My Aunt and I spend 2 weeks in China at the Bifengxia Panda Base last April. We were picked up from the Chengdu airport then stayed in the city for 2 nights before heading to the panda base. The drive there was scary as it was our first time travelling to the country. I didn't expect such terrifying drivers! We got there in one piece and made our way to the hostel for lunch. The hostel was very basic and not very clean. We cleaned our room before unpacking. The hostel owners idea of clean is very different than ours.
After lunch we headed to the panda base which was less than 5 minutes away. One of my favorite memories is seeing the pandas for the first time. I was so happy and excited to spend one on one time with the bears. We had a quick tour of the base and went to get our volunteer uniforms and pass to get into the base every day.
At 830am we met with our assigned panda keepers to learn what we were going to do everyday. We'd come to the reserve at 9 to prepare the panda's breakfast then feed them and clean out their enclosures. We'd have about an hour break before they got lunch and then we'd come back mid afternoon to feed them again. There was a lot of spare time to explore the reserve and observe the bears. I took hundreds of photos and learned a lot. I wish our keepers knew more English because we had tons of questions that they couldn't really answer unless our program coordinator was there.
Most week nights we stayed at the hostel and watched movies or played games. A couple nights we ventured into Ya'an city with the help of our coordinators to get snacks from the supermarket or go out for supper at a local restaurant.
The food at the hostel was mostly good but we bought lots of snacks to eat between meals and at night.
On the weekend we were free to do what ever we wanted. We hired a taxi for the day and went to Leshan to see the giant Buddha. In the afternoon we went to the zoo that is also part of the Bifengxia reserve which I do recommend to anyone that cares for the well being of animals. I've never seen anything like that place and I do not ever want to go back. It was horrifying and had us all in tears by the end of it. The worst part was the way it was set up. We had to see it all and couldn't turn around and go back. Pandas are very very lucky to be looked after so well. There were animals in chains, in enclosures with no grass or clean water and they were very unhealthy and sad looking. Apparently that was a nice zoo compared to others in Asia but still, it was extremely different to the ones I've been to in North America.
We paid the extra money to get the photos taken with the baby panda but it wasn't what I expected. The photos on the internet are a little misleading and I'm thinking they must be at a different reserve. We only had 10 seconds each to sit beside the panda and we weren't prepared at all. It was a nice experience but I enjoyed the time I spent with the pandas I fed everyday and cleaned up after much more as we actually got to know their personalities. Every panda is different!
Overall I really enjoyed my experience with this program. I think 2 weeks was enough time. The routine gets boring after a while. I wish I'd spent more time exploring the park as it is huge and beautiful. I learned a lot about China and it is a beautiful country. I'll definitely be going back someday.
Here are some tips
1. Wear layers. It is very cold and damp in the morning and very hot and humid in the afternoon
2. Bring snacks and breakfast food unless you like white bread with bland jam
3. Be open minded and have fun.
4. Try all of the food at the hostel. I was pleasantly surprised 90% of the time.
5. Take lots of pictures!
6. Thank your program coordinators as they are doing their best to keep you happy
7. Check out the Panda bar up the hill from the hostel. We had so much fun with bartender Tom even though there was no ice or a fridge to keep anything cold.
8. Learn to drink hot water with every meal because that is all you get unless you buy something else
9. Don't look into the kitchen unless it's the last day you're there. Again, the idea of cleanliness is a little different then what you're probably used to.
10. Bring warm pjs. The heated blanket helps but it gets chilly during the night!
I hope this helps!