Since the earthquake in Sichuan Province (2008) there are two good places to see pandas – one in the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu itself and one in Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base. Wolong centre was destroyed by the earthquake and by sheer luck only the pandas survived and they’ve been transferred around Chengdu. Some of them are “rented” to zoos around the world.
Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base is located in Bifengxia Town, Ya’an City of south-west Sichuan Province. The distance from Chengdu to Ya’an Panda Base is 140km which takes around 2 hours drive to get there and you can arrange the visit as a private day trip. The drive is very scenic, through forest, waterfalls, river and breathtaking landscapes. The mountain weather is changeable, so wear layers for warmth and rain protection. Wear comfortable/waterproof walking shoes. It can rain anytime of the year, particularly in June, July, and August (also sunnier during this period) and snow is most prevalent from November through to March.
Although there are more Pandas here, you’ll get to see Pandas more in their natural habita than in the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu . You can spend around at least 1.5hrs here – subject to conditions you can have your picture taken with a baby Panda for 1,000 RMB (approx £100) . Also you can do some voluntary work which includes feeding pandas, cleaning the enclosures, monitoring their habits but you have to be in extra good health as the forms which you need to fill in ask for very personal information.
Within the park there is the Ya’an Wild Animal Zoo where you can see golden monkeys, tigers, hawks and so on. Afterward, take a short drive to see Shangli Ancient Town – situated along the river it’s easy to walk around by yourself. Its very interesting for tourists as it looks like an old traditional Chinese town still unspoiled by the mass market. Within the town you can see traditional shops selling homemade Rice Wine, Foods, Handicrafts etc. I found very nice antiques for a very good price and even if it’s fake it does look good on my windowsill!
The Panda Research Centre in Chengdu is located almost in the city centre, but its much more professionally run and controlled. I had a feeling that the Pandas are in a more sombre mood here and in very limited enclosures. But in this centre you would be able to see Red Pandas which you can’t in the Ya’an Centre.
For those of you staying few nights in Chengdu I would suggest that you go to book a private day trip to the Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base. For those with less time I would suggest you sightseeing tour of the Pandas in the Research Base in the city center of Chengdu.
If you haven’t got either the time or the money to go to Chengdu then book a day trip to a zoo in China but please be prepared. The Panda enclosures may look very clean, big and well-kept but in order to get to the Panda enclosure you have to pass Siberian tigers and see live chickens thrown to them. Or pass dirty and unkempt monkey cages.