This travel tale is brought to you by Wendy Klausner, NHA Adventure Specialist

panda in Bifenxia Panda Base, China

A panda at Bifenxia Panda Base, China. (c) Brad Josephs

I can’t believe it was 20 years ago that I took my first trip to China. I had the good fortune to return this year on Nat Hab’s Wild Side of China adventure with seven other NHA guests.  Things have changed dramatically since I was there before, as China’s economy has exploded, but I also saw evidence that the people of China and their government are realizing the importance of preserving the natural wonders of their country.

Wendy Klausner on the Great Wall of China

Here I am standing on the Great Wall of China. What a thrill! (c) Wendy Klausner

An encounter with China’s stunning nature was at the heart of our trip. Our Expedition Leader, Brad Josephs, spent months working with our local Chinese guide Philip to develop an itinerary that combined the cultural highlights of Bejing with the unexplored appeal of several remote Chinese national parks.

Most of the wildlife we were looking for in those parks is native only to the areas we visited and not found in zoos, which made our quest even more exciting. I had never heard of a serow or a blue sheep, but we got to view both! One of our goals was to see the “golden trio” — the golden pheasant, golden monkey and golden takin. We saw two of the three — not bad!

Giant Panda, Befengxia Panda base in Ya’an, Sichuan, China

We did, however, see beautiful giant pandas like this one in the Befengxia Panda base in Ya’an, Sichuan. (c) Brad Josephs

At one point we were walking in giant panda habitat when we heard a sound in the trees. Could it be an elusive panda?  My heart started pounding even at that possibility.  However, it turned out to be a monkey. A rhesus macaque, to be precise. But it was still a thrill to know we were in the vicinity of wild pandas.

And while we didn’t see a panda in the wild, we saw many at the two breeding and research centers we visited — and those who opted to make a special donation got a chance to interact and take photos with a baby panda (including me!)

Sitting with a panda at Befengxia Panda base

Had the opportunity to get close to a panda at Befengxia Panda base! (c) Wendy Klausner

There were some great cultural gems along the way, too, including a tour of a local elementary school where we visited with the kids, a stroll through a traditional rural village, and a walk along the Great Wall. Meals were spectacular.  Philip would order a wide array of food, sometimes as many as 15 different dishes that were placed on a lazy susan in the center of the table for all to try. Cuisine varied from place to place, and each dish reflected local elements, including fresh vegetables and spices.

School visit to local Chinese elementary school, China

The kids at the local elementary school loved having us visit! (c) Brad Josephs

At the end of the trip, a few of us chose to continue on the extension to Xi’an to see the famous Terracotta Warriors.  Even though I had seen many photos of them since their remarkable discovery in the 1970s, I was still absolutely astounded by the vastness of this archaeological find.

If you want to see a side of China most travelers to the country never get to encounter, definitely check out Nat Hab’s unique China itinerary.

To see some truly incredible photography from our trip, head over to our guide Brad Josephs’ blog.  In fact, Brad is back in China at the moment leading another Natural Habitat group — check out this album of China photos he recently posted on our Facebook page. There’s one photo in particular that shows a tell-tale sign that the group was very close to some wild pandas!