Enjoying hospitality
St. Martin (Bangladesh) to Dhaka (Bangladesh), Feb-17-08 / Mar-13-08
Last weeks we travelled from the Bangladeshi holiday island Saint Martin, to the capital city Dhaka. Our first travel destination was Cox’s Bazaar. This is the beach resort that Bangladeshi people will mention when you ask them about the nicest holiday destination in their country. Cox’s Bazaar is a developed holiday destinations with many hotels alongside the coast, of which some very huge. However, if you compare Cox’s Bazaar with a western style beach resort, you will probably be disappointed. There is no “real” beach culture in Bangladesh. People come to the beach to take a stroll, but not to swim. Once in a while you will see somebody going into the water for a swim, but that is a rarity. Besides that, Cox’s Bazaar has no nice restaurants or terraces where you can spend an afternoon enjoying the beach. So, after two days, we saw enough of Cox’s Bazaar and travelled further north to Chittagong. We were already in Chittagong a week ago before we went to St. Martin’s Island, so we were quite familiar with the city.
One of the many ferries between Barisal and Kuakata
Like in many other cities in Bangladesh, there isn’t much to see in Chittagong. We arranged the boat tickets for the boat from Chittagong to Barisal. We made already a reservation last week, but that is no guarantee that you will eventually get the ticket. There is always the chance that a Bangladeshi bribes the ticket-man leaving you without a ticket, even if you made a reservation. But we were lucky. When we arrived at the ticket office to collect our ticket, we were still on the reservation list. Next day at eight o’clock in the morning, we checked in, in our 1st class cabin of the boat that took us over the Bay of Bengal to Barisal. We thought that the trip would take at least twenty-four hours, but eventually it took only seventeen hours. It seemed that the BIWTC (Bangladesh Inner Water Transport Corporation) had a faster ship at ones disposal (see also the article: Love Boat Bangladeshi style).

Also Barisal is a typical Bangladeshi city. It is chaotic and there is not much to see. But like in other cities, people are friendly and hospitable. Barisal is the first city that we visit in the area that is hit by cyclone Sidr in November 2007. We saw some minor damage, but not the damage that you expect when you know that devastating Sidr hit this place. We stayed for some days in Barisal after which we travelled to Kuakata. Kuakata in only 110 kilometres south of Barisal, but in Bangladesh it means that it is still a bus ride of five hours. This is mainly caused by the five rivers that you have to cross by ferry, before you reach Kuakata. In Bangladeshi’s opinion, Kuakata is a beach resort. We think it is just a small village located near the beach. A beautiful beach by the way. Kuakata, in contrast with the city of Barisal, is heavily hit by cyclone Sidr. Many trees are grubbed out, and several houses/huts were still fully destroyed. Most people managed already to rebuild their shacks, which mainly consists of wood, reed and corrugated metal plates. It is sad to see that these people, who already had so less, lost everything they had. But, people know that they have no choice than to start all over again and that is what they did. We stayed for two days in Kuakata and travelled afterwards back to Barisal. We consciously decided to travel in a slow pace. Even if there is not really much to see in the different towns and villages, it is still nice to hang some days around.

The day that we arrived again in Barisal, we arranged already the bus tickets for the trip to Khulna. On the routes between the bigger cities, you often have the possibility to take a public bus or private bus. The main advantage of the public bus is that the go very frequently, often once in every 30 or 60 minutes. The biggest disadvantage is that the public busses are slow because the stop for every potential customer along the road (more passengers is more revenue). Besides a low average speed, it also means that the buses can be very crowded, because in the driver’s opinion there is always space for an additional passenger. The other option is the private bus. The private buses are less frequent, but they are much more comfortable. They do not stop a lot, unless not all seats are sold, and the leg space is much better. Most of the time we take a private bus, but sometimes also the private one, like we did for the route between Barisal and Khulna.

A fisher man in Sundarbans

Khulna was the place where we organised our trip into the Sundarbans. At the moment we arrived in Khulna, we were not sure yet if it was possible and worthwhile to bring a visit to the Sundarbans, because also the Sundarbans is hit by Sidr. We read in some newspapers that specialists advised not to travel to Sundarbans now, but to postpone the visit a coupe of years. Others, often travel agents that have an interest in visitors to the Sundarbans, said that it is still worthwhile to go. We deliberated about going or not, and eventually decided to go. Because we are now in Bangladesh, and you never know if this is the last time. And we are glad we went. It was really great! The only regret we have it that we didn’t stay some extra days (see our photo-impression about Sundarbans). After our visit to Sundarbans, it was time for the next highlight, the boat trip from Khulna back to Dhaka. This was not just a boat trip, but a trip with the Rocket Steamer. These boats from the early 20th century are best compared with the typical Mississippi boats. Complete with paddle wheels! Nowadays these boats are not powered anymore by steam engines, but by diesel engines. But it is still fun because the paddle wheels are still operational. Every year, more than 20 million people make use of the Rocket Steamers to travel between Dhaka and Khulna. It is amazing that travel by ferry is still very popular in Bangladesh. The boats are often much slower than busses, and every year Bangladesh is startled by, on average, five major ferry accidents. On average, one hundred people die in every major accident. This is mostly due to the fact that many Bangladeshi people are not able to swim. We hoped to manage to get a first class cabin on the Rocket Steamer. But unfortunately, our reservation was “lost” meaning that we had to travel second class. The cabin was ok. It had two beds, separated by a small alley of approximately 50 centimetres. The cabin was just big enough to put your luggage and to have a comfortable sleep.

After twenty-seven hours we arrived in Dhaka. Ivonne was covered in red spots, probably caused by the bed bugs that apparently also had a booking for this cabin. Dhaka is our last destination in Bangladesh. We stay here one week, after which we travel via Bangkok (where we will stay another week), to Myanmar. We decided to live a little bit more luxurious during our last week in Dhaka. We prefer to have a better hotel room because we have to spend some time on the room, working on this website. We also decided to “invest” in better food. Last weeks we mainly eat rice, roti, dahl (lentil soup) and sabji (vegetable mash). We had enough of this, so now and then we decide to take a dinner buffet at one of the more expensive restaurants in Dhaka. And we like it. It is all you can eat for € 6 per person. And we can eat a lot!


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