Dhaka -- unlike anything you've heard
Dhaka is a thriving, colorful and congested metropolis of some 12 million people, and growing steadily. Many people might take sometime to adjust in Dhaka at first sight - it has to be one of the most frenetic places on Earth. The streets are rivers of chaos filled mostly with very colorful rickshaws - around 400,000 to be exact, the highest number of any city in the world.
According to recorded history it was founded in 1608 A.D. as the seat of the imperial Mughal viceroy of Bengal. Dhaka has been developing fast as a modern city and is the country's center of industrial, commercial, cultural, educational and political activity. The gap between rich and poor is widening throughout the country but it's at its most glaringly obvious here. Depending on where you start from, a thirty minutes to even one hour rickshaw ride can take you from impossibly crowded shantytowns near Old Dhaka to the glitzy high-class neighborhoods of Gulshan and Banani where a meal costs more than most people make in a week.
Motijheel is the main commercial area of the city. Dhaka's main waterfront, Sadarghat, is on the banks of the river Buriganga in Old Dhaka and is crowded with various ferries, yachts, paddle steamers, fishermen's boats and floating dhabas all bustling with activity.
The weather is tropical - hot and very humid during the monsoon season (April-August) and drier and cooler in the winter (October-March). Visitors from colder countries might want to visit in the winter when temperatures are around 20C and humidity is low (around 60-70%).
Visa extensions are available at the Immigration and Passport Office on Agargaon Rd in Central Dhaka. Most drivers know it, an auto-rickshaw from Old Dhaka will run about Tk 50. Su-Th 10AM-1PM receiving applications, 3-5PM delivery.
Getting around once you're there--
Given the plethora of all forms of transport, if you're having trouble getting a decent fare with a driver walk a few feet to the next one. Not all are out to gouge you, so better to find the honest ones and give them your business. Occasionally a driver will demand more money on arrival - the best way to deal with this is to hand over the agreed fare/metered fare and walk away. Make certain from the start that the driver knows where you're headed (unless you can direct him yourself) - they often have limited local knowledge, but will always SAY that they know where somewhere is and take you round the whole city searching whilst the meter ticks.
Cycle-rickshaws are the most popular form of transport, and good for short distances -- mainly on side streets. They make up the bulk of the cities horrendous traffic, and charge around Tk 5 per kilometer. Negotiating a fare beforehand is essential as a foreigner. Cycle-rickshaws in wealthy areas such as Banani and Gulshan often must pay local mafia men for the privilege of servicing the high-price areas. Additionally, foreigners should also be warned that cycle-rickshaws will sometimes begin the ride with a pitch to sell drugs or prostitutes. One or two simple, but firm, declines will generally solve the situation. If you're a woman -- it's particularly inadvisable to ride around alone in cycle-rickshaws after dark -- you're a slow-moving target asking for trouble from thugs and muggers.
Auto-rickshaws (also known as 'CNG') are also abundant and have meters, which drivers can sometimes be persuaded to use. They're the cheapest way to cover longer distances - an 8km ride from Old Dhaka to Gulshan should cost around Tk 70. The meters start at Tk 13.50, but for shorter distances you'll likely have to negotiate a fare instead.
Taxis also ply the roads, some yellow and some black, all with meters. Black taxis start the meter at Tk 15 while yellow taxis are a little nicer and start at Tk 20. Black taxis are typically in notoriously poor condition and lack air conditioning. Yellow taxis are required to have air conditioning, (they consist of Toyota Corollas mostly, Mitsubishis or Hondas even). They are also considered far safer by the local Dhaka elite. (when compared to black taxis and auto-rickshaws).
Buses run routes on the main roads, but are horribly crowded and noisy, signed only in Bengali and aren't likely to be of much use to travelers. Save yourself a headache and take a rickshaw or if u go to far distance, take a comfortable, luxurious A/C bus or a train!!
Places to See
There is the stunning Parliament Building, designed by Louis Kahn, numerous bookshops, and art galleries around the city, Ramna Park, Lal Bagh Fort and museum, Old Dhaka, the Shahid Minar memorial, the Shadarghat port, Ahsan Manjil, the National Museum, Bangabandhu Memorial, the Mukti Juddha Museum, National Poet's Graveyard, Suhrawardy Uddyaan, National Leader Mausoleum, Banga-Bhaban, Shadhinota Stambha, the Charukola (Arts & Crafts) Institute, Curzon Hall, Old High Court and 1857 Memorial, the National Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, Baldha Garden, Sitara Mosque, Baitul Mukarram Mosque, Hindu and Christian churches and temples, New Market, Boshundhara City Mall, countless other bustling bazaars and shops, and many other places to visit.
Ahsan Manjil, the pink palace, has a 2 taka entrance fee and a small exhibition about the history of the palace and a garden. Star Mosque (Sitara Mosque) is a small mosque dating back three hundred years, inlaid with mosaic and tiles. 'Shishu Mela' is the children playground in Shyamoli.