Bangladesh – Gossiping in Dhaka

I love being on the subcontinent…. , everything smells pungently of incense, curry spices and sweat!  Traffic lanes don’t exist in Bangladesh and every journey is a crazy game of chicken between gutsy rickshaw wallahs, dented buses, aggressive tuktuks and the pristine cars of the wealthy.  It’s a constant cacophony of horns. Crossing the street on foot here takes nerve. It’s a team sport, best undertaken with an expert between you and the oncoming homicidal traffic.   But its fun!

National Assembly building

I met up with a local guide and for our first few stops much of the discussion was on the liberation from Pakistan in 1971 and the 3 million Bangladeshis murdered during that war.  There is still ongoing anger towards Pakistan for their historical oppression of the Bengali language.  Yet another sharp reminder that my history knowledge is dire. I had made the naive assumption that being Muslim, Bangladesh would be friends with Pakistan. As it turns out they prefer their Indian neighbours, though they reckon the Indians are unfriendlier and cheaper than Bangladeshis.

Paintings near Shaheed Minar, the monument to commemorate those killed in the Bengali Language Movement demonstrations

After seeing Dhakaswari, the National Assembly, Shaheed Minaar, and the Sculptures Terrace (none of which were remarkable apart from the history) we headed out to Sonargaon to see the the lost city of Panam. Fortuitously we were half an hour early so we took a wander around a local village to kill some time. That ended up being my favourite part of the day –

Lovely local ladies in Sonargaon

Every house we walked by, we were invited in by the stunningly beautiful women who lived in them.  We stopped at a few places for a drink  and then some fruit as it seemed rude not to when everyone was trying to force us to sit down and visit

Friendly lady in Sonargaon

Most of these ladies’ husbands are off working in Saudi, according to these ladies it is good money but a horrendous lifestyle…..which doesn’t surprise me having seen how many immigrant workers are treated in the Arab states. It was a lovely way to pass some time, sitting having a gossip with the gorgeous local ladies.   We also wandered by a local school.  We wandered in to say hi – it was a Saturday so there were no formal lessons going on.   The headmistress came to say hello and had the students practice their English on me.

School kids who were practicing their English on me

Eventually Badal the guide got me moving and we went to see Panam. It is quite lovely, and we enjoyed a peaceful twenty minutes before five bus loads of schoolboys arrived. Panam City  is part of the 15th century city of Isa Khan’s Sonaragaon.  The buildings that remain are lovely but falling down at a rapid pace and it was disappointing to see the schoolboys rampaging all over the site, climbing up the walls and dumping rubbish everywhere.


One the bright side, unlike India, the hassle factor is manageable. The locals are delighted to see you, western tourists are rare, and I had many new ‘friends’ ask for photos of me with their offspring.


From Sonargaon, we headed back into town to check out the madness at Sadarghat – Dhaka’s river port.   Getting to river port requires navigating the seething mass of humanity and road traffic in the old market to find another seething mass of humanity down at the port.  The river is a major form of transport and there are about 50 large ferries docked at Sadarghat with all forms of accommodation available from lying on the floor of the open air decks, paying for a japanese style coffin box with a fan, all the way up to an aircon room with tv.

Sadarghat river port

We were there early afternoon before the ferries started to fill up properly but families were already there staking out their claims to the upper deck.  There were only 2 toilets for the open decks, which apparently can fit several hundred, I can imagine that class of travel may not be for the fainthearted or those with a good sense of smell.   I loved the noise, the colours and the friendly people, and the sulphurous smell rising from the pitch black Buriganga river definitely left an impression on my nostrils!

Sadarghat River Port

I also visited the other main sites in town – the Lalbag Fort, the Star Mosque, and the Armenian church.  Honestly, none of these is remarkable.  More interesting is enjoying navigating around the old town getting stuck in the traffic and watching the passers by.

Nap time

I had a wonderful time in Dhaka, probably because I had no expectations having read all the reviews.   The very best thing about Dhaka is the people, who were all incredibly friendly, even when I was wandering down the street.   I felt very safe everywhere, though I have no doubt there were a few pickpockets about.

Folk art

The food was pretty  fabulous also, and I would recommend eating as much Dal as you can!   It is the best Dal I have ever eaten.  I am looking forward to visiting again

My new friends

Note that getting a visa on arrival is pretty straightforward at the airport.  Also Uber works well in Dhaka and is much cheaper and easier as a foreigner negotiating with a taxi!

May 8, 2017 Dhaka, Bangladesh

Solomon Islands : Scrambling around the WW2 wreckage on Guadalcanal

The Solomon Islands are apparently amazing for diving….. shame I don’t like fish!  However, for a raw look at Melanesian culture, and to check out some interesting Guadalcanal history, Honiara is definitely worth a (short) visit.

What to do in Honiara!

Vilu museum

Visit the WW2 relics

The easiest place to do this is to go to the Vilu museum on the North Coast of Guadalcanal.  It isn’t signposted from the road so it is probably easier to take a taxi (I rented one for a few hours).    Created by the current owner’s father, and by the current guide – Talia’s grandfather, when he collected all the best examples of old aircraft and relics from around the island, it is a fun place to visit and Talia is as passionate about the planes as her granddad.  (S$100).  My other favourite location was the Sherman tank just across the road from Ruaniu, which was interesting to see but probably not worth the S$30 entry fee

Tens of thousands of young men who fell in battle sleep here.  May the tragic events that occurred on this island during WW2 be forever inscribed in our memories.  War brings all sides nothing but deep grief and distress. To the souls of these departed youth our only words of tribute are the renunciation of war.  May the blue sea, the great expanse of sky, and this green island be a testimony of eternal peace.  Sleep peacefully, fallen friends.    – Words on a monument erected by a Japanese soldier

Philip the taxi driver couldn’t resist climbing on the tank – I actually got in it too

Practice you pidgeon

I was delighted to learn that I actually speak the local language, well I can understand it.  My favourite signs in Honiara were no torowem rubbish hia and hem half past four nao? – a sign for the beer company.  I also conquered the basics of ‘mi laek go long…’=I want to go to, and ‘hao long nao bae hemi tekem fo wakabout go….’= ‘how long does it take to walk to…’.   I had quite a lot of fun practising and the locals were surprised how much I understood.

The sunk Japanese ship

Go snorkelling at Bonegi/Ruaniu

The remains of a 6500 tonne Japanese transport ship was sunk here in 1942 and it is a great location to check out the fish or have a swim

Go swim in a waterfall

Both Mataniko and Tenaru were easy to reach but not hugely spectacular

Stroll around Honiara

None of the sights are amazing but you can check out the National Parliament building (where long shirts and cover your shoulders if  you want to go inside), the National Museum (not scintillating), and the catholic and melanesian anglican churches.   Go to church on Sunday if you are there, the singing is pretty good!

Go shopping

Ok, so there isn’t anything to buy, but checking out the pretty grim supermarkets with their out of date products and limited variety will make you feel pretty good about how good your supermarkets are at home.  The exception to this is the central market, which is worth a visit for some decent fresh veg and fruit

Plane ruins at Vilu

Check out the drunks/betel nut chewers

I have never seen such a high proportion of bottle stores to food shops!  On the road from Honiara to Vilu there were 27 bottle shops on the outside of town and probably two food shops!   I also saw more stalls selling betel nut than vegetables.  Hmmmm.   Perhaps that explains why there were numerous signs around town banning chewing, spitting and alcohol.  I did have a run in with a gang of drunks near the market who started yelling ‘what ya want white man’, but I wasn’t too bothered as was entirely confident I could outrun them if they made a move.

Additional notes

  • I stayed at the Chester Resthouse, which at S$330 per night ($45) is the cheapest in Honiara – sadly expats and aid workers have inflated the prices of the few western hotel rooms to egregious levels, and I wasn’t prepared to pay $300 per night.   The Resthouse was clean and safe and $45 for a small room sharing a bathroom with the 9 other rooms.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of soundproofing, and there were a lot of kids and babies, so I didn’t get much sleep.  I probably would still stay there again in spite of the noise, given the lack of alternatives, but can’t really recommend it
  • I ate mostly from the market and the ‘bulk store’, but can recommend the Lime Lounge which was the only wifi I got in Honiara – decent coffee and a small but perfectly formed burger with fries.  I also recommend the Frangipani ice for a cone and the Honiara hot bread kitchen for a nutritionally void donut.
  • Taxis from the airport cost S$100, and then about $100 per hour if you want them to take you around the Island.  My driver was the helpful Philip, who can be reached on 7833203.
  • Note that while NZ/AU phone companies roam in the Solomons, EE in the UK definitely did not

Jezebel the Sherman tank

The rest house takes shell art to a whole new level

One of many bottle shops

Honiara, march 3, 2017