2011 China Bridge Trip

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August 5-August 26, 2011

With so many high bridges opening in China in 2009 and 2010, several bridge fans expressed an interest in wanting to go there ASAP. So I have organized an unprecedented 3 week “High Over China” bridge trip for the summer of 2011 that will traverse over dozens of incredible new high bridges and expressways. The trip will only be open to either 4 or 8 people as we will be traveling in one or two high clearance SUVs. This is no chartered bus trip for a group of 50 people looking to peer out a window to snap a quick photo of a bridge but a gathering of adventurous bridge fanatics who don’t mind a journey off the beaten path.

China's 8 "Royal Gorge Busters"


This epic bridging tour will include stops to one third of the world’s 100 highest bridges including China’s 8 “Royal Gorge Busters” - bridges that recently toppled the height record of the famous 80-year old bridge in the U.S. state of Colorado. The tour will include a trek along the brand new Hurong, Jieshuie and Kunming expressways - the #1, #2 and #3 greatest high bridge roadways on earth with the largest collection of skyscraping viaducts and bridges ever assembled on one highway. Hurong and Jieshuie expressways were finally completed in 2010 and also hold the record for more miles of tunnels then any other highways on earth with more then 70 miles located underground on each highway. Only Italy's A20 has as many miles of tunnels.

The first ever Organized Bridge Trip to China includes:

• All Ground Transportation via one or two 6-seat SUVs for 3 full weeks

• 22 Nights of Lodging from Friday Night 8/5 through Friday Night 8/26

• Round Trip Flights from Shanghai to Western China cities of Yichang and Kunming

• Three meals per day plus snacks & drinks

• Exclusive bridge walkway tours to be announced

• Special visit to the remote construction site of China's newest high bridge number 8, a span that will also topple the height of the Royal Gorge Bridge when it opens in a year.

• Professionally edited 2 hour High Def video of the entire trip

You will visit more than 40 high bridges on this trip
including 8 “Royal Gorge Busters” as well as
one third of the world's 100 highest!

2011 China Bridge Trip Itinerary

Sidhe River Bridge - The highest span on earth

Bridge highlights will begin with visits to Siduhe and Zhijinghe - the highest suspension and arch bridges on earth. Special trips will be taken along construction roads on the north side of both of these spans to allow vantage points not accessible to the public traveling along the highway. We will be getting close up views of Longtanhe and Mashuihe, the highest concrete beam viaducts on earth as well as the 200 meter high monsters Tieluoping, Qing Jiang and Xiaohe. The famous “Yesanhe 5” are also in this region and include the classic arch bridge from 1977 that was once China’s highest at 400 feet as well as the even higher railway and road bridges that were completed in 2009.

Further south will be an excursion along the brand new Jieshui Expressway with several spectacular crossings including Wulingshan - the world’s second highest cable stayed bridge after Millau with a deck nearly as high as West Virginia’s New River Gorge bridge. At the end of this highway near Jishou will be a visit to what may become the most beautiful suspension bridge in the world - the Aizhai Bridge which connects two mountain ranges that look like they are from a scene from the movie Avatar. Also along this amazing stretch of highway are 5 more 200 meter high monsters - the Ganxigou #2, Yanxigou, Xisha, Furongjiang and Yushan Mountain bridges.

Tieluoping Bridge on the Hurong Highway

In the Chongqing region we will see construction progress on the tallest railway bridge supports ever built on the Caijiagou Bridge, a 1.25 mile long monstrosity that will be the largest railway viaduct ever built. In Chongqing city we will visit Chaotianmen, the longest span arch bridge in the world as well as Caiyuanba, the longest combination road and rail arch ever constructed. Also within the “Pittsburgh of China” is Shibanpo, the longest span beam bridge of any kind on the planet.

Driving south to Guiyang, the adventure continues into Guizhou Province, a region with more high bridges than any other place on earth. Our first day there will include a stop to the historic city of Zunyi where Mao emerged as the leader in 1935 and started the revolution that would change the lives of more than a billion people. To the east our caravan will venture into the mountains to see the triple crossings of the beautifull Yanjinhe river gorge as well as the gargantuan Wujiang Viaduct and the one-of-a-kind Wujiang cable stayed/suspension bridge.

Caijiagou Railway Viaduct - the world's largest railway bridge

The next day we set out on the Gui-Bi - one of the world’s 5 greatest high bridge highways. First up will be a visit to Liuguanghe, the world’s highest beam bridge and the first span to topple the 72-year old Royal Gorge bridge height record. Further along towards Bijie are 3 other bridges in the 200 meter height range including Wuxi, Luojiaohe and Xixi bridges. We will be walking across every one of them.

Balinghe Bridge in Guizhou - The world's 2nd longest span high bridge

Heading west from Guiyang along the new Kunming highway will be a stop to a bridge that will simply take your breath away - the crossing of the Balinghe. Towering 370 meters, this is currently the second highest road bridge on earth after Siduhe. Our high clearance SUV will be going along several dirt roads south of the span to reach some breathtaking vantage points along the Baling River to capture images that would make Ansel Adams proud.

Just as spectacular and not to be ignored is the nearby Beipanjiang 2003 bridge - currently the 3rd highest road bridge on earth with walkways on both sides of the span offering unbelievable views of China’s most vertigo inducing river gorge. Later we will drive north to see the deep canyon that is crossed by Azhihe, a suspension bridge nearly as high as Royal Gorge.

The bridgemeisters will then head back to the Beipanjiang River where the Beipanjiang River highway viaduct will almost be completed and will arguably become the largest concrete beam bridge on earth. The second half of the day we will visit the early construction of not one but two potential Royal Gorge Busters.

Beipanjiang Railway arch - The world's highest railway bridge

100 miles further north along the Beipanjiang River our convoy will be stopping by the highest railway bridge on earth. The location is so remote there are no known railfans outside of China who have ever visited this jaw-dropping steel arch span.

Driving further west on the Kunming highway we will encounter yet another Royal Gorge Buster - the Beipanjiang 2009 highway bridge with a deck more than 1,000 feet high. Like a gift that keeps on giving, the Kunming highway will be offering up more goodies as we continue west with a triad of massive viaducts perched on piers as high as 150 meters. They include the Mengzhai, Baishuichong and Hutiaohe Viaducts.

The gorgeous Malinghe River arch bridge over a canyon of waterfalls

The fun continues with a stop underneath the second highest curving bridge in the world, the Zhuchanghe beam bridge - another Kunming highway king with piers 137 meters above a V-shaped river gorge. The group will finally leave the smooth 4-lane highway to head south to Xingyi and the spectacular Maling River Gorge where waterfalls and rock formations line the canyon of one of China’s most scenic waterways.

Two great crossings leap over the Maling River including the brand new Malinghe cable stayed bridge. Heading north will be another exclusive gem unseen to railfans - the crossing of the Qingshuihe and the 3rd highest railway bridge in the world. A hike down to the river will reveal an almost surreal canyon with several large 100 meter high waterfalls cascading into the Qingshui River.

Aizhai - The longest span high bridge in the world will be completed in late 2011

We will be visiting the site of a secret new high bridge now under construction that will be 330 meters from the deck to the water - the 8th Chinese bridge constructed that will have surpassed Colorado's Royal Gorge Bridge. The location is so remote, we will be the first foreigners in the world to see this breathtaking beauty in person.

Map of China 2011 High Bridge Trip Route

Once the organized 3 week trip is over, I will be traveling for another week to visit more obscure high bridges as well as a trek up the Yangtze River where dozens of bridges can be seen in just several days. Anyone would be welcome to continue on with me, splitting travel expenses evenly.

A total of 4 to 8 people will be on the trip plus myself and one or two drivers. As trip planners and organizers, we will be taking care of everything for the 4 to 8 additional guests. This includes the round trip air fare from Shanghai to Western China as well as the hotels, meals and car travel . We are hoping to pair single people together in hotel rooms but if you don’t mind the additional cost you can have your own private room for the duration of the trip. With each spot being filled on a first-come, first-served basis, you might be out of luck if you wait too long!

This trip is not for the timid or physically challenged. We will be traveling down into the canyons beneath these bridges on dirt roads that will be bumpy, dusty and uncomfortable. There will be short but occasionally strenuous hikes down paths to reach spectacular viewpoints. At the end of the day you will be sweaty, dirty and wanting nothing more than a hot meal, a hot shower and a cool hotel room to sleep in.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have at Eric@HighestBridges.com. The price of this 3-week trip is under 4,000 dollars which is an incredible bargain, so don't be shy about contacting me. This trip can only happen if at least 4 people sign up!

List of 50 Highest Bridges on the Tour

Aizhai Bridge - Opening in 2011

Looking To Create Your Own Western China High Bridge Trip?

Regardless of whether you want to be a part of my bridge tour or head off to Western China on your own, you need to understand up front that you cannot drive to these high bridges yourself. Since you must hire your own guide and/or driver, the following travel advice is for anyone who might be thinking about planning their own high bridge trip through Western China. Much of this advice also applies to those who might be coming on my 2011 trip.

Make sure your taxi driver does not mind going "off-road"

With so many spectacular, high bridges in one region of the world, many will be wanting to hop on the next plane to China and begin a whirlwind tour of these “high”ways in the sky. Before you run out and buy a ticket, there are some very informative suggestions you need to learn about. These are not just tips but very important warnings that can make the difference between a once in a lifetime experience or an unforgettable nightmare.

A visit to the rural mountains of Western China is a world apart from a trip to a modern city like Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong. The big city hotels and western style restaurants that cater to English speaking tourists are not to be found in Western China outside of a handful of large cities. The high bridges located within this web site are far away from these big cities in mountainous regions of mostly poor farmers, many who have never seen a foreigner. This means that you will have to be resourceful and adapt to a rough environment that is more like a third world country where access to reliable transportation, food and lodging cannot be taken for granted.

A typical Chinese lunch in the mountains of Hubei province

First, do not even think of driving or renting a car in China’s western provinces. You can only visit these bridges by hiring a taxi driver for every day you are there. The mountain roads are incredibly dangerous, requiring an experienced driver to dodge any and every imaginable form of human and animal life as well as reckless trucks, automobiles and motorcycles. These assaults will come at you from every direction. When you are on these secondary roads, your driver is going to be using his horn constantly. Driving-by-horn in the mountains is not just an option but an important survival tool. To avoid colliding with people, bicycles and animals, a constant “beep” is required to warn each and every one of them. For a taxi driver, the use of a horn is second nature - for you it is not. Much of the time you will be on unpaved dirt roads filled with potholes, rocks and mud. Trucks and buses coming in the opposite direction are going to pass slower traffic by coming head on into your lane, forcing you to come to a sudden stop. If you did get in a collision, in a very real sense, you would be at fault even though the other driver came into your lane! Other times you will be stuck behind a slow moving truck, trapped in a cloud of dust and exhaust thicker than a dense fog.

Hired drivers and taxis are good because they know their regions well, they know what roads might be under construction or are washed out, what roads are dangerous and what roads are safe. Outside of the major highways, maps have little or no detail and only Chinese names. The rural sign-age you encounter on local roads will also be in Chinese language if there is even a sign at all.

Our taxi driver looks over food preparations in the back room

But even if you could convince a Chinese car rental company to rent you a car and even if you could read Chinese road signs, and even if you could learn to use the horn and dodge oncoming traffic, the most important reason to hire a driver relates to the bridges themselves. You are there to walk across and under the bridges to take photos and experience the scenery. Many of these bridges do not have safe areas to pull over and park. In some cases, your driver will have to drop you off and park further down the highway and wait for you. In other cases you will want him to take you down to the bottom of the bridge on some unknown side road. A personal driver means having no worries about leaving your car on the side of the road with your belongings left unattended. It means no worries about getting lost, and best of all, no worries about getting in an accident. There is also no cost difference. For a little over a $125, you will have your own personal car and driver for the entire day. No insurance papers or damage waivers to fill out, no unforeseen tows or car repairs, no expensive late fees.

Finally, the best reason you might want a driver is food. When you are up in the mountains, you will not be able to stop off at a Denny’s or a McDonalds. The driver will know what places to avoid. He will not shy away from going into the back of the restaurant to check on the quality and trustworthiness of the meat you will be eating and how it will be prepared.

Now that I have convinced you that hiring a driver is the only way to go, you need to be warned that many drivers cannot be trusted and you will have to pick a driver that can be counted on to serve you and not try to steal or rip you off. If you don’t watch out you could find yourself sitting on the side of some mountain road, your taxi driver having taken off with your belongings, never to be see again.

Due to the long distances between these bridges, there might be days you are going to have to bring all of your luggage with you as your one or two day taxi driver is going to be dropping you off in a different city from the city where you hired him in the morning. That means you will have to entrust your belongings with him as you visit the different bridges. As an outsider in these regions, you are going to stick out like a sore thumb. People might want to take advantage of you if you let them.

Driving among 3-wheeled taxis in Guizhou province

If you do not have the money to have a travel agent set you up with your own driver for the entire trip then the best person to find you a good taxi driver each day will be the concierge at the hotel you are staying at. They will have a known pool of drivers that they use and the drivers will be less likely to try anything funny. Even so, a driver knows you are unfamiliar with negotiating and so the price you agree on should be clear and well established before you leave. You should expect to pay him extra if the day extends to 14 hours instead of 12 as you had planned or if you drove 600 miles (966 km) instead of 500 (805 km). All of this should be worked out in advance. You should expect to pay him in cash when you get back to your hotel in the evening. If you have to stay overnight away from his city, you will need to pay for his hotel room. You should also expect to pay for his lunch. It is an inexpensive courtesy that may earn you some points if you get back a little late or want him to do something risky like illegally pulling over in the middle of a bridge, etc. And if you had a great day, why not invite him to dinner when you get back to the hotel. I got along with my driver so well in Guiyang, he agreed to come back the next morning and spend two hours showing me another high bridge I had not know of - for free! When you get into the taxi, always snap a digital photo of his license which should be on the dashboard.

The most important thing you can try to bring with you on a vacation to Western China is another person, whether it be your own spouse, a close friend or a hired Chinese guide. He or she can be a second set of eyes as well as someone who can go along with you when you venture down into some unknown gorge to take photos. I visited many of China’s high bridges with an English speaking Chinese engineering student from Shanghai who handled all of the dealings with the taxis and hotels. He made sure every driver was an honest one as well as telling the driver what will be in store for them. Many of these small taxis have low clearances that are unsuitable for such horrible roads and a driver might not want to head into the mountains to have his car get abused for the same money he can make in the city on normal roads. Communicating your desire to go “off-road” is crucial to finding a good match for a driver. Finally, do not ever agree to go along with a taxi driver who wants to “bring his friend along” for the day. Two guys taking you into the mountains or down a back alley could easily be a setup for a rip-off.

China Road Atlas and regional maps

Once a good driver is found, your biggest hurdle will be communication. The driver will not know English or any other language outside of Chinese, so you will need to be prepared. Prior to leaving for China, you should print out a full size image of every bridge you plan to visit along with the Chinese and English names also printed on the photo. In addition, be sure to print out any maps from this web site with the location and names of the bridges you want to visit as well as purchasing a China Road Atlas that is available at most airports and bookstores. Also good for planning your entire trip is a fold out map like the ones sold by Nelles that cover the general regions of Central and Southern China. People are very un-knowledgeable about bridges. They don’t know the difference between a suspension or a cable stayed bridge. Photos, names and map locations of each bridge will be your only way to show the driver exactly what bridge you want to visit and its general location. Even so, expect to be frustrated as you will get lost from time to time - ultimately the driver is not likely to know these rural back roads any better than you will. Asking locals for directions will often be your only guide.

Outside of the concierges in the nicer 4 or 5 star hotels in the cities of Chongqing, Guiyang and Kunming, people in the western provinces do not speak English or any other foreign language. There are few hotels in most of the smaller cities and towns in the mountains. For those visiting the West Hurong highway, the cities to stay in are Enshi and Yesanguanzhen. Along the Yangtze River, most of the larger cities have hotels that cater to tourists. You should always plan on getting back to a hotel by the end of the day. Driving at night is generally not safe except on the major highways and in the cities. You can read more at http://wikitravel.org/en/Driving_in_China. Be sure to scroll down to the section titled “Danger”. Remember, for every mile a person travels on a road in China, the likelihood of getting killed is the same as driving 10 miles in Europe or the U.S.

An inexpensive but comfortable soft sleeper room on a train to the 3 Gorges region

Now that I’ve covered the nasty side of travel on China’s tough roads, I will go over the easy side of travel - the planes, trains and buses. Unlike most countries in the world where you must buy plane tickets in advance, China’s airports are more like bus terminals where you can sometimes purchase a ticket just a few hours before a flight. Even so, large discounts can be had on the web if you book a ticket on line at least a day in advance. All of the airlines can be compared and purchased on http://english.ctrip.com/. This makes it a perfect way to travel between a larger city like Chongqing or Guiyang with some of the smaller cities like Yichang or Wanxian. Instead of spending 5 hours in a bus you can hop between two cities in just an hour.

Buses may be slower than planes but they are the only form of transportation outside of a taxi that can take you to some of the smaller cities and towns that are in the mountains. In addition to easy accessibility, they also tend to run more frequently than planes and trains and are quite comfortable.

Bridge engineer Shijie Du and HighestBridges.com creator Eric Sakowski

Trains are not any quicker than a bus or a taxi but they are incredibly cheap in China and allow you to catch up on sleep or take in the countryside. Train tickets are generally divided into separate classes. The hard and soft seat are the cheapest and most common way to travel but they are often crowded and uncomfortable for long routes. The best is the soft sleeper with only 4 beds to a room and not much more than a hard sleeper where there are 6 beds to a room. Getting a ticket is the most difficult aspect of train travel. Large stations are often crowded and travel during holiday periods should be avoided. You don’t have to worry about eating as all trains have roving trollies and a dining car where cooks can prepare hot Chinese meals. You might want to prepare for the toilets though as they can be dirty and stinky and require you to squat over a hole in the floor, keeping your balance as you try to aim. Finally, expect to bring your own toilet paper - train bathrooms will never have any.

So if you use some common sense and plan out your route carefully, you can have a bridge adventure you will never forget. Just remember that sudden setbacks will come up. Bad weather can come at anytime. Cars, buses and trains break down. Also remember that the advice I have given to you is no substitute for all of the normal, travel related things that you would have to prepare for on any big trip to China that are mentioned in such guidebooks as Lonely Planet or Fodors. The process of obtaining travel insurance, visas, permits and vaccinations are all well described in these books and beyond the scope of this website. Since I have traveled to western China several times, I do have some good contacts with drivers who have visited some of these high bridges and are trustworthy. If you are planning a bridge trip to western China, I will be glad to give you any advice and suggestions. You can reach me at eric@highestbridges.com

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