Seeing as the Thorn Tree is down and may be for the foreseeable future I thought I'd repost my trip report here, I hope it helps someone!
Here are a few quick notes from my recent trip to Bangladesh (14 - 28 November), I hope it might be useful to some travellers.
At the time of writing £1 = 130 taka, $1 = 81 taka and EUR1 = 105 tk
The weather in November was just right for travelling, pretty warm during the day and slightly cooler at night, virtually no rain.
I was travelling with the brand new (edition 2) of the Bradt guide to Bangladesh and I found it to be mostly pretty useful, some of the city maps were a bit off but I imagine it’s quite a task to make an accurate map for most of these places!
Visa on arrival (UK passport) cost $51, I paid in £GBP and it wasn’t a problem. You have to go to 3 different stands to get the visa, first the payment counter, then to some guys who seem to approve the visa and finally to the special VOA immigration desk who actually put it in your passport. When I arrived there were a few other foreigners waiting and in total it took about an hour.
I bought a local SIM card from the very helpful lady at the Grameenphone stand at the airport (near baggage claim area). Can’t remember the exact cost but it was something like 200taka for the SIM and maybe 350 taka for 1GB data. Very reasonable and I had phone and data coverage almost constantly for the whole 2 weeks, even in most of the Sundarbans!
I went outside and paid 900 taka for a “taxi” (actually a really crap car) to Press Club, Topkhana road. It took almost 2 hours for this relatively short journey but I gather this is normal thanks to Dhaka’s infamous traffic jams!
Found Hotel New York on one of the alleyways off Topkhana Road, a fairly uninspiring room with hard bed cost about 700 taka. Next time I’d pay more and stay somewhere a bit nicer but it was okay. I met someone who was staying at Hotel Royal Palace on the next alleyway, it looked a bit better (but more expensive).
Cafe Jheel is a good place to eat nearby on Topkhana road, you can sample Bangladeshi food and it’s inexpensive. Great kebabs and biryanis.
Later on that day I met with the famous Mahmud from this forum, a great guy and a real ambassador for his country. We had some lovely roast chicken from a restaurant near his house. He also helped me by buying the train ticket to Srimongol for the next morning.
The next morning I took the train to Srimongol, I think it was the Parabat express and left Dhaka at 6:40 according to my guidebook. I’m not sure what class I was in but it was quite comfy, the journey took around 5 hours.
In Srimongol I found (after a lot of asking around) Sandhya Residential Hotel, it is tucked away in the bazaar. The room was about 700 taka but again I wished I’d paid more and stayed somewhere nicer.
A great place to eat in Srimongol is Kutum Bari restaurant, on Station Road not far from the main intersection (it’s on the first floor so look up). They serve Bangla / Indian food, really tasty in a nice setting. Here I bumped in to a Japanese and Australian tourist, I also met Eusuf Ali, a local guide. He arranged the hire of a bicycle for the next day (about 250 taka) and we agreed to meet at Lawachara rainforest once I’d ridden there.
As the Bradt guide suggests, hiring a bike is indeed a nice way to see the surrounding countryside, the hills are gentle and the traffic is light once you leave Srimongol. It’s a gentle 1 hour ride to the rain forest, passing alongside tea plantations and an under-construction holiday resort. The rainforest itself was great and Eusuf took me around for a couple of hours both on and off the trails, we also went to one of the tribal villages.
The next day I arranged with Eusuf to do an afternoon tour of the surrounding area, we did what I believe is a fairly standard itinerary consisting of visiting the pineapple plantations, tribal village and Madhabpur Lake, all good fun and well worth hiring a guide for. Eusuf was great company (and a gifted singer!) and I’d highly recommend him. His phone / email: +88 01743 081958 / firstname.lastname@example.org
I also swapped hotel and moved to Green Leaf Guest House, a new place not in the guidebook. For the same price as Sandhya I got a large clean room with comfy bed. I was the only person staying there but this place is a much better option and is definitely worth investigating if you’re in Srimongol. They can also arrange guides / tours. It’s on College Road, website here: greenleafeco-tourism.com/green-leaf-guest-ho…
I headed to Chittagong from Srimongol by train, a not very comfortable journey of around 7 hours, although it’s nice to pass through rural Bangladesh and it probably beats the bus! Arrived in Chittagong in the evening and stayed at a hotel opposite the station, I think it was called New Relax Inn. 350 taka for a small room with private bathroom, at that price it was good value!
The next day I booked on a 4:30pm bus to Cox’s Bazar from the BRTC (government) bus terminal down the road from the railway station. There are only a couple of buses per day from this stand, I gather there are a lot more leaving from a bigger terminal somewhere else in town. I didn’t do any sightseeing in Chittagong as I had some stomach problems (this persisted throughout my trip, it was later diagnosed as Giardiasis!). The bus left roughly on time and took about 4 hours to get to Cox’s Bazar.
In Cox’s Bazar I stayed at Mohammadia Guest House, Kolatoli Road, right next to KFC. The room was 900 taka after some bargaining and was pretty good for the price. My original plan was to go to St Martin’s Island but I didn’t fancy another two half-days travelling with my dodgy stomach so I spent a few days relaxing in Cox’s Bazar, seeing how the Bangladeshis spend their vacation and eating some nice food. I had a lovely grilled salmon at Mermaid cafe which is just off the beach and is well worth a visit for its atmosphere and food. It is expensive by Bangladeshi standards but you get what you pay for!
I booked a flight online through Regent Airways from Cox’s Bazar back to Dhaka, well worth the 6000 taka to avoid a long night bus ride back to Dhaka. The service from Regent was excellent and the flight was on time.
I had to be back in Dhaka for the Sundarbans tour, the bus to Khulna departed in the evening. For the next 3 full days I was under the care of Bengal Tours, I won’t go into too much detail but the whole package was excellent, the boat, food, guide (Riaz), staff and excursions were all great and I’d have no hesitation in recommending Bengal Tours for a trip to Sundarban. The cost for me was 13,000 taka for the 3 day tour including everything and overnight transfers to / from Dhaka. I believe the price has since gone up a couple of thousand but even so I’d say it’s good value.
After the tour had finished I arranged to be dropped off in Jessore instead of going all the way back to Dhaka on the bus (dodgy stomach again). Stayed one night in Hotel Magpie, VERY noisy room for 800 taka, swapped the next night to Hotel Hasan International round the corner and paid about 1000 taka for a nicer room and much quieter. I’d recommend this place.
Booked a flight from Jessore to Dhaka on Regent Airways for 4000 taka (can be 3000 if you book in advance), again good service from the airline. For my last night in Dhaka I treated myself and stayed at Green House Guesthouse, Road 13, Baridhara. The room was $45 and it’s in a nice quiet location. I ate at Cafe Mango, Road 72, Gulshan, some nice western food at reasonable prices.
Overall I had a good time, the food was generally very tasty (although I must admit I did tire of Momlette for breakfast every morning!). I didn’t do as much sightseeing as I hoped thanks to my stomach but really the main attraction of Bangladesh is its people and they really are a nice bunch. They are very curious about foreigners and generally go out of their way to help, very few try to rip you off. The only bad experience I had really was with Rickshaws in Gulshan. You have to be VERY sure that they know where you want to go (difficult as they generally don’t speak English and / or know any addresses) and be very clear on a price before you jump on. I should say I never really took to Dhaka, for a casual visitor it is rather difficult to get around and the traffic is horrendous. I could imagine it being somewhere that grows on you once you get to understand it though!
I hope this is useful for someone, if anyone has any questions I’ll gladly try to help!