Escape from the polluted and over-populated cities on China’s densely populated coast and head inland to Shaanxi Province to experience some of the country’s most pristine natural beauty and, if you’re lucky, to see the country’s most famous wild resident, the Giant Panda.
It’s not a stretch to say that Giant Pandas are the international symbol of China, as the bears instantly conjure up images of China’s extensive bamboo forests. Inside China, as well, the bears are absolutely adored for their serene temperaments and beauty.
Unfortunately, as most know, pandas are notoriously slow breeders and are now on the verge of extinction. Domestic and international non-profit organizations have literally been throwing money at the problem for decades now, but still the pandas numbers continue to dwindle and there are only an estimated 2,000 of the bears remaining in the wild.
The best chance travelers have to see a giant panda in the wild is at the Foping Nature Reserve in Shaanxi Province. This reserve is three hours by car from the provincial capital of Xi’an and is home to the world’s highest density of giant pandas.
Situated deep in the Qinling Mountains and amongst peaks that soar up to 3,000 meters in height, the Foping Nature Reserve has an astounding array of fauna and flora in its temperate forest that is rich with bamboo.
To catch a glimpse of the giant pandas in the wild tourists must spend a fair bit of time in the reserve, often on week-long nature treks through the forests. Because the pandas live high in the trees of the dense bamboo forests, it takes a bit of patience to spot one. Still, witnessing their trademark white and black coats in the wild is such a rare and amazing experience that it’s worth all of the effort.
Other animals in the park include red pandas, giant salamanders and golden takins (a beautiful oxen-like creature). Birdwatchers will also enjoy the nature reserve, as it is rich in bird life.
All in all, the Foping Nature Reserve is a world away from the densely populated cities that China is known for and is a rare bit of wilderness in the world’s most populous country that should absolutely not be missed.