I am a self-confessed panda junkie. Seeing pandas in a zoo does not suffice for me, and I had always wanted to personally interact with these adorable creatures – to touch and feed and play with a panda. There is not really anywhere you can go in the world except Chengdu in Sichuan province to have an up close and personal panda experience. Despite having lived in China for many years, and having sent dozens of clients there, I had never actually made it to Chengdu myself….but I finally had my opportunity this summer. Holding a 10 month old baby for the photo above was unforgettable and a thrill of a lifetime.
What surprised me most about Chengdu was how clean and beautiful this massive city of 14 million people is, with lovely parks and gardens and flowers everywhere. I stayed in the 5-star Shangri-la Hotel on the Club Floor and it was impeccable in terms of rooms and service.
I also had a hard-hat tour of the sumptuous new Ritz Carlton Chengdu which will be a magnificent property when it opens. The management took me out to an incredible dinner at a fabulous Chengdu restaurant where we watched a traditional face changing opera.
They also took me to the ancient Jinli street and the bustling narrow lanes lines lined with shops and cafes and artisans making sugar and egg shell paintings, paper cuttings, silk weavings, and so much more. We had a wonderful time. The very lively Jinli Street is the old town lined with Han Dynasty architecture, and it is packed with local tourists (very few foreigners) out strolling, trying the many snacks and having fun.
The museums in Chengdu are also extremely well done – the Jinsha Site Museum of the ancient excavations and also the Sanxingdui site museum, which has relics over 5,000 years old. These are world-class museums in terms of design and layout and collections, and I was impressed.
Getting back to the pandas, what astonished me most about the Giant Panda breeding center was the utter size of the park (92 acres) and how clean and beautifully landscaped it is, with miles of well-kept paths and bamboo forests and even a little shuttle tram to drive you between the many different areas.
Neither I nor Remote Lands clients are ever content with the status quo, so I paid quite a bit more for special treatment. I spent the morning with my own 5 private pandas – feeding, bathing and exercising them – and had an entire large building to myself. I fed them apples and bamboo, and learned that they actually eat only the inside of the bamboo shoots, and rip the hard outer shell off with their teeth before eating the soft interior bits. After breakfast I hosed them down which they loved because it was quite warm that day. It was so hard for me to have to break away from them and go home!