Its long winded name might not seem that enticing, but the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a must visit spot for anyone visiting Chengdu and China. Chengdu is known as the home of giant pandas. A walk around town and you'll see them everywhere. No, they don't have giant pandas walking the streets, but you'll find their likeness on billboards and in stores all over town. At the Chengdu Research Base you'll come face to face with the real thing.
At 58¥ an entry ticket is less than $10. Add on another 10¥ and you can also hop on and off of the open-air cars that travel around the base. You'll be thankful for the ticket up some of the steep hills. You can also hire tour guide for a bit extra.
Depending on where you start, first impressions can be a little disappointing. Don't worry if you pass a few empty enclosures and curtained off viewing rooms before you spot your first panda. The base is huge, and you'll get the chance to see plenty of pandas at all different ages. Just try and get their early.
The park is open between 8am till 6pm. Not only are the pandas more active earlier in the day and in the cooler weather, but you won't have to fight through as many crowds to get a good look.
The rumours are true. Pandas do love to eat; especially when they get a little bit older. They grow some bamboo on base but have to get most of it from surrounding villages.
Come across some young pandas and you're more likely to see some robust play. Watching them tumble around together, or scramble up trees, is enough to warm even the coldest heart. The temptation to break into the enclosure to give them a big hug is very strong.
Autumn and Spring are some of the best times to visit. During Summer it can get too hot for the pandas and they'll often be indoors. Far from dark, dank zoos, the Chengdu Research Base is actually really beautiful. Bamboo forests grow all around, and the panda enclosures are large and seem quite comfortable. Things feel a little magical when the light mist rolls in.
The giant pandas aren't the only animals you see. The base also breeds red pandas. While they're a little more common overseas, this is probably the closest you'll get to them. There's a red panda enclosure that you can walk through, where they sometimes scurry past your feet.
For the ultimate panda experience you can even opt to hold one. Over the years prices have risen, and in 2013 prices were about 2000¥; around $300. It's hard to find someone who hasn't found the experience incredible, but it's still a lot of money. All of the money goes towards continuing research at the base. Volunteering at the base is another option, check when you're there what is available.
There are plenty of other facilities at the park. You can learn more about the pandas by heading to the tourist centre and the panda museum. There are restaurants serving local and Western food and shops selling just about every panda accessory you could dream of.
Even if you've got pandas at your local zoo, nothing compares to seeing them here. Make sure you get there early, and bring a spare SD card and a good zoom. There will be so many moments you'll want to capture.
Be clear- it is the black and white panda that one can hold for that extra fee, not the red panda!
Yes, I did, exactly 2 years ago tomorrow and I FOUND IT TOTALLY HEAVEN! Our panda was 15kg and 7 months old and very excited to be holding a short length of bamboo which had been dipped in honey which he continuously sucked and chewed on!!
Julia of Gabbadah, Western Australia.