Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Planning a holiday in Bangladesh

Is a LOT of work.

My festive plans are such:

1) Travel from Rangamati to Bandarban on the 24th, to spend the 25th (I keep forgetting that is in fact Christmas day… It. Just. Does. Not. Feel. Like. Christmas. Here) and 26th with a friend.

2) On the 27th travel from Bandarban to Rangamati, with said friend, to check out some festival thing (I still can’t really be sure just WHAT the festival is all about, but I do know it has something to do with the Chakma king. And bingo. Somehow.) and maybe also check out some indigenous weaving (friend is into textiles).

3) On the 28th travel from Rangamati to St Martin’s island (Bangladesh’s very own coral island, at it’s southern most tip).

That sounds easy, doesn’t it? If your answer is yes, then you obviously don’t live, or have never attempted to holiday, in Bangladesh.

Let me explain for why:

Number 1) involves me getting security permission from Bandarban’s District Commissioner. Copies of my passport and visa have been emailed to a Bandarban NGO who is applying on my behalf. Travelling there also involves carrying numerous photocopies of passport and visa to hand out like sweets at the various army check points along the way.

Number 2) involves me applying for security permission from Rangamati’s District Commissioner for friend. By ‘me’ I mean Moanoghar is applying for the permission. Again copies of friend’s passport and visa are required. Except friend is currently having massive visa trauma at the hands of Bangladesh’s Most Bureaucratic Department. She’s trying to change her NGO visa (expiring soon) to a tourist visa (so she can stay and research Bangladesh’s textile industry for a few months for her MA back in the UK). Easy? Hell no. She’s been asked, by the official visa man handling her application, why would anyone want to be a tourist in Bangladesh (GOOD question). And why doesn’t she rather just go back home to England instead. And what is wrong with her family that she is here in Bangladesh alone, and not in England with them. And has been asked if her British passport is real. And has been told that she doesn’t look like a British person (what does a British person look like anyway?). This man is just not playing ball (besides perhaps with his own pair), and Laura is ready to kill.

And number 3) involves a 2 hour bus from Rangamati to Chittagong, then catching a 3 hour bus to Cox’s Bazar, then spending the night in Cox’s, then catching a 2 hour bus the next morning to Teknaf, then catching a 2 hour ferry to St Martins, then catching a 30 min (I guess, because I really have no idea on timing for this one…) local boat from the port to the resort we’re staying at. Hells Bells. Could it be any more convoluted? We’re meeting friends from Dhaka in Cox’s then travelling together. The crazy thing is that from Dhaka to St Martins is only about 320 miles, but it will take a day and half to get there. Just getting all the bus and ferry times has practically become a full time job for me, as obviously none of this information lies at the end of a Google search. And getting the timings right to get to Teknaf to catch the ferry is of VITAL importance, as there is only 1 ferry a day from Teknaf to St Martins and Lord help everyone around me all if we miss that. Ok, there isn’t only 1 ferry, there are actually 3 ferries a day. BUT they all leave at the same time…. logic people, LOGIC?! There is an option to just get the resort to lay on all the transport  (hired mini vans, speed boats etc) but us VSO volunteers get paid peanuts* so that’s not an option.

And this is without any consideration for just how we’ll get some booze for the holiday. Man alive, now this gets complicated, so pay attention… There is local Bangladeshi booze (as shown here, and the effects of which are discussed here). But it is all predictibly rubbish, and it’s Christmas/New Years after all, and we think we deserve alcohol that might not have the added benefit of poisoning us. Sooooo…there is a (proper) booze warehouse in Dhaka, that only special people like diplomats and UN staff have access to. So I know someone who works for the UN’s WFP, a.k.a the other foreigner in Rangamati. Now she has a non-UN friend in Dhaka, who has been authorised to buy booze with her UN pass. So lovely friend of a friend in Dhaka is going to buy our booze on Wednesday, and there will be a booze-money exchange on Thursday with one Dhaka based VSO volunteer. Who will bring the booze down to St Martins. Did you manage to keep up with all that? THAT’S how complicated it is to buy decent booze in Bangladesh. The UN folks really have been AMAZING at helping us out. They obviously know how hard it is to face this country sober sometimes… They feel our pain, and I’m loving them for it. Not enough can be said for the kindness of virtual strangers.

* as the saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Note to self VSO, note to self…

PS And note to Julie – All Guide Tours trips to Sundarbans fully booked for Xmas 😦 Should have listened to your sooner.


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