Five Reasons You Should Visit Bangladesh.
I admit. When I decided to visit Bangladesh, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for. The more people I told I wanted to visit Bangladesh, the more ‘oooh, wow!’ Or ‘oooh, errrr…’ responses I got.
This struck me as strange since I travel a fair amount and often to North Korea which tends to be the top question mark.
(Yes, North Korea is great. You should come.)
Nearer to the time of my travel to Bangladesh I looked into it much more. I couldn’t really find what people were making a fuss about, apart from the fact that it’s just not generally visited by that many tourists.
Deciding to visit Bangladesh was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Bangladesh is a raw country, 100% Bangladesh and largely untouched by tourism.
It is fully charged with a unique energy that you won't find in any other country throughout the world. An energy that you can only feel and understand by visiting the country.
Here’s why you should visit Bangladesh, and how!
How Can I Visit Bangladesh?
In order to visit Bangladesh, you’ll probably need to get a Bangladesh visa. Few countries are exempt from this, so it is best to double-check before-hand.
Can I get the Bangladesh visa on arrival?
There are a few countries that can get the Bangladesh visa on arrival. Make sure to check this out before flying. If you get the Bangladesh visa on arrival make sure to have a print-out confirmation of your accommodation, and the right amount of money available in cash.
As of March 2019 for British passport holders this was 51USD.
If you can get a visa before departure without much hassle, this is recommended. Otherwise, the Bangladesh visa on arrival is pretty simple. There have been reports of a few people having issues. My process ran smoothly - but took a bit of time. You first pay for the visa at the desk to the side, then fill in your application and hand it in at the main desk.
If anything, the Bangladesh visa on arrival guys are just annoyed they have to do some work instead of chilling around all day, and they certainly won’t be in a rush.
You can enter Bangladesh by flight through a few neighbouring countries. Dhaka airport (the capital) is served by major airlines such as Emirates and Qatar, as well as smaller local airlines. Dhaka is the main transport hub and port of international entry. From Dhaka, you can get around the rest of Bangladesh!
Why Visit Bangladesh?
- Old Town in Dhaka
If you’re coming to Bangladesh, you cannot miss out on a trip to the Old Town in Dhaka. The Dhaka Old Town is one of Dhaka’s main hubs. It’s a mixing pot of chaos, culture and crowds. A strong hit of sights, sounds, and smells - an attack on all of the senses. And it’s awesome.
Before exploring the Old Town in Dhaka, make sure you’re in the right mindset and you’re prepared for the chaos that you’re about to be enveloped in. You can do nothing but embrace it.
The best thing you can do in the Old Town in Dhaka is just walk around and surround yourself in the city and the culture. Have a wander and see what you can find. The Old Town is big, and it is easy to get lost amongst all of the winding streets.
Apart from the main sites in Dhaka (see below), the Old Town in Dhaka is also home to lots of great markets just waiting to be explored.
When you come down to the Old Town in Dhaka you should bear in mind that the closer you get to the heart of the city, the worse the traffic will get. From Gulshan (popular location for foreigners and expats) it can take 2+ hours during busy times. This is important to remember when planning your way back to your accommodation if you’re far away.
The easiest and cheapest way to get around is by rickshaw. The rickshaws in Bangladesh are unique and colourful. They can take you to all of the main tourist sites in the Old Town - but won’t pass up an opportunity to rip off a foreigner.
Make sure to fix a price with them before-hand, and if you’re not sure what is a suitable price then ask a local and don’t pay more than 10 or 20 Taka more than what you’ve been advised.
Some rickshaw riders will ask you for more money once you get off, but make sure to stick to the price you initially stated.
- Main Sites
All of the main sites in Dhaka are located in the Old Town, and you can visit almost all of them in a (somewhat rushed) day if needs be. If you plan to visit Bangladesh it is not a good idea to rush, but here’s a list of things to see in one day if you’re on a tight schedule:
* Lalbagh Fort: Peaceful gardens and a great escape from busy Dhaka.
* Ahsan Manzil: Muse-see pink palace.
* National Museum: Bangladesh national museum.
* Shankharai Bazar: Colours, sights, sounds and smells galore.
Bangladesh is a country of rivers. If you really want to embrace life whilst you visit Bangladesh, a ride on the river is a must.
*Ask a fisherman to take you on a ride around Dhaka’s waterways and watch the sunrise or sunset amongst the hustle and bustle.
Why Visit Bangladesh?
#2 The Landscapes
- Cox’s Bazar
You may have been to a beach before. You may have been to many beaches. You may even live on a beach.
Have you been to the world’s longest beach before?
Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s longest unbroken stretch of beach. 120km of (kinda) white sands and (kinda) blue waters.
OK, it may not be the prettiest and most breath-taking beaches in the world. But having 120km of beach lie ahead of you is pretty special and definitely a reason to visit Bangladesh.
There are main beach areas over the 120km and these are generally very crowded with people. Cox’s Bazar is a very popular place for the locals, and if you go in peak season this will be particularly apparent. On the main beaches, there are restaurants, souvenir shops, and places where you can rent quad bikes and jet skis. You can go swimming, but be aware that it is not allowed to swim in a swimsuit and you should keep covered at all times.
Walk 20 mins ahead and there is no one in sight - apart from maybe the local fishermen or some kids hanging about. From Cox’s Bazar, you can get a boat to other islands nearby that will generally be less crowded.
- The Sundarbans
Another superlative for Bangladesh; it is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest, famous for the Bengal Tiger. From Dhaka, you can hire a local guide to take you to the mangrove forests and spend a few nights there enjoying the nature and trekking down the illusive Bengal Tiger. You can also get the infamous Rocket Steamer boat down to Khulna where you can begin your Sundarbans trip. You can spend 2 nights, 3 nights, 4 nights or more exploring the Sundarbans.
Being the biggest in the world - this mangrove forest is pretty big. Tour companies offer a range of packages from affordable to luxury. You can keep it fun and cheap by staying on boats and in home-stays in local villages.
- Chittagong Hill Tracts
Chittagong is the second biggest city in Bangladesh. But it is much less intense than Dhaka, and a great place to walk around. In Chittagong, you can have an explore of the town, take a boat down the river, and enjoy just hanging out.
The main reason why most people visit Chittagong is for the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
This is a large area of hills and land across 13,184 km2. Trekking the Chittagong Hill Tracts provides incredible views and a breath of fresh air away from the city.
Why Visit Bangladesh?
#3 The People
The people were one of my favourite things about travel in Bangladesh.
They’re super friendly, super helpful, and super excited to see you. I never thought I’d come across a country that loves taking pictures and selfies more than in China. Then I came to Bangladesh. People absolutely love taking selfies, and will definitely want to take selfies with you.
If you don’t mind your picture being taken, locals will be very happy if you agree to have a picture with them. This gets a bit much even after day 1, so it’s up to you if you agree to a selfie. They’re not too pushy and will respect it if you say no. I opted for the ‘no single selfie’ approach. If a group approached me, I would offer a group picture - otherwise, you’ll be there for a long time! Also, bear in mind that if you offer one selfie - there will be more people coming your way for their piece of the pie!
It can be a bit intense constantly being observed, but very few times did I feel worried or threatened by Bangladesh people. They’re very curious and will want to have a chat with you, for sure. I recommend not loitering or standing still in a public place during your Bangladesh travel. 10 seconds later when you’re surrounded by different groups of people, you’ll see why.
As a solo female traveller, I was a bit apprehensive about how my experience would be, how I would be received by the locals and if it would be a problem.
Just like many places in the world, when travelling or being alone as a woman in public at certain times you have to be smart. This also goes for the UK, my home country. Assess the situation, do your research, and keep your wits about you if needs be. You can read more about being a solo traveller in Bangladesh in part 2.
Why Visit Bangladesh?
#4 The Location & History
Bangladesh is in a really interesting geographical location. And it’s pretty easy to get to. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t travel Bangladesh during a visit to India or Nepal.
Flights are relatively cheap from international destinations. Plus, get yourself off the beaten track even more - twice a week DrukAir also serve flights to Bhutan.
Bangladesh became an independent nation in 1971 after breaking away from Pakistan. For 20 years after this until 1991, it suffered from national disasters, poverty, famine and political unrest.
In 1991 democracy was restored and the country entered a new phase of economic progress. Still relatively new as an independent nation, you can see many of these changes happening over a short amount of time.
Bangladesh remains a poor country, but Western influence is becoming more and more apparent. It’s not unusual to see people with smartphones - and many people use Uber!
Why Visit Bangladesh?
#5 Raw Country
If you’re bored of European cities and had enough of elephant pants and backpackers in South East Asia, Bangladesh will not let you down.
No Starbucks, no McDonald’s.
Whilst I promote tourism globally for many reasons (great for cultural exchange, the country’s economy etc) it was a very humbling experience to be able to travel a country that has hardly been touched by tourism (yet). There is very little infrastructure and very little there for tourists. Few tourist-orientated restaurants, no Starbucks, no McDonald’s, no youth hostels, etc. Some may find this difficult, but for me, it certainly enhanced my visit Bangladesh time.
On the other hand, Bangladesh is very forwards with some things. It is not uncommon for locals to have smartphones, you can easily access 4G with a local sim card, and Uber is widely used!
The best way I found to describe Bangladesh is that it is a raw country. For me, this is one of the big charms of Bangladesh. But it’s not for the faint-hearted.
I hope more people can come and see this beautiful country - but do so responsibly.
Like everywhere, the more people come the more people are catered for, and it is only natural that this changes and develops. Bangladesh remains a third-world country, and if tourism can help boost the economy, that’s great. I just wish for Bangladesh to retain its culture and charm as it expands on tourism.
If I’ve persuaded you to visit Bangladesh, make sure to check out part 2 with more information on traveling Bangladesh.
Where to go, what to see, and how to see it!
*The south of Bangladesh is also currently affected by the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar with many people seeking refuge. This didn’t cause a problem travelling or jeopardise safety, but it was apparent. There were many police checks throughout the south and also in the north. It wasn’t uncommon for taxis and buses to be stopped and passengers are required to show some form of identification. It is wise to carry documentation with you at all times.