Getting Around in Dhaka – Rickshaws, Buses, Cars, and CNGs

Dhaka is a very dense city, but it’s also pretty large.  It’s impossible to walk everywhere, so you must take some form of transit… but how do you choose the best way to get around?  To get between cities there are more standard transit options such as buses and trains, but in the city the options are far more exciting!  So, how much do things cost? How long will it take you to get around?  How safe is each option? Now those are great questions… read below to find out more about the four main modes of public transit within the city of Dhaka.

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View of a street in Mirpur (Dhaka) from inside a rickshaw.

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Weaving between motorcycles – The art of crossing the street in Kathmandu

Learning to cross the street is something you learn at a very young age.  But did you know that it’s not the same everywhere?  Of course you should know that some countries drive on the left-hand side, while others drive on the right-hand side of the road.  Although most parents teach that you should look BOTH ways before crossing the street, the order of the looks changes based on which way the traffic is coming from.  You should always look last to where the traffic is actually coming from, lest you be hit by a car while crossing!  However, this is not the only thing that changes between countries.  I have mentioned in a previous blog about traffic in Ghana, about the difference between crossing a street that is predominantly filled with cars vs. motorcycles. So this blog will teach you how to cross a street in Kathmandu, Nepal (well, as much as you can learn about crossing the street by reading and watching videos anyway – the best way to learn if definitely through real-world experience!)

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Some intersections can look a bit chaotic if you’re from a Western country with a different type of traffic system.

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Walking Past Paradise: My Commute to Work in Nepal

Oh, the dreaded commute!  Around the world, commute times can vary from none (for stay-at-home parents and freelancers who work virtually) to hours (for people who live in rural areas but work in the city or in cities with particularly bad traffic).  Fortunately, my commute falls somewhere in the middle.  I wanted to tell you about 4 different commutes (to and from 2 different workplaces) that I have experienced during my time here, so you can get a better sense of what the city is really like.

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On the positive side, commuting to and from different parts of the city can give you a real feel for the people there and it is a great way to learn about getting around in a city.  You might even pass a lot of interesting (and sometimes useful) shops along your way – window shopping anyone!?:)

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The madness that never ends! – Traffic in Dhaka

For those who have ever been to Dhaka, or even heard of Dhaka, the first thing you probably heard about was the traffic. I believe that it’s on of the worst cities in the world for traffic, likely because it’s so densely populated with no major public transportation system to take traffic off of the roads.

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Sharna and I spent much of our time in Dhaka viewing it like this, through the windows of our company van, or through the bars in the back of a CNG.

For instance, I lived on the opposite side of the city from the “downtown area”. Normally, this drive is supposed to take approximately 30 minutes. However, there were times when it took over 4 hours to reach my home. In fact, I have friends who’ve taken an hour simply to cross one major intersection!

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How to get around in Kathmandu – Transport in Nepal

When you get to a new place, one of the first things you need to figure out is transportation.  After walking around in your neighbourhood, you’re going to want to explore different parts of the city.  But how do you do that?  The best way is to ask the people where you’re staying.  If it’s a guest-house or hotel, they might just recommend a taxi because it’s easier to explain.  However, if you ask about a specific route (ideally, from where you’re staying to a well known area/destination), like “Can I take the bus from Baluwatar to Pulchowk?”, they will either tell you which bus to take, the price, and where to wait for it, OR they will say “No, not a bus, you can take a tempo”, and then explain that route.  At first, you will only know 1 route, but after awhile (and asking a few different people), you will figure out the best route for your daily commute and other weekend adventures.

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Random vehicle – some sort of modified tractor. They are not super popular, noisy, and are mostly used for carrying construction-type materials.

Note: Due to the current fuel shortages, all public transport vehicles are much more crowded than usual, and all taxis are more expensive.  If you’re planning to buy your own vehicle, you either have to be prepared to wait in long lines, or pay the “black market prices”, which can be between 2-5x the normal price.  However, this is likely to fluctuate over time.  This blog does not have any more information about owning/driving your own car – that’s too rich for my blood!

P.S. The Nepal Rupee is currently at about 0.092 of a US dollar.  For convenience sake, it’s easy to think of 1 rupee as a penny – so 10 rupees is 10 cents, 100 rupees = $1, and 1,000 rupees = $10.

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“OMG, that’s like SO rude!” – Understanding the Differences Between Cultures

I think people often assume things that are rude are very obvious. That no matter how you grew up you should know these basic rules of society. You’re supposed to implicitly understand what is acceptable and what is not. It’s nice to smile, it’s bad to steal, it’s inappropriate to wear a bathing suit to the office, it’s appropriate to shake hands at the beginning of a meeting, it’s polite to say “thank you”, and it’s rude to ignore someone who is talking to you. Everyone knows all these things and believes them to be true right? WRONG!

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Umm, excuse me sir, you’re sitting on my lap…

People who have never left their own region might assume that these beliefs are part of our human character, and the only people who don’t follow these rules are rebels, criminals, and people they don’t want to be friends with. But in fact, these “rules of society” change greatly between countries or even regions. I hate to make stereotypes, but I’ve created a list of things that are rude in Canada but acceptable in Bangladesh, and visa versa. This is not true for all people in every region of either country, however, I feel that the generalizations will help people to begin challenging their own assumptions.

So here’s a list of things I observed while in Bangladesh:

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AMA – Final Thoughts

International Development Week is now finished for 2016, but you can still check out the blog/website we created for the event.  We asked you to tell us all your burning questions about life in Nepal and Bangladesh, and we answered!  Thank you for all your interesting and thought-provoking questions.


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Cheers to all of you for your great questions!

In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights (click the links to read the full response):

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