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September 25th 2013
Published: September 27th 2013
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This morning it’s a flight out from Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu. That means a 5:00am wakeup and 1.5 hour drive to the airport. Its still cold and wet, and we join a huge crowd of people all booking in for their flights to Xian, Chongqing, Chengdu and elsewhere. The departure gates frequently change, and at one stage we find ourselves with a large group of people rushing to a different gate, reminiscent of a scene from “Airplane” (where the plane crash lands and everyone is rushing to get to the right gate). Finally the plane takes off and a short flight later it’s in Chengdu, warm and overcast with moderate air pollution.

The new guide, Tony, and the driver meet us there and take drive us through the 17 million population city of Chengdu to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The entry building is shaped like a panda, and in the restaurant inside we are treated to lunch surrounded by columns made out like pretend bamboo stems, and recessed ceiling with a paw print shape in it. A large TV shows scenes of the pandas while you eat (mating scenes and all). The lunch is fantastic, including Kung Bao Chicken, a beef dish, spinach dish, and chicken with chillies. The latter dish I find hard to swallow: as in the picture it really is just chicken with chillies. The green things are chillies, and they’re hotter than jalapenos.

We walk around the large complex, set out like a zoo with various enclosures for each adult panda. We see teenage pandas eating some bamboo and sleeping, and some amazing little baby pandas having a nap in a nursery. They are born hairless and pink, between 50 and 100cm long, and can gestate for 100 to 300 days. The short movie explains that because the mother Panda may not know it is pregnant, and may not recognise the little pink thing is hers, it may eat it. This is thought to be one of the reasons the Pandas are struggling in the wild. Despite that, both the baby and adult Pandas are just as cute and huggable as you’d expect (not that we’re allowed to hug them, of course). There is also a number of enclosures of red pandas that are also pretty neat to watch.

After the Pandas, we head to the Sofitel Wanda hotel and negotiate a body scanner and pat-down at the door. There is an investor’s conference on at the hotel, and because of that the security is heavy. Like at Jiuzhaigou, while the guide checks us in the reception staff ignore us. Not even a ‘welcome to our hotel’. I’d have to say that is one major fault the reception desks outside of Beijing and Xian have had. Despite that, the Sofitel is luxurious. We end up with adjacent rooms after a little discussion with Tony and the reception staff (they’d planned to put us on different floors), which means Ky and I make do with a twin room. (But the beds are wide so we manage to fit into one anyway.)

The room looks towards downtown Chengdu, literally three blocks away, and it is an exciting spectacle, with many of the buildings have colourful light displays at night (see pic). We take dinner in “La Brasserie” restaurant in the hotel. Yep, it’s a French themed hotel (the reception desk at the gym is called the “Champs Elysees”). Two burgers and a shared pizza with drinks cost ¥336 (A$61). If we’d had one of the steaks it would have been a lot more.

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