The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Dhaka, Bangladesh: the worst traffic in Asia?

Written By: admin - Jan• 02•13

Bumperguards and dents are the hallmarks of virtually every vehicle in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Here at WoWasis, we hate traffic. No seriously, we really hate traffic. We do know of some workarounds, like taking the BTS Skytrain or MRT subway in Bangkok, and rarely going anywhere in town that’s not serviced by those, or water taxi routes. As bad as Bangkok is, we weren’t prepared for the traffic hell that is Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. There are 20 million people in this metropolitan area, with few traffic signals, no rail-based public transit system, and an estimated 80,000 rickshaws that are both too wide and too slow. Add tons of buses, cars and trucks, millions of pedestrians, dozens of thousands of street and sidewalk stalls, and a total disregard for any traffic laws, and you’ve got utter chaos. And if you think we’re kidding, a huge number of Dhaka’s vehicles sport bull bars to fend of other vehicles. Take a look at the accompanying picture of two of Dhaka’s taxis, and you’ll get a graphic view of what’s going on. Dhaka traffic is essentially legalized bumper-cars. Our taxi either hit or was hit by an auto-rickshaw. The two drivers both apologized, then went on their respective ways. Probably both vehicles were dented, but no one bothered to get out. It’s hard to find a vehicle in Dhaka that doesn’t have a dent, and why make a repair? The thing would just get dented again tomorrow.

The traffic will also prevent you from easily seeing Dhaka’s sights. As one local wag put it, go to a destination and see everything around it, because you’ll never make it to the second destination.

The purpose of this blog post is twofold: to warn you what you’ll be getting into, and to encourage you to leave Dhaka for other parts of Bangladesh as quickly as possible. Because staying in Dhaka will impede your enjoyment of Bangladesh, and you don’t want to judge this fascinating country by its cover.

At Dhaka, your fun starts immediately. When you arrive from an international destination by airline, it will take you two hours to get to your hotel in Dhaka, although it may only be 5 miles away as the crow flies. Peak traffic hours are 8 am through 10 pm, no breaks. The next day, you’ve been told to go to the old city to see the sights. It will take you a long time to get there, whether by car or rickshaw, and longer still to go from one old city destination to another. Walking isn’t the answer, as the city is not based on a grid, and there are no street signs in English. You’re going to have to join the traffic melee.

As a pedestrian, you’ll face the real danger, too, of being hit by a bus, tuk-tuk (auto-riskshaw or “CNG” are other terms for theses lime-green three-wheelers) or bicycle rickshaw, particularly at night, when visibility for everyone is poor. And don’t worry about breathing: the exhaust fumes may get you before you reach your destination. This is one dangerous, tough-to-get-around-in city.

The entire nation of Bangladesh realizes Dhaka’s traffic is a major problem. Journalist Khairul Kuader painted a really dismal picture in the Daily Sun’s Morning Tea weekend magazine in the December 28, 2012 issue. People are dying in ambulances, en route to hospitals they’ll never reach. 3.20 million business hours are lost every year due to people being late for work and meetings. As a rule of thumb, a city’s minimum requirement for area allotted to roads is 25%: in Dhaka, it’s 7,5%, and, as Kuader’s article states, 30% of this precious 7.5% is lost to “hawkers, salesmen, and shopkeepers.”

It’s not going to be fixed soon. So here’s our advice. Get out of town quickly. Go to places like Rajshahi or Khulna, where you’ll revel in the non-traffic freedom. Dhaka’s train station is no walk-in-the-park either, from a westerners’ perspective, but the trains are fast an efficient, provided you can actually figure out how to buy a ticket, then board your train.

Bangladesh is a fascinating country, with friendly people, and lots to see. But you’re not going to see a lot in the capital of Dhaka unless you’re a real masochist.

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One Comment

  1. Prabash says:

    Wish we had those in the states, maybe they do, but I have never seen one. We do have the rick-shaws where pepole pull you on the little thing that looks like a bicycle .recently saw many of these in Washington D.C. Always thought it looked a little odd for pepole to actually be pulling others around on a bicycle while they sit in the back. Don’t know how one person could do so much exercise in one day, by pulling pepole around such a hilly city as D.C. (northern part is uphill).Believe the rick-shaw originated from Asia, but unsure. Sure you know what I am referring to, with your travels.

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