Here are the experiences from my trip to China, and some Panda photos:
The guides and drivers were excellent at all locations, tending to all my needs and making sure that I was happy at all times. All were at airports to meet and greet, no problems.
One thing that I found on arrival in China is that on the way to Wolong, just outside of Chengdu there is a large construction project involving the whole of the road all the way into Wolong and beyond. The consequence of this was that 1/2 an hour out of Chengdu you on the main road and only road to Wolong you come to a tunnel through a hillside. This is the start of the construction project. The tunnel itself is still being cut properly but traffic does go through it. The problem is that from early morning until 12md exactly the flow of traffic is one direction only.
Out of Chengdu, all traffic wanting to pass into Chengdu has to wait at the other side of the tunnel till just after 12md when the flow of traffic goes the other way. This means that on arrival at the airport if you intend to go to Wolong you have to be through the tunnel by 12md or you are stuck on the Chengdu side until the next morning. So any journey time has to allow to get through this tunnel. This meant for me that we had to get an earlier internal flight from Beijing to allow for the 2 and 1/2 hr flight to arrive in Chengdo in time to still allow us to get through the tunnel by 12md. This is not always an easy planning exercise and must be born in mind when planning future itineraries.
Also the same time factor must be born in mind for the return journey. There is no point in getting to the tunnel before 12md as you just do not get through. Plus the build up of traffic waiting to go through at 12md is relentless and the ques can be up to 5 miles long, so you must allow plenty of time to get through the tunnel to enable you to check in, in time for any internal flight back to Beijing.
Another factor in all of this is the state of the road under construction. As I say the whole of the road into Wolong is affected, 2 and a 1/2 hrs worth of it!! The Chinese do not construct in the same way as we do! All traffic runs on the uncontracted road in-between the very heavy construction traffic of rollers, trucks, graders etc. The whole of the road is dirt track at the moment, some of it with very large boulders in it that have to be negotiated by the cars. A lot of it is not rolered flat and has only had the crudest of grading to make it anything like flat. I had a very nice car to take me to Wolong but by the end of the trip the poor drivers car must have been a wreck. The suspension and shockadsorbers must have been ruined.
It is because of the state of the road and the construction traffic that the journey takes 2 and a 1/2 hrs, normally when done it will only take 1/2 an hour. But at no point is any of the road completed. What really is needed was that any one in future going to Wolong needs to be collected from the airport in a 4x4, this is the only transport best suited to the road conditions. At some points the road width is down to the car width only. Under no circumstances can a coach or minibus get through to Wolong on this road!!
As you said in your itinerary the Panda Inn is a poor hotel. We had our lunches there during the day and I saw no evidence of any extensive upgrading. The dining room was at best adequate. I was happy with this but some guests may not be. I am glad I was staying at the Better hotel actually in Wolong, the Wolong Lodge. This is a very much better standard of hotel. The rooms are very good and furnished to a good standard. The only problem here is at the time I was there, it was cold in the evenings and night and the hotel does not have any heating generally in the public spaces, i/e the dining room, reception area, function rooms, and general corridors. These are all with out any form of heating. This is how the place was built. They do not have the concept of central heating. So you have to go for meals in your top coats etc otherwise you freeze to death! Heating is provided in the rooms only. Plus you get electric blankets on the bed, a very welcome thing! It is much better to stay at this hotel and have the 15 minute car ride to the Panda reserve than to stay next door to the reserve in the Panda Inn. This should be offered to all clients wanting to stay in Wolong as an option, but they must bear in mind that it is not walkable from the hotel to the reserve, it is too far on the uncontracted road and not safe from a traffic point of view.
The reserve itself is very good, I got to see all I wanted and had as much time as I wanted each day to sit and wait for the photo opportunities. If you want to have a photo with a Panda or feed the babies in the enclosure of the nursery this is possible, but the cost is exploitive and extortionate. In the region of £130 to £200 for each person. I thought this was exploiting the animals so did not take part, but on the other hand this is a very lucrative way to supplement the poor state financing of the place. But again corruption of local officials etc who knows where the money really goes??
Overall an excellent trip and I got the photos I wanted, and the overall experience was a very good and positive one from me. But bear in mind the road problems and the choice of hotel for future clients and this is an excellent trip.
Anthony Guest took part in a Tailor-made trip to photograph the Panda’s of the Wolong Reserve in March 2007. To see our other China itineraries, please click here