When I was a child my parents bought me a toy panda bear one Christmas, and so unwittingly started my love affair with pandas. It was then a no-brainer for me when James announced he wanted to go to China, the first words out of my mouth were “I want to see Pandas”, shallow soul that I am!
The Chengdu Panda Research Station is the place to see pandas according to the great god google. And they weren’t lying!
You don’t need to do the Panda Research Station on a tour, you can just turn up and buy a ticket, and that is how we did it. Having investigated the matter thoroughly on the web we knew it opened at 8.00am and that the morning was the best time to visit the pandas. Armed with that knowledge we made sure we were down to breakfast at our hotel early and had wolfed our breakfast down before the other guests stumbled in.
We had the reception staff write on one of the hotel cards in Chinese script “Please take me to the Panda Research Station” because most taxi drivers do not speak English. We had them write it on a business card because we could use the reverse side of the card to get us back to the hotel.
We were there 15 minutes after opening time and we walked straight up to the counter and bought our tickets, no queues. There is signage in English and the staff on the desk could understand us well enough to sell us two tickets.
I was like a little kid bouncing along beside James, my poor long suffering man. We came to our first enclosure, nothing, walked on a bit further to the next one, nothing again. Neither of us wanted to verbalise our fear that we weren’t going to see our furry little mates, so we strolled on in silence. At the next enclosure there was a wooden platform and a large pile of freshly cut bamboo in the middle. I looked round and did a double take as a very handsome PANDA bear waddled out straight towards us. He plonked himself down on the wooden platform on his ample rump and started to munch on the bamboo. Words failed us both, he was totally oblivious to our presence, he only had eyes for his breakfast of bamboo. Shocking table manners aside, the way he held the bamboo with his large hand like paws as he chomped on it was just gorgeous.
The morning is clearly the time to visit the pandas because it is feeding time, after our first wonderful encounter we saw pandas in every enclosure enjoying their breakfasts. The grounds themselves are quite beautiful and were a pleasure to walk around, if you aren’t too good on the old pins there are little tourist buses which will ferry you around.
As well as the black and white pandas we all know and love, the park also has a section for the red pandas. They look nothing like pandas but having said that they are just adorable. We had no trouble spotting them scampering around their large well planted enclosures. Chinese visitors would walk up, snap a photo on their phone and move on, not us, after a couple of dozen photos we stood just watching them.
Last but certainly not least we found our way to the baby pandas. Cuteness overload! This is the only time we encountered crowds watching these little cuties chase, tumble and climb around their giant playpen. There is clearly some baby panda thing about being up high, two cubs were happily sleeping in a tree, enter a third cub who wants to get to the top, he thinks nothing of climbing over his little pals, feet in faces he doesn’t care, his eye is firmly on the prize of getting to the top.
I stood in a crowd of fellow tourists, mostly Chinese, laughing, oohing and ahhhing at the antics of these precious little bundles for nearly an hour, I could have spent longer. There is a youtube clip of panda cubs and their long suffering carer trying to sweep their enclosure, this was taken at Chengu, I recognised the carer. I totally envied her, her job. Wonder if it is too late to retrain?
Tips about the pandas at Chengdu:
As I said you do not have to go on an organised tour to see the Pandas, it is easy to do it yourself and then you can spend as long as you like there. Get your hotel to write “Please take me to the Panda Research Station” in Chinese script on their business card so you can hand it to a taxi driver to get you there and use the reverse of the card to get you back to the hotel. Make sure you use a metered taxi, they are clearly marked and a lot cheaper. Ask the hotel reception staff approximately how much the fare will be, they will know because this is the main attraction for Chengdu.
Get there as close to opening time as you can because there are less people and you get to watch the pandas questionable table manners as they eat their brekkie. Make sure your camera is well charged because it is going to be busy!
Whilst you are in Chengdu, why not go and visit the Leshan Giant Buddha it is only an hour away on one of the super high speed Chinese trains.