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OVERNIGHT IN DHAKA – CAPITAL OF BANGLADESH

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Biman Airlines- Dhaka-capital of Bangladesh

Lash boarding Biman Airlines at Dhaka-capital of Bangladesh

OVERNIGHT IN DHAKA- CAPITAL OF BANGLADESH

My Biman Airlines flight from Bangkok to Nepal included a free overnight stay in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, a tiny poverty-stricken often-flooded country bordering India’s east coast halfway between Thailand and Nepal. The gratuitous overnight stay seemed rather frivolous and inexplicable considering that a direct flight from Bangkok to Nepal took only 3 hours.

Biman Airlines’ offer included two flights, overnight hotel accommodation, land transport to/from Dhaka airport and two buffet meals. In addition, Biman staff had to oversee immigration procedures for checking a full flight of travelers in/out of the country.

Considering Bangladesh’s dire poverty, I really had to wonder how on Earth Biman Airlines could afford the offer? Surely it must be vastly cheaper to offer simple direct flights?

I could only assume the Bengali government was attempting to attract travelers by recommendations from their free overnight guests. To attract us over-nighters,  Biman’s inclusive offer was the cheapest fare available from Bangkok to Nepal. So both for economy and pure curiosity / adventure, I signed up for the ride.

After all, it was probably my only chance to visit Bangladesh. I wasn’t likely to choose the country as a travel destination given its history of ongoing natural disasters, severe poverty and political unrest.

Dhaka steamers - photo by Ahron de Leeuw on Flickr CC

Dhaka steamers – photo by Ahron de Leeuw on Flickr CC

I’d actually never even heard of Biman Airlines. My long-time Bangkok travel agent recommended the flight as the cheapest route to Kathmandu. He’d only told me that Biman was a small national Bangladesh airline with a clean safety record. Ok, sold. Off I went.

On board, the Biman plane seemed perfectly intact. The flight was uneventful except for the food, which was indisputably the Worst airplane ‘food’ I’ve ever eaten before or since.

Our ‘meal’ consisted of a ‘cheese sandwich’- two slices of that white super-processed ‘cardboard bread’ (In the USA known as ‘Wonderbread’) with the crust removed all the way around (European style?) then filled with one slice of  super-processed fake cheese. Mmmm! Yummy and filling… not.

To compliment our nutritious ‘sandwich’ we were served two small ‘cookies’ that looked promising. I bit into the first one and… gag. Pepper flavored! Pepper-flavored cookies? Repulsive. Inedible. So much for meals.

Hmph… Pepper cookies did not bode well for our upcoming free buffets in Dhaka…

One hour later we arrived safe and sound at Dhaka airport, Bangladesh. The ‘airport’ was more like a small, sparse warehouse. Inside was a bare cement floor, loads of plastic chairs, and 2 or 3 counter-style shops.

We were all herded inside and told to wait for passport processing. During our wait I checked out the small shops. I found no restaurants, just one shop selling snacks and drinks. I managed to buy something or other to hold me over until the promised buffet.

Immigration officer at Dhaka Airport

 

Eventually our Biman organizers were ready to process us ‘over-nighters’. We discovered, to our horror, that we had to relinquish our passports (yikes) because we were officially only ‘in transit’, not actually ‘entering the country,’ even though we were indeed leaving the airport, entering the city and staying at hotels.
Immigration would hold our passports overnight and return them to us the following morning before departing for Nepal. That arrangement seemed rather dodgy and thus quite nerve-wracking, but what could we do? We handed over our passports, hoping for the best.

After immigration officials took our passports- gulp- we were all herded into vans with our bags and driven to various hotels around Dhaka. We all felt pretty silly, giddy and vulnerable.

Everything was out of our control. We didn’t know each other. Our passports were gone. We didn’t know Dhaka or where we were staying or what would happen or anything. As a result we were all laughing, joking, rolling our eyes and throwing our hands up in the air.

The van raced along the super busy, tree-lined roads, the air cloudy with thick fumes. Hmmm… We didn’t see much of city or buildings, just roads and traffic, until we reached our overnight destinations.

Dhaka, Bangladesh traffic

My group of 12 was taken to a small hotel that looked more like a luxury apartment building. It was enclosed in a heavy cement wall, complete with barbed wire and security guards holding guns! Wow- was it so dangerous in Dhaka that hotels needed armed guards and walled enclosures? More unease set in…

Our unease began melting as soon as we stepped inside the hotel. Friendly smiling receptionists greeted us in fluent English. The interior was brand new, super clean and decored with gleaming tiled floors and walls. Rooms were clean and spacious with TVD, comfy beds and full bathrooms.

The hotel must have been extremely luxurious for Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world.  It also easily outdid the standard of guest houses I frequented as a budget traveler- luxurious even for an American traveler.

After checking in and showering, several of us were bursting to get out and see Dhaka. Although we were officially ‘in transit’ and ‘legally’ not allowed off hotel grounds our ‘guide’ secretly permitted us to go out and wander around.

The armed security guards’ presence made us suspect Dhaka must be rather UNsafe beyond our gleaming private quarters. However, the guards assured us Dhaka was quite ok.

O. K. Out we wandered…

Our neighborhood was extremely impoverished, broken-down and dirty. Traffic was loud, super-busy, chaotic and fumy. We saw nothing of interest, just a few scattered shops.

People were shocked to see Westerners. They left us alone. Happily we did not sense any danger or encounter any problems. Our neighborhood was nothing more than a poor, dirty, polluted urban community. Having satisfied our curiosity and having found nothing to entertain us we soon returned to the comfort of our little lux hotel.

typical neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Later we were summoned to the dining room. Luckily, dinner was much much better than the airplane food.

We were fed a surprisingly sumptuous meal presided over by our outgoing, friendly Bengali host / chef. He had worked as a chef overseas for several years. His English was excellent. He was also quite the entertainer.

We all had a blast. Because of our mixed nationalities some of the pseudo-English, misunderstandings and  situations that developed during the meal were quite amusing.

Before returning to our rooms we requested a tour of  Dhaka before our flight. So the next morning, after an elaborate western breakfast, we piled into a van and headed out onto the extremely polluted congested roads.

Most of our three-hour tour was spent stuck in traffic inhaling toxic fumes. We got a perspective of real life in Dhaka.

NOT a healthy place to live. The city was polluted, crowded, and packed with bicycle taxis and overloaded buses. Several young kids poked their heads into the van to beg.

All the Bengalis were absolutely amazed to see foreigners. They just stared, so shocked that they were unable to even utter ‘hi’ or smile.

The highlight of our city tour was our car accident. Our driver accidentally sideswiped another car which caused that car’s ENTIRE FRONT END to pop off! Literally, it flew into the street where it was promptly run over by a bus!

A wandering pedestrian helpfully picked up that huge chunk of mashed car and handed it to the driver who simply put it in his trunk with no fuss, as if it was a daily occurrence.

Of course the two drivers had to negotiate a settlement. I was amazed at how calmly they did so. The ‘hottest’ it got was some finger poking.

If our accident had happened in the USA there definitely would have been yelling, probably a fist fight, a compulsory wait for the police, an official report and a court case. In light of American procedures I thought we were incredibly lucky to be finished and on our way in only about 10 minutes.

Bengali children suprised to see westerners
A little later we convinced our driver to stop so we could walk around. We all piled out and wandered around taking photos, simultaneously worrying our host immensely by dashing off here and there. He was responsible for getting all  ‘in transit only’ passengers back to the airport unmarred.

 

We were all fine, of course, and soon reunited at the van to plow through more traffic-infested roads back to our hotel.

 

My favorite city scene was an especially chaotic intersection filled with dozens and dozens of bicycle trishaws clumped together. I’d seen trishaws in Thailand and Malaysia, but not in such vast numbers. Cool exotic sight. In the end traffic, staring faces, hazy fumes, and an accident summed up our tour of Dhaka.

 

Lash walking around Dhaka during city tour

After returning to the hotel and packing up our bag,s we were taken to the airport, given back our passports (whew) and bid farewell from Bangladesh. Everything had gone as promised with a very hospitable & enjoyable stay in Dhaka. Thanks Biman Airlines!

Soon we boarded our flight and flew off to Nepal. En route we saw the Himalayan peaks piercing up through fluffy white clouds. Fantastic. We believed we spotted Everest, but weren’t sure.

At Kathmandu airport we all went our separate ways into the city. I assembled my bike, loaded on my backpack, got a city map, and cycled into town…

Read more on my arrival in Kathmandu under the Nepal Tales

cheers, Lash

(* Flickr Creative Commons photo credits:  ~Pyb  Gorski  John Pavelka   jcortell  Archmange01   Wonderlane )

9 comments

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  1. Leigh

    That is one heck of an adventure for a cheap airplane ride & worth every penny by the sounds of your blog. I wonder how many tourists ever make it to Bangladesh. Enjoy Nepal. I loved the place when I was there a long time ago.

  2. LASH

    Hey Leigh, you said it! Worth more than the cash I paid! THanks for stopping by. Lash

  3. LASH

    Hey Bradley,

    Yeah, I've found that all over SE Asia though the roads seem super chaotic and rules aren't so strictly enforced as in USA/Europe/Australia that the drivers all work together. aFterall, nobody wants to get in an accident. They all just want to reach their destinations safely. Lash

  4. Suzy

    I met a group of men on a train in Rome from Bangladesh. It was kind of strange because there were all of these open compartments in the train and they selected to pile into mine. After talking with some people who had been to Bangladesh, I realized it was a culturally thing. No inch of space is wasted in Banglasdesh. It sounds like you experienced the same in those traffic jams.

  5. Earl

    Ahhh Bangladesh…one of my favorite countries I've visited, mostly because they are not used to seeing travelers.

    Biman has been running these 2 flights and an overnight stay trips for years now and I'd say you're quite lucky to have been allowed out of the hotel. They must have relaxed their policy as typically they are quite strict about this rule.

    It certainly is one of the most chaotic, impoverished, polluted countries on the planet but for any traveler who dares to visit, they'll be rewarded with a travel experience unlike any other!

  6. LASH

    Hey Suzy,
    Wow, it would've been a bit crazy to meet a group of Bengali men on a train in Europe! I'm sure they were happy to meet a lovely western red-haired girl! Thanks for stopping by. Lash

  7. LASH

    Hi Earl.
    Oh, good to know I as lucky to get out of the hotel.. though we didn't see anything. At least we found out what local neighborhoods are like.

    Did you travel around much of Bangladesh?

    have you been to Myanmar? If you like 'unspoiled' travel spots, that's it! The country i'd most like to return to.
    Thanks for stopping By! cheers, Lash

  8. Jennifer

    I found this ‘article’ incredibly insulting. For someone who has been traveling since 1998, you sound very ignorant and condescending. I really hope your mind has become more openminded since you wrote this article a couple of years ago and that you have less of an ethnocentric perspective.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Jennifer,

      Wow, sorry you felt that way about my article. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course.

      I have to say I’m very surprised at your impressions. Most people find me incredibly open-minded and fair-handed to everyone.

      In any event, thanks for stopping by and sharing your views.

      Best, Lash

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