khorgas to lanzhou: the china challenge – part one

Our journey from the moment we pushed our bicycles out of the Kazakhstan border post to the moment we reached our hotel in Lanzhou took us on a 2,560.9km adventure. This page outlines how we went about it, where we cycled, where we stayed and any other observations we think are important for crossing this enormous country.

The Plan of Action
Through poor planning we were only able to secure a 30-day visa for China (we think that is pretty much the norm now if you obtain the visa outside of your home country), and even that required a great effort (read here). With this in mind we made a plan (based on this excellent blog) to cycle at least 100km per day so that we could reach Lanzhou in 26 days and have enough time to secure a second visa (or get out of China) before our 30 days was up. For every km we did over 100km we would bank it and after accumulating enough we would take a day off to rest. Alternatively if we cycled less than 100km we would be in the red (so to speak) and have to make it up another day.

The Roads Cycled
As you leave the Kazakhstan border post (where we started our China odometer) you embark on a 7km loop to the China border post. The China border post is nothing like the Kazakhstan border post; it is new, orderly, and things just work. On leaving the Chinese border post we cycled down the main road of Khorgas, stopping at a bank for money (there are a lot of banks on this road but only ICBC and Bank of China seem to work for us), and lunch before cycling straight on to the G30.

To cycle onto the G30 you have to cycle past a police checkpoint, but they did not bother even looking at us. It is not until later that you will notice the No Cycling signs. We followed the G30 all the way to Jiayuguan, with the odd detour to find accommodation or food (a total of 1878km).

The beginning of the G30 Expressway.

The beginning of the G30 Expressway.

From Jiayuguan we cycled on the G312 for two and a half days. This took us through some stunning scenery and made for excellent camping. On the third day of cycling on the G312 we passed through the town of Shandan and then the road just stopped in a pile of rubble.



At the Shandan pile of rubble there is conveniently an on ramp to the G30; there is a tollbooth here, but even more conveniently there is no No Cycling sign. We stayed on the G30 to the town of Yongchang, where we exited, stayed in an excellent hotel and never ventured back on the G30.

Shandan rubble (and back on to the G30).

Shandan rubble (and back on to the G30).

From Yongchang to Lanzhou we used the G312. In some places, particularly the towns on the downhill stretch towards Lanzhou the road deteriorates quite badly, but in general we found it very good.



Where we stayed
The following map shows the locations of where we stayed each night. If you click on the blue markers then a photo will come up, which may help you identify where we stayed if you are tackling this challenge as well.

View Khorgas to Lanzhou in a larger map
Note: Clicking on the markers will bring up the related photo

The following table outlines distances etc… for what we did.

Day Start Destination Accommodation Daily Km Time Cycled Total Km
1 Border G30 Wild Camping 83.2 05:55 83.2
2 G30 G30 Wild Camping 151.4 08:25 234.6
3 G30 Kuytun Hotel 195.6 10:45 430.2
4 Kuytun Shihezi Hotel 108.5 06:25 538.7
5 Shihezi Urumqi Hostel 143.4 07:20 682.1
6 Urumqi Urumqi Hostel 0 00:00 682.1
7 Urumqi Urumqi Hostel 0 00:00 682.1
8 Urumqi Urumqi Hostel 0 00:00 682.1
9 Urumqi Turpan Hostel 185.7 09:50 867.8
10 Turpan G30 Wild Camping 115.9 07:55 983.7
11 G30 G30 Wild Camping 137.3 10:20 1121
12 G30 Hami Hotel 141.2 08:10 1262.2
13 Hami G30 Wild Camping 135.2 07:35 1397.4
14 G30 Liuyuan Hotel 154.6 10:10 1552
15 Liuyuan G30 Tunnel 166.3 09:10 1718.3
16 G30 Jiayuguan Hotel 159.7 08:05 1878
17 Jiayuguan Jiayuguan Hotel 0 00:00 1878
18 Jiayuguan G312 Wild Camping 123.4 07:05 2001.4
19 G312 Zhangye Hotel 120.4 06:30 2121.8
20 Zhangye Zhangye Hotel 0 00:00 2121.8
21 Zhangye Yongchang Hotel 165.9 09:00 2287.7
22 Yongchang Wuwei Hotel 71.2 03:50 2358.9
23 Wuwei Dachaigou Hostel 119.8 08:30 2478.7
24 Dachaigou Lanzhou Hotel 172.2 09:40 2650.9

First things first, cycling on the G30 is frowned upon (technically illegal)! Almost every cycle tourist does it, which admittedly does not make it any less illegal, but there are, in a lot of places no other options (if you need to cycle).

We had three encounters with police officers:
1. On the first day two officers pulled up and asked us to turn around and cycle back down the expressway the wrong way so we could get to an off-ramp and then cycle on the G312 that runs next to the expressway. We pointed up the hill and suggested we would get off at the very next exit; they seemed happy enough with this. We got off at the next exit (about 10km up the road) and it immediately spat us straight back on to the G30! From this point on there were no alternative roads for 100s of kilometres;

2. We had unfortunate timing at a tollbooth whereby a police officer just so happened to be walking to a toilet break (or similar) when we passed by. He yelled at us in a very aggressive way and we genuinely thought it was the end of the road for us. He motioned to his phone and then showed us an image of a car crash and then yelled some more. He then let us go on our way. We both think he was just trying to scare/warn us of the dangers. He was actually a very nice man and gave a great smile when we thanked him and shook his hand;

3. On the border of Xinjiang and Gansu we were pulled over at a tollbooth and quizzed. We suspect they wanted to see our passports, but we played very dumb and they then took “selfies” with us and let us go on our way. Again, like the first two encounters, there were no alternative roads.

We had 13 punctures in part one of the China Challenge; and given we had had only 7 punctures in the first 10,000km this seems to warrant a mention.

The G30 hard shoulder is littered with tyre blowouts from the huge number of trucks that ply the route. Presumably the blowouts are from cheap re-treads. In any case, almost every cycle tourist has issues here with punctures. Bring a lot of spare tubes and a lot of patches, and be prepared for the worst. It is beyond demoralising!

Typical metal shard.

Typical metal shard.

Other Notes

First and foremost, you do not have to pay for the pleasure of cycling on the G30. Tollbooths are essentially a check point where they can ask you to leave the G30 (although in a lot of places there is no alternative road).

In Xinjiang the tollbooths are on the actual G30, so you need to pass through them at regular intervals. We tried to time it so that a truck would be at the window and we would sneak along side it and just pop out and be on our merry way. Twice we heard people shouting, but we ignored this, kept our heads down and carried on. Our guess is that they were going to growl us for being on the G30 and then let us go anyway (they did not pursue us).

In Gansu the tollbooths are not on the G30, they are located on the on-ramps and off-ramps. This essentially means that you could cycle all the way across Gansu on the G30 and never have to pass through one.

Food and Water:
In most places it was fairly easy to find food and water, the one exception being between Turpan and Hami, particularly on the second day. There are a number of service areas under construction, which can be quite frustrating if you are pinning your hopes on the “next one” and it is not open. We would recommend carrying enough food and water for two (or three) days out of Turpan.
We have heard of other cyclists being found wanting on this stretch as well.

Food sign (although strangely they don't use chop sticks in the sign).

Food sign (although strangely they don’t use chop sticks in the sign).

More times than I care to remember we came a service area that was still under construction!

More times than I care to remember we came a service area that was still under construction!

Please let us know if you find this useful by commenting on the page, similarly, if information here is out-of-date please let us know and we will do our best to update it.

Good luck!


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