Getting there & away
The bus ‘system’ in Bangladesh teeters between mind-bogglingly chaotic and surprisingly organised. When you arrive at a bus station, you will be swamped by panic-stricken men shouting like auctioneers. When you so much as mutter your intended destination, you will be frantically shunted onto a bus as if it’s going to leave at any second, only to have to then wait for it to leave in its own sweet time. For your own safety and sanity, take the train if it’s possible.
The government Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC; DIT Ave) buses leave from Kamlapur station. It’s best forgotten as the service is far inferior to that of the private lines.
Dhaka’s main train station is Kamlapur station in Motijheel. Many trains also stop at the smaller Banani and Airport train stations, both of which are more convenient if you’re staying in Gulshan area. Buying tickets is easy and there’s a large timetable in English. Double-check it for accuracy because the schedules change slightly in the summer and the board may not reflect this. The inquiry counter, which is open until 11pm, and the chief inspector are both helpful. The table below shows some examples of express trains from Dhaka. If you’ve just arrived from India, you will be in for a shock when you see how comparatively organised everything is here.
Book 1st- and 2nd-class Rocket (paddle-wheel) tickets at the Bangladesh Inland Waterway Transport Corporation office (BIWTC; 955 9779, 891 4771; Sun-Wed to 5pm, Thu to 2pm, closed Fri & Sat) in Motijheel, a block east of Dilkusha Circle I. You may be told that only 1st-class tickets can be booked from this office. A smile and some persistence should change this policy.
The Rocket departs from Sadarghat and, on rare occasions, from Badam Tole boat terminal, 1km north of Sadarghat. Get there in plenty of time. The trip to Khulna takes from 27 to 30 hours. Fares to Khulna are roughly Tk 1010/610/150 for 1st/2nd/deck class, depending on which Rocket you catch. Prices are sequentially less, depending on where you want to jump off along the way. For an explanation of classes see p175.
Boats depart for Khulna every day (except Friday) at 6pm sharp.
Those travelling deck class (good luck convincing someone to sell you a deck-class ticket) may want to stake a place before the hordes arrive. You could pay a local to occupy a place for you, sitting all day for a fee of around Tk 50.
Private launches operate up and down the major rivers but most head south. Short-distance destinations reached by services from Dhaka include Bandura (30km west), Munshiganj (25km southeast) and Srinigar (20km southwest). Long-distance destinations include Barisal (110km south), Bhola (110km south), Chandpur (60km southeast), Madaripur (60km southwest) and Patuakali (40km south).
Short-distance launches travel during the day. The large long-distance launches travel at night, arriving at Sadarghat in the morning and remaining there all day, until departing at around 6pm or 7pm. Tickets are usually sold on board on the day of departure and require some bargaining.
There are several airlines in Bangladesh:
Best Air (988 2404) Office at the domestic airport.
Biman (955 9610; Dilkusha II Circle, Motijheel)
GMG Airlines (711 4155/7; Sena Kayan Bhaban, 13th fl, Motijheel)
United Airways (895 7640; www.uabdl.com) At the domestic airport.
GMG and United are the most reliable, both in schedules and safety. Routes and prices vary little between the competitors.
At the time of writing, there were services to Barisal (35 minutes), Chittagong (50 minutes), Jessore (40 minutes), Cox’s Bazar (40 minutes), and Sylhet (45 minutes). Prices and times change constantly, and don’t expect any of them to stick to their schedule.