First timer’s guide to launches in Bangladesh

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.

 

Planning travel to Bangladesh? If you're interested in backpacking through Bangladesh, launch boats are an absolute must. Bangladesh is a land of water, and launches are the most budget friendly way to explore the country by river. This guide to launches in Bangladesh has everything you need to know about budget boat travel in Bangladesh, from how to buy tickets to how to figure out launch schedules.

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What’s here:

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Launches in a row at Sadarghat boat terminal in Dhaka - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Launches in a row at Dhaka’s chaotic Sadarghat

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Ticket window for Sadarghat in Dhaka - Lost With Purpose travel blog

(Why yes, the entry gate infrastructure is better than the actual ticketing purchasing process. Welcome to Bangladesh.)

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Sadarghat launch ghat crowds in the evening - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The crowds of Sadarghat

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.

How to buy launch tickets in Dhaka, Bangladesh - Friendly porters at Sadarghat launch terminal - Lost With Purpose travel blog

My friendly porters turned guides at Sadarghat

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Ticket desk on launch boat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The very official launch ticketing desk (do compare to ghat ticketing desk)

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Cabin class area of launch boat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The orderly cabin area of a launch

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Deck class/floor class of launch - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Cheap and cheerful deck class

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Black Buriganga river water in Dhaka - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Mmm, delicious Buriganga water!

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.
Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Launch boat arriving at Hularhat launch ghat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Launch time!

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Boys washing in black water from the back of the boat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Not recommended, unless you just can’t help yourself…

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Man making jhal muri puffed rice - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Jhal muri in the making. Delicious as this was, be careful with snacks like this—the chopped vegetables are often washed with tap 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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Single cabin - Lost With Purpose travel blog

A cozy—if bare bones—single cabin. Not sure how one would angle to watch TV from bed, but everything else will do!

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.

Guide to launches in Bangladesh - Sunrise from a launch headed to Hatiya island - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Sunrise on the way to Hatiya island

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!

 

Planning travel to Bangladesh? If you're interested in backpacking through Bangladesh, launch boats are an absolute must. Bangladesh is a land of water, and launches are the most budget friendly way to explore the country by river. This guide to launches in Bangladesh has everything you need to know about budget boat travel in Bangladesh, from how to buy tickets to how to figure out launch schedules.

Helpful? Pin it!

Want more advice about travel in Bangladesh? Don’t miss the Bangladesh archives!

Alex

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

2 thoughts on “First timer’s guide to launches in Bangladesh

    orange wayfarer says:

    The launches actually have sleeping cabin? wow! It looked so cute. I can only imagine the washroom and would probably wound prefer not to poop for a few days. the jhalmuri wala is love!

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