Tea plantation

We ended our 6 weeks in India in the Sundarbans. A region shared with Bangladesh. We’d never thought of it before, but we thought: why not visit Bangladesh?

Before we knew it, we were on the plane that took us to the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka.

Definitely our craziest adventure so far! If you’ve ever been to India, add a huge language barrier and some dirt to your memories and there you have it.

Before we tell you our itinerary, we have to be very clear. We really recommend you to consider booking a tour in Bangladesh as this country is not ready for tourists, yet.

Just a few people speak (decent) English and English signage is basically non-existing. It’s very hard to find decent information online to guide yourself through this complicated but extremely beautiful country.

Fact: the reason there’s so little information online about Bangladesh, is because it’s really hard to get a VISA card for the people of Bangladesh. The money needed to get accepted for a card is too high. For that reason, they can’t buy any stuff online (like a domain name or web hosting). Most companies only have a Facebook page (or group).

A local guide who speaks Bengali will definitely make it easier to enjoy Bangladesh.

We spent 2 days with Jahid from Sreemangal Tours in Sree Mangal and these were without a doubt the 2 best days of our entire Bangladesh adventure.

3 people on 1 bike, what could possibly be a better experience?

We are in no way affiliated with him, he doesn’t even know yet we’re mentioning him.

Be aware: Bangladesh is a very cheap country, however, accommodation is a lot more expensive than in other Asian countries. If you want something decent and clean you pay at least 25-30 dollars/night for a private room.

Because there’s not much tourism (and thus competition), hotel owners just ask however much they want to charge.

General information about Bangladesh

Location

Bangladesh is located in South Asia. It is surrounded by a small border with Myanmar, the Bay of Bengal lies to the south and it borders India on the other three sides.

Currency

Taka (Tk)

Language

Bengali

Bengali vs Bangladeshi

Bengali is not only the word for the language, it is also an ethnicity. Bangladeshi is the nationality.

Bengalis are Indians as well as Bangladeshis. The difference is a Bengali from India can be a Hindu (70%) or Muslim (30%) while Bengalis from Bangladesh are 90% Muslims. Only 8% are Hindus and 1% are Christians and Buddhists.

Bengali culture has strong Hindu influence. Bangladeshi culture is a mixed culture of both Hindu and Muslim culture.

Visa

Citizens of the European Union, USA, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Singapore, and some other Asian countries can get 30 days visa on arrival.

The visa is quite expensive at 51 USD each.

Best time to travel to Bangladesh

October to March: the weather is cool and comfortable. There won’t be any rain then.

July to September: the full monsoon takes place. Hot weather cooled down by occasional monsoon rain. The country is at its most beautiful. The countryside is very green and the rivers are in full flow.

Itinerary

We’ve spent 2 weeks in Bangladesh. We chose to do the eastern side of the country, as we had already visited the Sundarbans in India. Otherwise, we would definitely stay a week more and include the Sundarbans on this trip.

Dhaka

Length of stay:  3 days
Where we stayed: Hotel Shalimar Intl., the cheapest option we could find in Dhaka. It was a decent hotel, no luxury but clean and quiet. The biggest plus is the location: very close to the train station and most busses.
How we got there: We took a flight from Kolkata (India) to Dhaka. This is the easiest option if you need a visa on arrival.

What to do in Dhaka:

  • Shopping at New Market (clothes, shoes, scarves,…)
  • Visit Lalbagh Fort, the most beautiful and quiet place in the entire city. Be prepared, in Dhaka traffic is worse than in New Delhi or Mumbai (India).
  • Walk next to the river. You can see all of the dirt and rubbish of Dhaka being organised and recycled. There are literally mountains with smelly dirt all over the capital. Impressive and perhaps even life-changing.
  • Take a ride through Dhaka with a riksja or a tuk-tuk.
  • We ate at a local restaurant close to the train station, we don’t even know the name (as we couldn’t read it) but they had the best Chapatti ever!

Also, Yentl’s worst experience in the last 7 months happened in Dhaka! You can read about it in our 7 months around the world trip blog post.

Sylhet

Length of stay:  3 days
Where we stayed: Farmis Garden. We chose this one because of the location and free breakfast. The first room they gave us had no working shower, so they immediately upgraded us to another room.
How we got there: We took a bus from Dhaka to Sylhet.

What to do in Sylhet:

We walked around the city, enjoyed the shopping street and visited the mosque. The mosque is truely beautiful and there are lots of locals around during the day. We ate some street food in the shopping street which was really good as well.

Sreemangal / Sri Mongol

Length of stay: 3 days
Where we stayed: Merina Hotel, a new hotel in the main street in Sreemangal. 1 or 2 guys in the hotel knew a few words in English, but the check-in was smooth.
How we got there: We took a bus from Sylhet to Sreemangal, which we found thanks to our tuk-tuk driver who spoke a few words English (literally “bus Sreemangal where?”).

What to do in Sreemangal:

  • Walk around the village, visit the local market and the shopping street. You can even walk on the train tracks, even when the train arrives (slowly ;)).
  • When we were in Sreemangal, it was the last day of Punja Durga so there were a lot of festivities and processions.
  • By coincidence, we crossed Jahid from Sreemangal Tours on the street. We were glad we met him because he spoke really good English and showed us the beauty of Bangladesh. The next day we did a tour through the tea plantations from Sreemangal with his motorbike, and this was the best experience we had. (Note: we were sitting with 3 on his motorbike, he also suggested taking a tuk-tuk for the day). Afterwards, we ate a delicious dinner at his house and he gave us some more tips about Bangladesh for the next days. Check our recommendations at the end of this blog post.
  • Drink the famous seven-layer tea.

Cox’s Bazar

Length of stay: 3 days
Where we stayed: Iqra beach hotel. Nice and clean hotel, but they do not speak English 🙂
How we got there: We took a night bus from Sreemangal to Chittagong, and from there another bus to Cox’s Bazar.

What to do in Cox’s Bazar:

  • Cox’s Bazar has the longest natural beach in the world (125 km). This is, of course, the main attraction. Don’t expect that you’ll be lying on the beach in your bikini, this is still a strict Muslim country. Expect a lot of Bengali people in one place and tiptoe your feet in the water.
  • We visited Maheshkhali Island close to Cox’s Bazar, which was cute, and not really touristy. Expect a real local island with lots of people who never saw tourists. In Cox’s Bazar, we were lucky we found an English speaking local who helped us with the speedboat to the island as it wasn’t 100% clear where we had to be (as we didn’t want a private speed boat).

Tips & tricks for travel in Bangladesh

  • For women, always wear long pants and sleeves. You are in a strict Muslim country.
  • Consider booking a tour before going to Bangladesh.
  • Learn the numbers before you come to Bangladesh. They use another script in Bangladesh. For example, an 8 is a 4 and a 7 is a 9…

Other recommendations

As stated in the intro, we do recommend you to book a tour in Bangladesh since this country is not ready for tourists, yet. But you can, of course, enjoy this stunning country without a tour guide as well.

Our recommendations for Bangladesh, based on the suggestions of the few locals that could actually respond in English:

  • Barisal (floating markets at the Ganges delta)
  • Sundarbans (largest mangrove forest in the world) – we did the Indian part.
  • Bagerhat (15th-century Muslim city, sixty dome mosque)
  • Sylhet region (tribal villages Jaflong, Lalakhal canal)
  • Chittagong (ship-breaking yard, a graveyard for old ships)
  • Chittagong hill tracts (hills, tribal villages)
  • Sonargaon (old capital, abandoned Panam city)
  • Rangamati (Kaptai lake)
  • Puthia (a small village with Hindu temples)

Have you ever visited Bangladesh or another hidden gem without many tourists?

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