Bangladesh is not for the fainthearted. It is confronting and challenging. If you’re the type of traveller who wants resorts with pools, restaurants with pizzas and well established tourism then Bangladesh is not the place for you. But if you’re the type of traveller who craves the chance to see a country for what it is then Bangladesh doesn’t hide anything and it might be just the place for your next trip. As long as you’re up for a bit of dirt, chaos and bad traffic. Bangladesh is a fascinating country filled with friendly people and interesting culture. If you crave adventure, getting off the beaten track and going somewhere that isn’t the norm…then I can highly suggest Bangladesh. A trip to this country will open your eyes to a whole other world.
Here are ten reasons you should or shouldn’t go to Bangladesh
1. Its population is 160 million
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. With most people living in the big cities this means there are people, cars, motorbikes and rickshaws everywhere!
Arriving into the capital Dhaka is, in two words, completely overwhelming. There are over 10 million people that live in Dhaka but still you have to see it to believe it. The traffic in Dhaka is officially the world’s worst. Traffic stands still for up to seven hours a day. This means that getting from one side of the city to the other is atrocious. Every vehicle has a cracked windscreen and at least a handful of dings. There are no apologies in this city you just beep your horn and go. It’s as simple as that. Makes for a very loud city though. My advice is get out of Dhaka as soon as possible. The rest of the country is completely different.
2. You will be famous
Everyone in Bangladesh is Bengali. Everyone. During my time the amount of white people I saw I could count on one hand. It fascinating to travel through a country and know that your basically the only one of your kind around. This means you are noticed. People see you and want to say hello, ask where your from, say thank you for coming to Bangladesh, invite you for tea (aka cha) and take your photo. If you stand still for a moment you will end up with a group of Bengali locals standing around you…staring. They aren’t being rude or intrusive they are simply…fascinated. People will put their phones in your face taking your photo as if you are a movie star they have spotted. Groups giggle together whispering in your direction as they stare in awe at you. It’s a unique experience.
3. It is a land of rivers
Bangladesh depends completely on water. The rivers are the economic backbone of the country. They are also incredibly beautiful. A must do is the Rocket Launcher from Dhaka to the south. This trip allows you to witness with your own eyes the life of the rivers. Sitting on the deck on the Rocket you can watch all sorts of things happening. Transportation of goods, fishing, transportation of people and so much more.
Unfortunately for this country flooding is a huge issue. In the rainy season each year floods are common and tragic. It is advisable to visit the country outside of the rainy season. Though be warned this means it will be H O T instead.
4. English is not widely spoken
Outside of the large cities it will be difficult to find anyone who speaks English. Although if someone in the area does speak English and sees you they always make their way over for a chat. Therefore you are almost never left in tricky situations as there is normally someone tugging at your sleeve eager to practice their English on you. Travelling around can be a challenge though as communicating is difficult. You’ll need to invent some sign language and then just hope that one English speaker in town is around. But you’ll be fine.
5. There are tigers
Though you’re probably not going to see them. But the Bengali Tiger does live in Bangladesh and for the villagers that live on the edge of the Sundurban Mangrove Forest tigers are a real and present danger. I suggest you take a 3 night/4 day trip into the Sundurban in search of the tiger. This is one of the few types of tourism activities you will find in Bangladesh. It is set up for domestic tourists so try and join a boat with them. It’s a fantastic experience spending 4 days on a boat with a group of Bengalis!
6. It is a predominantly Muslim country.
Bangladesh is the fourth largest Muslim population in the world. This means you will hear the call to prayer coming from the many mosques. Out on the streets it is predominantly men (this is very noticeable). As a female it is advisable to wear the Shalwar Kameez and a head scarf. Though not essential it is more respectful and you will attract less attention. Well…okay you won’t attract less attention but it might take people a second longer to realise that you are a foreigner.
7. Hartals are common
The stability of Bangladesh is questionable. It is amongst one of the poorest countries in the world. Its sordid history is not well known in the western world. Before I travelled there I knew nothing about it. Bangladesh was previously East Pakistan and reading up about the Bangladesh Liberation War is well worth it. Many people died, were tortured and raped. This is something than many people in Bangladesh still remember as it was only the 1970’s when this occurred. The scars are raw and this is evident. During my time in Bangladesh the country was in the middle of protesting about War Criminals from the Liberation War and wanting their execution. You see, many of the men who committed these atrocities during the war ended up becoming leaders and powerful people in Bangladesh. The Bengalis have been seeking justice. Therefore, while I was in the country hartals, otherwise known as strikes, were happening weekly. A hartal stops the country. No public transport. No shops open. No one on the streets (it’s not safe). What are usually bustling streets becomes a ghost town (see photo below). I wouldn’t say it’s a reason not to go to Bangladesh. But it is definitely something to be aware of. You can get stuck in a location if a hartal is called and there is no transport for three days. It is a good idea to have a current idea of what is going on in the country and avoid certain areas. For example, one political party derailed a train I was planning to take the next day. I opted for a bus journey instead. The same political party closed a highway exiting Coxs Bazaar and Bangaldesh tourists were left stranded. I didn’t visit Coxs Bazaar. It’s important to remember that for you as a traveller a hartal is an inconvenience. But for a local Bengali a hartal effects businesses and reminds them just how difficult life can be in their small, beautiful and yet sometimes unsafe country.
8. There is no hygiene
Bangladesh is amazing. But the levels of hygiene are….different to what you may be use to. Be flexible and try to put aside your cleanliness standards because otherwise you are going to struggle. This photo is of a toilet in one of the villages. I saw fisherman fishing ten metres away as well. I think that explains it all.
9. The roads are dangerous
There are many countries that can fight for the award of “Worst Roads and Drivers” and trust me when I say Bangladesh is a serious contender. I’d been in the country only a few minutes when I realised my biggest threat in this country was the roads. It was 10pm at night, I was on the back of a motor bike that had no lights and we were dodging potholes, people, buses, rickshaws, taxis, cars and cows. The rest of my time in Bangladesh was no different. The buses are scary journeys and frustrating. Frustrating because they are constantly beeping their incredibly loud horn. And if the journey is eight hours it makes for a very challenging ride. The driving is crazy! The buses come up so close to the vehicles in front of them and overtake beeping their horn as a warning. I’d seen that most buses had big cracks in their windscreens. One journey I found out why; my bus driver drove up so close to the truck in front that as he passed the truck the bus hit the side and I heard the loud crack of the windscreen. Every journey in Bangladesh is an adventure.
10. There is no western food
Apart from Pizza Hut and Gloria Jeans in the capital Dhaka there is no western food in Bangladesh. Your only option will be to eat what the locals eat. This is one of the best ways to get to know a country. Although food in Bangladesh is not varied. It’s roti and dhal in the morning and rice and a meat curry for lunch and dinner. With a side serving of slice tomato, cucumber and carrot. There you have it. Thats the diet. So get used to it. Oh, and good luck finding it. Once you exit Dhaka nothing looks like anything! Sometimes it can be a challenging figuring out where the food restaurants are. But thats half the fun!
So if you’ve made it all the way through this blog and found that these ten points excite you then I suggest you go and buy a ticket to Bangladesh now! It’s a fabulous country. One of the few places in the world that allows you to see it for what it really is, warts and all. The people are incredibly friendly and helpful. A trip to Bangladesh will be a highlight of your life. I promise.
If you cringed at this blog, then maybe Bangladesh isn’t for you. Like I said at the beginning Bangladesh is not for the fainthearted. But for those who do venture there you’ll find yourself 160 million new friends who are so happy to hear you have come to their country to simply see it. Never underestimate the impact your visit can have on a local. By going on holiday to Bangladesh you are telling them they are worth it. And they are – the scenery, the people, the culture … its all worth it.