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“Wonderful, just wonderful”

Bifengxia Panda Reserve
Ranked #1 of 23 things to do in Ya'an
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Owner description: Nearest large town is Ya'an about 16km away.
Reviewed 21 December 2013

This was my idea and my husband was less than keen but since our return to the UK he has told everyone that this was one of the highlights of our China tour. We volunteered to work here and had the most amazing experience getting up close and personal with a number of Pandas. The whole place is so clean, well landscaped and peaceful. Don't think this is an easy day of watching pandas once we had been given our overalls and gloves and told the rules of the day we were set to work cleaning the panda enclosures, literally shoveling panda Pooh. We removed all the old bamboo and put in fresh and then were taken to clean the inside pens where they spend the night. We then swept the pathways and finally were introduced to the three pandas we had been cleaning for. We fed then panda cake (a solid block made from seeds, nuts, etc. with the nutrients they also need. Pandas are gentle creatures and eat like a human holding in their paws and taking bites, but don't be fooled they have long sharp claws and big teeth. We went to see the baby pandas but opted out of cuddling one for a photo as the cost was £150 !!! We then spent some time watching a pair of "toddlers" about 9 months old who were just adorable playing on swings and slides and in their tree house. We fed "our" pandas again with carrots and then went to have a lovely lunch with the keepers. The pandas park is closed to visitors for a couple of hours over lunch but as volunteers we were allowed to stay in and wander around watching all the pandas eating bamboo and sleeping, it was sublime. Our final task was to give more bamboo to "our" pandas and feed them apples and say goodbye. We went to return out overalls and were handed a certificate of thanks for the work we had done and a lovely magazine about the pandas. This was a wonderful experience and one that will stay with us forever, don't miss it.

8  Thank sanuk_9
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 13 December 2013

This was definitely one of the most unforgettable experience we had. I brought my 5 teenage nieces and nephew to Sichuan to see the pandas. Well, not just to see them, but to be up close and personal with them. That is why we chose to go to the Panda Reserve in Bifengxia and did a volunteer program rather than just visit the Chengdu Research Centre where you can only look from afar just like any other zoo. We did go to the Chengdu Research Centre too, it was also great, but a different experience.

No words can describe the feeling you get when you are up close and personal with them. Although you are not allowed to touch/hug them for safety purposes, the pandas are there within inches of you as you feed them their food (panda bread, carrots and apples) through their mouths. They would then hold the food while chewing and continue feeding themselves on their own. They actually look very adorable and almost like real people. And I would hear a lot of "awwws" from my nieces and nephew ;-) It's easy to forget that they are carnivores. Even within that short interaction, we get to talk to them, observe their behaviors and personalities too. Yes, pandas do have personalities too, haha! Like one panda was clever to balance a loose piece of panda bread on his wrist while chewing the rest. We would also break bamboos and put them in their enclosures for them to munch on afterwards. Feeding is four times a day, and the rest of the time you can go around the reserve or just simply observe them from the viewing area. We would normally go visit each other pandas as we were broken into 2 groups. I noticed pandas are much more active here too so you'll see them walking around, playing aside from just eating and sleeping. Cleaning is once a day in the morning, and we would sweep out the remaining bamboos and clean out the panda poop from the inner and outer enclosure. It was not hard work at all unless maybe you've never cleaned anything in your life ;-) It's a great experience for the city kids or teenagers ;-) Not to worry as uniforms/overalls and gloves will be lent to you as part of the volunteer program so you will not get dirty.

In the two days we were there, we've seen quite a lot of interesting things, like how the pandas sit and get ready to be fed, some even stretch their arms out to the bar which tells you their ready. how they hold the food and eat by themselves, how they get edgy when the food isn't ready yet, how they get lazy, etc. One of the pandas actually did a rolly polly move just before we left, as he rolled around his enclosure like a ball. I'm glad my niece video'd it, as it was one of the pandas in their group. And the best was at the panda kindergarten where they actually played on their swing. The first day we were there, we were wondering if they actually know how to play with the swing and see saw that were in the enclosure as all we've seen them do all day is eat and sleep up on the trees. At the end of the 2nd day, we were lucky to see them playing with their swing. They sit on it like real kids, one even got stuck up on the swing and was doing gymnastics for about 5 minutes figuring out a way to get down. Truly a great experience! I never imagined I would enjoy it this much, as my nieces were the panda fanatics here and I was just the one bringing them there ;-)

Some of us also took the opportunity to take photos holding a baby panda, this was really expensive and just for one minute per person. If you're in a group, they would let you take a photo of the group with the panda at the end. Even if I feel it's too expensive for such a short time, I also understand the complexities. When the panda finished his bamboo stick, he was actually getting edgy and trying to reach for more, and he could easily hurt the person sitting beside him with his sharp claws. So everything has to be timed properly and extra caution taken. Also, the pandas actually weigh really heavy, the staff was panting when he had to carry the 1-yr old panda from the kindergarten to the photo area. Well, the money goes to the panda reserve anyway and we could see that they put it to good use. This year, a live cam has been installed in the kindergarten so you could actually see them from around the world.

I normally like traveling independently, and if we were a smaller group, doing it independently would be okay. But we chose to take a tour program rather than go independently because I do not want to be worried about travel arrangements while tagging along my nephews and nieces, although they were already pretty much independent. Of course, this came with a premium, but we were not disappointed as everything went on smoothly, our tour guide was already a regular at the Panda Reserve and was very familiar with all the processes and timings inside, even know the names of the pandas ;-) She also accompanied us all the time even inside the restricted areas and she served as our translator esp when the mentor and us have difficulty understanding each other. The panda volunteer opportunity is in itself a really unforgettable experience but the smooth arrangement and coordination of the tour agency and tour guide, made it extremely pleasant, giving us all the time to focus entirely on enjoying the experience.

The panda reserve staff/mentors were quite nice, contrary to some reviews I've read here. Although some couldn't speak English really well, they would make an effort. And since we knew a tiny bit of Mandarin, we also made an effort. I think it's important to establish that relationship with your mentor to make the most out of your experience. They were also young folks who are enthusiastic and maybe sometimes they are just shy to talk much because of the language barrier and use gestures more, and thus may appear to be rude or be misunderstood by some foreign visitors.

We get to meet and interact with other volunteers there too. We met a charming Australian couple who went there on their own, the husband was spending his 50th birthday there, a gift from his wife ;-) So sweet! And we shared experiences too during our break times. It was really nice.

For those not familiar with the places to see pandas in Sichuan, there are a couple of them. We did get confused too. Chengdu Panda Research Centre is just 30 minutes outside Chengdu city and it's where most people go to see the pandas. It's a zoo setting and you can't really go near a panda. These days though, it's worth going to see the 14 new baby pandas born this year. They are quite tiny compared to the 1 yr olds which already look like regular sized pandas. The Bifengxia Panda Reserve on the other hand is in Yaan City, 2-2.5 hours from Chengdu City. Most volunteer programs are done here. The place is a lot bigger and the panda enclosures are more natural. You can get up close with them, and feed them, if you're part of the volunteer program. You can also just go to visit. Usually visitors that choose to go here, are visiting the scenic Bifengxia Gorge then just pass by here because it is too far from the Chengdu to go for just that. Sometimes, you see the name Woolong, it's actually where the original and biggest panda reserve was and is up north of Sichuan province prior to the big earthquake. Like in our volunteer IDs, it still says Woolong but we were actually in Bifengxia, where all the pandas were transferred to after the 2008 earthquake. Woolong though is currently being renovated and there is a new one which is not yet open to public, so soon there will be 3 panda reserves in Sichuan on top of the panda research centre/zoo in Chengdu City.

Tips:
- At the Chengdu Research Centre, if there is a line at the baby pandas, go to the next enclosure first, then come back. The crowd is usually sporadic. So when a tour group leaves, go back and enjoy the time with the pandas. The security is less strict on moving you along from the nursery window and you have plenty of time to observe the babies. We even saw one of the staff carrying the panda up from the crib, and trying to make baby panda pee.
- At Bifengxia, take advantage of your break times and visit the panda Kindergarten, it's a hilly walk away, but it's worth it. There are also baby pandas (less than 1 yr old) near the kindergarten, and curtains open several times a day (more than in Chengdu research centre) for people to view them. There were 3 when we were there. One of the baby pandas was trying to crawl to the other side of the room already while the other was trying to crawl out of the basket for which he was unsuccessful :(
- If you have an extra day or two in Yaan, do go visit the scenic gorges and nearby areas. I would have loved to explore the region more if not for limited time we have there. The drive from Chengdu was really nice. I love the scenery.
- end October to November is a perfect time to visit, cooler but less rains, cooler makes pandas more active, less rains makes it easier for visitors to enjoy the pandas.

15  Thank kormensandiego
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 20 November 2013

Bifengxia ... (BFX) as you will so fondly call it when you leave... In Ya'an. Approximately 180 kilometres South West of Chengdu City or 2 and a half hour local bus ride for 50 Yuan one way. Mini bus 5 Yuan and heaven beyond !
This it's the 2nd of the 3 Giant Panda breeding and Research Bases in the Provence of Chengdu.
It is Not a paradise for the "quick reward" person. But, a truly beautiful part of earth.
Oh my goodness... what a wonderful experience. When I saw the delight on his face I KNEW I had done good!
My husband has loved Pandas from childhood and still has his soft toy in his office at home! I wanted something really special for a wonderful mate and thank goodness I found it.
Once I had read through numerous information on TripAdvisor and made contact with the volunteer department at BFX, everything just fell into place.
Prompt replays from Tom and Joseph. Both these gentlemen made life in the mountains a dream come true. They are fantastic and so caring! They also arranged accommodation for us for the 3 nights. The Wengfeng Hotel is really a "home stay" type accommodation. Not 5 star, but clean and comfortable. The Host, Mr Zhu is a chef and cooks up a storm! Delicious home fresh food you couldn't get better anywhere else.
Web sites with papers which needed "filling" in ..... Volunteering form and Health check form...
An UNBEATABLE price on Expedia for flights and accommodation (6nights) and,
Then a huge rush to the Chinese Consulate in Brisbane for " Rushed " Visas!
We travelled with the locals. Caught a bus from Chengdu to Ya'an, then a mini bus to the mountains. At the main ticketing area for the national park there is a hotel too. Here the staff contacted BFX reserve and Mr. Zhu can and collected us.
The next day, we went for a quick "induction", money exchanged hands ... Yuan ... Cash ... ONLY!!
Please remember this important information as there are NO ATM / CEDIT Card facilities within 1 hours drive! You WILL be disappointed not taking enough with you. Take extra for just-in-case.
We got our volunteering cards and overalls for working with the pandas and then were taken to meet the assigned Panda Keeper. We I must say worked well together and enjoyed learning about and above all observing Shenbin and Fwan. Feeding them of course was the greatest hit too.
My husbands unforgettable moment can on our last day when he got to sit next to a juvenile Panda and had copious photos taken!!
This is an EXTRA cost and is for the Privilege of being able to get up close and personal with these delightful beauties of the wild. It goes a long way towards necessities at BFX.
We returned to Chengdu City, the same why we arrived, but with so much euphoria of a time spent with lovely, caring people with one goal in mind. Care and Protect the Giant Panda for the World!

10  Thank Anne C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 17 November 2013

We went from Ya'an to Shangli ancient town, stayed there for a night and then caught a private bus to Bifengxia, which took about 40 minutes. Bifengxia is a great area, pandas are in the right environment so they are quite active. We saw one climbed up a 60 feet tree. The waterfall at the back is totally worth 3 hours walking too. Be patient though at the beginning it was very artifcial and ugly (as a lot of other Chinese scenic spots are becoming, sadly). The only complaint would be the noises other visitors (yelling, screaming, shouting to each other and to the pandas). Probably they are too used to noise and crowds so the quietness is uncomfortable to them?

2  Thank Annie V
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 October 2013

Bifenxia is a Panda Base and a research centre too.
What we appreciated a lot was the possibility to be voluteers even for only one day, and so interact directly with pandas and their keepers too. For a Panda Lover is a no-missing experience. At the end of the day we received a personalized certificate of the experience.
Great! Dont miss it

1  Thank serena71
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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