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In planning our 33 days in China, I chose to go to Chengdu for four days. We stayed in the downtown area of Chengdu, which is surprisingly the fifth largest city in China with a population of over 12 million people.  But there’s really only one reason to visit Chengdu – the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda, where you can hold a baby panda.

Panda!

1. You should first consider when you should go to the research base. We learned that the pandas are the most active in the morning and that if you come too late, most of them will be asleep. Moreover, we didn’t want to go on the weekend, which is when the hoards of Chinese tour groups are visiting. We went on a Wednesday, and the research base was fairly empty. Only three other people were in my group to hold the baby panda as well.

2. Take a taxi to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda early in the morning. A metered taxi should cost around 30 yuan ($4.84 USD) and should take around 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. If the taxi doesn’t use a meter, they will undoubtedly charge you more. We left our hotel around 8:30am and arrived at the research base around 9:00am.

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3.  Buy tickets for entrance into the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda. Tickets only cost 60 yuan per person.

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4.  Consult the map and walk towards the Sunshine Panda Nursery. The research base is rather large, and it probably takes about 15 minutes of walking to get there. Just follow the ubiquitous signs for the nursery. There is also some kind of tram for which you can pay, but we didn’t take it at all.

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5. There are two time periods during which you can hold a panda – 10:30am and 2:30pm. You can start signing up to hold the panda at 10am and 2pm, respectively.

You sign up and pay the 2,000 yuan ($322.41 USD) “donation fee” in cash. There are no ATMs in the research base, so if you don’t have enough, you will have to take a taxi to an ATM. Plus, the donation fee keeps going up every few months. Mr. Selfish and I had thought that it was only 1,200 yuan per person, and he had to go off of the research base to get the rest of the money. I would check Trip Advisor for the latest information on the donation fee.

Once you sign up, you get a neck tag, and then you come back at your appointed time to hold the panda.

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6. Return to the Sunshine Nursery and follow the guide. He/she will show you how to clean bamboo, go through an informative slideshow about pandas, compare the skulls of a panda versus a black bear, and show you a cart with food that pandas eat.

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7. You don your sanitary blue outfits and gloves and cuddle with a baby panda! Our baby panda was a boy who was eight months old. He was heavier than I thought but quite frisky. He started sliding down while I was holding him, and the staff had to pull him back up.

During the 5 minute cuddle session, the staff takes pictures of you with their camera and with your camera. The staff took at least 20 pictures of me on my camera, and they did a pretty good job. The reason that they take pictures of you with their camera is because they print a photo for you as well.

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8. Pick up your merchandise. You get a panda sweatshirt hoody, a DVD about pandas, a certificate for your donation, and a picture frame with a picture of you holding the panda and a picture of you cleaning bamboo on the other side.

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9. Enjoy the rest of the research base!

Mr. Selfish and I loved the adult pandas that were stuffing their faces with bamboo. We even learned that pandas have a quasi-thumb that they cannot move but helps them maneuver the bamboo into their mouths.

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The panda “kindergarten” had four eight month old pandas that are supposed to be learning skills from an adult panda. When we saw them, they were mostly just playing and biting one another. It was utterly adorable.

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The research base also had lots of red pandas, which is not really related to the giant panda but more related to raccoons. We noticed a sign stating that the red panda is “somewhat fierce” and to stay at least 3 meters away from them.

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Mr. Selfish and I were walking along a path and noticed a solitary red panda eating. When it finished eating, it walked through a hole in the fence and right onto the path in front of us. It was only about a foot away. Remembering that they are “somewhat fierce,” Mr. Selfish and I were somewhat taken aback. Luckily, it only crossed the path to the other side. We were so excited to be so close to a red panda (and that nothing bad happened).

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10. If you’re looking to buy panda merchandise, I wouldn’t buy any inside the research park. First, I didn’t think that the stands inside the research base had much of a selection. Second, it was expensive. If you exit the park and turn left, you will find a bunch of vendors selling panda merchandise at much cheaper prices. 

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And, those are the ten easy steps to successfully cuddling a baby panda.  Even though it was VERY expensive, it was worth every penny. I would gladly pay the “donation fee” again to hold that adorable baby panda.