A Travellerspoint blog

Bandarban


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We were pleasantly surprised by the 'luxury' bus to Bandarban and found it hard to stay awake despite the erratic driving and constant use of the horn. Our permits were checked and we were dropped into town where we were getting nowhere fast with our negotiation of tuk tuk fares to our guesthouse, Milonchori Hillside Resort that is 4km from town. Finally a young boy barely able to see over the steering column took us half way up the hill, dropping us by a bus stand. In the bus we were positioned very precisely at the front while layers of people climbed in after us, the driver set off chatting on his mobile phone while negotiating the narrow, winding mountain roads.
The resort is run by Guide Tours, a tour company that has been running for 10 years in Bangladesh and the first to cater for foreign tourists. We were invited to meet Hussan, the charismatic owner in his home. He greeted us with a cup of Darjeeling and we sat on his balcony while he talked with great pride of his country and achievements, telling us how he has seen a slow gradual increase in tourism and his dream to develop this further.
We had arranged a boat ride for the following morning and we set off in the general direction of the river down the steep, narrow jungle path, passing several dried up waterfalls. The walk must have taken us 40 minutes and as we came to the river, the view opened out past fields of tobacco plants. A teenage boy walked towards us and at first we didn't recognise him as our boatman, although once we had established he would take us to Bandarban town, he waded across the water and started to bail out the narrow boat. We paddled along the sandy banks of the Sangu River, pockets of people bathing and washing clothes, children laughing and swimming, shouting "how are you?” The peaceful boat ride at an end, we clambered up the hill to cross the high bridge, and the walk to Bandarban town took us past rural life, carpenters handcrafting bed heads and chairs, metalwork, a few restaurants and we stumbled over an artisan shop selling handcraft from local tribes where we bought a blanket.
We were woken up by a storm in the middle of the night, the rain hammering against the corrugated roof of the little bungalow and the flashes of lightning highlighting the gaps in the woven wicker walls, filling the room with hundreds of stars. We got up early needing to organise a ferry to Barisal and spoke to Reema who said she would investigate for us. The low level water during this season meant we had to change our plans, unable to cross by boat and unfortunately our only option was to return to Dhaka before heading south.
After breakfast we picked up a hand drawn map and walked up the steep hill to the Hatibandha Village to meet the Tripura tribal people. Nestled in a valley, the village can only be reached on foot, down some near-vertical brick roads we slowly made our way. At one resting point we were attacked by red ants, their red hot little bites travelling up our legs. The village has 25 people living there, and we felt a little like we were intruding without a guide as an intermediary. We walked through, passing little faces peering around doors and windows, shy and curious. The village was spotless and they were busy drying what we thought looked like ginger or a type of root in the sun. We returned to the terrace of the resort for some tea and a few games of Yahzee, followed by some rounds of table tennis in the indoor games room.
The next day we heaved on our backpacks that seem to be gaining weight, I have somehow added a kilogram to mine making it 8.5kg, and James is now carrying a neatly packed 15kg! The bus was due to leave at 9.30am and our packs were placed into the rusting hold under the bus whose bodywork appeared to have been patched together with papier-mâché. We were a little apprehensive at the speed the driver might go, especially where poor James couldn't sit straight where the seats were packed so tightly. As the last few people climbed on top of the bus for the cheap seats and a couple of attempts to get the bus started, the creaky bus slowly meandered along the windy roads, and both of us, and I'm sure the men sat on the roof were quite happy for the 3.5 hour journey.

Jane

Posted by gonetravelling 22:13 Archived in Bangladesh Comments (0)

Srimangal


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We stayed at the Green Leaf Tea Guest House in Srimangal and the place had a certain Hawaiian theme about it. The staff were very attentive and we even had a choice of double bed in our room! We spent the first evening relaxing after the early morning train journey, and chatting with a German couple about Nepal. We were also introduced to the overly self assured Tapash, who was only too pleased to mention he was the top guide in all the guide books (he even memorised the page numbers). After some interesting haggling we settled on two half day tours.
Our first tour was to the Lawachara National Park where we would hopefully see the Hoolock Gibbons. Our guide, Santosh was very knowledgeable, pointing out everything in sight and doing amazing Tarzan impressions. The jungle was incredibly noisy and full of all sorts of wildlife and vegetation. I couldn't help thinking I was on the set of Predator and either Arnie or the Predator would jump out at any moment. We heard the distinctive call of the Hoolock Gibbon but didn't have time to venture further into the jungle to see them. Instead we headed to the local Khashai village to see the women there expertly pick the Betel Leaves and bundle them together to be sold all over Bangladesh.
Our second half day tour turned out to be a rather short one hour boat ride! We set off a bit late at 9 for what Tapash had promised would be "a wonderfully memorable half day tour of the Hail Haor Wetlands where we would see huge amounts of flora and fauna". During the 30 minutes journey out to the wetlands we were told by our guide that because it was the dry season there wouldn't be any birds and the flora hadn't flowered yet... Not quite what was said in the brochure me thinks! The boat ride was still very enjoyable and we heard how many of the farmers in the area are switching from growing rice to farming fish now to make better money. We did see some cormorants and the odd heron which was nice. To end the ride we were taken to a beautiful lily pond that you could see would be gorgeous when all the flowers are in bloom. We were back at the Guest house by 11, disappointed and feeling somewhat deceived by Tapash. As we now had loads of spare time we decided to drown our sorrows with the famous seven layer tea and set off through the tea and rubber plantations to find it. The tea plantations were very flat and looked a little worse for wear compared to the ones in Sri Lanka. We eventually found the tea shack and spent a while trying to figure out how the tea was layered as well as guessing what the different flavours were.
We had the same overnight train to Chittagong as Annie, one of the other guests and we chatted about life in Bangladesh whilst we waited on the platform for the delayed train. Annie had a first class berth while we were in third class (what you get when you don't book in advance) and we agreed to meet again when the train got in to compare notes. The ride itself was fine in the cramped carriage. I think Jane managed about 30 minutes sleep and I got about 5 minutes. I felt sorrier for the people who had to stand for the entire journey!

James

Posted by gonetravelling 21:50 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged bangladesh srimangal tea_plantation rubber_plantation hoolock_gibbon lawachara_national_park 7_layer_tea Comments (0)

Sylhet


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The cricket had brought the masses to Sylhet and the Holy Gate was the only hotel we found with rooms available and it was expensive compared to our usual standards at 2100tk (£16 p/n). We were shown to our luxurious room with cable tv, air con, hot water and two pillows, although jumping on the bed realised they seemed to have forgotten a mattress - like wood, it was harder than any train we had slept on!
The staff at the hotel were so attentive, almost to a fault, trying to please us constantly and we found the next morning when we sat down to a simple western breakfast of omelets and sweet toast with luminous jelly-jam, we were accompanied by waiters moving things around on the table for us, watching eagle eyed. Outside we hailed a rickshaw to go to the train station to book our tickets to Sreemongal not wanting to make the same mistake as before. The rickshaw driver took us over the Kean bridge, with slow moving traffic and rickshaws helped up the steep slope of the bridge by 'pushers' who are paid a few takas for their efforts. The river we passed over reminded me of Laos with the clutches of long narrow boats against the high banks and the boatmen wearing the peaked hats so prolific in South East Asia.
Once we were dropped back at the hotel we had some lunch, and found a shop where we bought our first souvenirs from Bangladesh. We could see the traffic backing up past our hotel with everyone heading to the cricket stadium and decided it was probably time we joined the queue. The first game, Zimbabwe vs Netherlands started at 3.30pm and we had booked our seats in the front row, although sitting down realised we weren't going to see much of the game from there. Only too pleased to help the foreigners, the small gathering crowd invited us to take the seats on the top row with a good view until the seat holders turned up. The stadium started to fill up and the atmosphere was building with it, the film crews focusing on the audience to many cheers and much excitement. It was a close run game, with Zimbabwe needing just one run off the one remaining ball to win, and they hit a beauty of a six to finish. It was a great first game that had the crowd ready for more.
The flood lights were turned on and the Ireland vs. UAE game started at 7.30pm. The family next to us waving their UAE flags, although we were pleased to see many Ireland supporters (although only 1 actually from Ireland that we saw). Ireland were a much better side easily fielding, and when batting there were many 4's and 6's to the delight of the head banging drummers and crowd! We could feel the wind picking up through the stadium, circling dust all around us, some of the giant banners started to work their way loose and without warning the flood lights went out leaving only a few small points of light run by generators. In true Bangladeshi style the DJ booth instantly blasted out music, and the drummers drummed and a party started all around us while the cricketers stood confused in the middle of the pitch. Within 15 minutes the flood lights started to turn back on, and it was possible to see the dust storm building but despite the strong winds the cricketers filed back onto the pitch and the game resumed. One ball and the lights went out again and we could start to feel fat drops of rain fall. Later we heard that rain stopped play although the Bangladesh government had issued a request to local factories not to use any electricity during international cricket matches in future. As we tried to dodge the rain walking back from the stadium we got talking to a couple of locals who offered us a lift back to our hotel and as there were no tuk tuks to be found we jumped in the back of their car. A few photos and exchanging of emails later and we were back at the hotel.
We were woken up the next morning to the lovely tinkling of rickshaw bells and the occasional car horn. After a slow start we set out to find some lunch and what should have been a 15 minute rickshaw journey found us still lost after 50 minutes. Our driver was determined to help us but tiring, and he had circled back near our hotel, so we jumped out at the Yummy Hut and guessed at the vegetarian options from the cryptic menu.

Jane.

Posted by gonetravelling 05:05 Archived in Bangladesh Comments (0)

Dhaka


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The plane landed in Dhaka at 11.30am and we moved through the chaotic airport full of people ignoring announcements to immigration. The Bangladesh immigration officers seemed concerned that we weren't travelling with mobile phones and hadn't pre-booked a hotel in Dhaka, asking us repeatedly how were they going to get hold of us? For a short time we thought we might be spending the next three weeks on a Thai beach rather than in Bangladesh, but after long debates and radioing through to higher authorities we were finally allowed a visa and entry into the country. We finally made it out of the airport at 1 pm and we climbed into a tuk tuk, peering through the grates on the door and windows to our first glimpses of Dhaka's tatty, dusty streets as the driver weaved in and out of large Tata trucks and peddling rickshaw drivers. The traffic in Dhaka is supposed to be the worst in the world and to be honest the driving also isn't far off.
We took a room at Hotel Ramna based in the Gulistan area of the city, fairly central for the tourist sites. Our first rickshaw ride and we balanced ourselves on the narrow wooden seat with the colourful embroidered hood pulled up around us still feeling a little vulnerable when moving past the big buses and trucks. We arrived at Shadarghat and by the time we had bought our tickets to enter we had created an intrigued crowd keen to know where we were from, what we had seen in Bangladesh and to shake our hands. A young lad nominated himself as our unofficial guide walking with us alongside the row of boats and passenger ferries, a crowd following behind. We moved on through the busy streets asking local advice for how to get to Hindu Street. After a little backwards and forwards we were directed to a street where crowds were forming keeping a safe distance from the colourful people emerging covered head to toe in paints of all colours. We had been told it was a Hindu holiday, and two men who had obviously been celebrating hard greeted us and drunkenly told us of the troubles Hindus can have in a country that is 80% Muslim while covering our faces in paint and insisting on many photographs and tea in their homes. Where it was getting late and we were shattered from the early start we went back to the hotel and spent the next hour scrubbing our faces and clothes to get the paint off!
After breakfast we walked to the BIWIC office to book the Rocket Steamer boat, feeling like we had a new found celebrity status with all the stares and smiles we were attracting, it's amazing to visit a country where tourism is still so new and the interest from the people so genuine and warm. The staff were so helpful and with the date of our first class boat ride secured we hired a rickshaw to find an internet cafe. This proved to be harder than we first thought and it took over an hour, our rickshaw driver patiently asking many locals who seemed so certain when they pointed him in yet another different direction. Once found, we used our time to book tickets for the T20 cricket and accommodation as it seemed internet access might be hard to find!
The next day we checked out of the hotel and headed to the train station only to be adamantly told the next train to Sylhet was fully booked. As we walked away from the queue debating our next moves we were called back by the throng of people and found that two seats were somehow now available. There seems to be a black market for train tickets in Bangladesh and we think this is the only way we managed to scrap some seats for the long journey. The train was comfortable and very sedate compared to the Indian trains, a smattering of people selling chocolate and crisps, and tea was served to passengers in fine china cups and saucers.

Jane.

Posted by gonetravelling 04:49 Archived in Bangladesh Comments (0)

Negumbo


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Negumbo was a practical choice as our flight to Bangladesh left at silly o'clock in the morning so we wanted to be close to the airport. The Guest house was fine and we spent a while sifting through the goodies sent out to us in another care package... Cheers mum! Took a walk along the beach. It was very busy with locals and Russian holiday makers but nothing in comparison to the other beaches we had already been. Negumbo had a certain 'British Riviera' feel about it; it all felt a little tired and dated. Still, it did allow for a good night’s sleep before our flight off to country number three.

James

Posted by gonetravelling 04:34 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged beach airport sri lanka negumbo Comments (0)

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