Dhaka (and Bangkok)

We left Bali and flew into Don Muang airport, the other Bangkok airport, which we had realized only the day before.  Luckily, there is a shuttle between the airports, so we were able to get to Suvarnabhumi and catch the shuttle to our hotel.  We had planned to have just one night in Bangkok, but the airline had changed our flight to the following day, so we had two nights in Bangkok, and the world really was our oyster (sorry, couldn’t help it).  In the morning we took the airport train into town, and then caught a boat travelling along a small waterway into the old center.

A water taxi down the Khlang Saen Saeb

A water taxi down the Khlang Saen Saeb

We wandered for a while unable to figure out where in the heck we were, but eventually made our way to Old Siam Plaza to see the interesting food stalls.

Unknown delights in Old Siam Plaza

Unknown delights in Old Siam Plaza

From there we walked to Wat Pho, a fantastic old temple complex.  My advice to folks who visit Bali and then go to other parts of Southeast Asia is not to spend too much time or money going to Balinese temples, the other ones we’ve seen were way cooler than the Balinese ones in my opinion.  Wat Pho has many beautiful temples and Buddha sculptures, but more importantly has a gigantic reclining Budda, 15 meters high, 43 meters long, and covered in gold leaf.

A statue at Wat Pho

A statue at Wat Pho

Wow!  That's one large golden reclining Buddha!

Wow! That’s one large golden reclining Buddha!

Stupas at Wat Pho

Stupas at Wat Pho

An ornate roof at Wat Pho

An ornate roof at Wat Pho

From there we headed up to Khao San road, the main backpacker haunt, and spent some time wandering the shops and stalls and eating some great food.  Then we walked a few kilometers from there to the MBK center, a huge mall, where we spent a few hours enjoying the air-conditioning as we wandered past stalls and shops, movie theaters and restaurants and a grocery store.  After grabbing some dinner in the food court (ever had mama noodles in broth?) we headed back to the airport and caught our hotel shuttle.

The Democracy Monument

The Democracy Monument

The next morning we flew to Dhaka, Bangladesh.  We got our visas on arrival for $101 (don’t believe Lonely Planet, there are visas on arrival) and stood watching mosquitos fly around the head and shoulders of the immigration agent.  Our friend Joanna, a diplomat at the U.S. embassy, picked us up and took us into town.  I’ve never been anywhere like Dhaka before.  I spent a few months outside of Managua, Nicaragua in the town of Ciudad Sandiano, which had started as a refugee camp for people displaced by the 1972 earthquake, and Dhaka reminded me much more of Ciudad Sandino than of Managua.  And Managua was pretty basic compared to other capitals.  Dhaka is a fascinating, hectic jumble of people and sounds.  That evening we went out for dinner along one of the more touristy streets.  Which was not paved.  (For more on food, see Bowen’s post.)

A street scene in Dhaka

A street scene in Dhaka

Beautiful lanterns along a street in Dhaka

Beautiful lanterns along a street in Dhaka

Our first full day there Joanna had friends over for crepes in the morning, and then we went shopping and went on the Hash, a weekly walk/run that started amongst British expats in Malaysia in the ‘30s and is now done all over the world.  This was a really incredible opportunity to walk through some of the poor neighborhoods of Dhaka in a way the two of us never would have on our own.

A street view during the Hash

A street view during the Hash

Vegetables for sale in a residential area

Vegetables for sale in a residential area

Treking through the rice paddies just outside Dhaka on the Hash

Treking through the rice paddies just outside Dhaka on the Hash

The next day we visited Sonargoan, an ancient capital city that now houses a museum and some other interesting historical sites.  But when we were there, we were the main attraction.  Dozens of people approached us, calling me “boss” or “uncle” to take pictures with them, so many we felt compelled to decline after a while.  From there we visited some beautiful old buildings and an old mosque in the surrounding villages.

The biggest attraction in Sonargaon

The biggest attraction in Sonargaon

Beautiful old architecture near Sonargoan

Beautiful old architecture near Sonargoan

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A fifteenth century mosque near Sonargoan

A fifteenth century mosque near Sonargoan

We had planned to get out of Dhaka to visit Srimongol in the tea-growing area for a few days, but before we arrived some political turmoil began that led to a strike, or hartal, on the day we were planning to take the train.  So instead we spent more time around Dhaka.  One day we visited some areas in town.  Traffic in Dhaka is really intense, pretty much all the time, from what we could tell.  Streets are packed with cars, some going the wrong direction, rickshaws, and tuk-tuks.  Children ride to school in tiny bike-drawn carts.  It took us twenty-five minutes to get about 10 blocks, and then another hour to get to the parliament building, only about 8 kilometers away.

School buses

School buses

Another school bus

Another school bus

The Bangladeshi Parliament building

The Bangladeshi Parliament building

All the rickshaws have bright, colorful paintings like this

All the rickshaws have bright, colorful paintings like this

The next day we went out to see the National Martyrs’ Memorial and visit the town of Dhamrai, a majority Hindu town where there is a factory that makes incredible brass figurines. And then it was time to return to Bangkok.

The National Martyrs Memorial

The National Martyrs Memorial

The ceremonial chariot in Dhamrai

The ceremonial chariot in Dhamrai

Making a bronze statue at a workshop in Dhamrai

Making a bronze statue at a workshop in Dhamrai

On the road back to Dhaka

On the road back to Dhaka

We both really enjoyed out time in Dhaka.  It was a truly fascinating place, and one that very few tourists ever visit.  People were incredibly friendly and the city felt dynamic.  It was also fascinating to see a little bit of the expat life amongst the diplomatic community.  I’m really glad we went, and I’m really glad we had Joanna to visit, not just because it was wonderful to see her, but because I think Dhaka would be a very difficult place to visit as a tourist.  There’s not a lot of tourist infrastructure and it’s not all that cheap.  But it was a wonderful experience we’ll both remember forever, I’m sure.

A sweet young man trying to sell us Bangla-language newspapers

A sweet young man trying to sell us Bangla-language newspapers

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