Most of Bangladesh is very, very flat and the whole area is bisected with numerous rivers and streams. The rivers have traditionally been both transport routes and major transport barriers and they continue to be so today. However, things are changing. Bangladesh has recently completed the construction of a series of bridges spanning some of the streams and road and rail transport is taking passengers and freight away from the rivers.
Nevertheless, river traffic is still important and the shear variety of craft makes it interesting for the visitor. Dhaka, and almost all the other major towns, is located on a river. One of the most interesting experiences in Dhaka is to get out on the river and see the river traffic for yourself. This can be done is several ways.
There is a cruise boat that operates half and full-day tours on the Turag River, which is on the western side of the city. This is operated by Contic and is recommended by some of the hotels. I have not had any experience with this. What I recommend is to take a small boat out on the teaming Bariganga River from old Dhaka. The best place to do this is at, or adjacent to, the Sadarghat boat terminal. The easiest boat to rent is one of the small hand operated canoes which provide transport across the river. These will take you from one side to the other for a few Taka but it is better to offer an operator 100 Taka (less than US$2) to give you a 30 minute trip along the river and back to your starting point. This can be difficult to negotiate because many operators don’t speak English but if you have a foreign face, it won’t be long before someone comes along to help.
The river at this point is at least half a kilometer wide but it seems crowded with boats of all types. There are the cross channel canoes, ancient houseboats tied up to the banks, barges used for transport and living, scores of large ferries which ply the waterways to country towns, and some ships which negotiate the river system from the Bay of Bengal. You see people washing, cooking, eating, sleeping and just lying around. You will be as interesting to them as they are to you. You will be amazed at the dexterity of the boatman as he weaves his way between other craft, missing some by a matter of metres. It looks like chaos to the untrained eye, but there must be a logic to all you see otherwise there would be collisions and fatalities on an hourly basis. Take your camera as there are lots of photo opportunities particularly early morning and late afternoon. You will need a good hat if you go at midday in summer because the boats have no cover.
Tours are also operated by Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, the national tourism organization.