If you're an animal lover and someone mentions China, you'll likely instantly think of the beautiful and iconic Giant Panda.
If that is you, then no trip to China would be complete without a visit to the Panda Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu, China.
In and of itself, the Breeding and Research Center is a lot of fun to visit and you'll get to see LOTS of pandas while you're there, however if you'd like to get up close and personal with a panda... as in actually get to touch and interact with one, you'll want to sign up for the intern program!
These intern programs can be as short as one day or as long as thirty days, and will put you in extremely close contact with these amazing animals. My wife and I joined the intern program for a day and had an absolute BLAST.
So what does an average day for an intern look like at the Breeding Center?
Yes you have to help clean the cages, but you get basically an all access pass to where the animals stay and get a much closer and intimate view of the animals (and as a side note, remember the pandas only eat bamboo, so their poo is just basically ground up bamboo)... so it is totally worth it! After cleaning the cages, which takes maybe 20 minutes, you get to help prepare their food and you get to actually feed it to the pandas!
It was so much fun.
Once that is done you'll get a break from your "duties" in the middle of the day to go walk around the park and see everything there is to see. During this time, you can pay a little extra and have the opportunity to get IN the cage with one of the Pandas and have our picture taken while you pet the animal. In some cases, you may actually get to HOLD the panda!!
On the day we were there though, the younger ones weren't feeling well, so we got to pet one of the older ones... which would be WAY to big to sit in your lap. They take these pictures with your camera, so be sure to have it handy. And truth be told, you'll want it with you the whole day for awesome pictures. Once you've had time to eat and see the park it is back to feeding and checking on the pandas.
I'm honestly not sure how much it cost because it was built in to our overall trip cost... but whatever it was, it was worth it. Our guide while in Chengdu accompanied us through the entire day, so there was absolutely no language barrier. As I mentioned, the intern program was included in our package at my request, but I'm sure you could arrange for the program on your own by contacting the center when you arrive in Chengdu.
Insider Photography tip!
The pandas can be challenging to take good pictures of because of their high contrast color scheme, especially on a sunny day. Meter conservatively off of the white parts of their coat for the best results.
Written and contributed by Dan Thompson