Luckily, from the moment I stepped inside, I could tell this was more than just a zoo. There were lakes and gardens and wide walkways, lined with bamboo. There was even a museum that informed visitors of the history of giant pandas and of conservation efforts. But of course, I had come to see the pandas. What were they like?
The more I travel, the less I like zoos. The magic of seeing animals in cages is gone, especially when said cages are far too small for the megafauna they're housing. So it was with much reservation that I decided to visit the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, China. I just couldn't resist the draw of so many pandas in one place.
There were no cockroaches on my overnight train ride to Lau Cai, on the Chinese border. As soon as I stepped off the train, I, along with every other passenger, was hounded by bus drivers looking to take us to Sapa. I bargained one driver from 100,000 dong to 50,000. He put his index finger over his lips and said, “Shh” as I paid him. Apparently he didn't want me to tell any of the other passengers that they had gotten ripped off. Or maybe they had paid even less than I had, and the driver didn't want me to find out. In Vietnam, one never knows.