That’s right. I spent 1000 Chinese Yuan, which converts to just over 150 USD, to hug a baby panda. A 1 year, 4 month old panda that probably weighed more than I did, to be exact. Tons of people still call me crazy to this day for spending so much money for a snapshot and a 5 minute experience (if that), but I maintain my stance: hugging a baby panda was the best $150 I’ve ever spent. Here are a few reasons why it was totally worth it:
1. There are less than 1,600 giant pandas in the world, and even fewer places where you can safely hug them.
Just to give you the frame of reference as to how rare pandas are: there are over 7 billion people in the world, last we counted; there are roughly 61 million pet dogs in the United States alone; there are only an estimated 6000 tigers in the world… and even fewer pandas. And last I checked, the only place you will be able to hug a panda is in China, most likely in a WWF-partnered research facility, like the following:
- Wolong National Nature Reserve
- Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya’an, Sichuan, China
- Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (Xiongmao Jidi)
- Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
From what I know, most people go to the Xiongmao Jidi base. I went to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding because it was the closest to the capital of Sichuan.
2. I now join the ranks of celebrities like Shaq, who hugged a baby panda too!
Look at Shaq. Now look at me. Now look back at Shaq. I can now say I am part of an exclusive club (including international celebrities) that got the rare chance to hug a panda. How frickin’ cool is that?!
3. I now have a good story to tell to all my friends.
I hugged that baby panda almost 2 years ago, but it’s still something I remember vividly. I remember how the supervisor fed the panda honey to keep it occupied while I took a million pictures. I remember how heavy it felt – my thighs instantly went numb after carrying it for only a minute. It smelled clean, and felt coarse in the way an old teddy bear would, after you had your childhood stuffed bear for years and years. I also remember how my friend, who spent the money to hug the panda with me, hugged it a little too hard in her excitement, sending the poor baby panda running with a sudden squeal.
I also remember how oddly the hostel staff looked at me for making the request and warned me that the panda was really temperamental, and if I was unlucky, I wouldn’t even get a chance to hug the panda despite my willingness to pay for it. From what I heard, only 50 or so people would get a chance to hug the panda per day, and that could be cut to 20 or less if the panda gets grumpy or sick.
Now that I think about it, it’s a very high chance that no one else got to hug that panda after us that day, since my friend scared it so much. Oops…
4. Touring China is a relatively cheap expedition, and I had the extra spending money.
Even if I wanted to splurge, spending money in China, especially a smaller region like Sichuan, is a fraction of the money I would spend in most other countries. My budget for Chengdu was $250 for 2 days there (including hostel fees, travel fees, and food), and I still came in under budget after spending $150 to hug that panda.
5. Plus, all the money goes to a good cause!
Yes, it’s a hefty fee for a 5 minute experience (lucky for me, because I went with a friend, it was more like a 10 minute experience). But the proceeds of these donations go solely to upkeep of the panda reserves, feeding and caring for the panda, and improving/preserving the pandas’ habitat. Considering it costs about 1000 USD per day to take care of a grown panda (they eat as much as 1200 pounds of bamboo a week), I think the donation is much appreciated.
Well, friends, did you think my money was well-spent?
I thought so too.
P.S. You may not want to spend the money to hug a panda, but going to a panda reserve is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I got to see a couple dozen pandas at the base I went to, as well as a group of red pandas during feeding time!