I was fortunate enough to be able to fulfill an ambition of mine to see a real live panda, and preferably in China. I was visiting Shanghai
on a work trip for two weeks so decided to make a weekend trip to Chengdu
- specifically to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Originally I had read many things about the Wolong Panda Reserve, being in the panda's natural environment, I really wanted to try and visit here. This place was however a five-six hour road trip from Chengdu and through reading other travellers feedback, it appeared that the road was not well maintained.
Given my main objective was to take photos of panda bears and the possibility of holding a panda cub, this would be possible in Chengdu as well. On doing further research about it's location and given my short time frame that was available, I decided to visit the Chengdu Research base instead. I do not regret my decision at all and would highly recommend a visit here to the Chengdu Reasearch base if you are a panda bear lover like me.
I arrived late in the evening of Friday night and my objective was to visit the Research Base on the Saturday and fly back to Shanghai on the Saturday evening. I hired a driver following recommendations from other travellers and although I was a little hesitant about arriving and travelling on my own and not knowing the local language, as it turns out, my concerns were unfounded.
Panda panda panda
My driver arrived on time to meet me at my hotel and we set off to the Research Base. The drive there took approx 45 minutes and it was a pleasant drive. Once inside, I was ecstatic to view so many pandas in large enclosures - most of them were just sitting and eating bamboo staring at the tourists with their cameras snapping away. I didn't realise that there would be so many panda bears - there would have been approx 40 that I would have seen that were on display in the enclosures. It was very exciting for me to see more than one panda bear in each enclosure given their status of near extinction.
However, the highlight of the visit was my viewing of the panda cubs. There is actually a section called the Panda Kindergarten where all the cubs are kept, separated from the adult pandas, so that they can be reared by the keepers.
I'm not entirely sure if this is the normal arrangement, as one would assume that the child would be better off being raised by the mother, however, as it was explained to me, they are kept apart from the adults for a certain period of time in order to try and prolong their likely survival. The survival rate for pandas is quite low which together with their long gestation period and short window of time for annual breeding, explains their dropping numbers.
My main objective was to be able to have the opportunity to cuddle a panda cub and to get some photos. I was very lucky to be able to do this - comes at a cost - but then again, I'd travelled all that way in order to do that. I was almost bursting with excitement as I was led into the Panda Kindergarten facility.
I was given a blue plastic robe kinda like a tarpaulin (very attractive!) and clear plastic gloves to put on so I wouldn't contaminate the cub, and then was led over to a wooden bench and told to wait whilst they went to get one of the panda cubs. A small crowd was gathering outside the gate watching me get ever more excited. After what seemed like ages, I saw one of the handlers, come back carrying a beautiful panda cub who I was told was 8 months old and weighed 16 kgs! The handler had given the cub a piece of sugar cane to play with and then the panda cub was placed on my lap for photos and to play with. The fur was was so so so soft and he was so very cute and playful. He didn't seem very interested in me but was intrigued by the piece of sugar cane.
I was extremely happy with my photos which the handlers took for me and they were great. All in all, would have played with the cub for less than five minutes and then my panda experience was all but over. Reluctantly, I handed back the panda but left with great photos and memories. I can highly recommend you visit the Research Base if you are wanting this same experience. You are also able to have a photo with an adult panda (standing behind it) and also can play with and have photos with red pandas (much smaller). After leaving the panda cub enclosure, I spent more time just watching numerous panda cubs playing together, much like mischevious children. Climbing over railings and slides and rumbling with one another - the cubs were so so so so so cute - black and white balls of fluff which were so gorgeous!
After buying several souvenirs, visited a local tourist village with a number of tourist shops and various tea houses for which Chengdu is also well known for.
I can't believe I'm holding a panda cub!!!
Many locals meet at the tea house and spend hours there playing mahjong. It amused me to see how many people were whiling away their time by playing mahjong - very popular - I guess it's almost like a steretype. Then was back on my flight back to Shanghai in the evening. If you are looking for a city in China that is not fast paced and packed with zillions of people...Chengdu is the one. All in all, a great weekend trip which allowed me to fulfill a long time dream of meeting a panda cub!!!!!!!