Ya'an Bifengxia Panda Base was established in prime forest in Ya'an in 2003 for research purposes rather than tourism, and its mission expanded in 2008 following the earthquake that severely damaged its sister reserve at Wolong. Bifengxia is now home to 80 pandas, some of which may eventually be returned to the wild.
The panda centre is 3km away from the ticket office in the main car park where the minibus drops passengers. Pick up a map and store bags for free at the tourist information office. Turn left out of the ticket office then take the free lift (乘电梯, chéngyúntī; 8am to 7.30pm) down 50 storeys to the foot of the gorge for a 7.5km nature walk to the panda centre entrance. It takes about two hours to reach the centre via the concrete paths passing tall waterfalls, imaginatively named mountains, and a small collection of hanging coffins (悬棺, xuánguān) en route.
Although this panda base does get chaotically busy at weekends and in holidays in general, it's much quieter and therefore a more enjoyable visit than the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu. The walk along the valley to the pandas adds to the pleasure of a visit.