Bangladesh: How to Visit Saint Martin's Island by Fishing Trawler!

Photo of Bangladesh: How to Visit Saint Martin's Island by Fishing Trawler! 1/1 by Tanya.Korteling

Do you love off the beaten track adventures and discovering non-touristy places? If the answer is yes, then Saint Martin's Island in Bangladesh should tick those boxes, especially in low season.

Saint Martin's is the only coral island in Bangladesh. It's in the North East of the Bay of Bengal about 9 km south from the tip of Cox's Bazar in Southern Bangladesh.

No ferries - no worries

We were keen to visit Saint Martin's Island during our recent week long trip to Bangladesh in October, at the end of monsoon season. We'd read there was a ferry from Teknaf, the most southern state in Bangladesh. When we enquired at our hotel in Cox's Bazar we found out that apparently the ferries weren't running. I'm not sure if this was due to the political situation still or because it was off season.

Either way the only other mode of transport was fishing trawler, which would be too dangerous (for tourists) due to the rough sea. Dissapointed, we were also not convinced it was 100% accurate. The weather had been fine in Cox's Bazar and conditions at sea didn't appear to be too unsettled.

Undeterred I contacted an eco-resort on Saint Martin's Island and asked if they were open and if so how we could get there. I soon received the reply we'd hoped for, they were always open. There was just one hitch, as per the hotels advise the ferries weren't running. Fishing trawler really was our only option and many people don't like doing it. Never ones to turn down an adventure and having never travelled by fishing trawler, we jumped at the opportunity. It sounded right up our street.

Photo of St. Martin's Island by Tanya.Korteling

Guided or independently

Satisfied we were happy with a trawler, the eco-resort advised that they'd send a guide to meet us at Teknaf. He'd help us find a trawler, escort us to the island and to the eco-resort. In hindsight we wished we'd done this independently because when we got to the island the guide insisted on sticking with us for our whole stay. He even slept in the room next to us and was there everytime we turned round. Whilst he was a lovely chap, we prefer not to have unnecessary guides, especially when we could have easily managed by ourselves if we'd been had the logistical information.

Just for the record, I'm not saying having a guide is the wrong thing to do, just that it's not for everyone. It does of course have it's benefits such as less hassle from locals, it's easier to arrange meals and transport, and it's cheaper to buy things from the stores and markets.

If you prefer to travel independently and would rather visit Saint Martin's Island without a guide in low season it's likely that like us you'll struggle with the lack of readily available resources out there. Therefore I've pulled together some useful information on how to get there.

Most journeys to Saint Martin's Island will start in Dhaka and all go via Cox's Bazar to Teknaf. From there you have to get some mode of ocean faring vessel to the island. The route looks something like this:

Dhaka > Cox's Bazar > Teknaf > Saint Martin's Island

You can get a direct taxi from Dhaka to Teknaf for about 11,000 Taka (£110 GBP), taking about 6.5 hours. You could also take a direct bus for up to 1,700 Taka (£17 GBP), depending on the class, taking up to 12 hours. I suspect however that the majority of people would choose to break the journey up with a stop off in Cox's Bazar so the options below are based on that.

    Bus - From Mohakhali Bus Station (you can get a taxi there from the airport), catch a bus to Cox's Bazar. Numerous buses from many different companies leave Dhaka towards Cox's Bazar daily and some drive throughout the night. Prices range from about 700 Taka (£7 GBP) for a non-airconditioned chair coach (not very comfortable) to 3,000 Taka (£30 GBP) for an airconditioned sleeper coach (the comfiest option). Beware the buses can take anywhere from 10 to 15 hours depending on the route, traffic and road conditions.
    Flight - A short one hour domestic flight to Cox's Bazar like we took costs from about 5,000 Taka (£50GBP) one way or 10,000 Taka (£100 GBP) return. It's difficult to buy flight tickets online in Bangladesh with a foreign credit or debit card, so we bought our tickets on the day from a ticket office located outside the front of the domestic airport, next door to the Shahjalal International Airport.

Cox's Bazar to Teknaf

If you plan to travel to Saint Martin's the same day you travel from Cox's Bazar to Teknaf you'll need to get an early start as the fishing trawlers aim to leave between 11:00 am and 12:00 pm. In reality they probably won't leave until much later as I'll explain shortly; it's not worth the risk missing it though, so aim to get to Teknaf in plenty of time.

There are three options for this leg of the journey:

Teknaf to Saint Martin's Island

The trawlers depart from Teknaf Boat Ghat, so either ask someone to point you in the right direction or jump in an auto-rickshaw. Once you reach the ghat, the fun and possible confusion starts. You'll need to do the following:

Photo of Cox's Bazar, Chittagong Division, Bangladesh by Tanya.Korteling

There is one more stop on the way at Shah Porir Dip Terminal, where some people may get off the trawler and others get on. This was actually the highlight of the trip for me.

Photo of Bangladesh: How to Visit Saint Martin's Island by Fishing Trawler! by Tanya.Korteling

As we waited for the new passengers to get on, a cow and a bull were led down the jetty. I turned to Andy and said 'surely they're not putting them on here...where on earth will they go'. We then watched in disbelief as the two beasts were manhandled onboard and down into the hold with the other goods. The two animals weren't best pleased and people scattered to avoid their horns. Once in the hold the animals settled down and we were on our way again. Don't be at all surprised if your trawler ends up resembling Noah's Ark.

After that all there really is to do it to people watch, have a doze or read a book, and of course don't forget to look out for Myanmar which you pass on the left handside.

Photo of Bangladesh: How to Visit Saint Martin's Island by Fishing Trawler! by Tanya.Korteling

What to take

This is probably the time to mention this trip is not for the faint hearted. You'll probably be squashed and uncomfortable, and hot and sweaty, but it's a real adventure and for us was worth the discomfort. Here's some suggestions of things to take with you to make the long, hot journey more enjoyable for you:

So that's it, how to travel independently to Saint Martin's Island without a guide in low season. If you decide you'd rather go with the simpler option of getting a guide, this can easily be arranged by contacting one of the accomodations on the island and asking them to arrange one for you.

I shall be writing another post soon about our time on Saint Martin's Island itself in low season, so watch this space.

Have you been to Saint Martin's Island in low season, if so have I missed any important details? If you're planning a trip there, I hope you've found this useful, but feel free to comment below with any questions.

This post was originally published on Can Travel Will Travel.