We arrived at 8:30 am and the Research Base was already open. The road our taxi had driven to it was under heavy construction, as was the future entrance to the Base. We bought our tickets, walked in, and made our best guess which pathway to take. At this point the air was crisp and very few visitors had entered the park. After 20 minutes and quite a walk, we finally found an area with some awake pandas. A crowd of approximately 15 visitors had already gathered around the spot. We then walked up the hill to the nursery to see more pandas. Going early was a good call as most of the pandas were asleep by 11 am and the park became much more crowded as the day went on.
The "Giant Panda Nurse Experience Center" opened at 9:30 am and a donation of 2000 RMB reserved my sister a spot in line to hold a panda (I believe I heard the staff say there is a limit of 20 people a day allowed to hold the panda). We returned at 10:30 and she, along with the other donors, went into the nursery to hold the panda (I wasn't allowed entry as we had only paid enough for one donation). The donation not only got my sister a two minute panda hug but also a sweatshirt, certificate, and official photo with accompanying commemorative picture frame.
My favorite moment of the visit to the Base was the viewing of a documentary in the 'Panda Theater.' The documentary was about the breeding of the pandas and went something like this: "Pandas are too solitary in the wild and thus are not genetically diversified enough so we have to help them diversify, and they don't really like to mate so we have to help them mate, and their babies are all born premature so we have to raise their babies ourselves or else they'll probably die, plus panda moms just don't really even know how to care for their babies directly after birth and thus just sort of slap the premature babies across the floor and so we have to rush in after the babies are born, grab them from the panda moms, and raise them ourselves the first few months. The average amount of time a species exists before it naturally dies out is 5 million years. Pandas have already been around 7 million years. They can't really keep surviving on their own not because of humans but because they don't really want to mate and they don't really know how to take care of their babies. They're really cute though (like really really cute, right?), so we're spending millions of dollars (and RMB) and millions of man-hours to keep them from themselves making themselves extinct."
The Panda Research Base was very nicely maintained (and will be even nicer once the new entrance is complete) and the opportunity to hold a panda is a pretty amazing (and pretty expensive) opportunity to have presented to you. Best of all, they have red pandas (which I personally think are much cuter than the giant black and white pandas).
Below is my sister holding a six-month-old panda. More photos of the Research Base can be seen in the gallery.