Getting there & away
Compared with India, fares to Bangladesh aren’t very cheap and, if you don’t mind the hassle of obtaining an Indian visa, a cheaper way of entering the country is often by coming overland from Kolkata (you’ll need to leave via this route as well). Buying a one-way ticket out of Bangladesh is very expensive – go to India first!
There are many good travel agents in Dhaka.
There are numerous points to cross into India, but only a few of these are set up with immigration facilities to service foreigners.
Theoretically the same system is supposed to be in place for all of these crossings, but in practice this isn’t the case. There is a Tk 300 departure tax, officially at least, at all land border crossings, but some travellers have reported not having to pay this. This tax must be paid in advance at a Sonali Bank branch (either in Dhaka, another big city or at the closest branch to the border). There have also been reports of people managing to leave without a change of route permit, and others being turned back for not having one. A change of route permit is officially required if you have entered Bangladesh by air and leave via a land crossing. These can be obtained at the Immigration and Passport Office. Customs are fairly lax with foreigners. The same rules regarding what you can bring into the country (in the way of cigarettes and alcohol) apply at border crossings as at airports, though in practice a blind eye is usually turned to your luggage at land crossings.
Officials on both sides operate an unofficial money-changing service, which may be necessary for a small amount to get you to Akhaura, if you’re coming into Bangladesh. The distance between Dhaka and Agartala (in India’s Tripura state) is 155km.
Coming into Bangladesh you will find plenty of rickshaws heading to the town of Akhaura, 5km away.
Officials at this border seem to be particularly prone to request change of route permits. Without one, you run a big risk of being turned back.
For more information on crossing this border, see p82.
In India BRTC (Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation; 21/A Mirza Ghalib St, Salt Lake City, Kolkata) runs direct services from Kolkata to Dhaka on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The privately run Shyamoli Paribahan (033-2252 0802; 6/1 Marquis St; 10am-5pm) operates a daily service to Dhaka with a change in Benapole (Rs 550 one way).
To get to the Godagari border from Rajshahi, take a Nawabganj-bound bus. In the town of Godagari, the border is quite well marked.
The towns of Godagari and Lalgola are separated by the Padma River. In the dry season it is possible to walk across it, otherwise there will be boats waiting to take you across. In the town of Lalgola, on the Indian side, there is a train station. This crossing is surprisingly little used by foreign tourists.
Much trade between Bangladesh and India goes on via this border. The Indian town of Balurghat is 25km from Hili, on the state highway. The border can be seen from the side of the road – it’s usually lined with hundreds of trucks. This crossing is little used by foreign tourists.
The catch with crossing at this border is the need to present a receipt that shows you have deposited a travel tax of Tk 300 into a Sonali Bank. Travellers have been turned back because they have failed to do so.
To drive in Bangladesh, you will need an International Driver’s Licence. The import of a vehicle requires a carnet de passage en douane (a document from the motoring organisation in the country in which the vehicle is registered, which says you will not sell the vehicle abroad without paying import duties) and an entry permit from a Bangladeshi embassy.
At the time of writing, an announcement was made that after around 50 years without a service, rail travel between Bangladesh and Kolkata was finally set to kick into life.
To enter Bangladesh you will need a passport that’s valid for at least six months beyond the duration of your stay, an onward/return ticket and a visa.
Rules and procedures for entering and exiting Bangladesh seem to be in a constant state of flux. For many years it hasn’t been possible to obtain a visa on arrival at the airport, though there are rumours that some people had recently managed to wrangle visas on arrival. Despite this promising move, it’s still best to play it safe and make sure you arrive with a visa and your passport in order.
If you are exiting by land but you entered by air, a ‘change of route’ permit is required. Note that Bangladesh currently refuses entry to Israeli passport holders.
There are three international airports in Bangladesh. Osmani International (ZYL) in Sylhet, Patenga (CGP) in Chittagong and Zia International Airport (DAC) in Dhaka. Zia International Airport (02-819 4350) is the busiest of the three. Located 12km north of the city centre, on the road to Uttara, it doesn’t have ‘gateway to the world’ written on it, but it does have a bank, some duty-free shops and a couple of restaurants.
For a long time Bangladesh had only one major airline, Biman. The US Federal Aviation Administration has classified Biman as category two, which means that it is not in absolute compliance with international aviation safety standards. They run domestic flights between Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet, and internationally throughout South and Southeast Asia and occasionally even to Europe. Privately run GMG Airlines is a newer, brighter and better option. It links Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Cox’s Bazaar, Barisal and Jessore, but internationally it only serves South and Southeast Asia. GMG has just been joined by United Airways, which runs an almost identical service, in equally good planes, as GMG. In 2007 two new airlines, funded by British and Bangladeshi businessmen, took to the skies. These are Best Air and Royal Bengal. At the time of writing it seemed that both were offering very limited internal services, and the much-hyped London–Bangladesh route seems to have quietly vanished from the advertising hype.
Airlines flying to and from Bangladesh:
Biman (BG; 02-956 0151; www. Bimanair.com; hub Zia International Airport, Dhaka)
British Airways (BA; 02-881 5111; www.britishairways.com; hub Heathrow Airport, London)
Singapore Airlines (SQ; 02-881 1504; www.singaporeair.com; hub Changi Airport)
United Airways (02-893 2338; www.uabdl.com; hub Zia International Airport)
There are flights to/from all nearby Asian countries except Myanmar. Most connections are direct to Dhaka’s Zia International Airport, except for Biman flights between Chittagong and India or Thailand. During hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca), airlines usually increase their services so that it is even possible to fly directly out of Sylhet.
Druk Air offers the only service between Dhaka and Paro, and the fare is high (US$190/380 one way/return). There are only two flights a week. If the schedule isn’t convenient, you could fly to Paro via Kolkata, using Druk Air and Biman; connections are good and the cost is only marginally more.
If you purchase your ticket from one of the many discount agencies in Bangkok, you’ll get a much better deal.
The easiest way to get to Bangladesh from Australia is to fly to Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, then fly from there to Dhaka, or to fly to Kolkata in India, and fly or travel by land into Bangladesh. Flights from Sydney to Dhaka can be found for as little as A$1000 whereas advance-purchase airfares from the east coast to Bangkok are from A$900 return.
Quite a few travel offices specialise in discount air tickets. Some travel agents, particularly smaller ones, advertise cheap fares in the travel sections of weekend newspapers such as the Age in Melbourne and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Reputable agents with branches throughout Australia:
Flight Centre Australia (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au)
STA Travel Australia (134 782; www.statravel.com.au)
Though London is the travel-discount capital of Europe, there are several other cities where you can find a range of good deals. Generally there is not much variation in airfares for departures from the main European cities. All the major airlines usually offer some sort of deal, and travel agents generally have a number of deals on offer, so shop around.
Good places to start:
Barceló Viajes (902 11 62 26; www.barceloviajes.com) In Spain.CTS Viaggi (199 50 11 50; www.cts.it) In Italy.NBBS Reizen (0180 39 33 77; www.nbbs.nl) In the Netherlands.Nouvelles Frontières (0 825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr) In France.
Airline-ticket discounters are known as ‘bucket shops’ in the UK. Despite the somewhat disreputable name, there is nothing under-the-counter about them. Discount air travel is big business in London. Advertisements for many travel agents appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheets, such as the Independent on Saturday, and the Sunday Times. Look out for the free magazines, such as TNT, that are widely available in London – start by looking outside the main railway and underground stations.
Good starting points:
STA Travel (0871 2 300 040; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Discount travel agents in the USA are commonly known as ‘consolidators’ (although you won’t see a sign on the door saying ‘consolidator’). San Francisco is the consolidator capital of America, although some good deals can be found in Los Angeles, New York and other big cities. Consolidators can be found through the Yellow Pages or the major daily newspapers. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Examiner all produce weekly travel sections in which you will find travel-agency ads.
There are basically two ways to get to Bangladesh from the USA. From the west coast virtually everyone flies to Dhaka via Bangkok or Singapore. You can also fly direct to India and connect from there, but it will cost more.
One recommended travel agent is STA Travel (800-781 4040; www.statravel.com).