Qinghai Cycling Tour
7 Days / 6 Nights
This specially-designed trip includes several portions of the famous “Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race” held every summer. This is the top professional road race in Asia, with approx 250 cyclists representing 15-20 countries, attended by thousands of cheering spectators! Although our 7-day trip won’t cover the gruelling 1,300 km that the professional racers cover, it will still be at the same altitude, as high as 3300 metres in some places! Even though we will cycle at quite a high altitude, the route chosen is gently undulating, so it is still a “moderate-level” tour. Along the way, there are several highlights, such as “Bird Island” or visiting a Tibetan Lamasery, both midway through the trip. For photographers the alpine meadows may be in full-bloom, with snow-capped mountains serving as a backdrop to their carpets of colour.
Qinghai Province is a desolate mountainous area located on the north eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. Three of Asia’s best-known rivers originate in these mountains – the Yellow River (Huang He) originates in the middle of the province, while the timeless Yangtze and the mighty Mekong have their sources in the south western part. Although it serves mainly as the domain of nomadic Tibetan herdsmen, there are over 33 ethnic groups represented in the province.
Qinghai Lake is the largest salt-water lake in China, with an area of 4,635 square kilometres. It’s name means “teal-green sea”. It is located about 100 km west of the provincial capital of Xining at 3,205 m above sea level, in a depression of the Tibetan Plateau. Twenty-three rivers and streams empty into Qinghai Lake, which teams with fish in the summer.
This Qinghai Lake cycling tour will circumnavigate the lake. The high altitude, the area’s stark beauty, the mixture of culture and natural history, and limitless photographic opportunities will make this a trip to remember.
Elevation range: 3100m to 3300m
Terrain: Flat, rolling
Cycling tour level: Moderate; high-altitude biking; vehicle-supported
Total cycling distance: Approximately 360 km. Average distance cycling per day: Up to 85 km
Traffic: Heavy traffic is expected in some sections.
Our itineraries are suggestions and are fully customisable according to your needs, interests and budget.
Treat these itineraries as inspiration and one of our experts will create your uniquely tailored holiday with your requests in mind so that you can truly experience China with Seven Senses.
Day 1. Arrive Xining (-/-/-)
Pick up from Xining airport, the capital of Qinghai Province (China’s largest province, excluding the 3 Autonomous Regions which are technically not provinces). You will be met here by your guide and transferred to your hotel. Qinghai province is the south part of the silk road. Xining is sometimes called the “summer capital” because of the cool summer. There are several minorities living here, so it is a wonderful place to enjoy different customs here. Overnight in local 4 star hotel in Xining.
Day 2. Xining - Xihai - Qinghai Lake (B/-/-)
Road condition: paved, light traffic, a dozen hills, each with a gentle gradient
After an early breakfast, we will drive to Xihai, about 100 km to the northeast. As we gently ascend to a higher altitude, we will see the landscape change from urban blemish to rural grasslands and we will soon come to the vast Jinyintan Pasture (over 1000 sq km), a typical high-altitude grazing land. It was this very spot, with its variety of beautiful summer flowers, which inspired the late Wang Luobin, renowned composer of Chinese folk songs, to write his award-winning classic, “In a Place Far Away”.
Upon arrival, we will verify our equipment, then strike off westward towards Qinghai Lake, accompanied by our support vehicle. The morning’s scenery will be that of endless grasslands, punctuated here and there by evidence of an ever-encroaching desert – areas of dry, scruffy terrain dotted with occasional sand dunes. We will choose a scenic place to eat our packed lunches, carried by the support vehicle. Later, in the afternoon, and after several uphill and downhill sections, we will suddenly see the Lake, shining on the western horizon like a ribbon of shimmering silk! On our descent, the landscape will be totally different. As we start to cycle towards the lush sea of grass, with its interwoven patches of summer flowers, we can imagine ourselves cycling out onto a living, vibrant painting, created by nature itself. Still, distances are deceiving at this altitude, and only after another 20km of riding will we actually arrive at the end-point of our long day – the Qinghai Lake fishing base.
Day 3. Qinghai Lake - Heima River (B/-/-)
Road condition: paved; fewer vehicles, flat for the first 25km; several small uphill sections for the remainder
Early risers will be able to see the sun start to illuminate one of the most beautiful landscapes in western China. Qinghai Lake is set on a high plateau, with the Tibetan mountains in the distance. On their first morning, visitors like to wander along the shore before breakfast, enthralled by the high-altitude tranquility of the lake itself, which stretches endlessly to the horizon. After a nourishing breakfast, we will start our clockwise ride around Qinghai Lake. Our morning’s ride will first follow the fairly-busy national road, but even so, in June and July, the wild rapeseed flowers are in bloom, blanketing the landscape with shades of yellow and gold. There is little civilization around most of the lake, so we will stop in a quiet spot along the way to enjoy our picnic lunch and to allow us to recharge our energy with toast, ham, fruits and chocolate. In the afternoon, our path will lead us away from the traffic, onto a quiet road alongside the lake. We will cycle in an area of peaceful tranquility until we reach our stay for the night, a rustic, but comfortable hostel, situated just by the lake.
Overnight in Heima River Hostel.
Day 4. Heima River - Bird Island (B/-/-)
Road Condition: Paved, light traffic, flat or downhill for the most of the time
Elevation: 3080m - 3300m
This is the day for photographers. And at the end of the day, when we reach the western end of the lake, we will be tempted to simply stay and take pictures. We will cycle along in the soft morning light, the pastoral scene will include un-tethered cows, sheep, horses, and even yaks, nonchalantly munching on clumps of ripe, lush grass. White yurts, similar to those seen in Inner Mongolia, typically dot the landscape. Our morning will be punctuated by several “photo stops”, each one registering an unforgettable scene in our own memory, as well as in the camera’s. (Astute photographers may catch an occasional anachronism – shaggy black yaks surrounding a white yurt with a satellite dish perched on the roof.) We will make a small detour away from the water to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant in the small village of Shinaigai, after which we will head back to the lakeshore to see one of the highlights of the trip – Bird Island! It’s been said that if Qinghai Lake was the crown of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, then Bird Island is the jewel of the crown! Although the name is singular, there are actually 2 islands, and even these two can barely hold the birds that return to nest, year after year. Qinghai Lake is located at the crossroads of several bird migration routes across Asia. In April of each year, as the ice melts across the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, thousands of birds from southern China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the Indian subcontinent arrive to lay and hatch their eggs. Over 20 species have been noted, including Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy Shelducks, Brown-headed Gulls, cormorants, egrets, and sandpipers. Stately Griffon Vultures glide overhead, minivets frequent the scrubby bushes, and Mongolian Larks sing from the grasses. Even the rare Black-necked Crane and an occasional swan have been seen! The flat ground, mild temperature, proximity to abundant fish, and safety from predators support thousands of nests (and eggs), right on the ground! In June and July, as the young begin to fly, the sky is black with flying birds. Bird Island is one of the wonders of the Tibetan plateau, a photographer’s challenge, but an ornithologist’s delight. This special site, with so many birds, so close, and normally only associated with remote mountain cliffs, attracts many visitors during the summer months.
Overnight in Bird Island Hotel (3 star).
Day 5. Bird Island - Quanji - Gangcha County (B/-/-)
Road Condition: paved; heavy traffic for the most of the day; first section is 10km, varying between flat and uphill; the rest of the road is flat and/or downhill.
Elevation: 3130m - 3250m
After breakfast, we will make an unhurried walk from our hotel to visit the Shatuo lamasery, home to the Red Hat branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Its first building was constructed in 1665, but there have been several additions. The buildings now include a 300 sq m prayer hall, 18 rooms and dorms for monks, and a mansion for the living Buddha. After our visit (about 1 hours), we will start our cycling tour again along the west bank of the lake for another 25km, then we will ride on the National road again and bike to Quanji, where we will have lunch and also visit the local market to buy fruit. In the afternoon, ride to Gangcha, where we will relax a bit and take a shower before wandering around this little Tibetan town with its various ethnic groups. After supper, we will be able to relax and enjoy an amazing sunset over the seemingly-endless lake.
Overnight in Gangcha Hotel (3 star).
Day 6. Gangcha - Xihai (B/-/-)
Road Condition: Paved, several uphill and downhill sections
Duration: 6-7 hours cycling
This morning we will be up before dawn to see a bit of Gangcha itself, with its traditional yurts, beautiful prayer flags, and mysterious praying stones. Then we will make an early start on our bikes, leaving Qinghai Lake behind us, as we head back toward Xihai. On the way, we will encounter several small villages where we will see the authentic buildings and day-to-day activities of the local people. After a picnic lunch, we will again pass through the most beautiful natural grazing grounds outside of Xihan before our arrival in the late afternoon. That night we will enjoy a feast in a local restaurant to celebrate our great accomplishment of doing a “race” around Qinghai Lake!
Overnight in 4-star hotel.
Day 7. Xihai - Xining- Departure (B/-/-)
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport for your return international flights.
The itinerary may be subject to change depending on circumstances.
7 DAYS / 6 NIGHTS FROM £2,290 per person + flights
based on 2 people travelling together
The price includes:
Scenic spots admission fee; Nature Reserve Protection fee and/ or camping permit fee (inside nature reserve) if required
Accommodation: double-occupancy in 3 star hotels in big cities, and the best hotels in small cities or counties, clean guest house/hostel/or home-stay in villages as stated in the itinerary; camping in non-residential area as mentioned in the itinerary (tent and mattress),
Daily breakfast, picnic lunches in remote area if required
One bike for each and supportive vehicles as required (For tours in the mountainous area like Yunnan, Qinghai, Tibet, etc. we strongly suggest that you bring your own mountain bike with you.)
All domestic flights/trains/local airport taxes if there is in the itinerary;
The price does not include:
Return flights from the UK to Beijing
Anything not specifically mentioned above
Visa fee for China
Tips to the guide and driver
Travel insurance with cover for cycling
Personal costs such as drinks, laundry, etc.
Costs of damage to bike
Sleeping bag if camping.
photography charges at monasteries/palaces/sites.
The extra cost due to the unforeseen events or weather; supplementary trips and services not mentioned,
and personal expenses and the items not listed in the “The tour cost includes” column.
This is a tentative itinerary, the final itinerary and accommodation may be different from that displayed here. For the enjoyment of your trip a "go with the flow" attitude is necessary. Many factors will influence your trip, such as weather conditions, health, route conditions, etc. Please count with an extra two days and book changeable flights in case of delays in travel due to unforeseen events.
The areas visited are not as well developed as Beijing and Shanghai. While you will definitely enjoy the nature and experience, you should be prepared that accommodation standards in these places are very basic and even though we will try our best, food may not be so delicious and varied.
Very important: When you are planning to do mountain biking, you acknowledge that there are risks involved in this sport and confirm that you are fully aware of and accept these risks. You will be required to sign a separate acknowledgement and acceptance of personal at time of reservation.
Participants should be healthy, able to cycle for over 6 hours a day; prepared to cross high altitude passes and cycle over difficult terrain in remote areas; experienced in riding in mountainous areas (with many bends, turns, and possibly switchbacks); excellent physical condition required with a positive attitude and a strong determination; previous hiking experience preferred. Please keep in mind that this is a general guide only. A variety of factors, including weather, may add to the challenge.
Regardless of your previous high-altitude experience, it is crucial that you are self-confident, superbly fit, committed, and determined at the outset of the expedition and possess the necessary stamina and experience to be a contributing player in the excursion.
Biking Gear suggested: Wind/waterproof coat, hip pad, knee pad, gorro, helmet, headlight, towel, sun block, gloves, shoes for cycling etc
While you will most-certainly enjoy the fantastic views offered with this exciting biking adventure, there will also be unexpected encounters with other vehicular traffic, especially big trucks making wide turns, so you should ride very carefully in these places.
Many tourists have an uncomfortable feeling in the high-plateau areas, generally headaches and being out-of-breath; this is usual, and generally you will adapt to the altitude in 2-3 days.
To counter altitude-sickness in the high plateaus, be sure to take extra rest and try to avoid arriving with a cold. Although extra oxygen will be available for those who need to stop and take an extra breath or so, any quantity brought along will be limited, and cyclists cannot be dependent on its availability.
Please be respectful of local customs and religion while you are in any area of minority people; pay attention to any instructions given by the local guide and cooperate with him/her.
Please be aware not to expect/order the meat of dog, horse, mule, pig, or donkey, all of which are forbidden in Tibetan areas; eating the meat of any animal slaughtered without proper religious supervision is also forbidden.
It’s not allowed to watch the Tibetan sky burial without their permission.
To be polite, it is expected that you finish any beverage served to you in a cup, upon being greeted by a Tibetan; if you cannot finish the drink, please politely beg their pardon.
When greeted by a Tibetan who puts a silk scarf around your neck as a present, leave it on – do not immediately take it off.
There are some special taboos in muslim areas, such as exposed skin, head coverings, and proper conduct in mosques – listen to the guide
It’s prohibited to drink or to smoke in any Tibetan Monastery
Check with the guide regarding taking photographs; it’s forbidden to take any photos in a monastery without permission, although you may be allowed to “buy” permission. Always ask permission before taking a photo of monks or women, regardless of where they are.
Package price including 4 star hotels in Xining and Qinghai Lake, local best hotels (3* standard) in Heima, Gangcha and Bird Island, and full board: from £2,855 per person
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