One fun fact about me is that ever since I was seven years old, pandas have been my favorite animals (followed by koalas, then monkeys). Knowing that panda bears are an endangered species, I never assumed I could just go to a zoo and see one. Furthermore, I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico, so the closest zoo with pandas would be the San Diego Zoo. As far as I am aware, only four zoos in the United States house the giant panda. Being that I unfortunately do not travel much within the United States, seeing a panda in person was always on my bucket list, but never something I believed would happen in any foreseeable future.
Therefore, you must understand my excitement when one of my best friends here in Amsterdam told me about a zoo she went to with her boyfriend in which she saw panda bears. From the moment I learned about their existence here in the Netherlands, I knew I had to be there. I began doing some preliminary research and realized that the two pandas living together in that zoo were in fact the only two giant pandas in the Netherlands. Well, let me correct myself, as there are now three, given that one of the pandas gave birth to a cub in 2020.
After having held it off for some time, I decided on a day to head over to the zoo. Now, you might we wonder why I decided to hold it off? The reason for that was because the zoo was not even in Amsterdam. To get to the zoo, I had to take a 20-minute train to the city of Utrecht. From there, I would have to take another 40-minute train to the small town of Rhenen. The trip there was what was keeping me from doing it, but after realizing I was literally taking 3-hour long trains to get to the other side of the country, then I could make this trip too. Therefore, I went to the town of Rhenen and walked for about 10 minutes to the zoo, which was conveniently down the road.
When I got to the zoo, I paid for my tickets and went inside. I saw strange birds with oddly shaped heads; clearly bird species I had never known about. I saw ring-tailed lemurs (yes, like King Julien), and many kinds of interesting new fish. Obviously, I saw the very general zoo animals, such as elephants, flamingoes, giraffes, etc. I also got to see brown bears, polar bears, gorillas, parrots, and even the red panda (fun fact, they have no relation to the black and white pandas). Despite being able to see all these amazing animals, the highlight of my experience at this zoo was, of course, seeing the giant panda.
As I mentioned before, this zoo had two pandas, named Xing Ya and Wu Wen. I did not have a map of the zoo, so I did not know the exact location of the pandas. However, as I was walking, I saw a very traditional red Chinese temple, and I immediately knew that I had found them. These pandas were the most adorable and playful creatures I had ever seen in my entire life. I even got a video of one of the pandas jumping onto the other’s back, as if it were giving it a hug. I stayed at the panda area for about 15 minutes, because I could not get enough. I wanted to watch them play and eat all day. Another great thing about my visit was that the zoo was empty. I think that in the 4 hours I spent at the beach, I saw maybe 4 or 5 other guests. I was walking around and not seeing anyone except for some workers. After spending a lot of time at the zoo, I was informed that they were in fact closing for the day. Unfortunately, it began to rain as I was walking back to the train station. So much so to the point that the train was cancelled, so I had to wait for quite a bit until the next train came. Fortunately, the rain did not last long, so I promptly made it back home. This was the best zoo experience I have ever had, and I am so happy to have been able to mark seeing pandas off my bucket list.