Yunnan Tibet Highway (Road 318/214): Lhasa to Zuogong

Yunnan Tibet Highway

ascend to Mi La pass near Rutok

descend from Serkhyim La through Thuja forest

the small road along YuChu river

The Yunnan-Tibet Highway (road 318) leads through spectacular landscape. There are several high passes with long climbs from hot deserts to snow. Large portions of the road are now paved, but the dirt road parts are still challenging, especially during the rainy season. Be aware that significant stretches of the dirt road in the Parlung Tsangpo valley are subject to frequent landslides.
At Bamda, road 318 meets road 214, which follows the river Yu Chu. We took road 214 from Lhasa to Zuogong, then we tried out a small track following the Yu Chu river. For two-and-a-half days we cycled on this difficult track reaching the village BiTu. There it became clear that the road did not continue, and that there would only be horse trails over the ShuLa pass to the Mekong valley. Due to limited time, we could not go back and thus rode/pushed/carried our bikes on the horse trails. Superb landscape on this stretch, but honestly we do not recommend to do it with a bicycle...

Minor Road south along the Yu Chu River

Distance Table and general information

Something about checkpoints (May 2005): There are many traffic control checkpoints in Tibet. Usually, at these checkpoints nobody cares about foreigners, as they are run by the traffic police (dark green uniforms). Thus, almost every town hase a barrier or some kind of checkpoint at the entrance to town. In East Tibet we found all of the barriers to be open and if at all some offical was present next to it, they did not care about us cycling through.
Likewise, military does not care about foreign cyclists as long as you don't interfere with their business. Thus, military checkpoints are not to worry about, and military truck convois are a f***ing pain because of the dust, but nothing else.
We cycled through Bayi/Nyingchi at night - it was a recommendation given to us by other cyclists we met in Lhasa (looking back I am not so sure anymore if that would have been necessary). Apart from that, we stopped in all major towns during the day to buy bread, but we never stayed in a hotel.
Our impression: It seems that officially the region is opening up (you see a lot of English road signs etc.) and nobody seems to be systematically looking out for foreigners. We met many, many cyclists on road 318, also Chinese. However, local police may want to earn bribes or fines and thus every now and then pick up on an easy victim. By keeping a low profile, by being persistent and stubborn, and with a portion of luck you'll be o.k.
Be aware that the situation can change any time - be careful anyway.

km marker altitude (m) description Yecheng (Xinjiang Province) to Domar (Tibet); Road 219
4635 3650 from Lhasa, the paved road goes all the way to km marker 4147!
4632   Bridge over Kyi Chu
4572   start of Gyalmashing valley
4563 3800 town Meldro Gungkar
4540   village (shops)
4509   village Rutok, hot springs; huge ugly hotel
4484 5013 'Mi La' pass
4456   truck stop
4403   Tibetan village (shops etc.)
4360-4358 3420 town Gongpo Gyamda
4312   town Namtse Zampa
4292   village
4248   military checkpoint with barrier
4235-4230 2976 town Bayi, the road actually goes arond the town. No police station or barrier seen.
4218   military checkpoint with barrier
4214-4212 2960 town Nyingchi, the road leads directily past the police station.
4182 4565 'Serkhyim La' pass
4156   village Lunang; many restaurants
4147   end of pavement
4135   Tongyuk bridge
4114   village Trulung
4110 2050 Po Tsangpo; lowest point between Lhasa and Zuogong
4098 2110 Tangme
4039   pavement starts
4008-4006 2750 town Bomi; good bakery in town!
3931   pavement ends, bad dirt road through Parlung Tsangpo gorge up to Rawok Co
3898   pavement starts
3878 3840 town Rawok
3857 4530 'Ngajuk La' pass
3793-3790 3200 town Baxoi (Pasho)
3765   pavement ends; dusty dirt road through desert landscape -
there is no drinking water available between bottom of Gama La and Baxoi
3754 2740 Nakchu Rampa bridge over Salween
there is a small mountain stream for drinking water between bridge and bottom of Gama La
3749   start of climb to Gama La pass
3730   small village with truckstop (water available!)
3712   pavement starts
3709 4618 'Gama La' pass
3696 4060 town Bamda; road 318 meets road 214
3656   town, bridge over Yu Chu
3632   town Yarzhong
3590-3588 3800 town Zuogong
3584 3800 turnoff for the small road along Yu Chu (Wi Chu) river; the track begins at a white chorten. From there, it is two-and-a-half days of riding on a challenging small track through the Yu Chu valley to BiTu. Hiking from there on.

Other descriptions of the Yunnan-Tibet Highway:
Route descriptions Tibet Central and Tibet East (Fred Ferchaux)
Dali-Lhasa (Janne Corax)