....Unbelievable. This is Ab-so-lutely a-mazing!"
We live in a world where people who talk to themsleves are deemed as mentally unsound; but right there & then, it just felt so right saying these words to nobody in particular. I don't know about you, but for me, the most amazing thing about traveling, what i'm really searching for, is the "I can't believe i'm actually here!" feeling.
The sights, smells, and sounds. The one cruise i'd always wanted to experience; The 100 Year Old Paddle Steamer. a.k.a "The Rocket."
The view of the sunrise from "The Rocket"
Alright Singaporeans. You can stop reading now. You'll NEVER experience this. The Rocket Steamer is no Star Cruise; neither is it anything like The Royal Carribbean. In fact, it's a cruise departing from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Yes, you didn't read it wrong. Bangladesh; the one country that Singaporeans can't fathom traveling to (more so than even North Korea, a tourist destination available by package tour) because Bangladeshi's clear our rubbish and build our roads. For international readers, you may carry on reading.
If you're a Singaporean and you're still reading, give yourself a pat on the back, you're ahead of your fellow countrymen at least in open mindedness. I'll just get straight to the most important consideration of a typical Singaporean tourist; accommodation.
1st Class (Air-conditioned)
Picture from Nijhoom.com as it's better than the one I have. They should thank me for the free publicity though.
The above shows the 1st class cabin where I spent the night. Depending on where you want to stop, the further you go, the more expensive (obviously). It will cost you USD 32 for the nearest port of Barisal (you'll arrive at around 6am though). The more common port to get off at a more godly hour is Hularhat, which will cost you USD 42.
(Note that the prices in USD are for the room. which means if you go with a friend, it's 21 USD each)
There were people inside so I didn't snap a photo. But the prices are around 50% cheaper than that of 1st class. No airconditioning though. Not that you'll need it.
There are various segments even within the "Local Class" itself. You'll need to see them for yourself to get the idea, but generally in this "class" their bed is the floor. And its really noisy here because their sleeping quarters is next to the engine room.
In the extremely rare event that you are planning to take a ride on "The Rocket", I can assure you, it's one of the most amazing sleeping experience one can ever have. Considering i've slept in the Safari camps of Africa, at the foot of a live volcano in Vanuatu, and under the stars in the Sahara Desert, this is high praise indeed for the humble paddle steamer from Bangladesh. It makes sleeping an adventure.
View from the "1st class" desk
The difference between 1st and local class apply not just for the sleeping quarters, but also for the quality of viewing experience on the Rocket Steamer. We were able to sip tea and coffee on the 1st class desk as "The Rocket" paddled it's way down river.
View from the "local class" deck
Directly under us was the "viewing deck" of the Local Class. I felt it was really interesting to view the river from both the angle of a local and that of a tourist.
Between the Barisal port to the Hularhat port there is a very narrow stretch of the river (around 30mins worth) which our local guide said was Bangladesh's answer to the Suez Canal in Egypt. Unfortunately, photography isn't my strongest suit. This picture doesn't do justice to sight "The Rocket" zipping through the narrow river banks.
Food & Beverage
Our expensive Bangla dinner on "The Rocket". 5 USD
The 42 USD a night doesn't include meals and the occasional coffee. Considering it's Bangladesh, meals on the Rocket Steamer are ridiculously expensive. Bangla Cusine costs USD 5, and Western Cuisine of roast chicken (very skinny chicken) costs USD 10. To put things in perspective, a decent local meal in Bangladesh cost us USD 0.5 cents!
As tourists we were not allowed to stay or eat in "Local Class". (of course if you try hard enough, you might get a "local class ticket" ) Foreigners are sold 1st/2nd class tickets by default, and of course, we had to have 1st class meals (above) in "The Rocket's" luxury dining area. We could go down to Local class to buy cheap snacks. Tea & Coffee however, had to be purchased within the 1st class area for USD 0.5 cents each.
The canteen for the local class to buy their food
It was built in 1928 (not yet 100 years but it's still referred to as a century old steamer) and is the only paddle steamer left in such good condition. By good condition, I mean it's sail-able without sinking and is arguably "the 2nd Biggest tourist draw" in Bangladesh after the "Sundarbans Tour", where tourists venture to spot the Royal Bengal Tiger. If you have more time than we did, take the Rocket Steamer further down the river, get a guide, and proceed to Khulna or Mongla, gateway to the Sundarban forest, Bangladesh's top tourist attraction.
Here are more photos of various shots of "The Rocket", so you have an idea of what it's really like.
It might look like an old junk, but it's in pretty good condition really. It's so long, I wasn't able to get a full photo of it's complete length!
The locals also use it to transport their goods for sale
We have reached the port of Hularhat!
Standing on the "paddle" part of the the steamer
Here's a close-up of the "paddle"
I'm "The Rocket's new captain!
The view at the top of "The Rocket"
First, you're going to need to get a visa to Bangladesh. From Singapore, make your way to the Bangladesh High Commission. 91 Bencoolen Street, #06-01 Sunshine Plaza, 189652. It will take you 3-4 working days to get your visa done. A round trip from Singapore to Dhaka costs around $400 with Tiger & $500 for Singapore Airlines. (Pay more for SIA, it's worth the difference)
To get your tickets, engage a Bangladeshi Travel Agency to do it for you. They will need at least 10 days notice. I did mine with Trip2Bangladesh. They'll book it free, but try to support them a little by booking a day tour or engaging a guide from them. They will send an English speaking local to explain stuff and help you to better experience the wonders of Bangladesh. I thought they were fantastic.
The Rocket Steamer departs from the Dhaka Sadarghat at 6:30pm everyday (except friday) I'd recommend getting there earlier and experience sailing around the harbour on a small local boat to get great pictures and get a feel of how things are in Dhaka.
(Tickets costs reflected above under Sleeping Quarters)
While the Rocket Steamer was the main inspiration behind my wanting to visit Bangladesh, there are a few tours you can add on to make your Bangladeshi experience more memorable.