Mar 12, 2011

Checking out Bangladesh

Bangladesh is not high on most people’s list of places to visit. Truth be known it wasn’t high on our To-do-List either but the flight to Dhaka from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Air Asia was reasonable and it was a country we had not visited… so why not?

We made two good decisions. One, we decided to stay only one week instead of two mainly because local travel agents did not respond making it difficult to make arrangements. Secondly, we booked a week at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon. We have stayed at many Pan Pacific hotels in Asia and loved them all. Our visa on arrival was a quick, painless procedure. A staff member from Pan Pacific was waiting for us… it is always a warm, fuzzy feeling to exit customs to see someone holding a sign with our name on it.

As luck would have it we arrived during the Moslem World Convocation which was held near the airport so the normally crowded roads of Dhaka were in gridlock. The usual 30-minute ride to the hotel took three hours. We were impressed with the patience people exhibited while waiting. When we arrived at the beautiful Pan Pacific Hotel it was like entering an oasis of calm. The hotel is wonderful with great restaurants, a beautiful pool, and very friendly staff. Unlike most of our travels where the hotel is usually just a place to sleep we kicked back and enjoyed the hotel for several days.

Feeling a bit guilty about not seeing the sites we booked a city tour. We visited Ahsan Manzil and Lalbah both sites from the times of the great Mughal Empire. Obviously, Western tourists are a rarity because we were the main attraction. People were very friendly but curious. We were welcomed in English by many people, especially children and had our picture taken by a slew of people. One young lad about seven years old dressed in a black suit offered to shake hands saying in very precise English, “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

However, the Dhaka traffic gives new meaning to heavy traffic even on a normal workday. There are many nice cars along with bike-driven rickshaws, motorcycle cabs, motorbikes, and trucks. It made visiting the historic sites in the city difficult so we decided to head out of the city and take a river trip.

Once we left the city the traffic was normal and there were many interesting things to see along the way. We arrived at the river bank of the Meghna River, a river which originates in the Himalayas, and boarded a traditional wooden boat. The rivers are the best way to transport goods and people. Bangladesh is a country of rivers.
Our river trip was lovely and relaxing. Joining us was our guide, Catherine, along with Ferdous, the owner of the travel agency, and his wife and baby. We stopped at a fishing village on a large sand island in the river where we were welcomed graciously and given a tour of their village. The river is everything to the people. It is where they get their food, bathe, and wash their clothes. One lady invited us into her tidy home she shares with her daughter and son-in-law. We found the people to be hard workers and very friendly. When we left they were sprucing up the city to host the Cricket World Cup.