Trip Report: Three Days In Bangladesh

Reply

Nov 11th, 2018, 02:24 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 64
Trip Report: Three Days In Bangladesh

We spent three full days in Bangladesh as part of a two-plus week trip in South Asia. In short, Bangladesh is lacking in world-class tourist sites, but it's so far off the tourist trail that it offers amazing experiences with friendly and helpful locals. What follows are some trip notes with practical information for those planning a trip to Bangladesh, rather than a diary-style trip report.

OUR BASIC ITINERARY

Day 0: HKG-DAC, on Cathay Dragon (KA), departing 10:55pm and arriving at 1am, overnight in Dhaka (Hotel 71)

Day 1: Sightseeing in Dhaka; overnight on the Rocket Steamer Cruise (departing Dhaka at 6:30pm)

Day 2: Arrival in Hularhat at 10am; Hularhat to Bagerhat (for sightseeing) to Khulna to Jessore; JSR (Jessore) - DAC on Novoair (VQ), departing at 7:20pm and arriving at 8pm, overnight in Dhaka (Hotel Air Inn)

Day 3: Full day of sightseeing in Dhaka, overnight in Dhaka (Hotel Air Inn)

Day 4: DAC-KTM on Biman (BG) departing at 10:30am

***

THE PEOPLE OF BANGLADESH

The people are the true highlight of Bangladesh. They're right up there among the most hospitable people in my travels to ~90 countries. Genuine hospitality and friendliness from almost everyone you'll meet.

As an example of the people, at the Hindu temple, we started talking to an older guy in a suit. It turned out that he is a lawyer (like me), and his office is at the Bangladesh Supreme Court and he was a former Assistant Attorney General. He offered to take us to the Supreme Court to show us around. While it may have been dumb in principle to get in a car with a stranger, we went with him and his driver to the Court. He gave us a tour of the Court and his chambers, bought us lunch (and refused to let us pay), and even had his driver take us back to our hotel.

During our other day in Dhaka, we met another lawyer randomly walking around the streets. He struck up a conversation, and then took around town, showed us various sites, bought us sweets and tea and dinner (and wouldn't let us pay), took us to meet his brother at his homeopathic pharmacy store, and took us to meet his co-workers in his law office.

In just 1.5 days in Dhaka, these are the kind of interactions we had with the locals. Simply amazing. You'll get this in very few places in the world in such a short amount of time.

Tons of people came up to us and wanted to meet us and wanted absolutely nothing from us. A big change from the usual place where a white person is seen as nothing but a walking dollar sign and one needs a skeptical approach to anyone who seems nice at first. Anyone who spoke halfway decent English would ask if we needed any help or they could assist us find something; the ones who didn't know any English just said hello or welcome. Most locals we met seemed like they'd never met a white person before. We got tons of requests for selfies, which is a great ice breaker. Though, all the selfies get tiring after a while.

There are almost no Western tourists in Bangladesh. There were a few Westerners on our flight, but they seemed to all be traveling for business. As an example, one guy we talked to has a clothing company and makes his clothing (runs sweat shops?) in Dhaka. Other than on our flight, the only Westerners we saw were the two folks on our Rocket Steamer cruise.

Out of precaution, we did tell almost everyone we met that we were Canadian. We are proud Americans and in no way ashamed of our country, but I've found this to be a good and necessary safety measure in many countries. We'd chuckle when the many people told us that they love "our" PM Trudeau or ask us if we could help them get a visa to "our" country.

CHOOSING WHAT TO SEE IN BANGLADESH

- One full day is plenty to see the major sites in Dhaka. We basically had 1.5 days -- 1 full day plus a day where we started late due to a late arrival and had to end early to make our Rocket Steamer boat. We easily saw the tourist highlights, and had plenty of time to walk around and explore the bazaars and the bustling waterfront and to make friends with the locals.

- We decided to skip the Sundarbans, which seems to be one of the few major tourist destinations in Bangladesh. We've seen mangrove forests in Florida and had read that tiger sightings are extremely rare. The Sundarbans and the Barisol backwaters seemed okay on paper, but the idea didn't wow us. So, we thought spending several days of a short vacation in the Sundarbans wasn't worth the time and the effort.

DHAKA SITES

- Lalbagh Fort. This is the headline site in Dhaka, but that's not saying much. It's an old Mughal fort that isn't in the best condition. While the fort itself is just okay, the highlight is that it's a great opportunity to interact with the locals. The fort is an oasis from the noisy and crowded city, and it seems like the more sophisticated locals come to the fort for hanging out, relaxation or dating. Note that the fort is closed on Sundays, and also doesn't open on Monday until 2pm; all the sites in Dhaka have weird and inconsistent opening times, so do your homework.

- Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque. An old Mughal-style mosque just a few minutes away from the fort. It's small, but worth a stop to see the old architecture while you're nearby. While most Bangladeshis are amazingly hospitable, we were a bit uncomfortable here and at the Star Mosque; a bad apple or two would try to send us away ("prayer time soon," "women not allowed," etc.) but then a nice young person who spoke some English would warmly welcome us and tell them to leave us alone.

- Dhakeshwari Temple. A Hindu temple, and quite small for being the "national" Hindu temple. The temple itself is nothing special, but it's great for people watching and chance to interact with them.

- Star Mosque. A rather interesting and unique mosque, though small. We've seen many a mosque, and the "star" decorations were kind of cool. And the tiling inside was beautiful.

- Armenian Church. Not the most impressive-looking church in the world, but interesting for what it is (an Armenian church in Bangladesh). A very nice Hindu caretaker lives on the grounds with his family. He showed us around; he even invited us for a meal, but we didn't have time and politely declined many times.

- Ahsan Manzil (Pink Palace). Probably the best "site" in Dhaka, along with Lalbagh Fort. The palace was occupied by an elite Dhaka family (the Nawaz) in the late 1800s. The history was fairly interesting, and the grounds and interior are surprisingly well restored and taken care of.

- Sadarghat River Ports. Great spot for people watching and photography. Tons of action on/near the ports, and at the nearby markets. Lots of hustle bustle and commerce going on, and very colorful.

THE ROCKET STEAMER CRUISE

Our overnight Rocket Steamer cruise was very relaxing and enjoyable. This is said to be one of the highlights of Bangladesh, and we're glad we did it.

It's fun to cruise down the river on a 100-year old boat and see life along the river. The scenery is very pretty; it looks a lot like the river scenery along the Mekong in Vietnam. Seeing the old British steam engines in operation was very cool. Interacting with the locals in third class (who sleep right out on the deck, rather in cabins) was fun as well.

We paid $80 total ($40/pp) for a twin cabin in first class. We bought our tickets through "Ontu" ( trip2bangladesh.com Trip to Bangladesh ). The face value of the tickets was something like $50-55, but they sell out well in advance. So, we decided to pay the premium and not take any chances. Plus, someone has to go and get the tickets and then deliver them to our hotel. Other tour agencies charged similar prices for the tickets, but there were lots of reports online about people successfully obtaining the tickets from Ontu. We'd recommend using Ontu to get your tickets.

A first class cabin has two twin beds. The beds are comfortable enough for a night, and the cabin was fairly clean. The AC worked well. There are 3 or 4 shared bathrooms for all of first class, and they gave us the key for one of them to use as our own because my wife was the only woman in first class. There is a sink in the room, but no shower. The bathrooms have very basic showers, but we passed on the shower because it seemed like the sort of third-world shower that would make you more dirty than clean.

First class has its own private viewing deck at the front of the ship, which is very peaceful. We also climbed up to the top of the ship and took in views and photos from the bridge.

There were two other Western tourists on the ship. These were the only other Western tourists we saw during our entire time in Bangladesh. There were several Bangladeshi locals in first class, including a journalist who spoke decent English and made friends with us Westerners.

Food is not included, and was a bit of a scam. The food was cold, tasteless and small portioned. The first class attendant told us that dinner was 200 taka and breakfast was 100 taka. He gave us the bill in the morning, and dinner was billed as 250 taka and breakfast was billed as 100 taka plus 30 taka for bananas plus 10 for chai (tea). I inquired, and he told me that dinner was 250 rather than 200 because it was "special dinner," and that tea and bananas were somehow "extra" even though they were automatically served to everyone as part of the breakfast. Obviously that's all BS. We conferred with one of the other Western tourists on the cruise, and they were upset that the attendant had pulled the same BS on them. I don't like getting ripped off and ordinarily would have fought with attendant over the ~$2 out of principle, but I figured those extra taka can serve as his tip since he gave my wife her own bathroom. When he wanted a tip at departure time, I tried explaining to him that I'd already overpaid him for the meals and that he can consider that his tip. But he didn't seem to get the concept. We almost surely would have tipped him more than the amount by which he ripped his off, but his loss. I kind of wished I called him out on his BS so he doesn't keep doing this to other tourists, but I'm sure he would continue pulling this on other tourists even if I refused to go along with it.

BAGERHAT & KHULNA

The old mosque city of Bagerhat was our main destination following our Rocket Steamer cruise.

We arranged for Ontu to have a driver pick us up from the Rocket Steamer at 10am, take us to see Bagerhat, and then drop us off in Khulna so we could take the Novoair shuttle to Jessore. We paid Ontu $80 for this.

Our visit to Bagerhat was cut short due to a 2-day nationwide transit strike. We were only able to see the 60 Dome Mosque and the Khan Jahan Ali shrine. The mosque was somewhat cool, but not wowing. The shrine was nothing special, and several annoying characters were hassling us for money.

While we missed several other mosques in Bagerhat due to the strike, Bagerhat struck us as just okay. Thankfully, we didn't take the Rocket Steamer cruise *to* visit Bagerhat. The Rocket Steamer was the main event, and Bagerhat was something that seemed worth seeing while we were there already.

We had a couple hours to walk around and explore Khulna. It's the third largest city in the country, and we had fun walking around and meeting the locals and seeing the markets.

Due to the strike, the Novoair shuttle from Khuna to Jessore airport was not running. Ontu arranged for a friend of a friend (who was going from Khulna to Jessore with his family) to take us on the train from Khulna to Jessore. The train was standing room only due to the strike, but a local man generously gave his seat to my wife. And then another local insisted I take his seat -- and repeatedly insisted that I sit there and wouldn't back down until I sat there. Ontu's friend of friend even went with us in a tuk-tuk from the Jessore train station to the airport to make sure we got there safely.

*Major* credit to Ontu for figuring out how to get us to Jessore in time to make our flight back to Dhaka; one of the other Westerners on our cruise was stranded in Hularhat for 2 days due to the strike.

VISA & ARRIVAL

Visa on Arrival was $51 for US citizens. We were first in line to pay the fee, and quickly paid our money to the money man. He quickly handed us a receipt and sent us to the VOA line. The officer at the VOA line was a braindead tortoise and took about 20 minutes to process us and kept asking us for the same info/documents over and over. He handed us our passports and told us to wait in the foreigner arrivals lines. There were about 5 foreigner arrivals lines, and they were all moving extremely slowly. After about 20 minutes of waiting, we noticed a few people seemed to be walking right past the foreigner arrivals lines into the baggage claim area without getting stamped in. We asked an officer if we had to wait, and he looked at our passports and motioned for us to proceed to baggage claim. I guess the VOA means you're already stamped into the country and can walk right past the arrivals lines, and the braindead tortoise erroneously directed us to arrivals lines. So, protip: once you get your VOA, you can exit immigration and don't need to stand in the foreigner arrivals line.

FLIGHTS

- HKG-DAC on Cathay Dragon (KA). We flew Y on an AA award (LAX-HKG-DAC). The flight schedule is annoying; the 1am arrival in DAC is the only flight of the day. The only other routing on Oneworld was LAX-DOH-DAC, and the schedules were even worse. The flight was almost empty, and we each had our own row of 4 seats on the 2-4-2 configuration. We slept almost the entire flight, but the KA service seemed fine.

- JSR (Jessore) - DAC on Novoair (VQ). $31/pp for a o/w was great for an hour-long internal flight. Several carriers fly this route, and Novoair seemed to have the best safety record. US-Bangala also flies the route, but they lost a plane in March so we opted to avoid them. JSR was a nice little airport. The flight was perfectly satisfactory.

- DAC-KTM on Biman (BG). $160/pp for the o/w in Y. The flight was perfectly satisfactory.

HOTELS

Note: Choose your hotel location carefully in Dhaka based on your plans. Traffic is a nightmare. We had two separate stays in Dhaka (1 night in Dhaka, followed by the overnight Rocket Steamer, followed by two nights in Dhaka). For the first stay, we wanted to be near the tourist sites and the boat port. For the second stay, we chose an airport hotel because we had a morning flight and didn't want to have to wake up 2 hours earlier to sit in morning rush hour traffic before the flight.

- Hotel 71, Dhaka. A very impressive third-world 3*; highly recommended. We paid $51, booked directly with the hotel via email. Location as convenient as you'll get to Old Dhaka and the major tourist sites. Room was huge, bed was comfortable, shower had good pressure and good hot water, room was clean, free buffet breakfast was great.

- Richmond Hotel, Dhaka Airport. SCAMMERS - AVOID. We booked with this hotel directly by email. They had tons of great reviews on TA and seemed like the best choice of a 3* airport hotel. They were professional over email and even sent an invoice by PDF. A free airport pick-up was included. The pick-up didn't show, and we called their phone number. They said they'd send someone. We were picked up by a van and taken to an airport hotel that wasn't the Richmond Hotel. The man at this other hotel told us that the Richmond Hotel had closed, and that its phones are being routed to his hotel. (While this seemed fishy, he drove us by the Richmond Hotel and showed us that it actually was boarded up.) This man's hotel was a dump, and the man was nice didn't pressure us to stay there. He offered to help us find a different hotel based on our price range, and we looked hotels up online from his lobby. It was late and we were tired, and he had his van drive us to the Hotel Air inn, which seemed like the least bad choice. I totally blame the Richmond Inn for not notifying us that our booking was cancelled.

- Hotel Air Inn, Dhaka Airport. We chose this hotel out of desperation (see above re Richmond Hotel). None of the mid-range airport hotels we found in our emergency research had great reviews. We negotiated and paid about $45. The hotel was fairly depressing, and the worst part was that there were tons of mosquitos in the room which we couldn't do anything about.

FOOD

The food was very good. Bangladeshi food is pretty similar to Northern Indian food. If you like Indian food, you'll like Bangladeshi food. The sweets are really yummy, too.

Food is very cheap. Street food snacks and sweets are pennies. A meal in a local restaurant will cost you a dollar or two per person.

We were very careful about what we ate, obeying the usual health precautions like no raw fruits/veggies, nothing with tap water or ice, only eat at places with lots of customers, etc. Thankfully, we had no problems.

We went slightly out of our way to try Haji Biryani, which is supposed to be the "most famous" biryani in the country. It wasn't anything special.

GETTING AROUND DHAKA

Getting around Dhaka is cheap, safe and hassle-free with Uber. If you don't have free international data, it's easily worth it to buy a cheap local SIM card just so you can use Uber and not have to deal with taxis trying to rip off foreigners. As an example, Hotel 71 wanted $20 for an airport pickup, and Uber turned out to be $6-7.

If you're going short distances, especially to/from/around Old Dhaka, it's usually much quicker in the horrid Dhaka traffic to take a tuk-tuk than an Uber car. In Bangladesh, tuk-tuks are called "sengee," apparently from CNG.

Unfortunately, tuk-tuks aren't bookable on Uber like in some other countries in South Asia. With the tuk-tuks, ask the locals what the real price is and negotiate hard. They're not really used to ripping off tourists, so most of them were easy to deal with. If one tried to gouge us and wouldn't come way down quickly, we wouldn't even waste our time and would just shoo them away and deal with another one.

So, you're best to use a combination of Uber for longer rides and tuk-tuks for shorter rides.

MISCELLANEOUS

- Money: The ATM at DAC worked fine. One hotel took credit card; the other did not.

- Air pollution is pretty awful in Dhaka. Bring a respirator, especially if you plan on sitting in tuk tuks.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 11th, 2018, 10:58 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,527
Thanks for posting this report, as we rarely get reports on Bangladesh.

Last edited by Moderator2; Nov 11th, 2018 at 03:30 PM. Reason: to correct typo, at the request of the OP
Kathie is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 11th, 2018, 01:22 PM
  #3
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,115
Interesting.
Marija is offline  
Reply With Quote
Nov 11th, 2018, 03:30 PM
  #4
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,034
Sounds like the sort of place we would love. Am very tempted just to buy a ticket and go! Thanks for sharing in such detail.
crellston is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:09 AM.