Panda-monium in Chengdu (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

June 30, 2012

The only thing I knew I wanted to do in Chengdu before I flew there last Saturday was to go see the pandas.

Frankly, I didn’t really know if there was anything to do in Chengdu besides see pandas. You see, I hadn’t really bothered to do any research on the city. I’ve always found that research kind of has this way of totally ruining the surprise, you know?

Plus, I was traveling with a friend to Chengdu. And what are friends for but to tell you where you’re going and what you’re going to do once you get there?

What’s that you say?

That’s not how friendship works?


It turns out that there are lots of things to see and do in Chengdu.

There are tons of pretty temples.

Pagoda at the Qing Yang Temple

And pleasant, shady parks.

People’s Park

And a couple cool, old-timey looking neighborhoods.

Kuan Lane

Plus, Chengdu has some of the best food I’ve ever had in China. And, that’s saying something, as I have eaten lots of food in China.

Stuff on sticks & beer! My favorites!

But, despite all that other stuff, Chengdu is really all about the pandas.

Chengdu’s taxis are bamboo green with pandas stenciled on the front hood.

If you squint you can kind of see the panda on the front hood. Trust me, it’s there. And it’s cute.

The shops stock everything from panda tea to panda cigarettes.

Pandas: like the Marlboro Man, but fluffier.

Even the wi-fi has been pandafied.

On my first afternoon in the city, I spotted more than a half-dozen toddlers and not a few full-grown adults in panda-themed get-ups – including one woman who was wearing a smiling panda sweatshirt and black sweatpants that had smiling panda patches on each of her knees.

At first, all the panda-themed stuff can seem a bit, well, much.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of being excessive. Maybe you’ve noticed?

Moderation, schmoderation.

But it’s like Chengdu is the parent who posts way too many pictures of his kids all over Facebook. (Not that I know anyone who does that. I’ve just heard that happens sometimes. Ahem.) After a while, you’re like, “Okay, Chengdu, we get it. You have pandas. And they’re cute. But do you have to be all braggy about it?”

Then I went to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, home to the largest captive-born giant panda population in the world.

And I totally got it.

In fact, after seeing the pandas in person, I think Chengdu should brag a bit more. Maybe they should require all residents of the city to wear panda patches on their trousers. And have every single sign in the city shaped like a panda’s head. Because, seriously, wouldn’t you much rather take instruction from a sign that looks like this?

Whatever you say, panda head, whatever you say.

To say pandas are cute is an understatement.

I don’t even think there’s a word that’s been invented to describe how adorable pandas are. But if there were a word it would sound something like this: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOO EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Because that’s pretty much exactly the same noise that came out of my mouth the first time I spotted a panda at the park. My friend was standing a few feet away from me, and I was trying to get her attention. But my mind went totally blank, and I couldn’t remember her name. Or my name. Or really anything useful, like words.

My first panda sighting. Totally squeal-inducing, right?

Now, I’ve seen some adorable animals in my day. I grew up on a farm, people. I used to dress up baby goats in doll clothes.

Have you ever seen a baby goat in a dress before?


Well, I’m not going to say that your life lacks meaning.

But maybe it does kind of a little.

As amazingly adorable as a goat in a dress may be, pandas don’t even need clothes to look adorable. But, I think we can all agree that pandas would be even more adorable in costume. Just imagine how freaking amazing this little guy would look in a  pair of denim overalls:


On the day we went to the reserve, it was pouring down rain. Like crazy tropical storm amounts of rain.

And, you’d think that the pandas would look all wet and soggy and really kind of sad in that much rain. Because that’s exactly how I looked in that much rain.

I’m the drowned rat-like creature on the left attempting to be as adorable as a panda. And failing. Miserably.

But even when sopping wet, pandas look like big, puffy, black and white balls of love and cuddles.

If you don’t want to hug this little guy right now, it’s possible you are a robot. Just saying.

And don’t let that humble look on their adorable little faces fool you. These guys knew exactly how ridiculously cute they were because, man, were they hamming it up for the audience.

This pair rolled around like a pair of over-sized kittens on a wooden platform.

This one climbed very slowly face-first out of a tree, which was probably the most riveting ten minutes of my life. I mean, sure, it may not sound so spectacular, but when’s the last time you climbed face-first out of a tree?

And these two just slept. But, seriously, when you’re that adorable, even sleeping is something of a show.

Even though the weather was completely miserable, and I was soaking wet, and people kept on thwacking me in the head with umbrellas, I couldn’t be too cranky when faced with that much panda adorableness.

Which, is kind of amazing when you think about it, because I have an ability to be cranky pretty much all the time. Just ask any of my family members. Or anyone who has ever traveled with me. Or anyone who has made the mistake of trying to talk to me before, say, noon. I am extremely good at being irritable. I’d even consider it one of my more consistent qualities.

Prone to crankiness (and fashion don’ts) from a very young age.

In addition to oooing and awwwing over the pandas, there are a whole bunch of buildings at the Base, including a research center, a veterinary hospital and something called The Panda Kitchen, where you can go in and ooo and awww over other stuff. Like what pandas eat for lunch.

Bamboo: It’s what’s for dinner… and breakfast… and lunch. If you’re a panda.

But, for some reason, almost all the buildings were closed on the morning we went.

The few buildings that were open were something of a disappointment. There was the nursery, which just had a bunch of empty incubators. These were almost painful to look at. I mean, can you imagine how cute this thing would be if it was stuffed full of baby pandas?

Torture me, empty incubator, why don’t you?

Even the Panda Museum was closed for renovations. But you could sit inside the lobby and watch a rather graphic video detailing panda copulation.

Watching panda porn in the lobby

Even though almost all the buildings were closed, which means I’ll probably never know exactly how much bamboo to prepare should I ever have some pandas over for lunch, I still wasn’t that cranky about it.

I know.

It was like I was on some weird panda high.

Besides, the bathroom was open, and it just so happened to be the most spectacular bathroom I’ve seen in China.

It was, of course, panda-themed.

And the stalls featured fancy self-cleaning toilets and wall art.


There was even a little basket full of lotions and potions at the sink.

I suspect this was there so you could spruce yourself up a bit. You know, should you be feeling unattractive after spending the day with some of the most adorable creatures on the planet.

Unfortunately, there was really no amount of lotions and potions that could stop me from looking wretched after being rained on all morning. I guess I don’t really have what it takes to look as pretty as a panda.

But you can’t blame a girl from trying, now can you?

Attempting panda adorableness again. And failing miserably again.

 What’s the cutest animal you’ve ever seen in person?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On June 30, 2012 at 11:26 am Keith said:

    Pantastic post but not a single picture of the adorable red pandas.

    • On June 30, 2012 at 11:29 am Sally said:

      We didn’t see any! 🙁 The Red Panda House was closed (along with all the other buildings) and we didn’t see any of them in the enclosures. Maybe they don’t like the rain & were inside being all grumpy. Who knows?

  2. On June 30, 2012 at 11:41 am James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly said:

    Sounds like a great day out despite the rain. Cool kid picture. Did you grow up in Narnia?

    Cutest animal? Hmmm. Toss up between swimming with dolphins for the first time in Cuba or interacting with cheetahs in Namibia. Cheetahs FTW by value of cool factor, probably…

    Then there was that one time I posed with koalas in Sydney but you couldn’t touch them! Some law or something (although I am admitting here publicly that I copped a feel. Oooooh. Soft!)
    James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly recently posted..Vietnamese Food On The Cheap — A Photo Essay

  3. On June 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm Selly said:

    I want to go. I want to go. I want to go. Did I mention that I want go and see the pandas? So so so cute! I totally envy you right now, Sally, like absolutely envy you!

    • On July 2, 2012 at 2:27 am Sally said:

      You MUST go! So totally worth it… if I had that much fun in the rain, I can’t even imagine what the park would be like in good weather!

  4. On June 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm Edna said:

    I don’t know that you really failed in that last photo, Sally. Those cutouts make you look pretty darn adorable.
    Edna recently posted..Euro 2012 from the best seat in Paris

  5. On June 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm Jessica Hill said:

    I want to hug every one of them! I’m absolutely adding Chengdu to my list. I saw black bears in Laos, near Luang Prabang, and they were all swinging on tires and sitting in the most adorable places. It was like watching a day care, but much quieter and way cuter!
    Jessica Hill recently posted..Full Moon Party Oblivion

  6. On June 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm Greg said:

    When we lived in Chengdu we made several trips to the panda center. The panda copulation video was particularly useful for explaining the birds and the bees to our 10 and 13 year old kids. Glad you enjoyed Chengdu: the food and pandas are some of my favorite parts.
    Greg recently posted..Fruits of Our Labors

  7. On June 30, 2012 at 11:43 pm lia said:

    geckos! definitely geckos!

  8. On July 1, 2012 at 6:14 am jan said:

    I admit they are pretty darned cute – but I think that Koalas are just as cute – or even MORE cute.
    I like making the big calls!

  9. On July 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm Waegook Tom said:

    Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee at the baby pandas! When I was considering visiting China on my vacay, Chengdu was on my list solely for this reason. THEY SO CUUUUUUTE I want to hug them all right now.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..Where to go in the USA?

    • On July 2, 2012 at 2:19 am Sally said:

      Apparently, you can pay 1000 RMB (like $150 USD) to hold a panda & get your picture taken. We really wanted to do that, but the place was closed (Arrgggh!). So make sure you go on a day when all the buildings and stuff are open so you can hug one.

  10. On July 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm Jen Ryder said:

    That link to the baby pandas is insanely adorable. It’s a crime the incubators were empty when you were there! The cutest animals I’ve seen in person are these miniature puppies they have here in our city. We stopped to look at some in pet shop the other day, and they’re seriously the size of hamsters! And they were only like 100RMB. I showed some serious restraint walking away from them.
    Jen Ryder recently posted..How to Stay Sane and Connected (at the same time)

    • On July 2, 2012 at 2:18 am Sally said:

      Hamster puppies? Omigod, I’m so glad I’ve never seen those. I think I would be tempted to take them all. And I don’t even like dogs that much. (Don’t shoot me. I’ve always been a cat person.)

  11. On July 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm Ceri said:

    ♥♥ Oh my gosh! My all-time favourite animals. I think my heart nearly exploded at this post. Seriously – I adore these animals soooooooo much. ♥♥ I have cuddly toys of pandas everywhere back home and my friends nicknamed me ‘Ceri the Panda’ (Apparently having pale skin with recurring black bruises and black eyeliner makes me a human panda!).

    Very, very jealous that you got to go here. And Chengdu is officially on my list of places I need to visit!
    Ceri recently posted..Election Day in Mexico

    • On July 2, 2012 at 2:17 am Sally said:

      It’s definitely a must visit. I’ve seen pandas at zoos before but this was so cool to see them more out in the open and in big habitats.

  12. On July 1, 2012 at 10:50 pm Emily in Chile said:

    I want to squeeze a panda now. I may have to dress my dog up in a panda costume and just pretend. I think it’s probably for the best there were no babies in the incubators because I for one would probably have just keeled over from the cuteness!
    Emily in Chile recently posted..An aerial Andes mountain sunrise

    • On July 2, 2012 at 2:17 am Sally said:

      Omigod. I probably would have had a cuteness heart attack. And then been tempted to steal one. That could have gotten bad. So, yeah, probably for the best there weren’t any babies around to tempt me into a life of crime!

  13. On July 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm Deb.d said:

    Makes me want to run right out and go see the pandas! Koalas are supercute too and, if you’re in the right place [sydney aquarium)you can even touch them. Always enjoy reading, even when you’re grumpy.

    • On July 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm Sally said:

      Thanks, Deb. I agree koalas are pretty darn cute. I went to a koala sanctuary in Australia when I was there, and I do believe I did a lot of oooing and ahhing while I was there.

  14. On July 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm Carmel said:

    That other panda in the climbing head first down the tree picture looks like he’s coaching him on his way down. I am sure I would squeal at the cuteness. I used to have a bit of a panda and polar bear obsession growing up. Those are some damn cute pandas.
    Carmel recently posted..Strawberry Rhubarb Fools

    • On July 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm Sally said:

      Oh, I assure you, you definitely would be squealing. I don’t exactly consider myself much of a squealy person, and I don’t think I stopped squealing the whole time I was there.

  15. On July 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm Ayngelina said:

    That wifi sign is hilarious.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Haleakala Sunrise

  16. On July 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm Ruby said:

    Hi Sally! I felt exactly the same way the first time I saw them pandas. I used to think that you can’t be big and cute at the same time but these pandas proved me wrong. Now I’m inspired to write something about these cute huge animals!
    Ruby recently posted..Remembering Myanmar: Yangon

    • On July 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm Sally said:

      I know, right? I was like, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll be cute. But whatever.” But I had no idea I’d be squealing and jumping up and down when I saw them. How easily the jaded change in the face of cuteness.

  17. On July 4, 2012 at 6:47 am Indy said:

    I’m going to the Antipodes as well- with another vote for the koalas and their marsupial cousin the wallaby (think a calf to knee sized koala). Dead cute, the both of them!

  18. On July 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm Tyrhone said:

    I was there a couple days ago, and i’m sure those 2 pandas sleeping in the tree were in the exact same spot?! And you’re right, they are ridiculously cute, forget that if you got too close it might eat your face, it would be worth it to scratch its fuzzy wuzzy belly.

    Devo I missed the self cleaning toilets, anyone who has used a public restroom/hole in the floor in China knows why.
    Tyrhone recently posted..Panda wandas in Chengdu

  19. On July 5, 2012 at 2:02 am Eileen said:

    Awe, that’s cute indeed. I saw a panda at a the Taipei Zoo. I agree, quite cute. 🙂

    “Prone to crankiness (and fashion don’ts) from a very young age.”

    Now that picture is rather cute. 🙂

  20. On July 5, 2012 at 8:20 am Lizzie said:

    I have never seen panda before and I can say that it is one of the dreams too.. I want to see them in person together with my kids..

  21. On July 6, 2012 at 1:28 am Spencer said:

    How awesome! I didn’t get to do this when I went to China in 2005 as I ran out of time. I imagine it would have been fantastic though.
    Spencer recently posted..Ten Top Hotels in Key West

  22. On July 6, 2012 at 2:20 am ChinaMatt said:

    Careful with those pandas…there’s one at the Beijing Zoo that’s mauled three idiots who were dumb enough enter its habitat (maybe when we run out of bamboo we can feed the pandas soylent green).

    Chengdu is an awesome city. Hope you made it to Dufu’s Thatched Cottage Museum and poetry park. Also the Giant Buddha of Leshan is a great day trip from Chengdu.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..HK at 15

    • On July 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm Sally said:

      Everybody keeps on telling me that the pandas are vicious. I just can’t believe it. They’re too cute to want to eat my face off!
      And, unfortunately we didn’t make it to Leshan. We really wanted to go but it rained pretty much the entire time we were in Chengdu. It was hard enough having to do the Panda Reserve in the rain, we didn’t want to have to spend a day battling the rain in Leshan. Plus, we figured it wouldn’t be that safe. Oh well, next time, I guess!

  23. On July 6, 2012 at 3:54 am choi kum fook said:

    Panda-the unique animal can be found in Chengdu, China. May be due to particular rareness and cuteness,I think it is the most precious and valuable animal in the world!Why not!? A couple of panda will be imported to Malaysia, as hiring basis for ten years only, at the end of the year. The expenditure just for the preparation(Transportation and living place only) will be estimated twenty millions ringgit! Miss Sally, from your post and illustrated pictures, definitely, Panda is a amazing and adorable animal! Anyhow, I hope can see them in local at the end of the year!

  24. On July 6, 2012 at 4:06 am CeCe said:

    I didn’t think I was going to be that amazed with the pandas. We have pandas at the San Diego Zoo, so I figured, “Eh…what would make these pandas so special.”

    I was like a proud mama video taping the pandas every move. I didn’t want to leave!

    • On July 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm Sally said:

      Me too! I’d seen pandas at the Washington DC zoo and don’t remember being particularly impressed. But, man, it was totally a different story seeing them in their own element.

  25. On July 6, 2012 at 6:43 am Lisa said:

    Our local paper in NZ just stole your headline!

    Did you know it’s panda awareness week? 🙂

    • On July 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm Sally said:

      I had no idea! My post is so timely! (And I’m totally suing them for stealing my headline. I’m pretty sure I’m the first person to use that clever play on words!)

  26. On July 8, 2012 at 2:41 am Leah Travels said:

    Panda cigarettes? Please tell me they don’t use pandas to make these. And, yes, I need to ask. This is China we’re talking about.
    Leah Travels recently posted..A Brush with Fame: BBC & My Cruise Contempt

  27. On July 27, 2012 at 1:55 am Gina said:

    Loved all the panda pictures. Definitely super duper adorableness. I’ve always wanted to go to Chengdu to see the pandas, but had no idea the whole city is decked out in Pandaness. That’s great! Just discovered your blog and really enjoying it. 🙂
    Gina recently posted..One Day in Rome

  28. On July 31, 2012 at 3:08 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    We just found your blog and we ARE LOVING IT!!! funny thing is that we never really wanted to go to China … now … WE DO! The challenge … travel WITH 3 pound dog in tow. We are sure it must be do-able. A challenge certainly but we will figure it out. Thanks for making us realize that maybe – just maybe Pandas are worth flying to China for!

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:56 am Sally said:

      Thank you. So glad you’re enjoying the blog & thanks for all the comments! I hope you get to check out China some day. Chinese people love dogs (and, contrary to what you may have heard, not just to eat!). I saw so many pampered pooches when I lived there. So I’m sure there’s some way you could travel with a dog there.

      • On August 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm Montecristo Travels said:

        Thanks for the response – everyone I have ever spoken to about going to China with dog said “YOU INSANE????”. Aside from the answer being .. “ummm yes why? Is this news to you?” … I really do believe getting there might be the hardest part. Paper work and all that. But I think it would make for one heck of an adventure. Of course I am not sure what we would do when we want to go into places that do not allow dogs… somehow Asia will happen and so will China. Logistics!!

  29. On November 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm Linda Knight said:

    Oh those pandas are so cute! I just hope that our future generations could still see these cute creatures. Even though people are trying hard to breed them, some still get ill-luck and die on captivity.


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