GETTING HERE & AROUND
Besides Bangladesh Biman (the national airline), several international airline carriers (Thai, Singapore Airlines, Silk Air, Air India, British Airways, Aeroflot, etc.) have regular flights into Dhaka. However, the best way is to avoid daffy Dhaka altogether and fly direct to Chittagong (Thai, Phuket Air, Biman, Dragon Air, etc.). Internally, Bangladesh Biman and GMG, the only private sector airline offer many daily flights around the country. You may also enter Bangladesh overland from India via the Benapole border post, about two hours from Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta). There are direct air-conditioned coach services from the border (or Jessore) to Dhaka (a four hour journey). Comfortable coach services from Dhaka to Chittagong take five hours, but check out the enjoyable train services (day and overnight). Contrary to occasional rumors, there is no overland route to Myanmar, nor does one seem to be in the offing in the foreseeable future. We can assist you with bookings.
The major cities offer a fair choice of hotels. Dhaka has two five-star hotels and Chittagong has one. You'll get better value (and service) in the many smaller guest houses. Most people find that the hotels in Bangladesh charge considerably higher than similar hotels in adjacent countries, this seems to be true for some unknow reason. The district towns have a more limited choices, but you'll usually find at least one or two hotels that are good, clean and maybe have air-conditioned rooms. Most provide mosquito nets, a single bottom sheet and squat toilets. Government lodges or colonial rest houses are available if you book in advance, but officers have preference. In the villages, you'll usually be invited to stay with one of the families, facilities will be basic. While in the interior or on tour, Bangladesh Ecotours offers either eco-lodges or home-stay accommodation.
Meals on our tours are healthy vegetarian hybrid of western styles and traditional, local cuisine of the villages and regions we visit. On tour, meals are prepared by your hosts or by our own cooks. In the smaller towns there is a choice of Bengali or some western foods. There are always plenty of fresh fruits and an amazing variety of seasonal vegetables available. Bottled water is widely available. Alcoholic beverages are of limited availability. 'Home-brew', however, is quite plentiful in the hill districts, as are home-rolled 'cheroots'.
WHEN TO VISIT
Our tours operate year-round. Bangladesh has six seasons, each with its own flavor and mood. The dry, cool season from late September to early May is the most popular season for most westerners. The rainy season begins in June and continues more or less till September. During these monsoons, excluding the interior villages, travel is still possible and one can relish the resplendent ultra-green landscapes. It is also the best season to travel by boat (traditional or motorized) on the country's extensive riverine system. No visit to Bangladesh is complete without experiencing this most relaxing mode of transport.
Bengali is the official and most widely spoken language. It is also the eighth most spoken language on earth. Each district has it's own unique dialect, some quite different. In the hill tracts, each of the indigenous tribes has their own language, but most can understand the local Bengali. As a former British colony, a quaint form of English is widely understood and spoken, and used for signboards, directions, etc. You may be pleasantly surprised to find aspiring English speakers not only in the larger towns, but in the remotest villages as well.
Local currency is the 'Taka', about 59 to the US Dollar and 58 to the Euro as of April, 2003. The notes come in One, Two, Five, Ten, Twenty, Fifty, One Hundred and Five Hundred Taka denominations. There are smaller denomination coins, but except for the one and five Taka coins, most are out of circulation. The notes generally have English numerals on them, but to make things more exciting, same denomination notes may be printed in different sizes, designs and colors. Avoid accepting very old, torn or mended notes or you may end up stuck with them. There is a rumor that polymer notes will gradually replace the paper ones.
TIPS & BEGGING
As formal welfare is almost nonexistent, tips (bakshish) and begging are an accepted reality here and part of the culture -- notably absent in the hilltracts. As many visitors are rather uncomfortable when exposed to this local custom, we have developed a 'traditional' system to avoid any embarrassment. The tour guide collects a 'kitty' at the beginning of the tour (suggested contribution is US$1 per person, per day). The guide uses this to distribute along the way as appropriate. The kitty is not designed as a tip for the group leader or local guides. Those who feel inspired, may choose an individual or group presentation as a gesture of appreciation for your guide.
HARTALS (General Strikes)
Hardly any visit to Bangladesh would be complete without enjoying at least one 'hartal' or general strike. This is a truly unique aspect that hardly any other country can boast of. These are generally called in advance by opposition political parties and the cities and towns simply close down (usually from dawn to noon or till dusk). If you're in the villages or hills, no problem! It's even a great opportunity to rickshaw 'round the cities sans the heavy traffic, noise, crowds and pollution. International flights and trains still operate as do rickshaws and often 'baby taxis', but banks, offices and most shops will stay shuttered. Get used to them and take them in stride, they are a unique, integral and yes - 'eco-friendly' aspect of your total Bangladesh experience. Don't mind if you fail to experience one during your visit, there is little we can do to arrange one for all our guests.
LACK OF 'TOURIST' INFRASTRUCTURE
Frustrations (or more often very interesting memories) may occasionally occur due to the general inefficiencies or lack of some basic services in Bangladesh, it's just another part of the reality (and the experience). A flexible, laid-back attitude and an open mind help in truly enjoying your travels in this region. As your guides, we at Bangladesh Ecotours take it upon ourselves to make your experience as pleasant and hassle-free as possible. Just keep a little smile in your top pocket, and you'll return home with a bag full.
WHAT TO BRING (OR NOT)
Pack light clothing, as well as a sweater or jacket for the cool nights if you come during the winter. For sun protection on treks long-sleeved shirt and pants are best. Women will feel comfortable wearing longish skirts, slacks or 'shalwar khamiz' outfits in markets and towns (you can be more relaxed in the hill tracts). Light rain gear and waterproof footwear are great if you decide to brave the magnificent monsoons. Comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots, a swim suit and a wide brimmed hat are essential. Other than any special needs such as prescribed medicines, almost everything else, including bottled water, is locally available. Options like binoculars, sun screen, insect repellent, and a cheap camera are not amiss - you get the picture. Anything small and light (and personal) like photos, picture postcards, coins and such items make for great gifts for your newly made friends (especially if the name of your country is printed on them). Please avoid plastic-wrapped sweets and the like, there are plenty of local natural sweets and fruits, that are much more healthy for the kids.
Varied options are available for individuals and groups on any budget or of any kind to tailor visits for their specific tastes and requirements. Customizing tours is truly our forte and where we really excel. Traveling to both the plains and the hilltracts of Bangladesh can provide a unique multicultural experience -- and you can round off your tour with a few days on the world's longest beach (with hot showers and cold beer to boot!). To help you start planning your own personalized tour, visit our Tour booking page, complete the short form, and we'll email you some proposed itineraries. Or just Email us right now and let us know your innermost desires.
Although we handle all expenses, you may be glad you brought a little extra cash along to pick up a few neat stuff at a bargain while on tour. Such things as village craft items, i.e. adorable Mru waist-loom woven blankets (that make great sofa or bed covers), handloom textiles and clothing, tribal jewelry, bamboo or cane basket ware, shell-crafts, traditional pottery, unique musical instruments (including indigenous flutes and drums) and pink pearls. Recently, painted rickshaw art and gaudy cinema posters have become sought-after souvenirs. Anyway, as an experienced ecotour'er or not, you'll know all about this... and if you have a rough time stuffing it all into your luggage when departing, think about leaving last season's designer jeans or pumps with your host's teenage son (or daughter)...