I have never completed an article so quickly as this one. I am still in Bangladesh and my trip to Sylhet is only a couple days old, but I am still full of excitement. I just thought I put a couple things on paper but then could not stop writing. If you are in Bangladesh you most definitely have to travel to Sylhet in the Northeast of Bangladesh.
Trip to Bangladesh
Last week I have been asked a couple times why I did not travel to Bangladesh before and I actually had no answer. I have been to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and all the countries around a bunch of times, but never stopped by in Bangladesh. I think just because very few people talked about it and it is not directly on the tourist trail. It is may be not the best country for your first time backpacking alone, as it can be very intense. But on the other hand so amazing at the same time. I can now finally say I made it to this beautiful country and also got the chance to visit Sylhet.
Where is Sylhet Bangladesh?
Sylhet is about 250 kilometers northeast of the capital Dhaka and the most northeastern division in Bangladesh. It is almost completely surrounded by India with border crossings in the north, east and south.
How to get to Sylhet
There are several daily flights from Dhaka with US-Bangla and NovoAir. The domestic airport in Dhaka is not as crazy as the international airport although delays are common. The flight from Dhaka to Sylhet is only 30 minutes in a propeller plane, but traveling can take up to a couple hours because of the delays. There are also international routes serving Sylhet Bangladesh and you are able to find flights from London and Dubai.
Tourist busses with AC go on a regular basis from Dhaka to Sylhet and take about 6 hours. Price: between $8 - $13.
The most adventurous way to get to Sylhet is to take the train. Several trains a day go from Dhaka to Sylhet and back and are cheap. The train ride is beautiful!
Travel to Sylhet itinerary
This map shows you all the best places to visit in Sylhet and where to find them.
Things to do in Sylhet
1. Lala Khal Tea Gardens
One of the main places to visit in Sylhet are the tea plantations. There are many tea plantations around but the Lala Khal Tea gardens are the most beautiful ones to visit. To get here you will need to take a little boat trip across the river and once you walked pass the gate you can make your own way around the tea plantations.
Like all tourist attractions in Bangladesh the experience is real! There are no museums here or places where they make you taste their tea and try to sell you something. The main source of income is tea leaves and not tourism. Wander your way up to the top of the tea gardens and find hidden local villages in the hills.
These people will be waiting for you with a big smile and are happy to interact and have your pictures taken. Western tourists are a rarity. Simply another fantastic experience in Bangladesh!
This kid always changed his face for the photos, he was seriously posing! If you follow me on Snapchat (traveltomtom) or Instagram (@traveltomtom) stories you would have seen how much fun we had.
2. Boat trip
Bangladesh is almost completely flat and with so many rivers flowing through the country there are plenty opportunities to hop on a boat. When you travel to Sylhet this is one of the most relaxing things to do and a great way to see the countryside and life on the riverbank from a different perspective.
In the Jaflong area you can witness the stone collecting business from the water, the main source of income in this region. On the Lala Khal side you will float on the river alongside tea plantations, river beaches and local life all the way up to the Indian border.
3. Camp on the riverbank
If you are up for an adventure when you travel to Sylhet then I have the perfect thing for you: stay overnight in a luxurious Tent Camp on the river bank. Due to the monsoon season this is only available from October to March in the area of Lala Khal. But sleeping on the beach under a million stars right on the river bank must be incredible! I have to plan a trip to Sylhet again to experience this myself.
4. Local cooking class
In Lala Khal I also enjoyed a local cooking class organized by our hotel. Not a standard cooking class but one in a local home preparing dishes on a wood fire. We picked our own vegetables in the garden behind the house and helped the family preparing our meals. If you want to get in touch with locals this is a great way when you travel to Sylhet.
5. Local market in Jaintiapur
For a real local experience make sure you don’t miss the local market in Jaintiapur, which is held every Wednesday and Saturday. This seriously is one of the best things to do in Sylhet as more authentic than this is it won’t get.
As a foreigner I was the main attraction here and literally people would stop and stare when I passed by. Simply out of curiosity as not many tourists make it here. See the live video for an impression of this tourist attraction in Sylhet only very few people know about. Locals come here to buy vegetables, fruit, live animals, fish, get a haircut, drink tea and meet with friends all in one market. Incredible!
6. Visit the Khasi Tribe
What about visiting an indigenous tribe ruled by women? Welcome to the Khasi tribe. The Christian Khasi population in Bangladesh resides on a tiny peninsula on the India border surrounded by the Goyain River. Visiting the local village is an incredible experience where you can get dressed up in the local attire and feel like a prince.
Keep on reading for one of my secret tips when you travel to Sylhet how to meet the Bangladeshi queen of the Khasi people, the ruler of the tribe! Café Sengram Punji is a great place to drink a coffee while enjoying the view over the river and India on the other side.
7. Visit a workers camp at the Quarry
Bangladesh has many faces in there is no need to hide that poverty is also a side of this country. You will most definitely stumble upon some places were people live in extremely basic condition and I understand that this is not a Sylhet tourist attraction. But if you want to meet the most friendly people ever and are in need of an eye-opener of how blessed you are in life then go visit the quarry on the riverbank in Jaflong. The people here live in tent camps next to the quarry. Walking around here felt like a Hollywood film set, almost unreal!
8. Step into India
Sylhet is like a landlocked peninsula in Bangladesh surrounded by India and because of that there are a ton of border crossings all around. In and between the control posts there is 50 meters of nomandsland where you can have your picture taken with one foot in India and one foot in Bangladesh. A typical Western tourist attraction in Sylhet! Lol ;)
If you travel to Bangladesh as a foreigner it is cheaper to travel over land by the way. On Dhaka airport will you pay $51 dollar for your visa here at the border crossings in Sylhet only $8. :) I have some old blogs about India from the time I just started blogging, they are a funny read.
Two fishermen just before the border crossing on the river, the two green tents in the distance are the border partol huts from both countries.
9. Local villages
Along your way there are a ton of local villages to explore. Be brave make your driver stop and wander around. There is no need to be scared or anything like that. Local people love to see you coming. They will all stop what they are doing and they will stare at you. Not staring in a way that it is intimidating, but in a way that they look up to you. There will hardly be anyone who will say no when you ask for a picture, but expect to get a ton of selfies taken with you too. :)
10. 7 layer tea in Sylhet
Apparently this is a typical thing to do in Sylhet so I could not resist either. Ask around in your hotel and someone will point you in the right direction where to find the famous local tea: 7 layer tea. It took about 15 minutes to make two cups of tea but it was waiting for. Ingredients: black tea, milk tea, ginger tea, lemongrass tea, sugar and two more, but I forgot about them.
11. Marvel at amazing sunsets
The flatlands and swamps all around Sylhet turn into a mystical landscape around sunset. The shadows of the trees become longer with each minute that passes and I am sure somewhere in the distance you will see a group of local kids playing football. A peaceful and serene setting and that is exatly what Sylhet in Bangladesh is.
12. Enjoy a jungle pool
When you are on a holiday you surely want to relax as well and therefore I recommend you to find one of these pools with a jungle feel surrounded by lush green gardens. Especially in the summer months this is the best way to end your day sightseeing in Sylhet. Scroll down to my where to stay in Sylhet section and I will tell you where to find these jungle pools.
13. Ratargul Swamp Forest
Last but not least one of the best things to do in Sylhet is a trip to the Ratargul Swamp Forest. The road to get here is bumpy but once you are floating on a little boat peddled forward by a friendly local you forget everything.
This extremely peaceful ride through the swamps is the ultimate place to find peace in this bustling country.
The beautiful mangroves are a protected area where you can find endemic species of wildlife like the pygmy-goose.
There are also hiking trails and a watch tower to climb up to. A 1-hour private boat ride in Ratargul Swamp Forest should not cost more than 1,000 BDT = $12.
Where to stay in Sylhet
I would recommend staying close to the action and therefore take a look at the Wilderness Resort. This beautiful hotel is literally located in the tea plantations and an extremely peaceful place to rejuvenate. The rooms are clustered around the refreshing pool and the onside restaurant serves delicious food. The staff is extremely helpful and they can arrange all the above things to do in Sylhet. The big advantage about Wilderness is that the tea plantations are within walking distance and so is the boat trip on the river. The hotel is located in an off the beaten path location a stone throw away from the Indian border.
Closer to the mangrove forest you can find another great option to stay in Sylhet: the Garden Resort. This resort with a hilltop swimming pool, multiple restaurants and suites with their own Jacuzzis is only 15 minutes away from Sylhet city and the airport, but located in a lush green garden away from the hustle and bustle of Bangladeshi countryside life.
Tips for traveling to Sylhet
Best local sim card for Sylhet
Wi-Fi signal in Sylhet is weak and not the fastest. As a foreigner I would recommend you to get a Grameen sim card. This mobile provider has good service up here, were Banglalink fails most of the times. I wish someone had given me this tip before my trip to Sylhet.
No wifi, no phone reception so time to enjoy the view from Wilderness Resort Sylhet.
Prepare for bad road conditions
When you travel to Sylhet expect though road conditions. If you get carsick easily opt for a seat in the front and prepare to thrown around the car avoiding one pothole after another. They say it is not about the destination, but it is the journey that counts. Not in this case trust me! ;)
Bring mosquito spray
Make sure to bring mosquito spray when you visit Sylhet. Probably everywhere you go in Bangladesh have mosquito spray on you. It is only bad around sunset and just after, but it can save you a lot of bites. Or just wear long pants and sleeves! ;)
Try Betel Nut
Not recommend haha! It was my first time trying this and I regret as soon as I put it in my mouth. Damn this stuff is bitter.
This is the betel nut tree, not a palm tree.
Meet the queen
One of the best things to do in Sylhet is unfortunately not for everyone available. But if you are in the position and you have the right contacts you might be able to arrange a meeting with the queen of the Khasi tribe in Sylhet. I was among the lucky people to be invited at her house, sip tea and learn about the life of a royal. This experience made my trip to Sylhet extra special!
Already want to visit Sylhet?
I hope this article made you visit Sylhet soon. My trip was an absolutely amazing experience and coming to Bangladesh showed me once again that you can’t judge a country before you have been. According to a lot of people Bangladesh is not safe, but the fact that this is a crazy country, does not make it a dangerous country. I traveled through Bangladesh with Sarah from Coffee With A Slice Of Life as solo female travel blogger from the UK and this is what she had to say about how safe it is to travel in Bangladesh.
Life in Bangladesh is so different from out Western standards that we quickly judge for no reason. But as you have seen on the live video of the market in Jaintiapur there is no reason to be scared, people are just curious and above all they are the most friendly ever!
Thank you Bangladesh for adding another amazing experience to my travel life!
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It was incredibly amazing to see Bangladeshi kids be really proud to take a selfie with me. The most asked question: which country? About a hundred times a day and I never got tired of answering because the Bangladeshi people are among the most friendly ones I met around the world! On my blog www.traveltomtom.net you can already find the first blog of my trip to #bangladesh! . . . #lovelykids #dhaka #selfietime???? #visitbangladesh #proudmoment #selfiepic #tripstagram #travelbloggerlife #travelwriter #viajeros #viajoteca #viajero #viajem #viajemais #voyager #voyages #reise #reiselust #fernwehcollective #asiatravel #triptoasia #asianlife #coxbazar #lalakhal #jaflong #travelwithme #kidstravel #localkids