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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The “kitchen” & 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.
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.
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.
Know Before You Go
- Dhaka-Morelganj, 1st class: 3,740 BDT /$48.00
- Dhaka-Morelganj, 2nd class: 2,100 BDT / $27.00
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.
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