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art. The Mogao Caves became one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1987.
Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Moon Spring: Legendary desert peak featuring an ancient crescent-shaped lake & traditional-style building.
Today we enter the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, long drives on the highway all day.
The Turpan area is historically significant because nearby Gaochang was once the Uyghur capital and an important staging area on the Silk Road.
Turpan is the most original city near Urumqi with Uyghur ethnicity. It is highly recommended to leave the highway, take some country trails, and drive through Uighur towns and villages, where you can buy naan and various melons and fruits on the road.
German scientists conducted archaeological expeditions, known as the German Turfan expeditions, at the beginning of the 20th century (between 1902 and 1914). They discovered paintings and other art treasures that were transported to the Museum of Asian Art in Berlin.
Visit opportunity: Gaochang Old City, Baizikli Cave of Thousand Buddhas, Flaming Mountain
Turpan means “rich and fertile land” in Turkic language. This 70,000 square kilometers of land between the Tianshan Mountains and the Taklimakan Desert contains all the classics of the Western Regions. Turpan is the intersection where Eastern and Western cultures and religions are intricately intertwined and integrated. It is the region with the richest Silk Road relics in my country. There are more than 200 remaining ancient cities, cave temples, beacons, tombs, rock paintings, etc., including 6 national key cultural relics protection units, accounting for nearly half of Xinjiang and ranking ninth in the country. From the Western Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty collected by the Xinjiang History Museum , that is, more than 80% of the cultural relics from the Silk Road that flourished for more than a thousand years came from Turpan. There are 24 kinds of texts left in Turpan, which is the place with the most texts found along the entire Silk Road. German scholar Klinkett exclaimed: “Multiple cultures, multiple religions, and multiple ethnic groups fully meet and integrate. On the entire Silk Road, we can’t find any place as rich and colorful in terms of cultural appearance as Turpan.”
Therefore, Turpan was worth an extra night.
Visit opportunity: Turpan’s karez water system, Jiaohe ancient city
Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the far northwest of China. Ürümqi developed its reputation as a leading cultural and commercial center during the Qing dynasty in the 19th century. With a census population of 4 million in 2020, Ürümqi is the second-largest city in China’s northwestern interior after Xi’an as well as the largest in Central Asia in terms of population.We think it’s worth staying for a day here.
Visit opportunity: Xinjiang Museum, Hongshan, International Grand Bazaar,
Sayram Lake is a fresh water lake located near the border of Kazakhstan at the Tian Shan Mountains in Börtala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China. The name Sayram originally derives from Kazakh, which means ‘blessing’. The lake is also known as Santai Haizi and is the largest (458 km²) alpine lake in Xinjiang and also the highest at 2,070 m.
A local folktale relates that the lake was formed by a young Kazakh couple who had been separated by a demon, and were forced to jump into an abyss to be reunited. Their tears filled the abyss, forming the lake.
Arrive at the border before Chinese customs opens and go through border inspection and customs procedures. Under normal circumstances, you can leave China in the afternoon.
China Customs working hours are 10:00-14:00, 15:00-19:00, Beijing time; 8:00-12:00, 13:00-17:00, Astana time.
Byebye China, Hello Kazakhstan.
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