A Backpacker’s Guide to Bangladesh

Where did you say you are going?”’ “Where??” “Bangla-What?” “Oh you’re going to India!” “Where is this place?” “What a bizarre name for a Country!” “You mean the ‘Bangla’ road in Phuket, Thailand?” ”Do you think you’ll survive there?” “What is even there to do?” “You must’ve gotten a free ticket!

Well, yes. These are the most common response from people once you declare that you are about to head to Bangladesh. So let us clear out the confusion about the location or sovereignty of this goddamn little country.

The Short Details

Official Name: People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Governance: Liberal Democracy. Prime Minister headed cabinet.

Capital: Dhaka

Population: 162 Million (As per last Government consensus as on 2012-13)

Geographic Location: It is standing on the largest river delta of the world. It is located right in between the Indian state of West Bengal and the Mid Western Burmese State of Rakhine. So, the easiest way to answer where it is? It is in between India and Myanmar.

Country Status: Free and Sovereign Country since 1971 (Member of UN, Commonwealth, OIC & Founder Member of SAARC)

Currency: Bangladeshi Taka or BDT in short; $1 = BDT 80

Number of Divisions: 8

Climate: It is monsoon dominated but is becoming more like tropic these days.

Seasons: 6 (Although we can only figure 4 now-a-days. Thanks to climate change!)

Famous For: Bengal Tigers, Jute Products, Hilsha Fish, Sweets, The Sundarbans, CoxsBazar, Hospitality, Second most populous place on Earth (Dhaka), City of Mosque (Dhaka), Tea and Leather Goods.

Some Famous Bangladeshi’s: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Founder of the Nation), Dr. Muhammad Yunus (Noble Peace Laurette, Founder of Grameen Bank & Micro Credit System),  Sir Fazle Hasan Abed (Founder of the Largest NGO of the World – BRAC), Shakib Al Hasan (The Best All Rounder of the World in all formats, Bangladesh Cricket Board), Fazrul Rahman Khan (The Architect, Father of Tubular Designs for High Rise Buildings).

Language: Bengali (Origin: Hybrid of Eastern Indo-Aryan & Pali)

GDP: $195.1 Billion Per year (Source: The World Bank Group)

Our Pride: The only country that had to fight with blood for being able to speak in their mother language.

While many westerners and foreigners travel to Bangladesh on work purpose (mostly related to development, infrastructure and/or garment manufacturing consultancy); people raise their eyebrows once they hear you’re going to Bangladesh just to travel. Keep in mind that you will probably not find as much as information in the internet as you would find for some similar places.

While Bangladesh can be called as an expensive destination in terms of accommodation and flight (Yes; flights are expensive for some God-forsaken reason), it is cheap with its offering of wide range of food and transportation can definitely make up for it. Where as most of the nearby countries are visited particularly for nice beaches, touristy nightlife or great hillside escapes, Bangladesh can be visited solely for the geo-cultural experience that you’ll take back with you if not for the other parts of the still-much-green south Asian emerging powerhouse.

If you are planning or even thinking of visiting Bangladesh, here are some 7 very important things that you might want to take into considerations:

  1. You will draw a lot of attention in public.
  2. There are 160 million people in the small area of some 56000 square miles. The capital Dhaka; having the highest (Almost 6% of the entire population) density in the country. Note that it is the second highest population density in the World after Manila in the Philippines. So there will be a lot of people; a heck lot of them; all time, everywhere!
  3. Food generally is spicy. Do take precautions before eating them.
  4. Although it is a Muslim majority country, secularism is practiced liberally. Nowhere as close as strict as Pakistan or Iran but neither as liberal as many cities in Malaysia and Indonesia. Covering your knees and shoulders will save you from a lot of uncomfortable stares.
  5. A lot of people can speak English. Yes; you are reading it right.
  6. There will be a lot of traffic in Dhaka. Being stuck for an hour to get to a location within 5-10 miles is a very common thing so always keep some buffer in your hand if you wanna keep it tight.
  7. You will have to keep an eye open when you are traveling to remote places.

First thing First

“Visa”

I hate this world as much as you do. But we have to oblige to it probably just as much as we hate it. Bangladesh has a pretty restricted visa policy in comparison to any of its nearest neighbors. While most countries need a visa to enter Bangladesh, it is better to get it before you arrive here. These countries however, can get a visa on Arrival in Bangladesh given that they enter Bangladesh through the Airports in Dhaka and Chittagong:

  1. United States of America.
  2. United Kingdom.
  3. People’s Republic of China.
  4. Canada.
  5. Russian Federation.
  6. EU/EC/EEA Countries. See the link below to confirm if your nation is in the list.
  7. Japan.
  8. South Korea.
  9. Singapore.
  10. Hong Kong.
  11. Australia.
  12. New Zealand.
  13. Saudi Arabia.
  14. Qatar.
  15. Kuwait.
  16. Oman.
  17. Malaysia.
  18. UAE.
  19. Bahrain
  20. Brunei Darussalam.
  21. Nepal.
  22. Sri Lanka.
  23. Maldives.

The VoA will only be issued upon producing the following requirements:

  1. The primary purpose of visit has to be tourism/business/conference.
  2. A return/onward ticket booked within the visa issued/to be issued period.
  3. Hotel Booking.
  4. Passport needs to be valid through the next 6 months at least.

You will be asked for 2 Copies of your recent color photograph taken within the last 3-6 months and any invitation/sponsorship/forwarding letter you may have from your local contact (If applicable).

The most common type of visa issued in VoA basis is a 30 days multiple entry visa. Visa cost crazily varies but for the most It costs $50-$60 depending on your nationality for the single entry visa. Renewing your Bangladesh visa can be a big pain I can tell. So plan your travel within the frame properly.

Please note that the section d of in the visa page in the website of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh High Commission in Los Angeles, United States. The same website also says that a citizen of a country maybe issued with VoA where there is no High Commission or Consulate of Bangladesh. That makes a lot of you eligible for it; ain’t a? 😀

This government website will give you more information about VoA facility in Bangladesh. You can further information in the visitbangladesh page.

Apart from the two airports suggested for VoA, the other legal entry points to Bangladesh are from India by road. There are 2-3 points in West and North Bengal and a couple more of them in the North East and Eastern border. Please note that currently Bangladesh does NOT have a land border that has any immigration and customs facility with Myanmar (Burma) The area which is nearby from Myanmar is highly prone to insurgency and has been safe haven for drug and human traffickers from centuries. Thus crossing into Bangladesh/Myanmar via land will not only get your into legal trouble but might actually threaten your very existence.

Some country nationals need an invitation letter from someone in Bangladesh. Here is a sample letter for your convenience

Invitation Letter
Image: Sample Invitation Letter

When is the best time to visit Bangladesh?

While many come pretty straight to October-Early February as an answer, I would like to respectfully differ. Without doubts it is the time when the weather remains in the most comfortable range (15-25 degrees in Celsius) but I would say a vivid part of the beauty of Bangladesh can only be seen during the monsoon. Bangladesh has six season (We hardly can observe four now though; thanks to climate change) and every season has its own color and effects not only on the nature but also on its people.

How is it?

Though Bangladesh is mostly plains, it does have some hilly and high terrains. Based on landscape and land form, the entire country can be divided into 5 major tourism sectors. They are Center, North East, South East, South and South-West and North West.

bangladesh-political-map
Image: Map of Bangladesh

Where as the central is mostly plains, the south-eastern area is mostly of hilly terrain. The north-east however is also hilly but not as much as the south-east. The south and south-west is of backwater kind and the north-west is the zone which is richer in terms of history and culture.

IMG_20170418_131708
Image: Ahsan Manzil, Dhaka (Central)
received_1107327832663529
Image: A common sight in the North East (Lalakhal Stream)
IMG_20170221_111937
Image: Kantaji Mondir, Kaharole, Dinajpur (North-West)
Sundarban Aerial View
Image: Aerial view of the Sundarbans (South West)
13133176_10156834002870114_8558789200280234530_n
Image: From the Hill tracks of Sajek (South East)

What are there to see apart from the nature?

So much! Depending on what you are into. Here are some of the things you also might find interesting about Bangladesh. Here are some of the festivals the country observes with all its spirit:

Festivals:

  1. Pohela Boishakh: The Bengali New Year; observed in 14 April every year. People were colorful red dressed and roam around the streets in groups. A rally of colorful mascots named ‘Mongol Shobhajatra’ (means the March for Betterment’) marks the observation of the day from the Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka. Having Panta-Bhaaat (Water-Rice) and Ilish (Hilsha) fish has somehow also become part of the tradition)
  2. Pohela Falgun: First day of Spring; observed on 13 February every year.
  3. Shakrain: The Kite festival observed most in Old Dhaka on 15 January every year. You’ll be able to see hundreds of thousands of kites breaking the sky on the evening skies. A new trend of throwing lights out of the building roofs has added some great fun into the observation.
  4. The Lalon Festival: The festival organized to commemorate the famous Sufi Lalan and his philosophy in Lalan’s Akhra at Kushtia; observed from 10-15 October every year. A Secret: You can smoke a lot of weed for free at this festival if you join.
  5. The Biju: The Water Festival; Observed largely by the Tribal Communities of the Hill tracks. Pretty much the same concept of Sonkran of Thailand or Water Festival in Myanmar). A smaller version is seen around other areas with the name of Choitro Shongkranti – meaning the End of Chaitro Month according to Bengali Calendar.
  6. Holi: Widely as the Festival of Colors are now widely observed in Bangladesh. While the fun mostly concentrate around the Hindu colonies in the old Dhaka, some south western districts to have traditions of observing this festival by throwing/applying dry/liquid colors onto each other.
  7. The Rice Festival: Popular among the farmers of the agro-based Bangladesh, it is the festival when the farmer ripe their crops from the fields and therefore are ready to sell rice grains around the country. The tradition is to make various kinds of rice cakes and to have them in a festive mood along with neighbors and relatives.
  8. Rash Mela: Rush Mela is a Fair which gathers a huge population of ranging from ten to up to forty thousand people celebrating the memory of this Hindu Guru who spent almost 24 years in the Sundarbans. Observed in Dublar Char (One of the southernmost point of Bangladesh); about twenty thousand local fishermen gathers to celebrate their profession and livelihood together. Apart from the locals, a lot of visitors come from the adjacent West Bengal region of India. It is observed on the full moon during the month of Agrahayan. The fair carries along for four five days. Everything you need is right there; you just need to find your own spot.

Major Religious Festivals:

  1. Eid-Ul-Fitr: Indeed the largest celebration of the country is this. Eid-Ul-Fitr marks the end of month long practice of fasting in the Arabic month of Ramadan and thus brings joy. Note that it is observed a day after to that of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia or Indonesia.
  2. Eid-Ul-Azha: It is the festival where the Muslims sacrifice cows and goats to the God in remembrance of the noble save of the Prophet Ismail (PBUH). A lot of people go back to their native villages during the Eid-Ul-Azha holiday so the big cities remain free and less populated which is a fin and unique experience itself. (See Wikipedia for longer elaborations)
  3. Durga Puja: This is the biggest religious festival observed by the Hindu population of Bangladesh. This is observed all over Bangladesh. Devoted to the Destroyer Hindu Deity ‘Durga’, the observance is colorful and fun. The seven days long celebration ends with sacrificing the deity statue to the nearby river from the observing locality.
  4. Christmas: Christmas is not as fun and colorful as it is in the western cities but is still catching up in the recent days as a day to observe.
  5. Bouddha Purnima: The full moon marks the birth of Buddha. It is largely observed by the local Buddhist population in the South.

The Architectural Sites

The country also hosts many great architectural beauties besides its greenery and rich culture. There are more than 822 Jamindar Houses (Houses that belonged to the local lords appointed to collect taxes from the general people on behalf of the Royal British East India Treasurer) alone in Bangladesh. Each and every single one of them is part of the crown jewel of Bangladesh’s architectural beauty. Some of the popular ones are:

  1. Ahsan Manzil, Showari Ghat, Old Dhaka.
  2. Mohera Palace, Tangail.
  3. Tajhat Jamindar House, Rangpur.
  4. Baliati Jamindar House, Manikgonj.
  5. Rani Bhabani’s Palace, Natore.
  6. Hason Raja Palace, Sunamgonj.
  7. Lalbag Fort, Dhaka.

Archeological Sites

Bangladesh also hosts the ruins of one of the oldest city in South Asia named Pundranagar that dates back to 3rd Century BC. It also has numerous ruins of huge old temples along the country. Some of the popular ones are:

  1. Mahasthangarh, Bogra.
  2. Moynamoti Temple Ruins, Comilla.
  3. Panam City Ruins, Narayanganj.

Famous Historic and Architectural Sites

  1. National Martyrs Memorial (Smriti Shoudho), Savar, Dhaka.
  2. The Language Martyr’s Memorial (Shaheed Minar), Next to Dhaka Medical College.
  3. The National Assembly Building (By Louis Kahn & Mazharul Islam), Dhaka.
  4. The Independence Square, Shahbagh, Dhaka.
  5. The Martyred Intellectuals Memorial, Rayerbazar, Dhaka.
  6. Hatirjheel (The light and water show place), Dhaka.
  7. The Mausoleum of Three Leaders, Dhaka.

Beautiful Religious Sites

  1. Tara Masjid (Star Mosque), Armanitola, Dhaka.
  2. Hossaini Dalan (Shia Mosque), Chankharpool, Dhaka.
  3. Dhakeshwari Temple, Lalbag, Dhaka.
  4. The Armenian Church, Dhaka.
  5. Chhoto Shona Masjid, Chapainawabganj.
  6. Shat Gambuj Masjid (Sixty Dome Mosque), Bagerhaat.
  7. Buddha Dhatu Jadi Temple, Bandarban.
  8. Ram Jadi Temple, Roangchhari, Bandarban.
  9. Dhramajadi Buddha Temple, Komlapur, Dhaka.
  10. Ram Krishna Mission Temple, Dhaka.
  11. The Church of Mother Mary, Bijoypur, Netrokona.
  12. Chandradham Temple, Sitakundo, Chittagong (Needs an amazing 1 hour hike up).
  13. Kantaji Temple, Kaharol, DInajpur.
  14. Puthia Shiv Mandir, Puthia, Rajshahi.
  15. Gurudwara Nanank Sahib, Dhaka.
  16. Reclining Buddha Temple, Ramu.
  17. The Buddha Temple, Moheshkhali.
  18. Atia Mosque, Tangail.
  19. Baitul Aman Guthia Mosque, Barisal.

Places from where you get your Natural Dosage

  1. The Sunbdarbans, Bagerhat.
  2. Tanguar Haor Zone, Sunamgonj.
  3. Ratargul Swamp Forest, Sylhet.
  4. Bichhnakandi Stream, Sylhet.
  5. Modhutila Eco Park, Netrokona.
  6. Lawachhara National Park, Srimongol.
  7. The Floating Pear Market, Kuriyana, Barisal.
  8. Sitakundo Eco Park (Has 5-7 hiking and waterfall trails)
  9. Sajek, Rangamati (High Altitutde Zone)
  10. The Kaptai Dam Area, Rangamati.
  11. Mohamaya Eco Park, Mirsharai (Has 5-6 hiking trails and Waterfalls)
  12. Boga Lake (High Altitude Lake and need special permission from the Home Ministry)
  13. Inani Beach, CoxsBazar.
  14. Saint Martin Island, CoxsBazar.
  15. Moheshkhali Island, CoxsBazar. (The only hilly Island of the country)
  16. Nijhum Island, Hatiya, Noakhali. (You can watch deer in their natural habitat)
  17. Meghla Eco Park, Bandarban.
  18. Bhola (The Largest Riverine Island in Bangladesh)
  19. Tea Estates, Srimongol.
  20. Mawa (For observing the river Padma).
  21. South Kattoli Beach. (Grass Beach)
  22. Gajni Obokash Kendro, Sherpur.

For Hiking

For those who are not into any of the ones mentioned above, you can go an extra mile by hitting these places:

  1. The hilly trail in Sitakundo.
  2. The hilly trails in Mirsharai.
  3. The hilly trails in Rajnakandi Reserve Forest Zone.
  4. The hilly trails of Borolekha.

For Trekking

The extreme treks are normally towards the south east in the hill tracks district nearing the Myanmar border. Due to insurgency and smuggling of drugs, this zone has been historically a little risky and thus the military reserves the right to give you the permission to go to these three districts. Some of the popular and exciting trails are:

  1. Remakri-Nafakhum Trail (Thanchi, Bandarban)
  2. Boga Lake – Jadipai Falls Trail. (Ruma, Bandarban)
  3. Tinap Waterfall Trail. (Rowangchhari, Bandarban)

Please note that trekking inside any part of the three hilly districts will need a separate permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs which takes 7-15 days.

For Laid back and High End Travelers

  1. Dusai Resorts and Spa, Hobigonj, Sylhet.
  2. The Palace Luxury Resort, Hobigonj.
  3. Grand Sultan Tea Resort and Spa, Srimongol.
  4. Royal Tulip Sea Pearl Beach Resorts, CoxsBazar.
  5. The Jamuna Resort, Tangail.
  6. The Padma Resort, Munshigonj.
  7. Arunima Countryside Resort and Golf Club, Narail.
  8. SKS Inn, Gaibandha.
  9. Hotel Naz Garden, Bogra.
  10. Sayeman Beach Resort, CoxsBazar.
  11. Novem Eco Resort, Srimongol.
  12. Shuktara Resort, Gazipur.
  13. Rangamati Waterfront Resort, Gazipur.
  14. Bangladesh Tea Board Resort, Srimongol.
  15. The Mermaid Eco Resort, CoxsBazar.
  16. Nazimgarh Resort, Sylhet.
  17. Jol O Jongoler Kabbo (The Jungle & Village Experience), Dhaka.
  18. The Radisson Blue Chittagong Bay View, Chittagong.
  19. Rose View Hotel, Sylhet
  20. Sea World Resorts, Foy’s Lake, Chittagong.

5 Must Do experiences in Bangladesh (The list is highly of Personal Choice though)

  1. The Sundarbans Experience.
  2. The Sunset from Kolatoli Beach.
  3. The Floating Pear Market Experience.
  4. The Sajek Experience (Famous for Cloud Gazing).
  5. The Lalan Mela Experience (Philosophy & Sufism Based).

While Bangladesh does not have much of nightlife activities, it does have some limited places where you can find alcohol other than those diplomatic bonded warehouses. Some of the good places are:

  1. The Poolside Bar, Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel.
  2. The Den, Amari Dhaka, Gulshan.
  3. The Korean Club, Gulshan, Dhaka.
  4. La Vinci Rooftop Bar, Dhaka.
  5. The Rajmoni Isha Kha Bar, Kakrail Dhaka.
  6. La Diplomat Bar, Gulshan-1, Dhaka.
  7. The Sura Restaurant, Gulshan-2, Dhaka.
  8. The Blue Moon Bar, Banani, Dhaka.
  9. The Bar at The Westin Hotel, Gulshan-Dhaka.
  10. Blaze Bar, The Radisson Blue Hotel Bar, Airport Road, Dhaka.
  11. Club 13, The Regency Hotel Bar, Khilkhet, Airport Road, Dhaka.
  12. Le Meridian Hotel Bar, Airport Road, Dhaka.

Please note that all these bars are quite high end and safe and as a result it is quite expensive.

Here is the list of some other local bars which is mostly used by the locals but you can try if you are looking for a cheap drink:

  1. The Arum Bar and Restaurant, Shukrabad, Dhaka. (Not Recommended)
  2. The Golden Dragon Bar, Eskaton, Dhaka.
  3. Abokash Parjatan Bar, Mohakhali, Dhaka.
  4. Sakura Bar & Restaurant, Paribagh, Dhaka.
  5. The Galaxy Bar, New Market, Dhaka. (Not Recommended)
  6. Red Button Bar, Farmgate, Dhaka.
  7. The Chalet Bar, Bangla Motor, Dhaka.

Backpacking in Bangladesh

The country itself is yet not oriented with the idea of backpacking. Although there has been significant improvement in terms of budget traveling throughout the last 2-3 years, it is still short in becoming an ideal destination for backpackers. However, there are some properties in Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong, and Kuakata beach area that actually has affordable backpacker accommodation. With backpacking becoming increasingly popular along with the success stories of this properties, more options for backpackers I believe is just a matter of time now. Here are the backpacking accommodation options in Bangladesh:

  1. Golpata Bread and Breakfast – Shared Accommodation, about $15 per night. (Dorm bed), Dhaka.
  2. Sabrina’s Home – $25 per night for shared accommodation, Bashundhara R/A, Dhaka.
  3. Traveler Inn – $15 per night. A proper hostel with great Location. (Dorm Bed), Uttara, Dhaka.
  4. Nagasaki Hostel – $12 per night. Another good hostel with good location. Uttara, Dhaka
  5. Sreemangal Inn – ($15/$20 for an Air/Non Air Con Room) Srimangal.
  6. Hotel Banani Palace – $5 (Dorm Bed), Kuakata, Patuakhali.
  7. Motel Shoibal – $15 per night (Single Room), CoxsBazar

Other than these, here some more Budget Hotels:

  1. Hotel Ornate – $30-35, Dhaka.
  2. Contemporary Heights Apartment Hotel – $30-35, Dhaka.
  3. Britannia Hotel – $25, Sylhet.
  4. Tower Inn Hotel – $30 per night, Chittagong.
  5. Hotel Nice International – $25 per night, Rajshahi.

There are some 2-3 other hostels which newly started operating but I couldn’t find enough reviews online or offline about them so I am going to skip naming them.

About Commuting in and around Bangladesh

In the Metro Area

Using local public bus in Dhaka or any city of the country will be a bitter experience. To move within the city, you can use a rickshaw, a CNG (A Four-stroke three wheeler vehicle) and taxis. The two other options being increasingly expensive apart from the rickshaw, you can also use Taxi services like Uber or Bike Taxi services like ‘Pathao‘ and AmarRide. Among the privatized taxi services, Toma Taxi and Trust Taxi are good but quite expensive.

In-land Intercity Transport

Bus

The intercity transport systems are good in Bangladesh given the road structures. A bus leaves from Dhaka to almost all the big cities every hour. Most of these bus services are really good and comfortable. Both Air Con and Non Air Con buses runs to and from destination which are at a distance of minimum 4 hours. Average rates of buses to some big and popular cities from Dhaka are listed below:

 Destination   Distance (In Hours)    Fare (In $)    Type

Chittagong                  6-7                                 9             Non A/C

7-8                                13                 A/C

7-8                                19         Business/Luxury Class

  • Buses leave from Mohakhali, Panthapath, Fakirapool, Jatrabari & Sayedabad bus terminals.

Sylhet                          5-6                                   8            Non A/C

6-7                                  12              A/C

  • Buses leave from Uttara, Mohakhali, Fakirapool, Jatrabari & Sayedabad bus terminals.

CoxsBazar                 8-9                                  12          Non A/C

11-12                                22               A/C

11-12                                29      Business/Sleeper Class

  • Buses leave from almost every intercity bus station in the city bus terminals.

Srimangal                 4-5                                    5               Non A/C

4.5-5                                   9                    A/C

  • Buses leave from Uttara, Fakirapool, Jatrabari & Sayedabad bus terminals.

Khulna                       8-9                                   11             Non A/C

11-12                                20                  A/C

11-12                                25      Business/Luxury Class

  • Buses leave from Uttara, Gabtoli, Mohakhali, Fakirapool, Jatrabari & Sayedabad bus terminals.

Bogra                          4-5                                    5                 Non A/C

5-6                                   12                     A/C

5-6                                   15      Business/Luxury Class

  • Buses leave from Gabtoli, Mohakhali & Sayedabad bus terminals.

Barisal                       7-8                                     6                 Non A/C

8.5-9                                  13                    A/C

  • Buses leave from Gabtoli & Sayedabad bus terminals. (Goes through a Ferry)

Sites to Book Bus Services Online

Busbd, Shohoz (Booking Sites)

Hanif Enterprise, Shyamoli Paribahan (Private Buses that covers almost all the districts)

BRTC (Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation – Public).

Trains

The train service wasn’t really good even up to the late 2000’s. Thanks to the railway department and now it is both comfortable and safe to commute and easy to access the information necessary. Although the process is big and lengthy but some tickets can be book online upon having a verified profile using your valid/debit/credit card. Mobile operator ‘Banglalink’ also offer the freedom of booking train tickets through phone. Here are the websites which can help you if you’re willing to take the train journey:

  1. Bangladesh Railway Website.
  2. BD Railway E-Ticketing Service – CNSBD.

Waterways

The city of Dhaka was best known for its water transports back in the 17th century. It is heard that the whole city was interconnected through rivers and channels that crawled around the city. No thanks to the development and massive pressure to accommodate almost 20 million people in a tiny city that forced us all to wipe out the waterways for the city routes.

Currently one can only travel to the southern destinations with regular water transport. Regular, Semi Luxury and Luxury launch/steamer services are available from Dhaka’s once popular and the grand entrance called ‘Sadarghat’. The fares vary from $2.50 – $112 depending on the type of mode availed and takes about 7-11 hours to reach any destination it has in its list. The journeys with waterway vehicles are generally comfortable and cozy. Although, I strongly recommend people to avoid using it during the monsoon.

Apart from the regular and scheduled water transports, people often take speed boats and shallow-engine run fast boats to go to places within a short distance. Sometimes people are heard covering a distance of up to 50 kilometers with these services. Please note that these services are private, price cannot be guaranteed (and it highly depends on the situation and the weather; yes believe me when I say this) and they mostly do not provide life-jackets let alone maintaining the maximum capacity and speed regulations. But if you want to challenge your adrenaline, this could be one challenge Bangladesh will always ask you to try.

I know some people who traveled in Bangladesh entire using the waterway from Dhaka to Sylhet. It took them 5 days and they said it was fun. There are no fix routes to do this and you are completely on your own if you decide to take this route. Only recommended if you are traveling in a large group.

If you want to spend a night on a regular boat, Tanguar Haor or Chadpur area is the perfect destination. These boats are equipped with stoves and toilet facility with some privacy. If you are going to going to opt for something like this, it is always nice to keep the local police office informed.

Air

Although the country has 17 operational airports and air strips, only 8 cater to the public. There are airports in Jessore, Barisal, Rajshahi, CoxsBazar and Saidpur apart from the three international gateways. Fares in general for local flights are quite expensive. Regular average fares from Dhaka to other Airports are listed below:

 Destination           Duration         One-Way         Return

Chittagong                30 Mins           2700-3200        5200-5500

CoxsBazar                 40 Mins          3900-4700        8700-12000

Sylhet                         22 Mins          2700-2900        5000-5300

Saidpur                     22 Mins           2700-2900         4800-5100

Rajshahi                    20 Mins          2500-2700          4400-4700

Jessore                       20 Mins          2500-2700         4400-4700

Barisal                       18 Mins          2500-2700         4400-4700

There are five local operators who fly to/from these destinations on daily basis. They are Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Regent Airways, Novo Air, US Bangla Airline. I am not very sure if United Airways still operates but you can always check.

Other than these local one’s Air Arabia, Jet Airways, Malindo Air, Qatar Airways, FlyDubai and some two other international carriers operate in the route of Chittagong mainly ; along with Sylhet.

Delicacies

If you are a food lover, you are going to love it in Bangladesh. Most of its dinner table delicacies include meat items so the vegetarians will be a bit disappointed. Note that we use more spice, oils and sugar than they use in India.

Here are some of the restaurants you might wanna try while you are in Bangladesh:

For Local Food

  1. Ghoroa Restaurant (Johnson Road, Dhaka)
  2. Hotel Star (Johnson Road, Banani and Dhanmondi)
  3. Kastury (For Local and Continental Both)
  4. Al-Razzaque Pvt Limited (English Road, Dhaka)
  5. Hirajheel Restaurant (Motijheel, Dhaka)
  6. Shalimar Garden (Banani, Dhaka)
  7. Hotel Royal Pvt Limited (Lalbag, Dhaka)
  8. Dhanshiri Restaurant (Pvt) Limited (Gulshan)

For Specialized Biriyani/Tehari/Khichuri

  1. Fakhruddin Biriyani (Motijheel, Uttara, Gulshan)
  2. Hajir Biriyani (Bakshibazar & Motijheel)
  3. Hanif Biriyani (Motijheel, Farmgate and Bakshibazar)
  4. Nanna Biriyani (Lalbag, Motijheel, Bakshibazar, Mirpur, Uttara)
  5. Shad Tehari Ghor (Lalmatia)
  6. Tehari Ghor (Dhanmondi 30)

Popular Fast Food Chain(s)

  1. Best Fried Chicken AKA BFC –(For the spiciest Chicken broast in town)
  2. KFC (I do not recommend)
  3. Pizza Hut (You must try the Golden Surprise Crust Pizza)
  4. Burger King (Not recommended, too expensive, too little food)
  5. The Manhattan Fish Market.
  6. Pizza Inn.
  7. A&W.
  8. Nando’s.
  9. Take Out (Debatably the Best Burger Joint in Town)
  10. Preetom’s Burger (Debatably the Best Burger Joint in Town)
  11. Arabians Fast Food.
  12. California Fried Chicken AKA CFC.
  13. American Burger.
  14. Shawrma House.
  15. Captain’s World.
  16. Candy Floss.
  17. Yummy Yummy (Not Worth It)

For Kebab, Grill & Steak

  1. Bihari Camp Market, Mohammadpur. (Cheap Street-side eatery)
  2. Bihari Camp Market, Mirpur. (Cheap Street-side eatery)
  3. Bismillahr Chap, Bakshibazar.
  4. Koyla Restaurant, Banani.
  5. Istanbul Donner Kebab, Banani.
  6. Tajmahal Restaurant, Banani (The cheapest of all these options)
  7. Steakhouse, Gulshan.
  8. Spitfire, Gulshan.
  9. Turkish Bazaar, Banani.
  10. Kabab Express BD, Gulshan.
  11. Star Kebab, Dhanmondi, Uttara, Banani.
  12. The Kabab Factory, Uttara.
  13. Kublai Khan Kebab & Restaurant, Uttara.
  14. The Pit Grill, Gulshan.

 For authentic Foreign Cuisines

  1. Arrirang Restaurant (Korean)
  2. Soi 71 (Thai)
  3. Pan Tao (Thai)
  4. Oh! Calcutta (Continental, Indian and South Indian)
  5. Izumi (Japanese)
  6. Tekiya Japanese Corner  (Japanese)
  7. Urban Spice (Indonesian)

Some Good Lounges with Hookah/Sheesha Facility

  1. Food Republic.
  2. Mélange.
  3. Floor 6 Reloaded.
  4. Argeela Lounge.
  5. Mynt Ultra Lounge.
  6. H2O Lounge.
  7. Shisha World.

High End Dining (Other than Restaurants in 5 Stars)

  1. Ulta Voot Restaurant (An old but classic restaurant themed with Ghosts)
  2. Sbarro (Good for Pizzas)
  3. The Lake Terrace.
  4. Mainland China. (Beware of your pocket; I mean it can often leave you stranded with the bills)
  5. Bird’s Eye Rooftop Restaurant.

Popular Coffee Shop(s)

  1. Gloria Jean’s Coffees (Of course it is expensive)
  2. Coffee World.
  3. Barista Lavazza.
  4. Second Cup Coffee.
  5. Bread and Beyond.
  6. George’s Cafe.
  7. Tabaq Coffee.
  8. Kiva Han.
  9. North End Coffee.
  10. Columbus Coffee.

 For Deserts

  1. Star Restaurant
  2. Beauty Lassi (For Sweet Lassi and Lemonade)
  3. Cooper’s, CFC & Red Shift for Cakes and Pastries.
  4. Premium Sweets Bangladesh (For Local Sweetmeats).
  5. Sumi’s Hot Cake.
  6. Club Gelato.
  7. King’s Confectionery.
  8. Yo Berries.
  9. Chat Time.

Deserts you can’t miss while being in Bangladesh: Faluda, Kheer/Payesh/Firni, Sweets (Chamcham, Kalojam, Rosh-Malai, Malaikari, Kacha Golla, Balish, Muktagachar Monda) Different Halua’s, Badamer Shorbot (Kaju Nut Juice)

I don’t have a friend in Bangladesh and I am looking for Local Operators

If you must take help from a local tour operator, here are some of the companies I can recommend:

  1. Offroad Bangladesh.
  2. Beyond Adventure & Tourism.

Here are two other groups from where you can find some up-to-date travel help and/or just some people to hangout in Dhaka with:

  1. Bangladesh Backpackers Forum.
  2. Wanderlust – A Women Travel Society (Women Only)

Down here I am listing a few other websites which you might find helpful to plan and execute your trip to Bangladesh.

  1. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation.
  2. Directorate of Immigration & Passport.
  3. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  4. Ministry of Home Affairs.
  5. Bangladesh Ministry of Tourism & Heritage.
  6. Bangladesh Tourism Board.
  7. Bangladesh National Portal. (Change the district name after the forward slash)
  8. Bangladesh Tourist Police.
  9. Visit Bangladesh Page.
  10. All Airport Magistrates. (Will redirect you to a facebook page)

Other Tips for Traveling in Bangladesh

  • People are shy in here but they are helpful. You will receive help from all the directions once you have opened up your need.
  • There aren’t many places out of Dhaka (except for luxury hotels of course) that can change your money. Thus it is better to get them changed in Dhaka and carry some extra. Most ATM’s now do support International Debit & Credit Cards but they are not many out of the town centers.
  • A lot of people with come to you with a request to take a picture with them or simply a selfie. Be polite if you don’t want to and say it nicely. Remember that the people of this country have newly started using the social media and technology and thus being asked for your facebook isn’t very unpopular. Just say you don’t have it if you don’t want to give it out.
  • Choose your accommodation well and wisely. Some of them will seem excessively cheap with prices even lower than those of the hostels. It is better to avoid accommodation below $10 in any part of the country and below $30 in Dhaka. A lot of people are actually willing to host a foreign guest so do try couchsurfing.
  • The internet connection is not widespread. You will only find good connection in Dhaka. Out of big cities like Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi people mostly rely on mobile data. The mobile data internet however is great.

We are soon going to start a “free walking tour in Dhaka where we shall cover the ‘Old Dhaka Heritage”. Do let us know if you are interested on joining one. Please note that the free walking tours can only be organized on the weekends. (Friday and Saturday)

I hope this will help you with your planning if you are coming to Bangladesh. Do ask questions if you have any further interest on the matters discussed above and/or out of it which related to traveling in Bangladesh.

5 thoughts on “A Backpacker’s Guide to Bangladesh

  1. Woooooww MasyaAllah really great information, completely what i need..
    I really want to go to Bangladesh.
    Jazakallah Khair.
    -Salam from Indonesia-

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Alhamdulillah Jazakallah khair.
        InshaAllah when i need some information, i will ask you bhai. That’s what i think too, when i was reading your explanation👌👌😊

        Like

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