Did you really go to China if you didn’t go to Chengdu?

(Yes, of course, but this is where they keep the pandas!)

The other day I found an Instagram story from about a year ago where I was deciding how to spend my second-year summer. I’d scrounged around for a few internships but returned endless results of Banking, Actuarial work, and Risk-Assessing (of which I really shouldn’t turn my nose up, since I have no idea what it is). I’d decided (possibly foot-shootingly – I’ll let you know at the end of THIS summer) that due to my live-in-the-moment mentality and disposition to become inextricably attached to whatever I do, I should only be applying to things I’m actually interested in – a rule I’ve stuck to, so far.

Someone had approached me at a careers fare suggesting summer camps in China, and I toyed with the idea for a few months… I’d have to source funding, make plans, and question whether it was worth spending a whole otherwise CV-enhancing summer on this. Luckily, of course, it turned out to be life-changing. What made me laugh, the other day, though, is that the story showed what tipped my ultimate decision: what animals will I get to see if I choose a placement in this country, over any other? Pandas, of course!

From Yangshuo I begun the final leg of my four-month solo journey. I’d said heart-wrenching fairwells to my summer camp colleagues and was on my own again, arriving after a 12 hour train (on which a really nice man asked for 10p because he was so excited that I had British money – it was super cute). I booked into a hostel dorm for the first time in close to 2 months, and aloneness anxiety was seeping in.

When, of course, connection began again, as is the nature of solo travel. I just stepped up to a woman by the elevator and asked if she knew whether breakfast was free. She, like me, had no idea, and just invited me down to join her and her friends. I didn’t get free breakfast (it was actually very overpriced and made me ill lol), but I met three incredible women: Sharmika, Awesta, and Kelly, who let me join them on a trip to the famous Leshun Buddha followed by tea-leaf picking in the fields. We formed such strong bonds I ended up couch-surfing with all three of them in Shanghai, one month later (but more on that another time).



*Drumroll Please*… The event of the year! It was finally panda day. I’d chosen China and gone totally out of the way on my route, grabbed a 12 hour train and said goodbye to my three new friends, who’d all hit their way back to Shanghai, where they were living.

I didn’t, as anticipated, wind up at the famous Giant Panda Research Base, after hearing a few typical China tourist horror stories: being shouted at by guards, the floors so crowded you couldn’t see your own feet, and just being swept along like a body in a river. Luckily, instead, I met another solo traveller, with whom I had a lot in common: 21 year old Katie had just graduated from Durham and found an alternative lil’ park nearby (sorry but I’m kicking myself to admit I have no idea what it was called and can’t find any reference… as far as I remember, she just Googled it when we were at our hostel and we both said ‘why not’!).

I would say, though, if you have the option to avoid the famous base and hit something a lil smaller – do. Enclosures lived up to the expectations I’d been set by animal rights activists in Borneo – pandas are ‘frustratingly well looked after’ (compared to other animals), and we were able to get much closer (check out snaps below of feeding this fluffy one some carrots, and me embarrassing myself with yet another peace sign directly beneath a panda in a tree!).

We also got driven around in this snazzy car with a personal guide, a uni student our age who commented that we seemed like ‘best friends’ from home (cute travel friendship moment!), and adorableness was constant. After witnessing a twin baby-panda birthday (and the lovely joy all the park workers and locals seemed to innocently rejoice in over giving them their ‘cakes’), we got a lot of leisurely wanders in where the bears were being their happy, comfortable selves; rolling, climbing, scratching, and sleeping. All-in-all a wholesome with a capital ‘w’ day.

I’d also recommend Chengdu for its nightlife – some of my fave features included a bouncing dance floor like a trampoline, plus this amazing display 😎