Cycling Yunnan: Kunming to Laos via Dali

With only 25 days on our Chinese visa, we did this trip way faster than we wanted to, and were probably a little bit too ambitious about the distance we wanted to cover. We ended up cycling 20 days, including a consecutive 11-day stretch. There isn't a flat kilometre in the province, but we were rewarded with empty highways, good quality roads and unbelievable scenery (for the most part). Here's our summary with some additional info at the end.

Part 1 (Kunming to Old Dali – Highway G320)

Had we done a little bit more planning ahead of time, we might have cut south towards Laos directly from Kunming allowing for a more leisurely pace. But we were keen on cycling the western part of the province and we thought we might enjoy a break in Old Dali. The G320 highway runs roughly parallel to the expressway that absorbs most of the traffic heading west from Kunming. We shared the road with locals who were avoiding the expressway tolls or moving between villages. We hoped to complete this ride in four days, but with all the climbing it took us five. This road is probably the busiest and the least scenic of the highways we rode in Yunnan. The cities which seem to be plopped down in the middle of nowhere were truly uninspiring. Luckily, most of the ride was through rural countryside which was far more picturesque, although not immune to the plague of Chinese urban development.

We knew that Old Dali would be busy and probably disappointing. But we planned to stop there any ways to enjoy the comforts of our last major tourist destination in China. This basically meant eating hamburgers and having an internet connection with a functioning VPN. We had visited Old Dali seven years earlier, and we found the city to be completely transformed. It was overrun with tour groups and expanded with horrible Chinese construction. In our opinion, Old Dali can be skipped, although it's a good place to do laundry, eat western food and get your internet fix (see notes on internet below).

Part 2 (Old Dali to Nanjian – Highway S224)
We only spent a day and a half on this secondary road before rejoining the national highway at Nanjian. We chose the route so that we could stop in the town of Weishan, which we had read was worth a visit. Signs advertised it as “Weishan Ancient Cultural & Historical Town” which we assumed would mean that it was a tourist trap. We were pleasantly surprised to find it unaffected by its designation. It has a quiet, charming old quarter which we wandered through all afternoon without seeing more than 2 or 3 tourists.
Part 3 (Nanjian to Lincang – Highway G214)

We spent three and a half days on this highway complete with several full-day climbs. Although the traffic was fairly sparse, the trucks struggled up the hills and blew lots of thick exhaust at us. We also had to cycle through a fair number of long, unlit or dimly lit tunnels which were slightly unnerving. The positive aspect of them being dark was that the drivers seemed to be as nervous about being in them as we did and drove really slowly.

The cities we passed through continued to be uninteresting, but the sections of raised highway through the mountain were epic, especially when we were on a descent. We spent a rest day in Lincang, not because it was a nice place to stay, but because we were exhausted from all the climbing.

Part 4 (Lincang to Ning'er – Highway G323)

Instead of following the G214 we decided to cut east across central Yunnan in order to shave a few hundred kilometres and a few days off our ride. We ended up on a beautiful quasi-abandoned stretch of highway that was free of truck traffic, tunnels and ugly big cities.

From Lincang we had one of our most epic descents, over 1000 metres to the Lancang (Mekong) River, with spectacular views of the river gorge cutting through the mountains. We slept in a quiet motel and watched the morning mist rising from motel balcony. Other nights along this highway were spent in pretty basic truck stops, where the dark quiet nights in the mountains were enough to compensate for the mouse poop in the sheets.

Part 5 (Ning'er to Mohan – Highway G213)

When we joined up with the G213 we expected the worse in terms of traffic. We figured that the main route connecting Simao to Jinghong would be the busiest stretch of our ride. We didn't think the national highways could get any quieter than the G323, but we were wrong! Again, the parallel expressway absorbed almost all of the traffic and we rode alongside the few motorcycles making their way between villages and rubber plantations (it was rubber harvest season in the area, which was interesting but extremely stinky)

Much of the G213 highway runs through the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve where the jungle is left untouched. Tree-cover shielded us from the sun, although the humidity was a lot higher than further north in the province. The climbs were much shorter though, which was a relief because we were starting to feel the effects of cycling for over a week without a break.

Other Information
We didn't camp at all in Yunnan. Any flat ground that we spotted was usually occupied by rice, corn or tobacco. In many areas, the highway climbed through the mountains, with steep cliffs on either side of the road. Probably the only camping option would have been to ask villagers to sleep on their land. In Xishuangbanna there were a few more suitable looking camp sites.

Truck stops
Other than highway G213 (where we slept in the towns), there were truck stops in even the smallest villages. They are usually unsigned, but you can easily distinguish them from village homes, they are long one-storey buildings with several side-by-side rooms. They come with shared bathroom facilities and very basic rooms, but usually a hot, solar-powered shower.

Motels/Budget Hotels
These are a step up from the truck stop in that they have private bathrooms. We had great, clean budget hotels with hot showers for most of our trip, usually for around 60 yuan a night (about $10). We could often roll the bicycle right into the room fully-loaded which was great for quick morning starts. In mid-sized towns, the hotels in our budget price-range tended to be a little bit crustier, but for the price we were completely satisfied.
Apart from the major tourist centres of Dali and Kunming, if you aren't a Chinese National, surfing at an internet cafe has become nearly impossible. Chinese ID cards are now equipped with an RF-ID so that they can be scanned right into the system at every internet cafe. The cafes are totally depressing, filled with mindless automatons smoking for hours on end while playing video games. The connections are terrible because no one is actually surfing, they're all just battling each other in locally networked video games.

Only at a few places were we given permission to use the computer, but we felt uncomfortable surfing because we didn't want to get the cafe owners in trouble. At one place, the employee hovered around Yann as he was reading the news. Using an online translator, he managed to transmit the three-word message “few pieces opinions”. Ok, we understand.

There are restaurants everywhere in China. We tried to seek out refrigerated food display cases where all the available food items are on display. The fridges are perfect for ordering if you don't speak Mandarin because you just point at what you want. We tried a huge variety of vegetable dishes, almost all of them spicy. We usually paid 10 yuan for vegetable dishes and 20-30 for meat dishes. But we didn't really bargain.

In bigger towns, breakfast stalls selling steamed buns and/or dumplings lined the streets and set up very early. But elsewhere we had to plan for breakfast the night before by stocking up on fruits and store bought cakes. We would advise against buying the popular “French bread” unless you are looking for something that is very much not French bread. The best cakes we found we found were the “Daliyuan European-style cakes”, available at most mid-sized road-side shops. Even better were the homemade peanut cakes or date bread that we found a few times in local markets.

Once we discovered the Yunnanese noodles with self-serve toppings we ate them almost every day. Unfortunately the noodle vendors tended to close up shop pretty early, often before lunch time.

Border Crossing
We changed money on the Chinese side at a large money exchange building. We got an amazing rate, actually better than the official rate, which was perplexing enough that we thought we were being cheated. We avoided the numerous money changers hovering around the border.

On the Chinese side, in order to get our bicycles across the border we had to first pass customs (leaving our bicycles outside). Once we were stamped out, we could exit through the vehicle lane after showing the border guards our passports.

Similarly on the Lao side we had to leave our bicycles outside, go through customs, then exit through the vehicle lane. We advise not riding your bicycle through the vehicle lane, you have to walk it through unless you want a stern talking to.

Kilometre Breakdown
Here's how we broke up the trip to try to spread out the climbing and kilometrage as evenly as possible:
Day 1 – Kunming to Lufeng (104km, 703m)
Day 2 – Lufeng to Chuxiong Yi “Minority Village” (85km, 595m)
Day 3 – Chuxiong to Tianshentang Village (75km, 940m)
Day 4 – Tianshentang Village to Xiang Yun (70km, 665m)
Day 5 – Xiang Yun to Old Dali (84km, 878m)
Day 6 – Old Dali to Weishan (70km, 504m)
Day 7 – Weishan to Gonglang (85km, 612m)
Day 8 – Gonglang to Yunxian (73km, 959m)
Day 9 – Yunxian to Lincang (79km, 942m)
Day 10 – Lincang to the Mekong River bridge (68km, 578m)
Day 11 – Mekong River bridge to Chahe Village (68km, 1010m)
Day 12 – Chahe Village to Truckstop on the G323 (72km, 922m)
Day 13 – Truckstop on the G323 to Ning'er (58km, 752m)
Day 14 – Ning'er to Simao (50km, 689m)
Day 15 – Simao to Dadugang (74km, 799m)
Day 16 – Dadugang to Meng Kuan (83km, 836m)
Day 17 – Meng Kuan to Meng Yuan (77km, 899m)
Day 18 – Meng Yuan to Mengla (46km, 721m)
Day 19 – Mengla to Mohan (57km, 532m)

Stats for Kunming to Mohan:
Days of cycling: 19
Days of rest: 3
Kilometres cycled: 1 378 km
Metres climbed: 14 536 m
Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support

Hong Kong Visa Run

Despite the highly efficient visa services offered in Hong Kong, we had no success getting a long term Chinese visa. Even worse was the fact that with a 14-day Chinese visa in our passports (from our failed attempt in Armenia) we were warned that we might only be granted another 14-day visa in Hong Kong. This meant the safe route was to apply for a 30-day group visa that would be issued on the same day but that was un-extendable, quashing any hope of a longer time in the country. Worse than that, the visa's 30 days begin on the date of issue. Having not had this important fact explained to us ahead of time, we only realised it when the group visa was in hand. It was our first day in Hong Kong and every day we would spend in the city would mean one less day in China. Our idea of taking it easy in Hong Kong was scrapped, as were much of our plans for touring Western China. We had to settle for a flight to Kunming, in southwestern Yunnan Province. We hoped that from there we could cycle to Laos without overstaying our visa.

In four days in Hong Kong, we managed to get three visas (China, Laos, Thailand), replace our water filtration system (sending home the useless Steripen), send home 4kg of baggage, eat dim sum at city hall, visit the Big Buddha on Lantau Island and hike on Hong Kong Island with our hosts. Despite being exhausted, we were grateful to have something forcing us to get our shit together. Hong Kong is a city that could have sucked us in much longer.   Dim sum at Maxim's Palace City Hall, a place for overeating and overspending

  Lantau Island, a peaceful oasis just a subway ride away from downtown. The amount of green space is what makes Hong Kong such an incredible place

With such an efficient airport and public transportation system we got way more done than we might have in any other place. Our favourite travel service was the downtown airline check-in counters. We didn't have to lug our bicycles and luggage all the way to the airport, we loaded them for a short taxi ride to the city centre where we checked them and got our boarding passes a full day early. We were then free to take the 20-minute airport shuttle, bicycle-free, whenever we wanted. Genius!

We landed in Kunming in the evening and had no problem finding a cheap unlicensed taxi to take us and our luggage to our hostel downtown. We booked a stay at the same hostel that we had stayed at seven years earlier and were pleased to see that it hadn't changed much. It was a bit busier than we had remembered, although maybe we're just getting old. Another sign of our ageing was moving on from the 8-bed dorm room to the double-the-price private room. Our seven-years-ago selves would be ashamed.

December 2006 at the Kunming Cloudland Hostel

October 2013 at the Kunming Cloudland Hostel

All we had to do in the city was re-assemble our bicycles and plan our route through Yunnan province. The bikes had survived the two flights (we reinforced them with lots of packing tape after the first flight from Tehran). Yann's basket took a bit of a beating as did one of his wheel skewers, but both were easily fixed. We did have to spend an entire morning unsuccessfully trying to fix a problem with one of the front wheels, unrelated to the flight, a rotor bolt stuck in the hub. We borrowed a drill, hoping to be able to dislodge the bolt, but after almost an hour of attempting to grind away the bolt with very little progress, it seemed that we were risking greater damage to the hub by continuing. So we opted for me, the person carrying the least luggage (and “the amateur who rarely uses her front brakes”) to use the wheel with the damaged hub.

  A smooshed bicycle basket

  The hostel staff helped us locate tools and were eager to help, but to no avail

  This rotor bolt isn't going anywhere

The weather in Kunming (known as the City of Eternal Spring) was perfect. The best weather we'd had in 4 months. The city, as far as Chinese cities go, feels extremely laid back. Especially on the weekends when seniors gather at the local parks to socialize, usually involving singing and dancing. We could have easily gotten into a routine of eating delicious Chinese food, lounging in the hostel courtyard and strolling around town, but the mountains of Yunnan were calling us!

One of many Kunming seniors listening to music at the park on a Sunday afternoon

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

Farewell Iran

It was fitting that we would end our time in Iran being hosted. We had experienced so much kindness and hospitality in the country that we were sometimes overwhelmed. Our last few days in Tehran were spent with the Rouhi family, friends of Yann's father. We had been playing phone tag with them since our arrival in Iran and were really looking forward to spending time with Iranian-Canadians. In our two days with Fatima and her children Mohammad Reza, Mahia and Sania we were made to feel truly welcome and at home (and we were extremely well fed).

We did lots of relaxing and conversing at the Rouhi's, but we did squeeze in a little bit of sight-seeing before leaving Tehran. Mohammad spent a morning touring us around the Niavaran Palace Complex, residence of the last Iranian Shah and the imperial family. The complex is set in beautiful grounds in Northern Tehran, a perfect escape from the city that surrounds it. The grounds are now public space and the buildings are now a museum. Filled with the finest Persian carpets, famous artwork the many of the palace halls and living areas have been preserved as they were left. One of the buildings even has a retractable roof. The palace is a great example of the excess and opulence of the former shahs. It surprised us that this was not more emphasized, there is little historic information on display and the palace items seem to be displayed for admiration rather than anything more propagandist (we felt a great opportunity was being missed!).   The slightly dated main building of the Niavaran Palace Complex

  Yann and Mohammad posing outside Niavaran Palace after a lovely morning visit

For our last dinner in Iran we had a picnic in the mountains north of Tehran, also fitting. Throughout our travels in the country we had admired the Iranians love of picnicking, seeing them set up along the highway the minute a tiny bit of shade presented itself, we saw full picnics on the shoulder of national highways and in parking lots, the roof racks of every car seemed to primarily be transporting picnicking supplies!   Our last dinner in Tehran, we'll be sad to leave all of our new friends

We left Tehran in the morning, picking up our bicycles at the hotel where we had left them for a week, then embarking on the 55km ride to the airport. Our flight was at 5am the next morning, but we were planning on packing everything, including our bicycles at the airport, so we left early in case we ran into any trouble. The ride to the airport was fairly straightforward, we only had to cycle the wrong way up an expressway ramp once. We rode ride into the airport terminal and got in line at the security checkpoint with our fully loaded bicycles, still wearing our helmets and security vests. Everything, including the bikes went into the x-ray machine!

We had about 12 hours to kill at the airport, many of these were spent rearranging our baggage once we found out that we were expensively over the weight limit for our flight. For the cyclists out there: be very careful flying with Emirates! There is no special fee for the bicycle, it is just added to your weight limit, and excess baggage rates are 30USD/kg. With our two bicycles we were 15kg overweight! We had misread the carriage rules when we bought the ticket (if you are wondering why we just realised this when we got to the airport). With enough panicked internet searching, we realised we could pre-purchase extra baggage saving us 30% or so, but we still felt like big dummies for not having figured this out ahead of time . Our second airport task was to get our bicycles boxed-up at the packaging office. We had been told on the phone that we would have “custom boxes” made on the spot. Well, the custom boxes consisted of strapping pieces of cardboard to the bike in what seemed to be a pretty random manner. There was no way in hell these “boxes” were going to survive a flight. The only way to save them was to use the stupid cellophane luggage wrapping and wrap the crap out of them. And even then they looked pretty bad.   Mastering the art of travelling light at IKIA (Imam Khomeini International Airport)

A day later, we were sitting in the back of a taxi, admiring the Hong Kong night skyline, our cellophane-wrapped bicycles strapped into the trunk. We felt like we had just landed on another planet.

Stats for Tehran:

Days of cycling: 0.5
Kilometres cycled: 52

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

On the Beaten Track in Iran

We stayed four days in Tehran trying to sort out onward travel plans. Our arrival in Tehran coincided with the U.S. push to engage in war with Syria and subsequent opposition from Russia and Iran. We monitored the news as much as possible, hoping that a U.S. invasion was not inevitable. We already had doubts in our hearts about our desire to continue onwards through Central Asia and along with our paranoia about full-blown war in the region we decided that we would fly out of Tehran. Getting the elusive 90-day Chinese visa (or even a 30-day visa) seemed to be next to impossible, so we knew that we would have to break our journey with a flight from Kyrgyzstan. We decided we didn't want to ride in the desert anymore, it was way too hard on our morale. For whatever reason we were pretty down on cycling and we needed a change of scenery and/or climate. We booked a flight from Tehran to Hong Kong, the only place (other than Canada) where we thought we could get the Chinese visa we were looking for. This left us a little bit more than a week to see as much of Iran as possible.

Tehran is not exactly packed with tourist attractions. But the southern bazaar district, where we were staying, was busy and bustling and actually lots of fun to explore. Like in Tabriz, the bazaar was active and uninterested in catering to foreign tourists. Except for the carpet merchants, who were just waiting to take our money (and did). 
  Tehran has some great revolutionary murals

  Getting lost in the Tehran Bazaar

We checked out Golestan Palace complex, this year added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Honestly it is a really weird sight, although 400 years old, much of the complex was reconstructed in the 1950s, on the orders of Reza Shah, who evidently had terrible taste.
  Mirror tiles are a key feature of the Golestan Palace Complex

Visiting the US Den of Espionage (site of the former American Embassy) was high on our Tehran to-do list. We visited on a Friday, which turned out to be perfect because we found the streets around the former embassy to be deserted. So despite warnings that photography could be met with suspicions and/or hostility, we were able to snap away at the famous murals that surround the building without any trouble (not that we lingered very long).   The first sight that greets you upon exiting the Taleqani Metro Station under the US Den of Espionage

After our four days in Tehran, we boarded a train to the desert city of Yazd where we checked into our nicest (and by no means the most expensive) accommodation in Iran, the Silk Road Hotel. Housed in an old building centred around a huge courtyard in the city's historic district, it has plenty of lounging areas, a beautifully decorated air-conditioned room and a kitchen serving delicious local dishes. What a treat!

Old Yazd basically shuts down for the hottest part of the day (10-4pm!), things slowly start moving in the evening, but the pace of life seemed to be far from that of frenzied Tehran. The architecture of the old city is completely adapted to desert life and is ingenious, especially the wind catchers that naturally cool and ventilate the homes. We explored the alleys of Old Yazd in a few hours, rarely meeting any other tourists, despite the city's popularity.
  Wind-catchers adorn many of the buildings in the old city

  Back streets of the old city in Yazd

Morning at the Jameh Mosque in Yazd

For our second day in Yazd we decided to join the popular tour to nearby desert villages. The tour brought us first to the village of Karanaq, sight of an abandoned palace complex, then to Chak Chak, one of Zoroastrianism's most important pilgrimage sights, then to the desert city of Meybod, home to an ancient citadel and caravansarai. The most impressive of the three sights was Karanaq, which just seems to sit beautifully untouched and undeveloped in the middle of the desert (apparently the villagers believe the complex to be haunted). Chak Chak is nothing more than a small cave temple in the middle of nowhere, interesting only because of its cultural and religious significance (and its isolation) but not because of any particularly attractiveness. Meybod's sights were also worthwhile, in particular the massive ancient refrigerator. Although we try to avoid package tours, getting to these three sights in the same day would have proven near impossible with public transportation. We ended up with great travel companions and an enthusiastic guide who spoke perfect English so we were very pleased.
  The abandoned Karanaq palace complex

The immense ancient yakhchal (ice box) in Meybod

From Yazd we bused to Esfahan, probably Iran's most visited city. It is the former capital of the Persian Empire and home to the country's largest concentration of historic buildings: palaces, mosques, medressas, cathedrals, covered bridges. The list of things to do in the city is intimidating. Truthfully, Esfahan was a pretty big disappointment for us. It was the only place in Iran where we felt we were being ripped off. The taxis were overpriced, the hotel where we had a reservation had no room for us unless we took a triple room and paid for the extra bed, we were constantly being approached by “friendly” locals who were actually trying to bring us to their shop (but it was Iran after all, our bus fares were paid twice by strangers, as well as our dinner one evening, so we shouldn't get too complainy!).

The sights themselves were also a let-down, in particular the Imam Mosque, it is reputed to have some of the most exquisite tile-work in Iran, but we couldn't tell you. The entire courtyard of the mosque was covered with canvas awnings blocking the best views of the mosque. There was absolutely no attempt to showcase the monument that hundreds of tourists were streaming in to see (and paying admission for).
  The disappointing views of the Imam Mosque

It wasn't all bad - we arrived at the Jameh Mosque 20 minutes before opening and the caretakers let us in early, so we had the whole place to ourselves

  We also stumbled upon the Mausoleum of Harun Vilayet and it's great courtyard

The covered bridges were lovely, but with no water in the river were a little bit less spectacular than they could have been. We could see the potential though. Our whole visit of the city seemed like we were just checking items of a list of things-to-see without really having any desire to do the seeing. We were probably just too tired to get into it.
  Siosepol Bridge and a dry Zayandeh River

To end our Esfahan joys, we booked bus tickets back to Tehran, making sure to ask that we were not in the last seats, only to be ushered into the last seats. The compromise was to give us the second last seats.

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

Rasht, Masouleh, then a Bus to Tehran

In Rasht, we had our host Javid waiting for us. We didn't have his address, but with our cell phone we managed to find him by handing the phone to random people several times. Each of our unsuspecting helpers got us a little bit closer to Javid after receiving his directions.

We had a great three days with Javid, who is our age and shares an apartment in the city centre with two friends. He is freelance English teaching until his Canadian permanent residency is approved (his brother and family live in Winnipeg). In a few days we got a glimpse at the frustratingly slow process that aspiring immigrants have to go through before getting the chance to start building their life abroad. He has no way of knowing when his approval will come through but his bags are packed. We have our fingers crossed that by the time we are home in the spring he will be there too.
  With our kind and generous host Javid

Iranians have dinner very late by our standards (maybe because of summer Ramadan), but Javid set a new record for late eating. On our first night, the third step in the rice-cooking process began at about midnight (had we known there were three steps we would have gotten him moving a little bit earlier). The process involved at least one hour of soaking the rice, a first cooking then a second cooking where oil is added and the rice is cooked until it forms a crispy golden brown crust on the bottom and sides of the pan. Bread or potatoes are added to the bottom of the pan to help form the crispy rice cake. Our meals were fantastic but we couldn't help teasing Javid who was so slow and meticulous about his food preparation.
Picking out fish at the Rasht night market

Javid's perfect rice!

To escape the humidity of Rasht (which was hovering around the 100% mark), we took a bus to the ancient (and popular) stepped village of Masouleh. Javid considered joining us after his English classes but it rained for most of the afternoon so we agreed to meet up again the next day. After spending the afternoon (pre-rain) sleeping on the hillside away from the crowds, we rented a room in a local house with a view over the village from an adorable old man who bargained pretty hard (he said we were getting a better price because we were foreigners - in Iran this was maybe believable). In the evening we watched the crowds disappear and the rain stop. It was one of the most relaxing days we'd had in a long time. In the morning we bought fresh flat bread, feta cheese and instant coffee and enjoyed the peace of the village before the crowds began to arrive again.
  It rained all afternoon in Masouleh but it was still extremely pleasant

  The small but lively Masouleh Bazaar

  Masouleh, population 500, is quiet in the morning before the tourists begin arriving

From Rasht we had decided that we would head to Tehran by bus. With half of our visa time expired, we still had to get to Tehran to arrange Uzbek and Turkmen visas, then come back to the coast and continue cycling. We thought of leaving our bicycles in Rasht, but decided that if the visa process was delayed we might not have enough time to meet all the visa deadlines so we would have to be prepared to get on another bus.

Getting our bikes on the bus was quite an ordeal. We were greeted by an enthusiastic attendant at the bus station who helped us buy tickets and load our bicycles into the baggage compartment. Anywhere else we would have been reluctant to accept assistance without expecting a scam, but our guard down was in Iran. After we purchased our tickets and got onto the bus, the friendly attendant marched on and demanded that we pay him a fee for the bicycles, 5 times the price of a ticket. Initially we thought we had misunderstood, but when we realised what was going on, we got off the bus, unloaded all our stuff and got a refund for our tickets. Much arguing ensued, we even phoned Javid for assistance who argued on our behalf. The attendant was particularly aggressive but he was no match for me (I was of course my usual calm and collected self). Strangely, the bus didn't want to seem to leave without us. The attendant really wanted this lucrative opportunity and for some reason had the ability to hold up the bus. Eventually another employee came up and offered a bicycle fee of only 2 times the price of a ticket, we didn't know if he had any authority to make the offer but we agreed and reloaded our bikes. We had held up a bus full of passengers for almost 30 minutes. The employee who offered us the discount turned out to be the bus driver, who himself was also being held up by the attendant! What a strange arrangement.
  With the unscrupulous bus attendant, loading our bikes onto the bus for the first time

Tehran is a monstrous, sprawling city and we arrived at the Azadi bus station 10km from the city centre. After our unfortunate bus experience we decided that the simplest way to get to our hotel was to cycle and despite the crisscrossing expressways and insane traffic, we managed the ride with relative ease. The dense traffic actually worked to our advantage because for most of the ride cars were stopped bumper-to-bumper. We followed the hundreds of motorcycles and weaved passed cars using the outer lane. After successfully tackling the cycling nightmare that is Tehran, we were pretty confident we could handle anything.
  Yann, snapped in brief quiet moment of our Tehran cycling experience

  Azadi Gate, symbol of Tehran

Stats for Tehran:

Days of cycling: 0.5
Kilometres cycled: 13
Metres climbed: 20

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support