Another way to enjoy the Panda Base is to become a volunteer for the day. My son and I stayed at Lazybones Hostel which arranges these tours for 700rmb pax including transport to (not return) the pandas.
Our October trip was awesome, as they often have up to a dozen people volunteer but on this occasion we were the only ones - so got rather special treatment. The typical volunteer's day runs for up to 7 hours (including a 2 hour lunch break to wander around at your liesure).
We started off inside the "staff only" area of one of the large areas where adults are kept. The facility itself was exceptionally clean inside and our first task was to assist prepare apples and bamboo to feed to the pandas. I can tell you the apples were better than the ones I bought at the markets the day before to eat myself at lunch. In all we fed 6 separate pandas by hand - using a bamboo pole, for safety - spending around 2 hours doing so. I took several hundred photos and about 10 minutes of video and am still trying to pick my favourite moments - just too many.
We saw first hand the unique personalities of the pandas - one was very naughty and kept trying to steal the bamboo pole: only then did I realise how incredibly powerful these creatures really were, belying their cute-faced cuddliness. Others were very gentle, and some just so playful you could not wipe the smile off your face while watching them.
One of the "volunteer" duties involved cleaning out a panda cage. Not as daunting as it might seem as the pandas eat the freshest food and their ecrement was not at all offensive. Perhaps not as nice as holding a panda for a picture, but nevertheless an experience you won't forget!
Pandas at Chendu are certainly spoilt, as their last meals were of "panda cake". This was fed immediately after it was baked, and I even got to taste some! Can't say it was going to find its way onto a menu anywhere, but it was certainly another aspect of the visit that made the whole experience absolutely awesome.
We finished off with visits to the baby panda breeding areas, and red panda enclosures, again entering several areas that were reserved only for staff. In other words, we got as close to pandas as staff did - usually about a metre away.
Because we were the only 2 volunteers our day ended earlier than usual, although we did more than most larger groups as our Panda Base professional guide never had to divide her attention amongst others.
A few tips if you do the volunteer day. Lunch is not free and you will be guided to a place which is reasonable, however 100 metres away you can get other meal options. You will have time to check out the options as the typical break is 2 hours. The Panda Base is massive and you can easily spend another few hours there visiting other places - so if you have a fine day you should just cruise around like a true tourist. Finally, getting a cab back can be arduous as so many touts are ready to rip you off. Find out a fair return price beforehand from your hotel and negotiate this if you are unable to get a legitimate cab who runs on the meter.
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