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The Bifengxia Panda Base, or simply Panda Base, is one of China’s biggest panda conservation bases and houses over a third of the country’s remaining bears. Located in Ya’an, some two hours outside of Chengdu, it is a much more quiet and remote place than the more popular research center located right in Chengdu.
The Panda Base is hidden from the world in the mountains of southwestern Sichuan next to the waterfalls and thick forests of the beautiful Bifeng Gorge. I really loved getting out of the giant city Chengdu and into nature – and there was a lot of nature, as well as clear air, which is always nice. Usually in China, there are always a lot of tourists, but since the Panda Base isn’t that easy to get to, it was quiet and almost deserted. I did visit the Panda Research Base in Chengdu as well, and was a bit disappointed, as this location was filled to the brim with huge groups of screaming and yelling Chinese tourists. At the Bifenxia Panda Base however, only a few visitors walked along the paths and it was very lovely and quiet – another rarity in China, where yelling seems to be the norm.
With the base mainly dedicated to breeding and research with a bit of tourism mixed in, the Giant Pandas are very well taken care of. It luckily doesn’t feel like a zoo at all, but like the conservation center it is. The pandas roam around in big forested enclosures and also have a lot of indoor space available – so lots of places to hide from the prying eyes of tourists. There is even a panda kindergarten with several adorable mini-pandas roaming around and making mischief, a nursery, a breeding center as well as a panda hospital.
Mainly, the pandas at the base do what they like best: eating with the occasional nap thrown in. All throughout the base, little bears and big bears are chewing on their bamboo sticks, skillfully stripping them of unwanted leaves, before chomping them down in seconds and reaching for a new one. When the pandas aren’t eating, they are draped over various branches in trees. Seriously, first and foremost pandas love bamboo, but trees are second. It’s adorable seeing them passed out in trees, snoring away and somehow, not falling down.
I highly recommend making the trip out to Ya’an to see the pandas in a quiet and serene setting outside of the big city of Chengdu. Here’s how you get there:
How to get from Chengdu to Ya’an
Go to the Xin Man Men bus station in Chengdu (If you are staying at the Traffic Inn Hostel, the bus station is right next door) and buy a ticket to Ya’an. Busses start running at 7am and leave roughly ever 30 minutes. The ride takes about two hours. Once you arrive at the bus station in Ya’an, you should immediately go and buy your return ticket back to Chengdu, since tickets sell out during the day and otherwise, you might find yourself stranded. The last bus back to Chengdu leaves at around 6pm and you should probably buy a ticket for around 5-6pm to give yourself enough time at the Panda Base.
How to get to the Panda Base
Right in front of the Ya’an bus station is a plaza where the local busses arrive. You will find the white minibusses heading to to the Panda Base to the right. They are unmarked, so you will have to ask someone if you are getting into the correct vehicle. It’s a bit tricky getting a seat, as there is usually a group of visitors waiting and the minibusses are very small. You will just have to be a bit pushy and fast when the bus arrives, as everyone will run towards it trying to get a seat. You’ll pay for the bus during the ride, so there is no need trying to purchase a ticket ahead of time.
The minibus will take you to the entrance of the park, where you can purchase your tickets. Go to the big building on the right (to the left, there is the Bifengxia Zoo, which has nothing to do with the Panda Base – it can be a bit confusing) and once you have purchased the ticket, keep going right. You will get to the edge of the gorge, where you have the option to hike through the gorge to the Panda Base, or take the sightseeing bus. Both the entrance to the gorge as well as the bus are included in the ticket. I can absolutely recommend the hike through the gorge though, which takes about half an hour if you go right and two hours if you go left and leads through some beautiful nature, along waterfalls and traditional buildings. If you do the short hike, you can take the bus the rest of the way, which has a stop right at the exit of the gorge.
8:30-17:00 – the base “closes” over lunch from 11:30 to 13:30 while the pandas are sleeping and the employees take a break. You can still stay inside though, although you probably won’t see many bears. I personally just bought a cup of noodles from a food stand, sat on a bench and enjoyed the park.