Difference between revisions of "Bangladesh"
Revision as of 15:54, 27 March 2008
Bangladesh is a very small country, broken into 6 administrative divisions:
Most of these cities are also the capital of the division of the same name:
Bangladesh came into existence in 1971 when Bengali East Pakistan seceded from its union with West Pakistan. Although Bangladesh only emerged as an independent country in 1971, its history stretches back thousands of years and it has long been known as a crossroads of history and culture. Here you will find the world's longest sea beach, countless mosques, the largest mangrove forest in the world, interesting tribal villages and a wealth of elusive wild life. Above all else you'll encounter the friendliest people you've ever met.
It's one of the poorest countries in the world and the citizens are painfully aware of it, though the economic growth is higher than some other Asian countries. The bloody separation from West Pakistan didn't get the economy off to a great start, and frequent floods, tornadoes and political troubles haven't helped to improve the situation. It's a tiny country yet has the 7th largest population making it one of the most (over) populated in the world. It relies heavily on foreign charity and investments.
Ready-made garments, pharmaceuticals, and shrimp are some of the largest industries, though it seems to be only the top tier of society that are living a comfortable life. The gap between rich and poor is increasingly obvious, especially in cities such as Dhaka as you move around between the working class old city and affluent neighborhoods like Gulshan.
Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate. There are basically four seasons in a year — Winter (Dec-Feb), Summer (Mar-May), Monsoon (June-Sep) and Autumn (Oct-Nov). The average temperature across the country usually ranges between 9 C - 29 C in winter months and between 21 C - 34 C during summer months. Annual rainfall varies from 160 cm to 200 cm in the west, 200 cm to 400 cm in the south-east and 250 cm to 400 cm in the north-east. Cyclones above category three/four are uncommon (especially in the deep winter January through March)-- but while rare, can still bring widespread disruption as expected to infrastructure and power outages, especially in the coastal areas. The weather pattern is akin to the Gulf Coast in the United States (Mississippi and Louisiana).
The current weather can be seen by hitting the 'play' button on the following interactive map, Current Bangladesh Satellite Weather Radar
The country is primarily a low-lying plain of about 144,000 km2, situated on deltas of large rivers flowing from the Himalayas: the Ganges unites with the Jamuna (main channel of the Brahmaputra) and later joins the Meghna to eventually empty into the Bay of Bengal. It’s fertile and mostly flat farmland and, with the exception of Chittagong Hill Tracts, rarely exceeds 10 meters above sea level, making it dangerously susceptible to a rise in sea level.
Highest point: Bijoy (1,231 meters).
Citizens of all countries need visa to enter Bangladesh. They prefer you to obtain it in your home country, but it's also possible at a few embassies and consulates in neighboring countries. Visas are not available at the airports or border crossings unless the country you're a citizen of has no Bangladeshi diplomatic mission in that country or if you're a 'privileged investor' invited by a Bangladeshi export trade body. In that instance one can qualify for a VOA (visa on arrival). Be ready to show paperwork indicating invitations from said Govt. organizations.
If you apply in your home country you can usually obtain a 3 month visa if arriving by air, or 15 days if arriving at a land border crossing. Fees vary depending on nationality and length of visa requested. Citizens must obtain visas from their home countries unless an Embassy/High Commission does not exist there. In the latter case a Visa will be issued in Bangladesh on arrival.
For Citizens of the USA -- Visa fee is $100 currently if obtained from within the USA. (This may seem a little high -- however -- Bangladeshis applying for a US Visa pay about US$400 or so.) Yes you can get mail-in visa processing. Links to the Consulate in LA and Consulate in New York will answer most questions -- please read the 'visa requirements' sections carefully. If in doubt -- call. Please note that International Money Order or Personal Check or Cash are not acceptable. U.S. Cashier Check or Money Order or Bank Draft, should be made payable to "Consulate General of Bangladesh".
The Embassy of Bangladesh in USA is in Washington D.C.
For Canadian nationals a single-entry visa for 3 months is C$80 and a multiple-entry visa is C$158.00. The Visa form for Canada is here.
For UK Nationals a Single-entry visa is £40 and a multiple-entry visa is as follows,
Visa extensions are possible in Dhaka at the Immigration and Passport Office, Agargaon Rd. Fees are the same as a single-entry visa, even if just trying to expand your 15 day pittance into a full-fledged 30-90 day visa, making a sidetrip from India for longer than 15 days an expensive endeavor. If you only want to stay a little longer it's better to just pay the overstay fee of Tk 200/day for up to 15 days, which grows substantially to Tk 500/day thereafter. Some of the smaller backwater crossings such as Tamabil may not even notice that you've overstayed, don't point it out yourself.
The Bangladesh High Commission in Kolkata, Circus Ave (Just east of AJC Bose Rd), +91 (0)33 2290 5208/5209, issues 15 day visas, ranging from free for Indians to a hefty Rs 5000 (~$110) for American citizens (Visa fees are reciprocal -- Bangladeshis applying for a US Visa pay about US$400 or so). Applications are received at window #4 M-F from 9-11AM, and visas are generally ready the next afternoon. Bring 3 passport photos and copies of passport and Indian visa.
For German passport holders it was 1.650 Rs as of February 2008, and for Austrians 1.950 Rs. It took 2 days to obtain the visa as one had to show up for an interview with the Deputy High Commissioner himself two days after the application. After the interview in the morning (2 hours waiting time), the visa was delivered at 6 pm the same day. It's not clear though if everybody has to undergo this procedure.
The national carrier is Biman Air, connecting with a few hubs in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. It has a less-than-stellar reputation for punctuality, cleanliness and safety. It is now under re-organization and most international routes have been canceled -- so look at other airlines for now.
The private carrier GMG Airlines operates domestic and regional flights to Dhaka from Kolkata, Delhi, Bangkok, Kuala_Lumpur and Kathmandu, and is far better managed than Biman. It is the best local carrier currently based in the Capital City of Dhaka and may open intercontinental routes soon.
Connecting from the Middle East:
There are direct flights to Dhaka from Qatar (Qatar Airways) and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates(Emirates or Etihad Airways) through which you can connect to New York, Toronto, Houston and most Asian and European Capitals. Emirates serves New York, Toronto and Houston from their Dubai (DXB) hub non-stop -- and then connects to Dhaka via a short four-hour hop.
Connecting from East Asia:
Hong Kong (Chek Lap Kok) and Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) are the most convenient nearby hubs to reach Bangladesh from Eastern Asia (Beijing, Tokyo) and points further East (Western United States).
Dragonair flies non-stop from Hong Kong to Dhaka (4~5 hours). Hong Kong as a major international hub has very good connections to the rest of the world.
Connecting from North America (East Coast):
No direct flights to Dhaka yet. Cathay Pacific has a non-stop route from New York (JFK) to Hong Kong over the North Pole (CX830/831). Then you take a short Dragonair flight to Dhaka.
Continental flies to Hong Kong non-stop using the same 16-hour polar route, flying from Newark Liberty (New Jersey). Again -- the connection is by Dragonair.
Connecting from North America (West Coast):
Cathay Pacific, Thai & Singapore Airlines now have non-stop flights from Hong Kong, Bangkok & Singapore (their respective hub cities) to Los Angeles. Singapore Airlines may also have a direct flight to San Francisco as well. These airlines all have direct connecting flights to Dhaka from their respective hubs.
Connecting from Australia or South Africa:
You're better off connecting via the Bangkok or Singapore hubs (which are served by almost every airline -- it seems).
Connecting from Western Europe:
British Airways serves Dhaka non-stop from London (by Boeing777 widebody). Air India now serves Dhaka-London via a short, momentary hop in nearby Kolkata (with a Boeing 747 widebody).
Connecting from the region (Indian subcontinent or China):
Connecting through Indian hubs (Delhi or Mumbai) to Dhaka is lately not advisable (as of late 2007) because of recent rapid airline growth in India and resulting chaos leading to delays lasting for a day or more in those hubs.
Some regional flights like those operated by Thai Airways stop in Chittagong or Sylhet en route to/from Dhaka.
Nearby regional destinations like Kathmandu (Nepal), Paro (Bhutan), Kunming (China) and all Indian cities are readily accessible from Dhaka in under three hours and are served by a great number of private airlines. The most exotic destination from Dhaka is to Paro (Bhutan's Capital) and is served by Druk-Air, the national Bhutanese Airline on Sundays (9:00 AM flight taking an hour). The approach to Paro Airport (PBH) is an adventure in itself.
Kunming is the other newest exotic addition to Dhaka's air-linked cities and has one flight a week (Thursdays). China Eastern Air Flight 2035 arrives in Dhaka from Kunming (KMG) at 12:40 PM. Flight 2036 then departs at 1:40 PM and takes two and a half hours to reach Kunming -- a relaxed hinterland Chinese city which is the capital of Yunnan province. At present (November 2007) this is the only direct air-link to the Chinese mainland from Bangladesh (other than Hong Kong).
From India there are a number of land entry points. The most common way is the regular comfortable a/c buses from Kolkata to Dhaka via the Haridaspur / Benapole border post. Private Bangladeshi bus companies Shohagh, Green Line, Shyamoli among others operate daily Kolkata-Dhaka-Kolkata bus services. Govt. buses run under the label of the state owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC). WBSTSC and BRTC both operate buses from Kolkata (Karunamoyee international bus terminus in the Salt Lake neighborhood) every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 5:30AM and 8:30AM, and 12:30PM while from Dhaka they leave on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:00AM and 7:30AM. The normal journey time is around 12 hours with a one-way fare of Rs550 or BDT600-800, roughly $8-12. If you're only headed to Haridaspur the fare is Rs86 (2.5 hours). Timings will vary, please confirm after arrival in Kolkata (Calcutta).
Another daily bus service under the WBSTSC/BRTC label runs from Siliguri to Dhaka, via the Changrabandha / Burimari or Burungamari border post with a change of bus at the border. A round-trip Siliguri-Dhaka-Siliguri ticket costs BDT 1300, (~$20). Tickets are sold in Dhaka and Siliguri. Buses leave Dhaka at 8PM and Siliguri at 2PM.
There is a regular bus service between Dhaka and Agartala, capital of India's Tripura state. Two BRTC buses leave daily from Dhaka and connect with the Tripura Road Transport Corporation vehicles, running six days a week with a roundtrip fare of BDT600 ($10). There is only one halt at Ashuganj in Bangladesh during the journey. Call +880 2 8360241 for schedule.
Other entry points from India are Hili, Chilahati / Haldibari and Banglaband border posts for entry from West Bengal; Tamabil / Dawki border post for a route between Shillong (Meghalaya) and Sylhet in Bangladesh, and some others with lesser known routes from north-eastern Indian regions.
Train services from India were suspended for 42 years, but the Moitree Express is scheduled to start running between Dhaka to Kolkata in end Sep/Oct 2007. However this is delayed indefinitely and in November 2007 it was uncertain when it would start.
Air travel in Bangladesh is very affordable and convenient.
There are airports in all of the division capitals and in Jessore, Cox's Bazar and some other small cities. Most of the domestic airports are served by either Biman Air, the national airline, or GMG Airlines, their private competitor.
Biman had the interesting distinction of flying the half-hour Dhaka-Chittagong (DAC-CGP) leg (~250 miles) on DC-10's and Airbus A-310's -- both large widebody jets.
By Air Taxi (Helicopter)
There are quite a few rotor-wing craft services available for hire in Bangladesh for tourism, MEDEVAC or Film-footage services. Any reputable travel agent will know full details. As of now -- one service "ATL" is at,ATL or at, ATL.
Local Bangladeshi buses are generally crowded, often to the extent of people riding on the bus steps (entrance) and sometimes even the roof. The state run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) buses usually fall into this catergory.
However, there are luxurious air conditioned bus services connecting major cities and popular tourist destinations. Green Line, Shyamoli SilkLine and Shohagh usually have a couple different offices dotted around the cities they serve. Greenline has a few Scania buses running between Dhaka, Chittagong and Cox's Bazar that offer a level of comfort you've probably never seen in a bus before - they cost about 1/3 more than their Volvo buses, but are comparable to business class on an airplane, at least.
Driving in Bangladesh is not for the faint hearted - the road network is fairly good, but dodging irrational bus drivers and weaving in and out of rickshaws isn't easy on the nerves. Traffic in Dhaka has reached unimaginable proportions, and self-driving isn't really advised.
Bangladesh Railways is the state and only train operator. The ticket prices are reasonable and usually similar to bus ticket prices and sometimes even cheaper. However, due to the roundabout routes and tricky river crossings, the journey durations are usually much longer. Tickets can be booked over the phone, though unless you speak Bengali you're likely to get better results at one of the computerized station booking offices.
Trains are generally comfortable, with more leg room than buses. 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.
Note that there have been a relatively high number of train accidents compared to other Asian countries.
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. Both of these consist of around 10 small berths on the upper deck of the boat with 2 beds each and a sink (no doubt doubling as a urinal), and fairly clean shared bathrooms. There's a central dining/sitting room in each class with a chef cooking Bengali meals and the odd fish-and-chips or an omelette for around Tk 50-150. Cheaper food can be bought at the vendors in the lower classes on the bottom level. First class is at the front of the boat, with the bow made into a nice sitting area. If you're traveling single you must book 2 beds if you want a berth guaranteed to yourself in either class, though unless the boat is completely full it's unlikely they'll put someone in a foreigner's room even if you just pay for one. The full journey takes anywhere from 26-30 hours and costs Tk 1010/610 in first/second class. It's best avoided during the rainy seasons and during holidays when the launches get over crowded with home-returning city dwellers. The more eco-friendly may prefer to take their trash off with them, otherwise it's likely to end up in the river at the end of the journey.
BIWTC also operates many other more basic ferries that may be useful for smaller distances.
The national language is Bengali (Bangla) and is spoken everywhere. It's an Indo-Aryan language derived from Prakit, Pali and Sanskrit and written in its own script. Many Bangladeshis only understand limited English such as basic affirmatives, negatives, and some numbers. Learning a few Bengali words ahead of your trip will prove very useful.
Two centuries of British colonisation lead people to identify most foreigners as either British or American, and to view them with curiosity. The first question you will probably be asked is "What is your country?" (Desh kothay? in Bangla). If hawkers or rickshaw-wallahs are over-zealous, "Amar dorkar nai" or "Lagbey nah" mean "No thanks." If you don't wish to give money to beggars and other unfortunates, "maaf koro" means "pardon me" or you can apply a tricky concept saying "Amar bangthi poisha nai", meaning "I have no change".
In most stores prices are not fixed. and can be lowered quite considerably. If bargaining is not your strong point ask a local in the vicinity politely what they think you should pay.
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.
Women can find a cotton salwar kameez for around Tk 400 in a market or Tk 800-1500 in a shop. Silk is more expensive.
ATM's can be found in some of the larger cities like Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. HSBC and Standard Chartered both have networks accepting debit cards with the Visa or Mastercard logos. There is an ATM machine in the Dhaka airport.
Bangladesh is a fish lover's paradise. Traditionally most of the country lives off of the once bountiful river fish, especially the officially designated "national fish" hilsa, though sea fish are now working their way north. Sometimes incredibly boney, it's often served whole, and sometimes deboned and made into a curry. Mutton is also popular, as in most Muslim countries, as is decidedly meatless chicken. Rice is almost always the companion to any of these.
Mixed vegetable curries are plentiful - potato, eggplant, squash and tomatoes are the staple ingredients. Cucumber is enormously popular and often served with onions as a little side salad.
Dal is available at pretty much anytime of the day and accompanies most meals, though it doesn't compare to its cousin in India — expect a salty dal-flavored water with a few lentils hanging out in the bottom of the bowl.
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.
Fast food restaurants and bakeries serving burgers, spring rolls, vegetable patties and just about anything else you can throw in a deep fryer are dotted around most cities. Most things will run around Tk 10/each.
Most Bangladeshis eat with their right hand as in neighboring countries - play with your food a little first to form it into a mouth-sized ball then, using your four fingers as a makeshift scoop, pick it up and launch it into your mouth with your thumb - takes some practice, but don't pretend you aren't loving it. 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 if they don't have running water), and you should use it before and after the meal. 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.
Table sharing is acceptable and even expected in most establishments, with the exception of nicer city restaurants. Many places have separate curtained-off booths for women and families, a nice reprieve from prying eyes.
Nightlife is Bangladesh in nearly non-existent. Being a Muslim country, alcohol is frowned upon and found mostly in the international clubs and pricier restaurants in Dhaka and in some restaurants in tourist centers like Cox's Bazar. In Teknaf and on Saint Martins Island you may stumble upon the occasional beer smuggled in from Myanmar. Some of the nicest hotels in the cities have fully equipped bars with exaggerated prices to match.
Coffee is -- like the rest of the world, a perennial middle-class 'Adda' (gossip) accompaniment in this city. A favourite haunt for coffee-lovers (those with a 'Starbucks' bent) is 'Coffeeworld', Dhaka branch addresses (about seven so far) given here, Dhaka Coffeeworld joints. Most coffee aficionados here rate their 'Caramel Macchiato' better than the plain Starbucks variety and cheaper to boot (about US$2)!
Fruit juice is plentiful, varied and delicious, though be wary of watered down or icy drinks and dirty blenders. Sugarcane juice is widely available during the hot season.
There's a lot happening around the city. Like any large metropolis there are dramas, concerts and performances galore -- both of the western and local variety. Yes it is possible to end up at a live rave event with thrash music in Dhaka!!
Please check this events-site,
Explore the site well, many events are detailed with addresses and contact phone nos. Locals and expats both find local art-gallery and photo-gallery events listed at this site to be quite rewarding.
Not that most travelers will have time for catching a movie -- but if you are on an extended stay and are bored -- then a clean, modern & comfortable theatre would be the Cineplex on the 7th floor of the Bashundhara City shopping mall CINEPLEXBD. They have most recent Hollywood movies as well as some local Bengali ones.
There's a broad range of hotels in the country, from economy hotels costing $1 per night (sometimes filthy and sometimes reluctant to take foreigners) up to 5-star hotels in some of the major cities, including chains like Radisson Dhaka, Sheraton Dhaka and Westin Dhaka.
Dhaka (the capital) has quite a few attractions architecture wise. Also -- if you're only visiting one thing, then the LalBagh Qilla fort is a must see, in the older part of town.
Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, .
Bangladeshis will be the first to warn you against the bad seeds in their country at every chance. "Why are you staying at that hotel?!" "Watch your bags!" "Don't take candy from strangers!". While there's no doubt that you can encounter bad natured people you're surrounded by many more that are looking out for you at every turn, and you'll likely find yourself wondering what the fuss is all about in the first place. That said, stick to common sense precautions like not walking around unnecessarily after dark, and if you do find yourself in trouble, create some noise and draw the attention of others who are almost certain to come to your aid.
Nationwide strikes or “hartals” are widely employed as a means of political expression in Bangladesh. The political opposition over the past several years has called a number of these hartals, resulting in the virtual shutdown of transportation and commerce, and sometimes attacks on individuals who do not observe the hartals. Clashes between rival political groups during hartals have resulted in deaths and injuries. Visitors should avoid all political protests, demonstrations, and marches. During hartals, visitors should exercise caution in all areas and remain indoors whenever possible. Hartals, demonstrations, and other protests can occur at ANY time.
It's best to not eat, drink or smoke anything offered to you by strangers – there's a growing problem in many Asian countries of druggings, and you're likely to see signs warning you against it on buses, trains, etc. That's not to say you shouldn't take someone up on their offer for a home cooked meal, but you may want to think twice about that piece of candy the person in the seat next to you just handed you.
Electricity is 220V 50Hz. There are three types of electrical outlets likely to be found in Bangladesh — the old British standard BS-546, the newer British standard BS-1363 and the European standard CEE-7/16 "Europlug". It's wise to pack adapters for all three.
Most women wear either a sari or a salwar kameez - a nice and comfortable three piece outfit with a knee-length tunic (kameez), pants (salwar) and a matching scarf. Foreign women may want to consider the same. Having said this, rapid westernization has changed how modern city dwellers dress, especially the upper class. Jeans and t-shirts are common among the younger generation though remember it's polite to keep your shoulders and legs covered. This goes also for men – shorts are worn only by young boys.
Men can easily leave their razors at home and rely on the ever-present barber shops where a basic shave will run around Tk 10-20. Make sure they use a new blade, though you won't usually have to ask. "Deluxe" shaves will run around double price and barbers will often assume foreign tourists want this, so be clear if you're just after a quick shave and don't want the dubious massage and forehead/nose shaving.
In upscale restaurants around 5% is expected, but outside of these it's the exception not the rule.
The country code for Bangladesh is 880. Add a 0 to make a call to any Bangladesh city or region outside the national capital.
It is not possible to access international information (directory assistance) from within Bangladesh. If you need international directory assistance, check the Internet telephone directories.
Landlines are a rarity in Bangladesh, and aren't reliable even when you can find them. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB, known generally as T&T) is the public sector phone company and the only landline service in the country.
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, Aktel , Teletalk and Warid. 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... though 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.
Internet is available in most of the larger towns, with prices hovering around Tk 15-20/hour. Most are on dial-up connections, though you'll stumble across broadband occasionally.