Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bangladesh (Dhaka & Sornagaon) Dec 2017

Bangladesh- the world capital city of rickshaws, 700,000-800,000 rickshaws operating in a crowded Dhaka city 
This rush hour train in the afternoon near the Cantonment train station in suburban Dhaka - locals called it Roof riding 
Traffic in Dhaka is chaotic, noisy & congested ! 

" LIFE is an adventure, it's not a package tour "

" The biggest adventure you can take is to live the LIFE of your dreams " 

" One way to get the most out of LIFE is to look upon it as an adventure " 

" My 8 days free & easy visit to Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh & ancient Panam City, Sornagaon, with my travel buddy, KC Leong from USJ, Selangor in the winter month of 13-20 Dec 2017 - my first adventure visit to Bangladesh "

Image result for Bangladesh map
Map of Bangladesh 

In 2009, Dhaka was voted by Lonely Planet as one of the Best 100 Cities in the world ! Seeing is believing hence my reason to do this free & easy visit to Dhaka during the cool winter month of December (average temperature is 17-20c)

Dhaka is about 3.45 hours by air from Kuala Lumpur. Air Asia has a regular daily flight from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka but arriving after mid-night ! So I suggest you pre-booked a taxi with your hotel to avoid a last minute booking of a taxi at the airport.

Due to a Victory Day anniversary celebration in Bangladesh, we were not able to buy a train ticket from Dhaka to Chittagong so we stayed put in Dhaka city for 5 days. This gave us sufficient time to explore the old & new Dhaka in greater depth. 

For the first 2 days, we hired a rickshaw & private car to take us the various touristy places & historical sites in and around Dhaka & Sornagaon area. For the rest of the days, we used our smart phone's GPS to guide us for our free & easy walking tours around the Dhaka city.

Bangladesh has a population of 146 million of which 18 million is found in greater Dhaka area and 8 million in the Dhaka city. 90% of the population are Muslims ! Bangladesh is the 4th largest Muslim population in the world followed by Indonesia, Pakistan & India !

Dhaka is often called the Rickshaw Capital of the World with more than 700,000 rickshaws operating daily on the roads. So in most parts of the densely populated Dhaka city, the daily traffic is said to be chaotic, noisy & messy ! Walking may be the fastest way of getting from point A to point B (within 2-3 km radius), if not use a rickshaw or CNG (local tuk tuk) for short rides to any areas in downtown Dhaka. Due to communication problem, it may be hard for foreign tourists to take public buses to places you intend to visit. We observed in the evening, traffic was particularly bad due to after office hours so some of the roads in Dhaka could jam for hours ! 

We were fortunate to hire an English speaking rickshaw guy recommended by our hotel in Dhaka and this traditional rickshaw day tour took us to some 10 touristy & historical sites in old Dhaka so a great start on our 1st day. For the 2nd day, our rickshaw guy arranged a private car day tour to the old Panam city, Sonargaon, located 35km from Dhaka. But due to a festive weekend, the traffic was so bad along the main trunk road that it took us 4 hours to arrive at Sonargaon !

For our final days, we stayed in a hostel in Showra area, about 20 minutes by auto rickshaw to Dhaka airport. As this area is within walking distance to Bashundra & Guishan model towns, this gave us the opportunities to see a modern township in Dhaka. 

As our hotels provide free buffet breakfast, we were able to savor some Bengali spicy food which we enjoyed eating. For lunches & dinners, we stick to eating the popular local biryani rice with chicken & egg ! We did some simple cooking ie noodle soups with leafy vegetables, tomatoes & eggs at our hostel's kitchen and relaxed our time chatting and sharing our travelling experiences with fellow backpackers in the hostel.

If you are contemplating of visiting Dhaka, I suggest you treat your visit to Bangladesh as an adventure. Have the courage to overcome the major challenges along the way. If all the while you are living in a comfort zone, doing a free & easy visit to Bangladesh may turn out to be not your cup of tea ! If life was easy where would all the adventures be ! As a serious traveler, you do not grumble & rumble, you just show up and been there and done that !
Pictures said a thousand words, here goes my story on my little adventure to Dhaka ....... nothing venture nothing gain !

Total expenses incurred (8 days): Rm2,185 (US$534)
Air Asia (promo) ticket: Rm1,193 (inclusive of travel insurance)
Skybus: Rm6 (senior)
Flight details: departing Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 21.55 > arriving Dhaka 23.45; return flight departing Dhaka 00.25 arriving Kuala Lumpur 06.35 
Hotels & hostel (7 nights) : US$148 per pax
- Hotel 71 (3 nights x US$48.50 for a twin sharing room)
- Hotel Ornate ( 2 nights x US$40 for a twin sharing room)
- Golpata Beds & Breakfast (2 nights x US$17.50 for a dorm bed) 
Food : 1,921taka (Rm100)
Tuk tuk: 325taka
Entrance fees: 100taka
Tips: 75taka
Day tours:
- rickshaw old Dhaka tour - 1,000 taka per pax 
- private car hire day tour to Panam City, Sonargon - US$50 per pax 
Exchange rates: US$1=Rm4.09; US$1=80taka, RM1=19.30taka

Travel itinerary: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia > Dhaka > Sonargaon > Dhaka > Kuala Lumpur

My travel buddy, KC Leong, a sunshine runner who joined me for this Dhaka adventure visit. KC retired early this year and was also my travel buddy ie free & easy visits to China (Xian), Philippines (Manila) & Maldives in 2017.

For this Dhaka visit, both of us used a combination of free & easy walking, rickshaws & CNG (local tuk tuk) to take us to 30 touristy places in order to see the oldest of the old Dhaka & Sornagaon with our own eyes !

Travel Highlights :

1) Curzon Hall & Dhaka University Area

2) Sahid Minar, Dhaka

3) Memory Eternal For the Liberation War Martyrs of University of Dhaka

4) National Museum, Dhaka

7) Dhakeshwari Hindu Temple, Dhaka

8) Lalbagh Mughal Fort, Dhaka

9) Darul Quran Library, Dhaka

10) Sitara Mosque (Star Mosque), Dhaka

11) Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection (1781) , Dhaka

12) Sham Bazar Fruit Wholesale Market, Dhaka

13) Ahsan Manzil (Pink Palace), Dhaka

14) Sadarghat River Front & Buriganga River Dhaka

15) Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka

16) Bashundhara Mall, Dhaka

17) National Assembly, Dhaka

18) Panam City, Sonargaon

19) Goaldi Mosque, Sornagaon

20) Baitul Mukarram Mosque (National Mosque), Dhaka

21) Supreme Court Building, Dhaka

22) Ramna Park, Dhaka

23) Kakrai Mosque, Dhaka

24) Eternal Flame

25) Museum of Independence, Dhaka

26) Jamuna Future Park / Shopping Mall, Pragati Ave, Bashundra

27) Guishan 2 (foreign embassies area)

28) USA Embassy - Guishan 2

29) Bashundra Model Town, Dhaka

30) Cantonment Railway Station, DOHS Bypass Rd, Matikata, Baridhara, Kuril, Dhaka Division

Though Dhaka weather was cool & hazy most of the days we stayed, we were pleased to see some flowers blooming in gardens & parks and that cheer up & brighten our days in Dhaka ! 

D-1 Old Dhaka City Tour Dec 2017

 Dhakeshwari Temple in Old Dhaka (built in the 12th century).  Dhakeshwari means "Goddess of Dhaka"
This must-see Lalbagh Fort, a 17th century Mughal Fort stands before the Buriganga River in Dhaka
Ashan Manzil- most beautiful Pink Palace built in 1836 in Old Dhaka

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Dhaka Map 

Visa fee for Malaysians visiting Bangladesh as tourists - Rm41 (US$10) if applying from home country or US$51 on arrival at Dhaka airport, allow 3 working days for visa processing at the Bangladesh High Commission, Kuala Lumpur

Day 1 (Wednesday 13 Dec 2017)

Kuala Lumpur > Dhaka - Air Asia flight AK 71 departing Kuala Lumpur at 21.10pm arriving Dhaka 12.05am

Air Asia flight landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Dhaka Airport after mid-night. Hazy but a cool weather at 17c greeted our arrivals !

Boarding an airport bus from the tarmac to Terminal 2 arrival hall - 5 to 10 minutes wait ! What if there is a drizzle or rain on that night so bring along a small umbrella with you if you are traveling during the wet season ! 

Arriving in Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport - Terminal 2 for immigration clearance, luggage collection, money exchange (banks at airport offer better rates of exchange than hotels or money changes in Dhaka city), car or taxi hire etc. Banks at the airport accept Malaysian Ringgit for exchange to local currency !

After Immigration clearance, we were asked to walk towards Terminal 2 Exit for our hotel car pick up

My first 3 nights stay in Hotel 71 (Room 1703), Kaizuddin Tower in old Dhaka city (US$48 for a twin bed room)

Day 2 - Thursday 14th Dec 2017

Free hotel buffet breakfasts at Hotel 71, 19th floor - our first taste of Bengali food !

Lunch in a local restaurant opposite the Lalbagh Fort - 660 taka(Rm34) for a plate of fried rice & stir fried mixed vegetables for 2

Dinner in a local restaurant near Hotel 71 - 466 taka(Rm24) for a plate of fried noodles & round bread plus a bottle of mineral water for 2

Good morning to Old Dhaka City as viewed from the 19th Floor dining room; misty or hazy in the early morning most of the times !

For our 1st day in Dhaka, KC and myself signed up a traditional rickshaw tour in Old Dhaka covering major touristy & historical sites passing many markets, shops, narrow streets - both of us paid 2,000 Taka (Rm100 for 2) for this English speaking rickshaw man recommended by Hotel 71 !

Our fun ride on a rickshaw (09.00>17.00) passing through the maze of narrow laneways, markets, petty traders, bazars, shops, main roads of old Dhaka giving us the opportunities of seeing the daily life of locals in a heavily populated city of 18 millions ! Traffic here is chaotic, noisy, dusty so be prepared to endure a rough & bumpy ride ! Dhaka currently has 700,000 rickshaws on the roads, an economical and efficient form of public transport for the local people ! Go for it if you are in Dhaka !

1) Rickshaw tour - University of Dhaka & Curzon Hall (1904)

2) Rickshaw tour - Central Shaheed Minar, a symbol of Bengali nationalism

3) Rickshaw tour - Memory Eternal for the liberation of War Martyrs of the University of Dhaka

4) Rickshaw tour - Memory Eternal (War Memorial) in Dhaka

5) Rickshaw tour - Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka

6) Rickshaw tour - Dhakeshwari Jatiya Mandiri (Dhakeshwari Temple), national temple of Bangladesh, built in the 12th century, tipping 50taka

7) Rickshaw tour - Lalbagh Fort, Old Dhaka, built in 1678 by Prince Mohammad Azam, son of Moghul emperor Aurangazeb

8) Rickshaw tour - Darul Quran Library, Old Dhaka

9) Rickshaw tour - Sitara Mosque (Star Mosque), built in the early 18th century

10) Rickshaw tour - Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection, Old Dhaka, built in 1781 by Armenian missionaries, tipping 100 Taka

11) Rickshaw tour - Sham Bazar Fruit wholesale market

12) Rickshaw tour - Pink Palace, old Dhaka; built in 1836 during the British Raj era

13) Rickshaw tour - Sadarghat River Front

14) Rickshaw tour - Buriganga River, Old Dhaka

15) Sham Bazar - Old Dhaka

16) Rickshaw tour - Kamalapur Railway Station