Chengdu was absolutely one of my favorite cities in China. It was significantly more walkable than Beijing, the sun came out for half a day, and it was easier to explore. Without a doubt, one of the biggest highlights of the trip to China was visiting the Chengdu Panda Base which is situated just outside of Chengdu.
We spent a lot of time deciding where to see pandas in China. There are a few options, some much more off the beaten path than others. Ultimately, we decided to go to Chengdu because of two things: 1) it was easy to get to, and required minimal travel time, and 2) we were guaranteed to see lots of babies, since Chengdu is the major breeding center.
I had already been away from work for a week, so couldn’t add on another entire week visiting various panda centers, even though it would have been fun to do so. Seeing pandas in the wild in China is extremely controlled, for obvious reasons, and seeing the creatures in the wild is quite rare, even in known habitats. So the Chengdu panda base was a great compromise: convenience + baby pandas. If you are interested in pandas, pandas, pandas, Natural Habitat does have an interesting itinerary to some of the remote areas.
We were staying at the St. Regis in Chengdu, and prearranged a guide through them for the day. Yes, it was cheaper to do it online, but there was added comfort in knowing the St. Regis would book someone with good English skills and a good reputation. Interestingly, even at the St. Regis, not all staff spoke fluent English. Definitely just enough to get by, but we had a few conversations where one of their truly fluent staff needed to come over to explain directions, etc. Didn’t bother us, but something to keep in mind.
In any case, our guide in Chengdu was quite good, and we had access to the driver and guide for about 6 hours. The first, very large chunk of this time was obviously spent at the Chengdu Panda Base. Nope, you definitely don’t need a guide but in some ways it was nice to have one–she knew exactly where to go to see the babies, and that we needed to get there as soon as it opened so it wasn’t super crowded. You could definitely take a bus or a taxi to the panda base and explore on your own; there are also tons of taxis waiting at the exit to return you to the city as well.
The Chengdu Panda Base, in addition to some of the other bases, do have a “hold a panda” option that requires prebooking and is very expensive–something like $150 or so. However, just the entrance fee to the Chengdu base is very reasonable at about $8.50. We were not at all interested in holding a panda. Sure, they are adorable, cute, and look terribly squeezable. But they are also wild animals, and will either be returned to the wild, loaned/rented to a zoo, or continue in the breeding program. I just can’t imagine being held by strangers does the pandas much good…
Tip: Go early, when the base opens. Pandas sleep a lot and it is best to catch them when they are eating in the morning.
Anyhow, it was pandas–and particularly baby pandas–galore. The museum exhibit in Chengdu was also quite good, providing lots of information on how difficult they are to breed, as well as more information on their evolutionary track and conservation efforts. We spent a long time gazing at the cute little baby pandas, all about 1.5-2 years old or so, if I remember correctly. They tumble around, climb trees, fall down–a lot–and are pretty damn adorable. The keepers give these baby pandas frequent baths, which is why their fur is so white. When you see pictures of the older pandas, their fur does get pretty yellow-ish over time.
So let’s get to the real reason you clicked on this post…to see panda pictures. And, if you are in Chengdu, go see the pandas. I’ll do another post on the other animals you can see at the Chengdu Panda Base, including the incredible little red pandas.