Guest post by: Sarah Panes, Granny to five grandkids
A Family Adventure in Bangladesh
We have been visiting Bangladesh annually for the last five years because our eldest daughter and her family live in Dhaka for work. The city is extraordinary; busy, dusty, very hot and humid at times. We prefer to go in the “winter” between November and January, however this is not always possible as their business grows and the children’s schooling intervenes.
This year we went for about three weeks in March and planned to spend a week somewhere in the country. The plan was complicated by the prevailing political situation which involved the opposition party calling ‘hartels’. These involve blockading roads and train tracks on given days and therefore making land travel difficult.
The family decided that the only option was to travel by air to the town of Cox’s Bazar, a town, fishing port and district headquarters in the south of the country, before travelling on to the most southerly tip of Bangladesh, St. Martin’s Island. Air travel is safe as security at airports is high and they are not targeted by the ‘Hartel’ groups.
We landed at Cox’s Bazar and immediately took a taxi to our first stop, which was the Mermaid Eco Resort. The drive there was stunning, the beach from Cox’s Bazar is billed as the longest in the world (124 kms). The sand is clean and expansive but the sea eats in and out of it and tides vary leaving extraordinary variation to the beach.
The eco resort was on a tidal river and the accommodation was a collection of cabins, constructed using natural materials including bamboo, thatching reads and driftwood doors and walls! There was electricity (sometimes), good fans and a very comfortable bed plus en suite bathroom. We had several cabins together and a view of the river, which was filled with fishing boats that came and went at all times of the night! We spent two nights here to recover from the city rush and enjoy the peace and beach.
On day three we loaded ourselves into two CNG autorickshaws to travel to Teknaf ,the most southerly point of the coastline and port of departure for St. Martin’s Island. Our family prefer to travel by CNG as it is cheaper, very airy and the children enjoy it.
The drive took in part of the ocean highway, which then ends in the sand so the last lap of the journey is through the country. Along the way there are small villages, the people are fishermen, rice farmers, vegetable producers and salt producers. Teknaf is a great centre for this produce and has a magnificent market.
Due to the political situation the tourist trade has been very hard hit in this area. One consequence of this was that the boat that normally ferries people to and from St. Martin’s Island was no longer running. And so when we arrived in Teknaf, our son-in-law went to the portside to hire a fishing boat to take us over the water.
The fish had just been unloaded and there was a boat available. As trailing Grandparents we were relieved to see a captain person and three young fisherman aboard. We were not so thrilled when the “captain” leapt off at the harbour entrance and turned into an official instead who had to complete passport checks! He then waved us off into the deep, piloted by the ‘three Musketeers’ on our four-hour journey!
The boat lacked proper seating (only wooden planks!) but we managed to ease our aching bones, cover our heads from the sun and the children enjoyed their iPad. The journey went past Myanmar, Burma and we were aware that it also is a troubled area. The journey ended at Narikeldia and we were inundated with people wanting to take us on. We discovered immediately that we were the first tourists to come for about five months. We then boarded a speed boat which whisked us off to Cherradhip the southern most tip of the island.
We had a reservation at the Coral Blue Resort, we grandparents were to be housed in an en suite room and the family were to be in a tent. Sadly, however, the place was apparently firmly shut when we arrived! After a time a flustered man arrived and said he was very sorry but never expected us as no one had come for so long. This felt like the real adventure!
However they assured us that all would be well and whilst there would be no tents (big sigh from the girls), the team quickly made beds, hung mosquito nets, produced fluffy towels and two men were dispatched to go to town and buy food. The town was one hour walk but they could get a rickshaw back.
Despite the shaky start, the beach here was amazing. There was no one else on the beach (apart from a herd of cows), the water was warm, the girls could swim, hunt for shells and crabs and wander around freely. We were looked after by about five staff who cooked superb meals, cleaned our rooms daily and all in all hosted us like royalty.
After three nights it was time to board another speed boat and return to Cox’s Bazar. Fortunately the sea was calm and the speed boat captain persuaded us that he could transfer us all back to port. The captain further endeared himself to us Grandparents by issuing us all with life jackets (sadly health and safety not so good in Bangladesh, you have to do your own!). We covered the journey safely in forty minutes as opposed to our original four-hour journey! The water was very low in the harbour channel so we were relieved not to be in the bigger boat.
The boat driver found us a taxi and we sped back to the Mermaid Eco Resort for the last two nights. We had one last day to visit a friend in Cox’s Bazar. He had been asked to project manage the building of a hotel on the beach at Cox’s Bazar, called the Surf Club Resort and apart from being a comfortable hotel it has organised a surf club with a trained Bangladeshi team to give lessons. The girls had a great time surfing and the next day we flew to Dhaka.
The Best Part
We could all enjoy this holiday as three generations. The children loved the beach ,journeys on the boats and the freedom on St. Martins. They also loved the surfing. There was time to play cards, eat together, and relax after the pressures of city life.
The Best Time to Visit Bangladesh
The best time to visit Bangladesh is during the ‘cool season’, the period from November through February. From March onwards the days get very hot and the monsoon generally arrives sometime around June. Avoid travel when there is a tricky political situation, make sure to check the situation in advance. Travelling with Bangla speakers is very important when visiting off-the-beaten track places like the ones that we visited.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
1.Dare to travel with your children and grandchildren (if they will have you)!
2.Go to the end of a country and be in a place that is natural and deserted. I will never forget the sunset on the beach at St. Martins.
3.Bangladesh people – their care and hospitality – were outstanding, especially in the remote places.
View Sarah’s itinerary via Findery (see map below): You may need to zoom in (as far as street level) to access any overlapping notes.
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