If you’ve read our article about the chaotic traffic situation on Bangladesh’s roads, don’t be put off of visiting this beautiful country because there are more options to roam the areas. The possibility to travel by ferry (called “launch” in Bangladesh) is a very pleasant way to get from one village to another.
Sadarghat harbour in Old Dhaka is the main port for all the launches down into the vast river delta. An important connection is Dhaka to Barisal – further more continuing to Patuakhali. There are several launches everyday to these destinations since this area is very busy with garment factories, brick factories, schools, university and a lot of agricultural trading.
The launches mostly leave from Dhaka in the evening. To get a ticket it’s necessary to first buy a ticket into the harbour area (4 Taka). Once in, best would be to find somebody who speaks a little bit of English; some of the porters do, so this will make things easier for you to find the right launch, to the right destination. Another option to ease things is when somebody (hotel receptionist, etc.) writes down the following sentence in Bangladesh syllables: “I want to travel to (city name) on the (date) with a launch! I would like a cabin please!” I had such a paper from a friend and therefore it was easy and fast to secure a ticket for my desired departure date a few days later. You have to pay a deposit and get a receipt. Remember the name of your launch carefully because basically many look very similar. Just as a side note: I travelled from Dhaka to Patuakhali with the “Sundarban 8” – a very pleasant and comfortable launch.
A cabin costs about 900 Taka (approx. 9 €) for a 12-14 hour journey. Sometimes, if you go further down in the delta, it costs a bit more but it also depends on the size and equipment of the launch. Some have air-condition and even a TV in the cabins and the bigger ones also have showers for the guests who book a cabin.
Food is absolutely no problem on a launch. The chef in the basement prepares a nice meal every day (like chicken curry with rice), so there’s no need to bring food. Bottled water is also available but I’d still suggest to better bring water for the trip. Fruits and various snacks are sold as well just before departure or while on the boat.
It’s possible to settle into the cabin already in the morning of the day you travel. This is really great if you have to check out of your hotel or arrive by train or bus and want to continue on the same day. You can lock the cabin and visit the city without to worrying about your luggage.
Another very smart option is to take the “Rocket Steamer”. It’s a fleet of three or four big river paddle steamer ships. Unfortunately some of them are in bad shape and often go into repair. The biggest and flashiest is the “Ostrich” with first class cabins which have air-condition, TV and a sink. These boats used to carry high-rank personalities during the colonial area and lounging on the first class deck is an experience itself. There you will likely find fellow travellers that speak good English and for sure they will help you to write down some sentences in Bangla syllables like “Where is the bus station” or “Where is the next hotel”. For me, these written notes were very important and made my trip through the country a lot easier.
The “Rocket Steamer” cabin costs 2.200 Taka (approx. 22 €) for 2 people or if you want the cabin for yourself. This boat also docks in Sadarghat and leaves 6 times a week to Morelgonji, stopping on various locations on the way.