Today we went to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to see pandas. This has something I have been looking forward to since we first said that we would be going to China. Pandas are awesome.
It turned out to be a good day to go as it was a cool 21-25ºC after a stormy night. This was good for us and good for the Pandas who are not native to the Sichuan province. The current heatwave probably has not been fun for them. Luckily, they have heavily air conditioned indoor enclosures.
We woke up bright and early (sort of…) after a long night of heavy rain and thunderstorms to get the first shuttle bus (8.30am) to the Panda Base which was just a couple of kilometres down the road and the only reason we are currently staying in this area of Chengdu.
We arrived at the Panda Base a short 5-10 minutes later and there were no queues for tickets which makes a nice change from other tourist attractions! Once inside the Base, a friendly Chinese family asked to have their photo taken with us which I still find random on the rare occasions it does happen (3 times in total now, first time for both of us).
So Pandas, somehow we reached our first Panda and there was no swarm of people around it. Sadly, this didn't last long. As soon as anyone stops for a second near a Panda's enclosure, someone else will come along to check what you are looking at and then bam! You're surrounded by 20 tourists. It does make casually watching a panda chomp on some bamboo and roll around a bit less fun. Luckily, it's relatively easy to ditch the crowds… or at least it was when we were there.
How I got to hug a baby panda in Chengdu
We casually strolled around for a little while before reaching the Sunshine Nursery House where Darryl surprised me by paying for a “Panda Keeping Experience” which basically means, they tell you some information about Pandas, let you hose down some bamboo then you get your photo taken with a baby panda. You then get a memento bag which includes a certificate for your ‘donation', a T-shirt, a dvd, a photo of you and the panda in a frame, a panda magazine and you get to keep the lanyard.
To have your photo taken with a panda you have to cover your shoes, wear gloves and a gown. You then sit next to a panda that isn't really paying any attention to you or anyone else sitting with them. They are more interested in the honey that the keepers have put on their paws and the bamboo they've been given. But, it's a freaking PANDA, so you know, who cares?
You get an official photo taken and they will also take photos with your camera for you. You do only get about 2 minutes, and you can't really do much with the panda (not really sure what you would want to do though).
It was awesome. I love Pandas.
After that experience, we then wondered around the rest of the base to see more pandas. The base is so different to any zoo type place that you normally see in Asia. Generally, they are a bit depressing and you tend to feel a bit sorry for the animals and are convinced they don't have a big enough enclosure. Not here. Here (and presumable the rest of China) they are treated like gods.
We saw quite a few pandas of a number of age ranges; adults, sub-adults, and babies! And they all seemed very photogenic, and not at all bothered by the number of cameras pointed at them and flashing (because no matter how many signs you put up, no one pays attention).
It was a very nice cool day so the Pandas weren't put away to cool down, and we didn't give up early because of the insane heat that China has been experiencing pretty much since we left Ningbo in July.
Transport at the Giant Panda Base, getting back and forth
The Base is served very well by buses, taxis and hotel shuttles so you should have no problem getting to and from the Pandas. If you do pick up a taxi outside the Base make sure they put the meter on and try and check how much it will cost before getting in. It may be better to walk further down the road and hail a cab from the side of the main road than get it from the lines of taxi's waiting out the front to rip you off.
Entrance Fee: ¥58
‘Donation' for Panda Experience: ¥2000