While preparing the trip, I found a few ways to get to the top attraction at Chengdu: the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The research base is in the outskirts of the city but there are many group tours that make it easy to get there. I also see taxis arriving at the entrance. But, I decide to go by bus number 198A. It seems not very popular, at least at this time of the day, but there is a couple of parents with their kinds.
I got early to the base, and not just to avoid the crowds. Early in the morning, their caretakers bring the bamboo and the pandas are more active. Later on, most of the panda activity limits itself to lay on the ground and do very little, or – if one is lucky enough – the panda will lay on a tree making for a slightly interesting picture.
The place is quite big, so, the first difficulty is to know where to go. There are many signs, but it is not clear how interesting will be the place. “Giant Panda Nursery” sounds cool but “Giant Panda Enclosure” seems a more sure place to find the pandas. I follow the guided groups and pass them when they stop here and there close by some sign for extra information.
I finally get to the “Giant Panda Nursery”, unluckily for me, there are no cubs. The newborns came to the base in September, by December all of them have left the nursery.
I continue walking around the park. After reading a few more signs, I get that there are two enclosures for Red Pandas and two more for Giant Pandas. There are also the nursery, science buildings and exhibition buildings.
Giant pandas become more active and playful. I catch several of them climbing trees and playing with their siblings. In the middle of all this activity, the caretakers bring the bamboo. I snap many pictures and some high-quality videos of the pandas eating.
It is an experience to see them use their opposable thumbs to slowly get the bamboo to their mouths or rip leaves apart. The only other time that I remember seeing pandas was at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. But, there, I only saw the panda from really far away. I was happy to get a glimpse of the animal, but, today, I got to see them very close, active and eating.
The red pandas are also beautiful animals. Their smaller size makes them harder to see, but, after eating they just lay still and one got in a perfect place for some pictures.
The rest of the base is a lovely park. Bamboo forests are crossed by the many paths. There is a big lake where black swans and other aquatic birds swim around. A cafeteria close by offers warm coffee and tea. Touristic shops are full of panda-themed clothes, cups, and all the usual tourist trinkets. And, there is also a museum with an art exhibit. All the art is panda-themed, as expected.
There are many hours left on the day. So, I go to visit the history museum. After so many visited museums, I start to get how artefacts have evolved in the history of china. Bronze, jade, pottery, and paintings narrate the country’s history.
In my way home, I pass by a big park with a market. I decide to purchase some Russian sweets, these imports make sense as China borders with Russia. I just take 3 or 4 pieces and the shopkeeper tells me that I can keep them for free. I feel bad about that and insist on paying. She adds up the amount and then rounds the price down. This time I smile and say thank you, that was a very nice gesture. Interestingly enough, I do not think that the woman spoke English. Everything became clear just using gestures.
I walk back to the hotel, it takes a couple of hours and I see some more interesting buildings by the river. It has been a long and interesting day.