Ya'an is a city located 2 hours southwest of Chengdu on the Sichuan-Tibet highway. Ya'an is the home of the 900+ acre Bifengxia Panda Center, which houses more than 60 pandas and a breeding center. Many travelers stop in Ya'an before heading to Shangli or Wangyu.
Fast busses from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen bus station (730-1900, every 35mins, 2 hrs, Y46) leave throughout the day.
Even though your ticket says Ya’an, there is a possibility you may be directed onto a bus bound for the inane Bifengxia Nature Park near Ya’an. If you are the discerning type and forgo the parks dancing tigers the driver will drop you off at the first intersection inside Ya’an. From here you can flag down a Shangli bound mini van or get a taxi to the Wangyu minivan depot.
Various forms of transport ply the street willing to take you to your destination at maximum speed for a minimum cost. Taxis charge around Y5 to anywhere.
There is a wall-size map in the bus station so you can see all the other places in Sichuan more interesting than Ya’an.
This includes Labahe Nature Reserve.
Bifeng Gorge Panda Reserve: Sichuan's second biggest giant panda facility, this reserve is primarily dedicated to research and showcases over 40 panda bears in large, open habitats. Adult pandas live individually and there is a Panda Kindergarten where 3-6 panda cubs live. Panda cub feedings are around 9:30 am and 2pm daily. The park is easily walkable, but safari shuttles are constantly available for transport from one section of the park to another for a fee. A windy mountain ride is required to access the reserve, thus it is less commercialized and less crowded than the Chengdu Panda Research Base. Park entry fee is Y118.
Old Town of Shangli: A commercialized attraction that is still a pleasure to visit, this little "town" has a mix of reconstructed and original ancient architecture. Enjoy a stroll through the shop-lined alley between beautiful old-style buildings where, if it's not raining, bamboo shoots are laid out on big straw mats to dry. A variety of candies, herbs, tea, and knickknacks are available for purchase in the stalls that line the street. Tea houses and restaurants are plentiful. You can find a quiet spot by the river to relax in a bamboo recliner and sip on a cup of tea or treat yourself to a big bowl of mala spicy dandan noodles. Many artists come here to create oil paintings of river, the trees and the many beautiful bridges and old buildings - their art is sometimes sold in little shops along the river. A 30 minute ride (Y6 per person) from Bifeng Gorge Visitor Center. Entry is free.
If you went to BiFengXia you could have bought a hat made from a fern frond. Its not much good for keeping the sun off your face but you will fit in with the crowd.
Ya’an has many small restaurants and street food stands that serve fried and spicy foods. Specialty foods include:
- Ya fish - a freshwater fish that is native to the area
- Dandan noodles - hand pulled thick noodles in a mala spicy broth
- Bamboo shoots - which grow wild in the mountains, they are often served in salads or stir fried with salted ham, and can be purchased dried for Y60/kg at many tourist locations
Is Chengdu really that far away? Its only 2 hours on the bus and the guesthouses will still have a few beds by the time you arrive.
Chengdu bound busses (730-1900, every 35mins, 2 hrs, Y46) leave throughout the day from the tourist bus station.
Shangli bound minivans (20mins, Y6.5) can be flagged down on the main road outside the Tourist bus station.
Wangyu bound minivans (1hr, Y8.5) leave from a secret location known only to the local taxi drivers who park near the Tourist bus station (10mins, 5Y). The minivans leave when full but will continue to pick up passengers along the way. Hopefully the road has been repaired by the time you go.