Srimongol must have at least half a dozen English spellings, but I digress right off the bat. I boarded a later bus from Bandarban for a couple of days rest in Chittagong and headed for the Asian SR Hotel. Met a nice guy on the bus who mentioned that we lived near one another and he graciously paid the cab fare to my hotel. Another case of typically great Bangladeshi hospitality. He also apologized that he couldn't take me out to dinner, but that he was moving that day. Asian SR Hotel had a huge convention going on and I was lucky (I guess) to get a closet of a room on the VIP floor. Problem was that the place was full of Chinese businessmen playing cards and smoking and had to stuff material under the door to keep the smoke out. My goal was to rest up, update my blog and just take it easy. I did have to go to the train station to buy my ticket for Srimongol and it was an easy procedure since they had a separate window for advance purchases with only a couple of people in line. Meanwhile, back at the Asian, the internet was spotty and finally crashed in the early evening. Kept hearing different excuses and times when it would be working and when they told me the next morning that it might take all day, I decided to move. I liked the Asian SR's location right across from the train station, but none of the other nearby hotels offered in-room wifi, so I checked out the Lonely Planet guide and found a lovely hotel near GEC circle, a much nicer part of town. For double the $20 price I paid at the Asian, I wound up in a huge, beautiful suite with superb wifi, a nice staff and a super comfy bed.
There was a bit of the usual road noise, but it was tolerable. The GEC area is very Westernized with the usual KFC outlets, Baskin Robbins, etc. I chose not to eat American junk food and enjoyed some street food and caffeine as I worked on updating this blog. I could have whiled away another day at this nice hotel, but had to board the train for Srimongol early the next morning. I was happy to have a first class ticket ($4) for the seven hour ride,
but then I got on the train and realized that on this particular line, first class is worse than most Indian second class cabins. They squeezed six of us into this compartment, there was no a/c and the seats were hard as rocks. Oh well, go with the flow. At least the scenery was beautiful:
Trip Advisor recommended the Greenleaf Eco-Tourism Guest House and they were gracious enough to send a rep to meet me at the train station. Lodging situation here is a bit odd, with most places around $7 or less. The Greenleaf was a bit more at $19, but they charge extra for wifi and breakfast isn't included. The next step up is the new Grand Sultan at $375/night. Staff here is good and right now it seems like a senior hostel, with four guests, all of us ranging from 50-64. We have an IR Prof from University of British Columbia and a couple of Baptist Missionaries from N Texas and we're getting along like a good family. These are the first Westerners I've encountered in more than two weeks. The main attraction of Srimongol is the tea plantations which, unlike most tea growing areas, are roughly at sea level. It's a relatively quiet little town with some good restaurants and a relaxed vibe and Bangladeshis flock here on the weekends. It's mostly flat, so cycling is a good option along with hiking in the nearby National Park (Lowacherra). I spent the first day riding out to a small lake and through the tea plantations and logged around 50 km (30 miles). The lake was packed with high school and middle school kids, so I didn't spend much time there. Later Bruce and Sherry and I went out to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner (Agra). It gets good reviews, but I'd rate the food average at best.
Today Adam (the prof) and I took a tour of the National Forest with a superb local guide (Eusuf Ali, firstname.lastname@example.org or 8801674378003). The main attraction of the park is the hoolack gibbon and there are only a few hundred in the entire country. Spotting one is somewhat rare, but our excellent guide heard a family and we went tearing through the forest, carving our own path and hoping to see one. We got lucky and spotted an entire family. Tonight the four of us will eat at the local premier restaurant and then I plan to just wander around the next few days as I anticipate my flight to Kolkata. Will update the Bangladesh part of the blog one last time with actions of the next few days and an overview of the experience.
Male Member of Hoolack Gibbon Family
Traveler Tip: The Grand Park makes for a wonderful and relatively inexpensive splurge if you have the funds within your budget