Trip Report – Wonderful Bangladesh! (Peggy, Australia)
I recently returned from 2.5 weeks in Bangladesh so I thought I’d write a review and tell you about the wonderful time we had. I hope this helps other people who are planning on visiting beautiful Bangladesh. It’s quite long – so put on the kettle, make a cup of tea and get comfortable!
Firstly, I”d like to thank everyone on this forum who provides so much information. I spent so much time reading previous posts and getting prepared for my trip.
A little about myself and my travel companions – we’re three females, mid thirties from Melbourne, Australia who were travelling to Bangladesh to participate in a women’s leadership program. The program was running for 8 days, so we thought we’d spend some time travelling around Bangladesh pre/post program.
We arrived in Dhaka early afternoon on a Friday. Earlier posts had informed me that I could buy a sim card for my mobile at the airport. We simply went to the Banglalink counter after collecting our luggage, I filled in the forms and was quickly on my way with my working phone. Please note that I didn’t use my iPhone – I had brought along an older unlocked Nokia.
We had booked 2 nights at Sabrina’s Home in Banani. I called Mr Hu once we had cleared arrivals and within 15 minutes he had picked us up and we were on our way. Easy!
We spent that afternoon walking around Banani and stopped at Club Gelato to cool off. We were sweltering in the Bangladeshi sun after coming from a cold winter in Melbourne! We then walked towards the river and over the bridge which was actually quite pretty and peaceful. Quite different to what I had expected.
That evening, the wonderful Mahmud paid us a visit. What a gem of a man! I had spent so much time emailing Mahmud to get information and he always replied promptly. He really is a wonderful ambassador for Bangladesh.
After finalising our travel plans with Mahmud, he took us to Star Kebab which was delicious. The three of us absolutely love food, especially spicy food, so we had no problem quickly devouring everything Mahmud ordered!
On Saturday we got in touch with a friend of a friend who had studied in Melbourne and he offered to take us on a day trip. What a wonderful day we ended up having! We went to “Jol o Jongoler Kabbyo” in Pubail, Gazipur Region which was very peaceful and relaxing. We spent time walking around in the nature, took a boat onto the lake and ate some of the most delicious food ever. What a feast! It was also great to travel through the streets of Dhaka. We stopped in an area which had its main street covered in election paraphernalia. Naturally, we stopped in the midst of it and enjoyed the craziness.
That night we caught rickshaws to Road 11 and had dinner at Oh! Calcutta . It was nice, but I had much preferred the more rustic food we’d had during the day.
Our plan for Sunday was to go to Old Dhaka. The three of us love just walking around busy streets, soaking up the atmosphere, talking to locals and taking photos. However, there was a Hartel on that day, so our friend suggested it may not be safe to go. So, we spent the day walking around Banani again before heading off to the Pan Pacific Sonargon Hotel where we were meeting the other women in the program which was starting the next day.
The area around the Sonargon hotel was very different to Banani! But we loved it. We headed out immediately and thoroughly enjoyed the chaos and vibrancy – although it took us around 10 minutes to cross the road where that absolutely crazy roundabout is! We also went shopping and bought gorgeous Salwar Kameez which we loved wearing during our trip. So comfortable and colourful.
The next day we started our program. I won’t go into detail here about it, but I’ll quickly mention the areas and hotels we stayed at.
We spent a few days at the Sonargon, which, after sweltering in the sun all day, was a very welcome relief at the end of each day. We also flew to Jessore and then drove to Khulna. We spent a few days at the City Inn Khulna which was great. The food was delicious too. More rustic and traditional (and more delicious) than the Sonargon Hotel.
The south of Bangladesh was absolutely stunning. So lush and green. While travelling around the Khulna region for our program, we also got to visit the 60 Dome Mosque and spent a very short time strolling through the beginning of the Sunderbans. I have to say here, that we were like rock stars in South Bangladesh! Every time we got off our bus we were surrounded by people taking photos of us (well, mainly men!). It was quite entertaining.
After 8 days on our program, we ended in Dhaka and it was time for the three of us to resume our travel again. Prior to our trip, I spent a lot of time emailing Mahmud about our options for 3 -4 days of travel. Originally, we had wanted to travel on the Rocket and visit the Sunderbans, however we didn’t feel like we had enough time. Also, at the time of planning, the Rocket had broken down so we didn’t want to risk that it would still be broken when we were there.
So it was decided that we would get the overnight train to Chittagong on the day our program finished and spend two days in Rangamati. We would then fly back to Dhaka, one of the girls would depart for Melbourne, and my other friend and I would get a private car to Srimangal for 2 days.
Kind Mahmud had offered to buy us our Chittagong train tickets. Unfortunately though, he wasn’t able to secure three tickets (apparently it can be quite difficult to get train tickets). We found this out while we were in Khulna, so we just went to the travel agent at the City Inn Hotel and got the agent to book us flights to Chittagong instead. This also meant that we now had to book one night accommodation in Chittagong.
Well, booking a hotel sounds easy doesn’t it? It ended up becoming quite time consuming though! We chose a hotel from our guide book and got the agent to call them. The response from the hotel was “just tell them to turn up and if we have a room, they can have it!” There was no way we were going to turn up in Chittagong at 9pm and search for a hotel room! So, we decided to try a more expensive hotel and ended up booking 2 rooms and airport pickup. The agent faxed our flight details to them and it was settled. Or so we thought…
A few days later when we were back in Dhaka, we were having drinks with our Bangladeshi friend and we thought it would be a good idea for him to call the hotel just to make sure our booking was ok. Lucky we did! The hotel said they had no record of the booking ever having been made! So, he immediately got on to the phone and called a friend in Chittagong who knows the owners of the Ambassador Hotel. After spending 45 minutes going back and forth with phone calls, he finally confirmed with us that two rooms and airport pickup was organised. I admit, I was slightly nervous, but I felt safer knowing that we had a friend to call should we get stuck. The Ambassador hotel was great. Very friendly staff and a nice breakfast.
Mahmud had booked us a guide for 2 days in Rangamati and accommodation at the Bonorupa Tourist Inn. He had also organised our permission slips, which I was carrying with me. All we had to do was catch a bus to Rangamati the next morning. Simple yes??! Well, as we learnt in Bangladesh, nothing is every simple! Ha ha!
We got a rickshaw in the morning to the bus station (I think it was Oxygen) and one of the Ambassador staff members also came with us to make sure we were ok. That’s one thing I loved about Bangladesh – everyone was so helpful and wanted to make sure we were safe in our travels.
Well, catching the bus also proved to be difficult…but what’s a holiday without a bit of adventure??! The staff member went to buy our tickets but the ticket man refused to sell them to us. We showed our permission slips and we even called our guide and got him to speak to the ticket man. For some reason though, he still wouldn’t sell us tickets. This went on for around 45 mins and by now we were sweltering in the sun and had around 30 men standing in front of us enjoying the entertainment! We eventually called Mahmud (Mahmud to the rescue again!) and it was organised that we would get a different bus from another station. However, that bus ended up being with no air-con and after being in the sun for so long, there was so way we were spending 4 hours in a non air-con bus! So, we ended up organising a private car through the hotel for $10 each. A lot more expensive that the bus, but considering it costs me $25 to get a taxi for 7km in Melbourne, I wasn’t going to complain about $10 for a 4 hour drive! So, finally we were on our way to Rangamati. We stopped at the security area, filled in a form and then met our guide Mr Ahmed at Bonorupa.
We had the entire hotel to ourselves. Apparently there had been some troubles in Rangamati a week earlier, so it was very quiet. Rangamati is such a pretty town. We spent the afternoon shopping for Chakma village outfits for gifts and also went to the Buddhist temple. That night we ate at the Parjatan Hotel and again, we were the only people there. The meal was delicious, but it just felt strange being the only people in a massive hall-like room.
The next morning we went to the tribal market which for me, was one of the highlights of the trip. There was so much atmosphere and the stall holders loved having their photos taken and showing off their produce. I was slightly sickened by the meat hanging around though!
One of the best things a visitor to Bangladesh can do (well, to any country) is learn a few phrases in the local language. We always made sure we called out Asalam Walaikum to people (or nomoshkar to Hindus) and that made it much easier to start an interaction with them.
We then got on a boat and spent the next couple of hours peacefully meandering around Kaptai Lake. It was so relaxing after our physically and emotionally draining leadership program. Our boat steerer was a beautiful young man who sang Bangladeshi songs in such a sweet voice. It was heavenly lying on our backs on the boat while he sang away.
Unfortunately though, due to the recent problems in the area we weren’t allowed to visit the tribal villages. I did get to experience one of my ‘must-dos’ though – sitting on top of a bus! I did make sure it was stationary though as I didn’t want to end up in some random village!
One of my favourite eateries in Rangamati was a tiny restaurant next door to Bonorupa. We had our breakfast there each day. Extremely cheap and onek moja!
The next morning we headed off for Chittagong with our private driver. When I think back to our drive to Chittagong it always makes me laugh…we nicknamed our driver “Jism Driver”…I’ll explain why! As you’re all aware, driving is chaotic in Bangladesh. So there we were, on our way back to Chittagong with a crazy driver…it was absolutely pouring rain, there were buses coming head on to us, we were dodging cows and goats in the middle of the street, all while the driver was playing clips from the Bollywood “Jism” movies on his little tv screen! Now, I’m not sure if any of you are aware of the Jism movies, but the clips are very….how should I put it…well, quite pornographic for a private driver to have on tv with three girls in the car! So we were screaming from fear at the driving and laughing like crazy at these ridiculous clips at the same time. What an adventure! Now, any time we’re bored at work, all we have to do is email the words “Jism Driver” to eachother and it sends us into fits of laughter!
When we arrived in Dhaka one of the girls ended up leaving for Melbourne and myself and remaining friend were supposed to get a private car to Srimingal. However, my friend was becoming quite ill, so we decided it would be best to remain at the Sonargon and relax a bit. It’s a shame we had to cancel our trip to Srimingal, but it’s definitely better to listen to your body and give it a rest when need be. We ended up really enjoying our time in Dhaka though.
We spent the following day recovering by the pool at Sonargon. That night we met up with some other wonderful friends who we had met on our program and had dinner at El Toro which was great.
We also went to the opening of Gloria Jean’s cafe afterwards.
The next day (our final full day in Dhaka) was set aside for Old Dhaka. We started off with a visit to the Liberation War Museum which we thoroughly enjoyed. After that we started walking towards Old Dhaka. Well, it took us a while to figure out where we were after coming out of the museum! Dhaka doesn’t seem to have any street signs and when you’re trying to locate yourself on the Lonely Planet Guide map, it doesn’t seem to work! Eventually we walked past the Supreme Court and we got our bearings. We stopped for a short rest at Curzon Hall which had such stunning architecture. Sitting in the peaceful gardens there and watching rickshaws riding up and down seemed so romantic. I felt like I had been transported to another time. Of course, as soon as we sat down we were surrounded my students wanting to practice their English and asking us questions about whether we have “love marriages”!
Old Dhaka was crazy…and we loved it! We walked towards Hindu St, always making sure we had a point of reference so as to not get lost in the tiny streets. We had some very close calls with rickshaws almost running over our feet! Old Dhaka really is an attack on all your senses! We found a shop which sold rickshaw art and bought a few fabulous pieces for around 400tk each I think.
Once again, when trying to get back to the hotel, the wonderful people of Bangladesh really looked after us. As soon as an English speaker saw us trying to wave down a CNG, he came over and said he’d do it for us. It was around 5pm and extremely busy and it took him around 20 mins to find a CNG for us. But he stayed with us the entire time and made sure everything was confirmed with the driver before we left. That would never happen in Melbourne.
After another fabulous dinner with friends at Bar-B-Q Tonight, we reached the end of our trip. We were so sad.
So, that’s the end of my trip report. I really want to visit Bangladesh again and get out to the tea regions and have a trip on the Rocket.
If you’ve made it to this point, well done and thank you!
I’ve also got a link to my photos. I won’t take credit for all them though – some of them (the better ones!) are from my travel companion.
Thank you again to Mahmud and everyone else who made our trip so enjoyable.
Link : http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2282937