We started early today…the best time to see the giant pandas are when they are eating breakfast and more active. We arrived at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and saw the giant panda statue in the middle of the intersection. We hopped on the little trolley which drove us through bamboo shoots to the main area. The first thing we noticed was the center itself…there were hundreds of different kinds of trees, bamboo, grass and flowers sitting on 100s of acres. The paths made to get from each area were surrounded by tall bamboo sticks and there were many birds chirping. This was nothing like a zoo…no concrete floor with fake trees in a small space. The giant pandas have large fenced in areas outside under the stars…the ground is grass and there is plenty of bamboo to munch on. They also have several trees for climbing and playing and a building for the pandas to get out of bad weather.
The first giant panda was kind of hiding behind his building, we could not get a good look at him so we continued through the park to find another one. There are currently 72 pandas at the center and they are always working on trying to breed these giant panda bears which they call “living fossils” because this species is 8000 years old! On average, a species lifespan is usually 6000 years. Breeding is very challenging and once the mother gives birth, she can kill the baby easily not realizing how to take care of her baby. The mother is about 150 pounds and the baby is 1/100th the size of its mother. So…the giant panda bats at her baby with her paw and sometimes kills it. The mother does however catch on…since she can get pregnant about once a year…she learns with experience how to take care of her baby.
As we walked through the bamboo which by the way, each panda eats about 110 pounds daily…we saw a couple of teen pandas. They were both walking around, one was eating while one put on a show, laying on his back and looking at us upside-down. We got a great video and of course some good pictures. These bears are so darn cute. They are however aggressive…and although they eat bamboo as their main food source, the pandas in the wild are meat eaters. They just don’t eat much meat because they aren’t so good at catching animals. After the teens, we saw some babies…there were about 7 of them and all were about 2 yrs old. They were tired though and literally slept the entire time we were watching them.
In the next area were multiple pandas…one adult was sleeping while an adolescent panda came near him and started playing, chewing on the hammock and falling over as he played around. It was tempting to stay and watch them all day but our guide told us for a very hefty price…we could sit right next to a panda and get a picture. We decided since it was pricey (the money goes towards the research center and you can only get this close to a panda in China) that one of us would do it, and I was the lucky one! As a kid, I use to collect pandas…my room was full of them so to get to touch one was very exciting. They put plastic over my shoes, gloves on my hands and a plastic robe on me and sent me into the panda nursery. On the bench was a 4 month old adorable panda eating honey off his paw. I sat next to him…a bit nervous, it is a bear with claws and teeth after all! He was very busy eating his honey but Giff got some great pictures and I got to pet him. Unfortunately, they only give you about 2 minutes so we felt it was too much money for such a quick experience but still it was pretty cool.
After petting the panda, we spent more time out at the main area where about 4 pandas were sleeping up in the trees. We took tons of pictures and watched the keeper call one of the pandas who after hearing his call slid down the tree and went straight into the building where he was being called…it’s amazing they can be trained like a pet. After the giant pandas, we went over to the area where the red pandas were…they look more like raccoon but bigger and tinted red. There were a few in the trees and the keepers were trying to get them down in order to give them a shot they needed. Maybe the red pandas knew a shot was coming…they climbed as high as they could and held on tight as the workers were shaking the trees in hopes of catching them. It was quite a spectacle to see the red pandas running and the keepers running after them in circles.
We stopped to watch a short movie on the breeding of giant pandas and walked through the panda museum before leaving the panda base. We really had a lot of fun watching these amazing bears who are so close to extinction (due to climate change and environment due to human behavior).
After pandas, we went to a local restaurant for lunch. Our tour guide sat with us and ordered all kinds of food. We had noodles called din din, a local specialty. A hot-pot of sliced beef and veggies in hot oil, and kung pao chicken which is from this area of Sichuan. We also had a sautéed local veggie which was kind of a mix between spinach and broccoli and a dish of wild mushrooms in an amazing soy based sauce. They also served a type of creamed corn soup…we ate our huge lunch, while sipping on local beer and chatting with our guide. It was nice to eat at a local restaurant instead of one of those tourist lunch places the rest of the tour guides have been bringing us to.
After lunch, we were off to the area called wide and narrow lane alley which is one of the older areas in the city. It is a couple blocks full of old buildings consisting of traditional restaurants and tea houses. There are also many vendors selling both street food and souvenirs. We enjoyed walking through the pedestrian only streets and people watching. It would have been nice to have more time to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea.
We had 2 other areas to see in the city before we had to get to the airport so…headed to Ku Fu’s cottage. Giff and I hadn’t heard of him before, but he is a very well-known poet in China. They have found many articles of his writing dating back to the Qing dynasty. The “cottage” is now a museum of sorts…it has several Chinese style buildings amongst green forest and a lake. Inside the buildings are the ancient books with his poems and other pieces dating back to that century. It was actually very relaxing to walk through the serene area…they also had a cottage set up to show what his simple home must have looked like…in the back there was an area where archeologists are discovering additional pieces from that time period. Giff and I decided we really need to get one of his books to appreciate his work since there is an entire museum and several statues in his honor.
After our stroll through the cottage area, we had one more quick stop before it was time to end our quick tour in Chengdu. The area was another few blocks in the city which sort of mimicked the wide and narrow lane alley…there were several restaurants and vendors selling all sorts of things. The difference however, was this area was new…built to look old. We only had a half hour, so quickly walked down the main street taking a quick look.
After our tour of the area, we got in the car and to the airport. We had plenty of time and the flight was pretty easy…only about and hour and 20 minutes. We arrived in Guilin and our tour guide was waiting to pick us up. It was late, close to 10PM, so they took us straight to our hotel where we checked in and went to bed pretty quickly knowing our tour would start first thing in the morning.