An overnight cruise on the Rocket Paddle Steamer in Bangladesh is one of the world’s classic river journeys – read our review & find out if it deserves the title.

The Rocket Paddle Steamer of Bangladesh

Rocket paddle steamers have been traversing through the many rivers of Bangladesh since the early 20th century.

A low lying country, Bangladesh is formed by a delta plain at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra & Meghna rivers.

25% of the country is less than 1m above sea level, making it one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change and rising sea levels.

It also means that it is prone to flooding but the soil is highly fertile, providing water for rice cultivation.

Bangladesh rice fields

Bangladesh is a very flat country

Boarding the Rocket Paddle Steamer

A ride on The Rocket Paddle Steamer is a classic travel journey for visitors like us here at DIY Travel HQ, but simply another mode of transportation for locals.

Furniture on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Traveling light in Bangladesh!

Trips depart daily from Dhaka at 6:30pm, reaching Morelgonj (the gateway to the Sunderbands) at 2:30pm the next day.

Once the fastest vessels on water, these days – at 19 hrs for a 350 km journey – it is a rocket in name only. However, our later travels in Sumatra, Indonesia would include a 28.5 hour bus ride from Bukittinggi to Medan covering 650kms, so overland travel in Asia is often not much faster.

Anyway, there only 4 paddle steamers let in service & now, also powered by diesel rather than steam.

Rocket Paddle Steamer

The Rocket Paddle Steamer is one of only 4 left in Bangladesh

Boarding is from the Sadarghat ferry terminal on the Dhaka city riverfront on the Buriganga River.

Around 300 large and small passenger riverboats arrive and depart every hour, making it one of the largest river ports in the world.

Sadarghat ferry terminal

Sadarghat ferry terminal on the Dhaka city riverfront

1st Class Cabin on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

The Rocket Paddle Steamer is a 2 level Steamer, with cabins & sleeping decks on the upper level.

The front side of the upper level is reserved for 1st class – another misnomer in name only.

Far from my Titanic dreams, the tiny room contains two single beds, a wash basin & a fan.

First class cabin Rocket

Don’t expect luxury in the 1st class cabin 

First Class cabin Rocket

First Class cabin comes with your own sink but showers are outside & shared

First class does, however, give you access to an outside deck at the front of the boat, where stewards can bring you tea & biscuits as you enjoy the gentle riverine scenery.

Deck Rocket Paddle Steamer

The outside deck is a lovely place to pass the time

Fishermen Bangladesh

Traditional Fishing in Bangladesh

Food & Drink on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Tea & biscuits are available round the clock – the stewards are insistent.

Dinner, breakfast & lunch (with a choice of local or Western dishes) are served in a long dining hall right outside the cabin rooms.

It is safe to say that the food was not a particular highlight of the trip, though unfortunately it was an accurate reflection of the cuisine of Bangladesh.

Breakfast Rocket Paddle Steamer

First class breakfast on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Lunch Rocket Paddle Steamer

First class lunch on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Dining room Rocket Paddle Steamer

First class dining hall on Rocket Paddle Steamer

Local Life on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

2nd class is at the back of the Rocket Paddle Steamer. Rooms are even smaller than in 1stclass, and without wash basin or linen.

Shared toilet/shower rooms are available for 1st & 2nd classes.

Between 1st & 2nd class are the Inter & Deck classes, sprawled with local Bangladeshi’s on blankets & mats.

Deck Rocket Paddle Steamer

Local class on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Local class Rocket Paddle Steamer

Meet the locals on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

At midnight, the steamer made a long stop & one of the stewards woke us from our room & insisted we follow him for a tour of the local village.

It was a nice, albeit dark, visit, chatting & chaiing with locals, on a riverbank in the middle of nowhere.

Boarding Rocket Paddle Steamer

A midnight stop onboard the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Vllage stop on Rocket Paddle Steamer

Stopping for tea at midnight in a local village

Tour of the Rocket Paddle Steamer

The next morning we were taken on tours of the Engine Room & the rest of the Rocket Paddle Steamer:

Engine Room Rocket Paddle Steamer

Meeting one of the workers in the engine room

Engine room Rocket Paddle Steamer

The Rocket Paddle Steamer is powered by diesel engines

The “kitchen” & chef:

Portrait Rocket Paddle Steamer

The kitchen was also the shower for the chef

We were invited into the Captain’s bridge, where we discussed shipping routes & techniques & sipped on more chai with the rest of the crew.

The Captain’s all-commanding view was expansive & impressive.

Captain Rocket Paddle Steamer

Watching the Captain at work on the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Rocket Paddle Steamer

The impressive view from the Captain’s window

The Rocket Paddle Steamer: Is it Worth it?

We were well looked after on The Rocket Paddle Steamer however unlike in many developing countries, it wasn’t all genuine hospitality.

Before disembarking, significant tips were expected; our offerings were met with scowls & displeasure, from attendants perhaps more accustomed to wealthier Western tourists, rather than well-travelled backpackers, for which it was an already expensive trip for the region.

Workers Rocket Paddle Steamer

Our attendants in the first class cabin

Overall, The Rocket Paddle Steamer’s glory days have definitely long set sail.

In the 21stcentury, more than 100 years since its debut, its speed has slowed, its décor has aged, its character has decayed and its crew has its lost etiquette.

Across the subcontinent, there is much to cherish from the colonial era but sadly, The Rocket Paddle Steamer is a relic that has lost its charm.

Deck Rocket Paddle Steamer

Saying goodbye once & for all to the Rocket Paddle Steamer

Know Before You Go

Price:

  • Dhaka-Morelganj, 1st class: 3,740 BDT /$48.00
  • Dhaka-Morelganj, 2nd class: 2,100 BDT / $27.00

Reservations:

Reservations can be made at the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BUWTC).

  • Address: 5 Dilkusha, Dhaka
  • Phone: +88-02-9559779
  • Office hours: Sunday – Thursday; 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

No online or e-mail booking facilities.

Departures: 

The Rocket departs daily from 6:30pm at the Sadarghat ferry terminal in Old Dhaka.

 

*** The Final Word: The Rocket Paddle Steamer was an expensive & slow disappointment *** 

Have you been on any disappointing cruises or river journeys? 

Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport

Visited in September 2014