Yaxi Expressway: Most Beautiful Sky Road in China

Ya’an (雅安) is our transit springboard to further explore the West Sichuan. Our today’s destination is Hailuogou Glacier Park( 海螺沟冰川森林公园). We are supposed to reach Moxi Town (磨西镇) from Ya’an by noon, an approx. 300 km drive and then start up our visit to Hailuogou Glacier on the same day.

Moxi Old Town is the gateway to Hailuogou Glacier and Mount Gongga (贡嘎山). Moxi is a town in Luding County in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan.

Ya’an Covered Bridge

Before setting off for Moxi Town,  I stride to a viewing spot protruding a bit into the wide Qingyi River (青衣江) where I snap a clear picture of the huge covered bridge not far from our ibis downtown hotel Ya’an.

It is a wide bridge topped by 2-3 storey buildings with typical roof tile eaves of Chinese traditional architectural style, a seemingly busy city hub for dining, shopping and recreation.

Ya'an Covered Bridge
Ya’an Covered Bridge

Still intoxicated by the beauty of the bridge and the layers of buildings cascading down the hillsides on both sides of the river valley, I hear Mr. Chen calling my name urging me to get on and go.

Yaxi Expressway

Mr. Chen takes most of the driving  on our West Sichuan trip. He tells me that today we”ll drive along Yaxi Expressway (雅西高速) which is lauded as the most beautiful “Sky Road” in China! Really? Why “Sky Road”? Feeling I’m still skeptical of the “Sky Road”, he suggests me searching online for Yaxi Expressway.

Oh, my God! A good amount of information on “China Sky Road” instantly appears before eyes. Yaxi Expressway starts from Ya’an and ends at Xichang (西昌),  a section of Beijing-Kunming highway, 240km long and a ladderlike road “leading to the sky”. 

Ya’an Xichang Expressway ( via Shimian County )

For more information on the scenic drive in China, check out my another article “The Top 10 Scenic Road Trips in China”.

The “leading to the sky” here has two meanings – 1) The 240km expressway is made of 270 viaducts,  an elevated roadway that stretches 240 kilometers, designed to minimize impact on the environment and driving on the numerous viaducts makes people feel like driving in the air; 2) For driving each kilometer, we ascends by 7.5 meters along the expressway. There are also 25 spiral tunnels used to reduce the effect on mountains. The construction of Yaxi Expressway took 5 years and opened to traffic in April 2012.

Ya’an to Shimian Freeway ( Part of Yaxi Expressway)

The “Sky Road” is really a boon on a seemingly monotonous drive from Ya’an to Moxi Old Town.  We don’t drive the whole Yaxi Expressway and we will get off  Yaxi expressway at Shimian (石棉县), then turn to the north along the provincial highway S211 to the direction of Moxi Town.

Drive from Ya’an to Shimian

While still overjoyed at the timely blessing, I’m kindly advised by Mr. Chen to the effect that among the 200km drive, for the first 130km, we have the luck to experience the so-called most beautiful “Sky Road” in China, but for the rest of the 70km (off the expressway), we”ll face the tough challenge driving past narrow mountainous roads sided by risky and steep cliffs with the possible falling stones and rocks. It looks like both a gift and ordeal from God to test us. So let’s go!

Ya Xi Expressway Driving Experience

Overcast, we have a gloomy morning, without white clouds and azure sky, but not too bad, it allows us to have the effect of viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.
Viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

Driving along the elevated highways high above the valleys and through the tunnels, we are excited and thrilled at the pristine beauty of the scenes flying past. The famous Dadu River (大渡河) accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway for most of the drive trip.

Yaxi Highway
Drive on the elevated highway

Nearly all Chinese know about Dadu River due to the famous heroic legend “Seizing of the Luding Bridge” in the course of the Long March in May 1935 and we will talk about it later.

Dadu River is 1062 km long, the large tributary of Min River (岷江) which is in turn the largest tributary of Yangzte River. Within Dadu River basin, there are rich tourist resources including the historical site of “Seizing of the Luding Bridge”, Mt. Emei, Hailuogou Glacier and Mount Gongga.

Dadu River
Dadu River (大渡河) accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway

The 25 tunnels on Yaxi Expressway have greatly shortned the drive distance in the mountainous areas. The tunnels are deep and long.

For example, Nibashan tunnel has a depth of 1,650 meters and a length of 9,962 meters on the left line and 10,007 on the right line, lit brightly and driving safe.

Yaxi Expressway Tunnels
The 25 tunnels on Yaxi Expressway have greatly shortned the drive distance

The relaxing and leisure 2-hour drive ends at Shimian Service Area (石棉服务区).  We take a short break in the service stop, relaxed and recharged, ready for next leg of the mountainous trip – Driving along S211 and getting to our destination today – Moxi Old Town ( Hailuogou Glacier ).

So we get off Yaxi Expressway at Shimian and enter S211 ( a provincial road ) leading to Moxi Old Town.

Shimian Service Area
Shimian Service Area

Shimian to Moxi S211 ( a provincial highway)

The provincial highway from Shimian off the Yaxi Expressway to Moxi Town is tough, a zigzag mountain road with the risk of falling stones on one higher side.

a zigzag mountain road with the risk of falling stones

The Shimian to Moxi Town road trip turns out one of the most tiring and dangerous on our West Sichuan self-drive tour. But anyhow, we made it and got to Moxi Old Town safe and sound.

Moxi Old Town


Drive from Hanzhong to Ya’an
Ya’an Night View
Most Beautiful Sky Road in China
Night View of Moxi Old Town
Camp No.03 at Hailuogou Glacier
Camp No.04 at Hailuogou Glacier
Night View of Kangding
Drive from Kangding to Xinduqiao
Drive from Xinduqiao to Danba
Jiarong Tibetan Blockhouses
Jiarong Tibetan Ancient Watchtowers
Drive from Xinduqiao to Yajiang
Drive from Yajiang to Litang
Drive from Litang to Daocheng
Drive from Litang to Batang
Drive from Batang to Mangkang
Drive from Shangri-la to Daocheng
Drive from Daocheng to Yading
Yading Brings You Inner Peace

Hassle-free Chengdu & Sichuan Guided Tours

If you don’t want to go the do-it-yourself route and prefer the hassle-free escorted tours, here are some options for Chengdu and Sichuan guided tours:

Chengdu tour
Chengdu Car Rental with Driver
Create My Chengdu Trip
Jiuzhaigou Tour
Sichuan Tour

Further Readings

Top 10 Attractions in Chengdu
Best Time to Visit Chengdu
Chengdu Airport
Railway stations in Chengdu
Chengdu Taxi
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (Tips, Photos & Map)
How to visit Wuhou Shrine
How to visit Du Fu Thatched Cottage
How to visit Jinsha Site Museum
How to visit the tomb of Wang Jian in Chengdu
How to Visit Wangjiang Pavilion Park in Chengdu
How to visit Qingyang Palace in Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
How to Visit Jinli Street
How to visit Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley
Qintai Road, Qintai Gujing Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
Shaoling Road Bar Street Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
Jiuyanqiao Bar Street in Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
The Old Teahouse in Pengzhen Town, Chengdu

Bipenggou is a fairyland in Autumn
When is the best time to visit Jiuzhaigou?
Best Places to Visit Autumn Leaves in Sichuan
Top 10 Places to Visit in Sichuan
Ruoergai Grassland, my first trip to Ruoergai Grassland

Any questions, just drop a line.

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