First time in Bangladesh

Trip Start Aug 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bangladesh  ,
Sunday, January 13, 2008

And probably the last as well. When I was still with Wenka in Nepal, just on a hunch, I'd stepped into a little travel agent to see what they could do for me in the ticket department. The route KTM - BGK becomes incredibly popular round this time of year, and despite my preference for booking all my flights over the internet, hence saving myself the necessity of paying commissions to travel agents, sometimes, just sometimes, it may be worth it. As it turned out, this was a good move. Rather than book the Thai Airways flight, straight through from Kathmandu to Bangkok, no nonsense, just great friendly service, albeit at a price, I was told there was also the possibility of flying with Biman, the Bangladeshi carrier, with an overnight stop at Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. But Biman would arrange accommodation and food for the stay included in the price (which was only half that of Thai).

So unwittingly, I opted for the latter. Alarm bells should have gone off when the travel agent added that if I did choose to leave the airport for my accommodation I would have to cough up 20 dollars, raising an eyebrow, thinking that this might put me off the opportunity of adding Bangladesh to my tally of visited countries in Asia.

So, quite excitedly, I showed up at Kathmandu Airport on the 12th of January, ready for a new experience and even though I had to be patient for another two hours tha of delays, this didn't manage to crack my excellent mood. At Kathmandu, the fight attendant had advised me to have my check in luggage sent straight through to Bangkok, So I crossed my heart and vouched to buy me and my luggage a beer, were we eventually to be reunited again in Bangkok (which is always a good idea).

But on arrival at Dhaka, the fun started. Gently making my way towards the central transit desk to have my accommodation sorted out, I found the desk surrounded by about a thousand Bangladeshi all unsuccesfully trying to get the attention of either of the two clerks on duty. One of these was obviously doing some work, let's just call him Mr Useful, taking tickets from customers and swapping these for small tokens. The other seemed to be deaf, dumb, mute, blind and extremely busy stapling forms to each other. Obviously very important stuff, and unworthy of dropping in favour of helping the ever accumulating masses of help-starved flyers. We' ll call him Mr Useless for the remainder of the story. After a while, I tried to get the attention of Mr Useless, and as he awoke from his stapling-slumber, he shouted out "to him, to him" pointing at his colleague, Mr Useful. This in turn meant I now had Mr Useful's full attention, so I got very excited when immediately my air ticket was taken from me and exchanged for a little plastic card with the name of a hotel on it. "Wait here! Wait here!", I was told, and I'm very good at waiting, so this I did dilligently, It got especially interesting when after a while, I was asked to "Wait there! Wait there!", pointing to a set of chairs on the other end of the hall.

Now, some of my friends, colleagues and family know that my patience is almost fathomless, but does in the end have its limits. And once these limits are reached, I become a slightly less friendly person. This occurred after another hour and a half of waiting fruitlessly. After getting the attention of Mr Useless again, and hearing the now familiar cry of "Wait there! Wait there!", I burst a critical fuse. Slamming hands on desks, shouting what I thought of the "service" peppered generously with expletives, I was now the centre of attention for the whole arrivals hall. But rather than getting chucked into a 2 by 3 cell for insulting a flight attendant on duty, things rather picked up for me from here. I was escorted by a series of important looking Biman employees through security, immigration and a bank (to pocket the required 20 dollars). While I seethingly filled in my immigration form (I'm sure they loved what I put under "Adress in Bangladesh": "some f#%*ing hotel in Dhaka which f#%*ing Biman will provide sometime in the foreseeable f#%*ing future, I hope"), I was given back one of my 10-dollar notes with a slight tear in it and told to provide another. Now when I'm angry, I don't take well to being told what to do. So I looked the poor guy in the eye and simply said "No". As it was probably clear that I would smash the glass separation between us, and throttle the bloke, if he insisted on receiving another 10-dollar bill, he smartly decided to cellotape the slight tear himself, and before you could sing the Bangladeshi national anthem by heart, I was whisked off by bus to a little hotel just ten minutes down the road from the airport called Regent Garden.

There I was welcomed by delightful personnel who served me up a delightful meal, and at the end of the evening I could retire to my 3 by 4 hotel room. Unfortunately, my new found friends (MNFF) at Regent Garden couldn't prevent the next day's events from occurring.

Now lacking in the plane ticket department, but have a recollection of my flight leaving at 11:30 AM in the morning, I was quite keen to get there on time to also retrieve the abovementioned plane ticket. But as Biman had promised they would send a taxi by to pick me up at 9:00 AM in the morning, I had a sneaky suspicion I wouldn't be seeing a taxi at 09:00 AM in the morning. And sure enough 09:00 AM in the morning came and went and to my utter sigust: no taxi. MNFF tried a number of times to get in touch, and after they did manage to speak to someone, they announced triumpantly that I should "just wait here, as the taxi would be here at 10:45 AM" (obviously having spoken to Mr Useless).

At this point in time, I started losing my temper again, and pointed out the possibility of just taking a taxi to the airport, and creating a bloodbath amid the Biman employees there. This made MNFF very nervous as they might not get paid by Biman for my overnight stay, and me as well, as I did not then, and still don't now, what currency Bangladesh uses and what the exchange rate is. But anyway, another five minutes later I was loaded into the hotel bus and had the royal treatment to the airport after leaving MNFF with hugs and much thanks. Arriving at Dhaka Airport I was greeted by the fact that it is not only the transit desk that enjoys the popularity of many thousands of Bangladeshis. Doing a naughty, barging up to the front of the queue which twisted twice through the building before disappearing out of the door and onto the runway, I managed to grab the attention of one of the busy ground attendants. After taking my plastic card from me, there followed a brief telephone call and the heartening request to (you guessed it) "Wait there! Wait there!".

Holding my breath and counting to one thousand, I waited and waited. But after only five minutes a guy appeared on the luggage conveyor belt, doing a Michael Jackson moonwalk and handed me both my ticket and my boarding card! This meant I didn't have to join the end of the queue which by this time was seriously hampering takeoff of a number of departing flights (as would turn out, mine as well). I was then pointed to the VIP passport control to have my transit visa checked, and the ground attendant thumbed through my passport, and I watched, contemplating the developments of the past 24 hours, a little cockroach trundled between us, and I decided that this was probably the last time I would set foot in Bangladesh (and that's even if they'd accept my next visa request). My plane was delayed four hours...

On arrival at the busy airport of Bangkok, I reckoned the chances of seeing my luggage were mediocre to poor. But again that day, I was surprised. I bet a lot of people thought me a bit weird as I did a little dance to celebrate the fact that my luggage was lying next to the appointed luggage conveyor belt. My luggage was duly treated to a well-earned Singha beer. So MNFF, thanks ever so much for your warm hospitality and welcome at the hotel and anybody thinking of flying Biman, think again.
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