My Long, Laborious Layover in Bangladesh: Worth It?

I knew flying from Kathmandu to Yangon on Bangladeshi owned & operated Biman Airlines would be a bit of an inconvenience but I never dreamed it would turn into the such a nightmare. The actual flights were fine, it was everything in between that was burdensome. I spent a lot more time and effort to save some money, but was it worth it? I experienced and documented this ordeal so you can decide for yourself.

Just to provide some context, there are no direct flights and no easy way to get from Kathmandu to Yangon. Here are your options: 1. Book cheapest ticket via Biman and deal with the 21 hour layover. 2. Pay nearly twice the cost to fly one of the Middle Eastern Airlines all the way back to UAE or Oman or somewhere, wait 6-8 hours then fly back past Nepal to Myanmar. 3. Take a bus a cross over a land border, which complicates things because you cannot use the online pre-approval letter  - which I have - for land borders. It can only get you a visa when arriving at certain airports. Instead you must have a visa approved by an embassy or consulate and there isn't one in Nepal so you'll have to go to another country first like Thailand. 

Here's what to expect should you book the same itinerary that I did. 

Step one: book flight online. The Biman website is pretty terrible so I had to go through a third party, Total cost: $268.05.

Fly Kathmandu to Dhaka. There is a vegetarian meal option despite the fact you cannot specify it in advance like every other airline and no one from customer service answered your email prior to the flight. Sandwich served is 98% bread, 1% cheese, 1% mayo. Pretty sure it is the meat option sans meat, or, a culinary afterthought. The sandwich is accompanied by Pepsi (seemingly the official corporate sponsor of the entire country), vegetable crackers with all the nutrition that wheat, sugar, flour & "vegetable flakes" has to offer, one packet of ketchup and a strange but sweet noodley dessert thing. 

Arrive Dhaka airport. Do not go to VOA desk.  Instead go upstairs to the Transit area which you are supposed to inherently know how and where it exists despite there being zero signage. Talk to someone at the desk. Good luck because they each have different levels of English so it's like a game of roulette, really. And even though there is clearly a no smoking sign, at least half of employees will have lit cigarettes between their lips. 

Choose your fate for the 21 hour layover:

1. Stay in the airport and Biman covers the cost of dinner that night and breakfast the following morning. You sleep in the airport. Theoretically, it's free, but uncomfortable. 

2. Pay $21 for a transit visa and $30 to stay in a hotel overnight. Transportation to and from the hotel as well as dinner and breakfast are included in this cost. 

I chose the latter option while two Danish girls on the same flight chose the former. There is no wifi in transit area.   

See two cats mating on the floor. Stop, do double-take. Yes, two cats are indeed mating well inside the airport before you even get to customs or baggage claim. 

Receive red, plastic token for Sky Link hotel. Have exactly $51 US currency or you will be waiting over an hour for change. Wait another hour for airport to contact the hotel. Get escorted by a transit employee downstairs to the desk next to the VOA desk for transit visa. Receive paperwork. Get escorted to customs to stamp passport. Get escorted to baggage carousel to retrieve bag which arrived long before you did. Get escorted outside into the heat & humidity to wait for hotel shuttle. 

Shuttle picks you up and gets stuck in traffic on a road that smells like dirty diapers. You must keep the window open for a breeze because the air con on the van doesn't work and it is stiflingly hot so you tolerate the stench. 

Arrive at hotel and hand over passport to check in. Get escorted to your room which surprisingly has a full bed, functional tv, power outlet, electricity, weak Aircon, ensuite bathroom including shower and western toilet (but no toilet paper) and your choice of cold or nearly warm water. Wifi is free and astonishingly fast. 

You are told to report for dinner on the 6th floor at 8:30 - you must specify vegetarian or you will automatically be served meat. You receive a call in your room at 8 saying your dinner is ready now. You are alone but a meal to satisfy a family of four is prepared and served. It is spicy. The seal on your bottle of water is broken so you know it's been used before and refilled. You drink it anyways. 

You eat as much as you can, which is not nearly half, and return to your room with an employee who sprays your room with chemicals to deter mosquitos. You are pretty sure you are the only guest in the hotel. 

Get ready for bed. Notice cigarette burns in sheets and cigarette butts in bathroom. Sleep is actually ok as long as you have an eye mask and earplugs because the traffic outside is noisy and nonstop and there is a weird, green orb glowing above your bed. 

Wake up dazed and confused. Remember you are still stuck in Bangladesh. Call reception to ask when Breakfast is served. He says Breakfast is at 8:00 and the shuttle will leave for the airport at 10:00. Receive call at 7:30 that Breakfast is ready. Eat a light but satisfying meal. Return to your room to use Internet and revel in the calm before the transit storm. 

There is a knock on the door at 9:30 to tell you the shuttle is already here. Quickly pack and come downstairs to board shuttle. The ride is between 20 and 30 minutes back to the airport. You are told to go inside to Row D and left to fend for yourself. 

You find Row D which apparently stands for Deserted, Dysfuntional, Difficult, or many other possible disappointing D words. You are told the computer system is down so you must go to another Row. Go there, wait in line, get escorted by airport employees out of line to fill out customs departure form. Get back in line, reach counter where employee checks your ticket then refuses to check your bag and sends you back to Row D to wait for a special Transit employee. Wait several minutes for said employee to arrive who magically uses computer system to print your boarding pass but still does not check your luggage.

Get escorted through special transit area and get passport stamped again. Agent does not take customs form that you were specifically told to fill out. Transit employee abandons you and tells you to "walk that way" (left.) 

Walk "that way" lugging both bags. Check boarding pass for gate. It is a blank space with no number. Go back to transit area and ask which gate to go to. You are told that the gate will be announced and to sit and wait. 

See stray airport cats again, but separate and not mating this time. 

Announcements are unintelligible over the intercom so you keep checking the monitor, which is staticky and barely readable. Finally monitor claims your flight is boarding at gate 6. Lug both bags to gate 6 and stand in line. Get told to go to gate 6A instead. Walk to gate 6A and stand in long-ass line. Give up on carrying rucksack and kick it along the floor as the line moves. Very. Very. Slowly. 

One hour later, reach front of line and hand ticket to employee. Employee tells you gate has changed and to hurry to gate 4. You want to punch someone but you refrain and hustle to gate 4 and wait in another line. See Danish girls again who say they had a much simpler and less eventful experience. You envy them. You are told you cannot take water so you drink it all while in line. You realize your flight will not be leaving on time. 

You send bags through security screening  which includes your supposed-to-be-checked-bag full of liquids. No one seems to care. You get frisked by a female employee behind a curtain.  You enter another waiting area. You wait impatiently because now you have to pee since you drank the entire contents of your water bottle and there is no toilet even though it now appears that the previous no water warning was empty rhetoric. You curse the engineer that designed security screenings at the individual gates. Your flight should have left 30 minutes ago yet no one has even boarded the plane. 

Later someone says it is time to board. You follow the herd downstairs and a board a bus that takes you to the plane. You shove your rucksack and backpack into the overhead bin. The plane is over half empty so you can choose a row all to yourself. But the legroom leaves much to be desired and can only comfortably accommodate someone under five feet tall or a double amputee. (Literally only 5 or 6 inches between you and the next seat.) Your plane takes off over an hour late. 

The same meal is served, only this time with a small bag of peanuts so that you don't starve during the additional hour of flight time. You finally land in Yangon, grateful that you and both bags have finally arrived. 

Total cost: $319.05. Total time: 26 hours. You vow never to fly Biman nor to travel through Bangladesh again.