Following on from the Bangladesh travel preparation blog, here are the notes I made from what I read before the trip, and some comments I made in italics from after the trip if applicable. Most points I researched were accurate, although prices were often higher. After this is my initial plan, which I didn’t completely follow, as I just did as I thought best at the time.
Seat 61 –
- Consider 2nd class trains for daytime as view is better. True, the window can be opened, and thus you can take much better photos than through the smeared and dirty first class sealed windows. But insects and dust come in, too. In the air-con carriage it is less noisy (although one could hardly say quiet) and you can listen to your music or podcasts, but with the windows open in second class it is too noisy to listen to anything.
- Either class, the toilets are disgusting. I would drink as little as possible before riding the train, and drink a lot after disembarking to make up.
- Climate: There are six seasons in a year: Winter (Dec-Jan), Spring (Feb-Mar), Summer (Apr-May), …
- 5* hotels only 3*. No star filthy – where I travelled there were mostly no 5 star hotels. Hotels are generally more expensive for the quality than south-east Asia, but five-star very expensive and poor value. I basically tried to get a room which is as clean as possible, with 1. air-con (sure, to keep cool, but also so the room was sealed so that mosquitoes were not a problem, and also dehumidified so that my washing would dry) 2. Western-style toilet 3. Hot water 4. WiFi Hot water was sometimes impossible to get, but the others I could, with the exception of no WiFi in Srimangal. In Srimangal I used the mobile Internet on the phone SIM I’d got from Grameenphone (see below).
- Visa on arrival USD$50 – but confirm beforehand – Actually $51
High Commission For The People Republic of Bangladesh
Block 1, Lorong Damai 7, Jalan Damai,
55000, Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: 03 2148 7490
Fax: 03 2141 3381 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org I don’t think this email worked. Anyway, they didn’t reply to email. Penang has an office, but they can’t help with visa information. The only way that worked was to phone: Mr Shahin, High Commission KL- direct- 0342510146 – for visa questions. (See also my note below on what actually happens when you arrive.)
- Don’t catch buses, rickshaws etc. Maybe you can avoid buses and just catch trains and boats – it depends on where you go. Unless you fly in and out of Cox’s Bazar you are going to have to catch a bus. Green Line seems the best. A coach rather than a bus. The vehicle is still a bit dodgy, but in better condition and with a lot more legroom. Our driver was mostly sane, and much more so than many bus drivers I saw. And well, you have to catch rickshaws if you want to get around. Or spend double on CNG’s. Driving dangerous – and never at night. Having said which, walking is not good either. I would only catch a bus if no train is available, and certainly not at night. As for walking, yes, you have to be careful.
- Train: – Trains are generally comfortable, with more leg room than buses. Not much more leg room – my coach was a lot better in this respect. Though the carriages are generally not very clean, the AC and 1st class seats are manageable. Sulob class is the highest 2nd class ticket, with reserved seating and not much different from 1st class (except in price). Kamlapur Rail Station in Dhaka is large and modern. It serves all major cities but due to the existence of broad gauge and meter gauge tracks around the country it may be required to change trains en route. Almost all signs are in Bengali – the only way I could get any information was to ask a station employee – they were helpful and knew what to do, what was happening etc. Keep your train ticket as they check them on board, and collect them when you leave the station.
- Boat:There are over 230 mighty and small rivers throughout the country, and boats and ferries are an integral part of travel for locals and tourists alike. A journey along the river in any mode is probably the best way to see Bangladesh. There are a number of private tour operators offering river sightseeing trips of various lengths, or using the ferries to get between cities is a great way to see the country at a moderate pace. The Rocket Steamer service connects Dhaka and Khulna via Barisal, and is a fantastic way to enjoy riverine Bangladesh, for those who prefer the scenic route. The 4 ferries are operated by BIWTC  and run several times per week in each direction. It’s advisable to book several days in advance if possible. While there are several different classes it’s unlikely that you will end up in anything but 1st or 2nd class.
- Tipping 7% in upscale places – I think tipping is more expected even in less salubrious hotels, restaurants etc.now.
- Mosquitos can be a problem – I sprayed the hotel room early evening and again later in the evening – hotels have the spray – and then tried to squash any remaining mosquitos that appeared. Otherwise I put on repellant when I thought it advisable.
- Mobile phones are a better bet and widely available. In most towns they’ll be your only option, and many shop owners let theirs double as PCO’s / ISD’s. Banglalink  and Grameenphone  are the most widely available, followed by Citycell , Robi , Teletalk  and Airtel . Except Citycell all work on the GSM network and offer prepaid packages at reasonable prices – usually about Tk 140 ($2) to get started. International calls are possible, and often more reasonably priced than you would expect if you’re calling the US or major European countries although prices can rise drastically as you get more off the beaten path. E-ISD facility offered by different mobile phone service providers can reduce the cost significantly. For the E-ISD service dial 012 instead of 00/+. I got a SIM card and Internet (called Flexiload) from Grameenphone at Dhaka Airport on arrival, and the coverage even in the middle of nowhere was between OK to excellent. Their desk is just outside the Immigration counters (and before you go through Customs) and near ATM’s so you can first get cash, and next your SIM. They speak English well. For 1GB of Internet and the SIM and airtime I paid TK1065. I had plenty left over after one week of use. To check your phone balance dial *566# To check your Internet balance dial 121 and follow the instructions. I think you choose option 2, then 2, then 1. I was very happy with Grameenphone.
- Clothing. Shorts are only for boys. Trousers and shirt for men. So that is what I wore. Some young men wore jeans, and occasionally t-shirts, though.
- Coffee is — like the rest of the world, a perennial middle-class ‘Adda’ (gossip) accompaniment in this city. In most places instant coffee will be the best you can find. I never came across good coffee. Best stick to tea.
- Tea is everywhere. Ask for red tea if you do not want milk. True.
- Fruit juices are plentiful, varied and delicious, though be wary of watered down or icy drinks and dirty blenders. Raw sugarcane juice is widely available during the hot season, and usually a safe, sanitary bet. Other safe bets are coconuts, popular in the southeast tourists spots like Cox’s Bazar and Saint Martins Island. I stuck to tea and bottled water as I didn’t want to risk local water. I had no stomach problems for the whole trip.
- Internet is available in most of the larger towns, with prices hovering around Tk 15-20/hour. Most are on broadband connections, but speed does not meet international standards. WiMAX service is now available from some internet service providers. You can also find Wi-Fi connectivity in some places around the big cities. I generally found the hotels had WiFi.
- Internet calls may be possible, though the Information Ministry has outlawed them. I used both Skype and Viber over hotel WiFi with no problem.
- Eating: Bangladesh is a fish lover’s paradise. The Hilsa has a nice flavour but some may find the many fine bones difficult to manage; Mutton is also popular, as in most Muslim countries, as is decidedly lean or hard chicken. Rice is almost always the staple side dish.
- Mixed vegetable curries are plentiful – potato, eggplant, squash and tomatoes are the staple ingredients. Gourds, tubers and certain root vegetables are common. In the major cities (Dhaka, Chittagong, etc.), you will find a larger variety of vegetables than in rural areas.
- Dal is usually a given side dish or meal course for all households- whereas most Indian dal is more like thick stew, most Bangladeshi dal is more like light soup or broth. Dal recipes vary regionally in Bangladesh, so be careful not to over-generalize after a brief experience.
- Boiled eggs (dhim) are a popular snack (Tk 3-5), and fresh fruit is abundant, such as bananas (Tk 2/ea), apples (Chinese, Tk 80-100/kg), oranges, grapes, pomegranates and papayas. Delicious and diverse, mangos (Tk 50-150/kg) are a very popular fruit throughout Bangladesh.
- Fast food restaurants and bakeries serving burgers, kababs, spring rolls, vegetable patties and just about anything else you can throw in a deep fryer are dotted around most cities. Most items will run around Tk 10/each.Bangladesh also has international fast food chains like Pizza Hut, KFC, A&W, Nando’s, Tekiya.
- To enjoy the tastes of Dhaka one needs to go to old Dhaka. The Haji biriyani, Nanna biriyani are a must. Also Al Razzak restaurant is famous for its Shahi food. To savour local food one must go to Korai Gost at Dhanmondi Satmosjid road, Kasturi restaurant at Gulshan & Purana Paltan area. No one should leave Bangladesh without tasting the Phuchka and Chatpati available in the streets of Dhaka,Chittagong. Also there are loads of Chinese and Thai restaurants in Bangladesh which serve localized chinese and thai dishes.Bailey road in Dhaka is the unofficial food street of the nation followed by Satmoshjid Road.Dhaka also has Japanese, Korean and Indian restaurants located mostly in Gulshan area. For world class Ice creams do visit Moven pick, Club gelato in Gulshan. To taste Kebab, Barbecue tonight in Dhanmondi is the best followed by Koyla in Gulshan.
- Most Bangladeshis eat with their right hand as in neighboring countries. Never use your left hand to bring food to your mouth, though it’s ok to use it for bringing a glass to your mouth or to serve food from a common dish with a spoon. Every restaurant will have a handwashing station (sometimes just a pitcher of water and a bowl if they don’t have running water), and you should use this before and after the meal. To eat with your hand, rake in a little portion of the rice and a bit of the curry to an open space on your plate (usually create a bit of space on the side of the plate closest to you, sufficiently inward from the rim but NOT in the centre of the plate), and mix the rice and curry with your fingers. Then, create a little ball or mound (it should be compact and modestly sized, but does not need to be perfectly shaped or anything–function over form!) of the mixture and pick it up with all your fingers, and scoop in into your mouth. Your fingers should not enter your mouth in the process, and your upper fingers and palms should not get dirty either. Only toddlers and foreigners/tourists are exempted from these rules. It doesn’t matter a whole lot if you don’t get it all exactly right, but know that the entire restaurant is watching and waiting to see if you do. Attempting to eat with your hands and failing miserably will raise many a smile. The use of cutlery (except serving spoons for common dishes) is lacking in rural areas and poorer households, and only basic cutlery of spoons, or sometimes a fork is sometimes available in urban restaurants and more Westernised, urban households. However, the use of hands is a more humble and culturally respectful gesture, especially from a tourist. Food was delicious and cheap. I drank only tea or bottled water, and avoided uncooked vegetables and cut fruit. All restaurants had utensils and paper napkins, and a washing station with running water – but often no soap, so take your own. I ate only fruit I could peel myself, having washed my hands first.
- Table-sharing is acceptable and even expected in most establishments, with the exception of nicer urban restaurants. Many places have separate curtained-off booths for women and families, a nice reprieve from prying eyes.
- HSBC ATMs are located at most hotels but accept only Visa debit/credit cards and HSBC GlobalAccess™ cards (no MasterCard). I am not sure if this was correct.
- Shopping:Bangladesh is one of the largest ready-made garment manufacturers in the world, exporting clothing for famous brands such as Nike, Adidas and Levis. Though these products are usually not meant for sale in the local markets, they can be found in abundance in famous shopping areas such as Banga Bazaar and Dhaka College. In most stores, prices are not fixed. Even most stores that display ‘fixed-price’ label tolerate bargaining. Prices can thus be lowered quite considerably. If bargaining is not your strong point ask a local in the vicinity politely what they think you should pay. Besides there are loads of handicraft, boutique shops. There are lots of shopping malls in and around Dhaka and Chittagong. Foreigners will usually be changed a higher cost, however you will not usually be priced gouged, with what you are changed usually being only slightly more than what the locals would pay, with the difference for small items often being only a matter of a few US cents.
- Aarong is one of the largest and most popular handicraft and clothing outlets with stores in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Khulna. It’s a great place for souvenirs or to pick up a stylish kurta or salwar kameez at fixed prices.
Lonely Planet (2012 edition) –
- MAR – NOV = GO TO Sylhet – tea picking – Tanguar Haor = birds – cycling in this division
- Taxi from airport Tk500 – fixed rate booth to Banani, North Dhaka, CNG 150
- Take – hat, sunglasses, torch, sleeping sheet, mosquito repellant, emergency USD, toilet paper, passport photo & passport copy for SIM purchase, antibiotics? p 593
- can buy internet usuage = 1GB = Tk350. top up = flexi-load. Grameenphone photocopied my passport, so I didn’t need a copy, but I did need the photo.
- Rocket – boat. Go to main ghat – Sadarghat – in DAC early-mid afternoon to bag a cabin on an evening boat. If overcrowded don’t board.
- Tour operators – p101
- Dhaka = good biryani & kebabs. I saw them in most places.
- Old Dhaka. Hotels – p139
- lal cha (no milk) chini na (no sugar) – for tea. Often they didn’t understand my pronunciation.
- Can buy sim when exit customs at airport – grameenphone.com – pay so as to get change. As mentioned above, the desk is after Immigration but before Customs.
- ATM’s – HSBC, Standard Chartered – I didn’t see them, but I found ATM that worked anyway. I saw plenty of ATM’s around the country where I went.
- United is best airline 8854769. Still pretty shabby, though. I caught it to Cox’s Bazar.
- (From a Japanese blog) Train station at airport – have to walk along tracks to get there – have to find ticket booth – and they have no change
- ATM at airport – so then buy stuff to get change. Buying the SIM gave me change.
- White House Hotel in DAC OK. (From Lonely Planet & a Japanese blog)
- p427 Train from Dhaka to Sylhet goes thru Srimangel – which is the best spot for cycling, tea plantations etc. I spent a couple of nights here and rented a bicycle.
- Tour companies p542
- “bus Stand” = bus station. Say destination name and bus stand to rickshaw driver
- Rickshaw – Tk10 per KM More like the price is more than a local and as much as they can get from you. First you ask at hotel or shop what a fare should be. Then check that with driver. He will first ignore the question and ask you to get on. When you insist, if he speaks some English you can say the amount. If not, show him the notes. Then bargain. He will almost never accept the local fare. So it will still cost more than you’re told. When you arrive and give the agreed amount he’ll look aggrieved and moan for more. Easiest is just to hand him the money without looking at him and stride off giving him little time to react – and then ignore it if he calls out. Just don’t forget anything on the seat. An example, the hotel in Chittagong told me it would cost Tk50 to get to a restaurant I named. none would do it for less than Tk 100. A rickshaw agreed finally to Tk 40, but even when I gave him Tk50 he moaned and graoned for more. And for the return journey it was even harder…
- http://www.railway.gov.bd/ p573 on train classes
- www.grameenphone.com on MobiCash section shows how to buy train tkts using mobile – must have mobile balance to cover fare. (E-ISD facility offered by different mobile phone service providers can reduce the cost significantly. For the E-ISD service dial 012 instead of 00/+.) I didn’t try this.
- p583 – meds to take – include hand wipes – but I really didn’t bother, except for antibiotics – which I diodn’t need.
- Water – check bottle sealed and marked arsenic free. No tap water or ice. Or fresh juice – may have been watered down. I never saw anything marked “arsenic free”.
- take long sleeved shirt – in light colour – because of mosquitoes
- Eat only freshly cooked food, avoid shellfish, salads and buffets. Peel all fruit, cook veges.
- Eat in busy restaurants with high turnover of customers. Don’t have ice.
- Don’t take salt tablets, but eat salty food
- Wash any cuts with clean water and apply antiseptic
- p515 – language – need to print & learn on plane – and carry with me – or check online. I put my list at the end of this blog.
MY INITIAL PLAN – – Train, cycle, boat, rickshaw
* Try 21/04 MH1133, MH 102 out / 28/04 MH113, MH1134 inbound
* Cabin baggage policy is ‘one passenger, one baggage’, must not weigh more than 5 kgs/11lbs
*MAS is 1300 88 3000 (within Malaysia) and +603-7843 3000 (outside Malaysia). I called MAS in Dhaka and they messed things up, so better to make an international call to MAS in KL.
* On arrival use ATM & get TK20,000
* Near Baggage claim buy SIM at Grameenphone and Internet charge 1GB, & try to get small change.
* See if travel agent to talk to see if I can fly that afternoon to Sylhet – and thus avoid Dhaka. Also later boat tour.
* If fly, then fly to Sylhet and stay one night. Book train for next afternoon to Srimangel, and to Dhaka for 25th. Sightsee in morning, then train. 21Tu night Sylhet, 22We – 24Fr Srimangel, 25Sa train to DAC & then boat at night & 26Su back, 27Mo in DAC
* If can’t fly, then train to Srimangel, book train also for return to Dhaka for 25th. 22We – 24Fr Srimangel, 25Sa train to DAC & then boat (go to Sadarghat mid-late arvo to book that night) at night & 26Su back & 26su night, 27Mo night in DAC, 28 got to Airport for evening flight
* Tu 21 – Sylhet or en route by train to Srimangal
* We 22 – Sylhet – Srimangel / Srimangel if arrived from Dhaka by train
* Th 23 – Srimangel
* Fri 24 – Srimangel
* Sa 25 – Srimangel – Dhaka THEN go to Sadarghat & book day tour for next day or to tour office or ring
* Su 26 – day boat tour
* Mo 27 – day looking at old Dhaka. Out to airport in evening
My actual route was quite different aa I made it up as I went along – as per my usual style.
HOTELS – ask for a-c, hot water, Western toilet, window, WiFi if poss; check for bugs and mosquitos…
SYLHET HOTELS & RESTAURANTS LP p 422
* Hotel Golden City $$ – 0821726379, 0821726957 / Cell :: 01712063152, 01714674738 – http://www.hotelgoldencitybd.com East Zindabazar, Sylhet, email@example.com, with a-c 750+
* Hotel Gulshan $ – 717263, a-c 900, Taltala Road
* Woondaal Restaurant – East Zindabazar
* Pritiraj East Zindabazar Rd
* See Kean Bridge, drink tea, clock tower
* Ahana Cyber cafe East Zindabazar Rd
* HSBC – Zindabazar Rd
* CNG from airport 30 mins Tk100, taxi 300
SRIMANGAL HOTELS & RESTAURANTS LP p 441
* Tea Town Rest House 71065, Dhaka-Sylhet Road, a-c 1000
* Green View Rest House – newer – a-c? – 01719 896788, 01711 447757, ask for windowed room. Request hot water bucket
* Kutum Bari Restaurant, Railway Station Road
* Shah Hotel and restaurant
* Bicycle Tk200pd – arrange thru hotel or Anam Cycle Store, Railway Station Road – 8am – 10pm
* cycling p439
* Best closest tea estates Zareen and Findlays – polite to ask at management office if OK to look around
* Seven Layer Tea – Nilkantha Tea Cabin – Ramnagar village
* AB Bank ATM – Railway Station Road
* E-Zone Cyber Cafe –
DHAKA HOTELS & RESTAURANTS LP p
* Holiday Express across the street from the Dhaka airport ($31), which was walking distance from the airport and in a cute neighborhood. – (Sheryl on Thornbird) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Infront of Haji Camp (Askuna Road), Uttara, Dhaka-1230, +88-02-8957232, Cell: +88-01779869290
* Old Dhaka p137 – Hotel Al-Razzaque International – 956 6408 29/1 North South Road – a-c Tk550 – sheets not so clean
* Central Dhaka – Hotel Pacific – http://www.hotelpacificdhaka.net/ 120/B Motijheel Commercial Area – (880-2) 958 7671 to 80 (10 Lines) – wi-fi in lobby a-c rooms etc. Tour desk. email@example.com
* White House Hotel http://www.whitehousehotelbd.com/ – wifi – 155, Shantinagar,Dhaka-1217, 8322973-6, 8314601, 8314020, 8317579 firstname.lastname@example.org seems to have a-c
Dhaka to Sylhet
709 Parabat Express Dhaka 0640 Sylhet 1310 Tues off
717 Joyntika Express/ no off day / Dhaka 12:00 Sylhet 20:00
773 Kalani Express / Friday / Dhaka 16:00 Sylhet 2245
739 Upaban Express / Wednesday off / Dhaka 21.50 Sylhet 05.30
Sylhet – Srimangal (to Dhaka) – about 2 hours and a bit – Tk90 Fcl
710 Parabat Express /Tuesday off / Sylhet 3:00:00 PM /Dhaka 10:10:00 PM
Srimangel to Dhaka
710 Parabat Express / Tuesday off / Srimangal 1708 Dhaka 2210
718 Jayantika Express / Thursday / Srimangal 1031 Dhaka 1620
740 Upaban Express / no off / Srimangal 0018 Dhaka 0525
Kalani Express / Friday off / Srimangal 8:40:00 AM / Dhaka 1:40:00 PM
In the end I decided to fly straight out of Dhaka airport to either Sylhet or Cox’s Bazar, whichever had the sooner flight, and on whichever airline I could. Biman is cheaper, but fuller. I flew on United, which cost Tk5,000 one way to Cox’s Bazar. Locals paid the same fare. I checked.
NOTE ON VISAS
- After you enter the terminal building and go through into the Immigation area, it seems you join a queue on the right for visas on arrival. Only one person is at the desk and about 25 people were in the queue when I was there. 10 other staff are hovering around but they don’t do anything much. It was very slow. About an hour. If you pay $10 you can jump the queue.
- The visa official was no problem – I just gave my passport & landing card and ensured he gave me enough days. Initially he was only giving me 7 days, but I asked for 15, just in case.
- There is a duty free store with prices seemingly similar to Malaysia between there and the queue for the Immigation counters.
- At Immigration there is a short queue for visa on arrival, another bit longer queue for foreigners, First Class and Business class passengers and the crew line was very short and quicker, and then a huge queues for others.
- The Immigration guy takes 5+ minutes per person – but friendly. Wants contact address and telephone number. They don’t check or even ask about it, so any hotel details will be fine.
- So a Visa on arrival wastes one hour if you queue, or 10 minutes and $10 if you pay the queue jumping bribe. Either way is better and wastes less time than getting a visa beforehand.
MY LANGUAGE LIST
a: as in ‘cat’
aa: as in ‘father’
i: as in the ‘i’ in police
j: as in ‘jet’
o: as in ‘hot’
v & w: both a cross between a ‘v’ and ‘w’
Hello (Muslim): asalaam alaykum
Hello (Hindu): nomaashkaar
Good bye: khudaa hafiz
See you later: pore dakhaa hobe
Excuse me: maaf korun
No problem: tik aache
What’s your name?: aapnaar naam ki?
I don’t understand: aami bujhi naa
Sorry – Maaf ko-roon/Khoma ko-roon
Please – Please
Thank You – Dhonno-baad
Ok – Theek achhey
What? – Kee?
Where – Koth-aye?
How? – Kemon korey?
When? – Kobey?
Who? – Kay? (‘kay’ rhymes with the English word say)
Why? – Kano?
What is your name? – Tomar naam kee? (Used when talking to children or youngsters only)
What is your name? – Apnar naam kee?
My name is … – Amar naam …
I am from London – Aa-mee London thek-ey ae-shay-chhi
What time is it? – Coy-ta baa-jay?
I don’t know Bengali – Aa-mee Bangla ja-nee-na
I don’t understand – Buj-tey paarchhi na
I want to go to..: aami. jaabo
When does the . leave/arrive?: kokhon . chaarbe/pochaabeh?
Tell me the way please – Ekto rastata bolben?
Is this very far? – Eta kee khoob doo-rey?
I want a ticket – Aa-mee ek-ta ticket chai
Where is.?: . kotaai?
How far is.?: . koto dur?
Chemist: oshuder dokaan
Lunch: dupurer khaabaar
Dinner: raater khaabaar
Tea – Cha
Mango – Aam
Orange – Komola
Banana – Kaw-la
Salt – Lobon
Sweet – Mish-tee
Hot – Jhaal (spicy) Hot – Gorom (Used when the weather, the water
Cold – Thun-da
100 – Ek show (‘show’ is pronounced like the English word show)
200 – Dui show (‘show’ is pronounced like the English word show)
1000 – Ek haa-jar
2000 – Dui haa-jar
How much is it? – Eta koto daam?
This is too expensive – Eta khub bay-she daam
Reduce this price – Etar daam komiye rakhen