A quick guide to launches in Bangladesh, large boats used for traveling by river. Includes where to buy launch tickets in Dhaka, how to buy tickets, and advice on ticket classes and taking launches in Bangladesh.
- Where to buy launch tickets in Dhaka
- How to buy launch tickets
- Launch ticket classes
- Launch schedules
- Launches in Bangladesh FAQ
If you want to get a real feel for the land of rivers, launches are the best way to do so. Large ferries that ply the country’s million and one waterways, they’re the most comfortable and budget friendly way to explore Bangladesh by water. Even better, they’re what locals use to get from aqueous A to brackish B.
The downside: figuring out how to do anything in Bangladesh can be a bit of a nightmare, and deciphering launches in Bangladesh is no exception. From endless confusion between AM and PM, to figuring out how to buy launch tickets, it’s easy to get lost in the process.
In the name of helping out a fellow traveler, here’s a quick guide to launches in Bangladesh, with extra focus on launches in Dhaka.
Where to buy launch tickets in Dhaka
If you want to travel by boat from Dhaka, Sadarghat is the place to go. By far one of the most congested and chaotic places in Dhaka, the riverside port is the starting and ending point of all launches going to and from Dhaka.
The Sadarghat boat terminal is a big concrete and brick building with several gated entrances. Ticket collection windows flank some of the entrances, but don’t get too excited; these are for buying 5 Tk tickets to get ONTO the launch docks.
Several other less official gates along the launch docks have the same ticket scheme. Though it may seem a scam, rest assured that locals pay the fee, too. If you hold on to your little green ticket, you can move in and out multiple times without issue.
How to buy launch tickets in Dhaka
When on the floating metal docks, start asking around for the destination you have in mind. Some of the blue uniformed porters I encountered spoke English and were very helpful. One treated me to tea and offered to buy me lunch; the one who finally found my boat asked for a tip, but I was happy to hand over a bit of baksheesh once my ticket was secured.
Tickets for launches must be purchased on the launch itself, which means you can’t really buy tickets more than a few hours in advance. Lucky for us all, launches are large and plentiful, and you shouldn’t have too much of an issue with space if you show up several hours in advance.
Note: This does not hold for travel around either of the Eid holidays. Launches are known to be dangerously full on and around the holidays, and are best treated with caution during the holiday time.
Once you’ve found the launch in question, head up the wooden gangplank to the front of the boat. There should be a man sitting at a little wooden table with some books on it, and he’s the one you’ll need to buy your tickets from. Hold onto your ticket—you need to show it to get off the launch once you reach your destination.
Buying launch tickets elsewhere
When I took a launch from Hularhat launch ghat near Khulna, the ticketing process was the same. People showed up an hour or two earlier than the launch, buying tickets on the spot from people sitting at little wooden desks and card tables.
Launch ticket classes
There are a few classes of launch ticket you can choose from. In order from most expensive to least expensive, they are:
- VIP: Some boats have slightly nicer cabins with private decks for the room. The most expensive class.
- Standard cabin (double/single): A very basic cabin with two/one single beds, a small set of shelves, a fan, and electricity. Grants you access to a sectioned off cabin area with numerous sinks, toilets, and boys to cater to your whims should you have them.
- Deck: Sleeping right on the floor with masses of locals. The cheapest option, but be sure to pack a blanket to camp on! Don’t miss my post on taking a launch from Khulna to Dhaka for some… inspiration and/or forewarning about this class.
Note: If you’re planning on riding deck class, there’s no need to buy tickets before departure. Someone will come around to collect money once the launch is moving.
Dhaka launch departure schedules
And so we reach my biggest sticking point: figuring out when the heck launches run!
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect launches for longer distances to depart from Dhaka in the evening, somewhere between 17:00 and 20:00, and arrive the next morning. Some may also have a mirror morning departure between 5:00 and 7:00; these are ideal for daytime sightseeing along the waterways, though arriving after dark is not always optimal.
Launches for shorter distances (ex. launches from Dhaka to Chandpur) will be more numerous, departing every few hours throughout the day.
Inefficient as it may be, your best bet is to just show up and ask around to figure out what time your desired launch departs. Combine it with a walking adventure up and down the scenic—if stinky—Buriganga river to make a day out of it!
Note: Beware of going too early to ask about tickets. I tried to reach the launch area around 9:30 or 10:00, and was packed like a sweaty sardine amongst thousands of boxes being loaded and unloaded, and the ten bazillion men carrying them all. Wait until after 13:00 or so to head off to the ghat.
Resources for Dhaka launch schedules
If you’re an
antisocial cave troll lazy like me, there are still a few ways to get a vague notion of when and how often launches leave. All of these websites are frustratingly incomplete, many of them are wretched, and some don’t work as claimed. Nevertheless, some information is better than nothing.
- Transportbd: The most comprehensive list, but seems to suddenly stop after page 6…
- Shohoz: Only works with launches starting from Dhaka. Beware, online ticketing doesn’t actually work.
- Thorn Tree: Lonely Planet’s travel forum has a decent number of posts that bring up launch times and schedules. Use the search function, or ask your own question—there are a handful of dedicated Bangladeshi users who are quick to answer when they can.
- Tripadvisor: A smattering of information in Tripadvisor’s Bangladesh forum, though less adventurous in nature than Thorn Tree.
Launches in Bangladesh FAQ
Are launches in Bangladesh safe?
Though they have a reputation for being dangerous and sinking often, launches are just as safe—or unsafe—as any other form of transportation in Bangladesh. If you’re cool with riding one of Bangladesh’s suicidal buses, or even crossing the street in Dhaka, the launch can’t be any riskier. Don’t expect to find any life jackets on board.
Are there toilets on the launches? For all classes?
Yes, there are sitting and squatting toilets with sinks for cabin classes, and squat toilets for deck class. No sinks to be found on the lower decks, though there are spewing jets of water people like to use on the back end of the boat.
Can I buy food and water/drinks on the launch?
But of course! There are men walking around selling all kinds of snacks from jhal muri (puffed rice mixed with all sorts of spicy things) to boiled eggs to packaged snacks to fruits. A tea stall can usually be found in the back of the lowest deck, as can people selling water.
Do the cabin doors lock?
Yes, as do their windows. You’ll get a key when you “check in” to the cabin area.
Can unmarried couples or male/female travelers share cabins?
No one asks, no need to tell if you’re not married. Better to pretend you are to avoid having half the boat gossiping about you, though.
Are launches safe for solo female travelers?
Yes, I’d say so. Cabins are obviously more ideal—and secure—than sleeping on the floor, but I think women of steel could handle either. There are loads of women and children to be found on the launches; when in doubt, just make friends with a family or two.
Good luck (Inshallah you won’t need it)
So ends my guide to taking launches in Bangladesh. If you have any more information to share about the process or launch schedules, let others know in the comments.
Wherever you’re off to next, bon voyage and enjoy the ride!