Someone asked me if I was up for traveling to Bangladesh? Hell yes, I would love to! It was actually only about 4 months ago that I looked for cheap flights to Bangladesh when on my budget trip to Fulidhoo Island in Maldives. Although I have traveled multiple times to all the countries around like India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and even China and Nepal and Myanmar, somehow a trip to Bangladesh never happened? Why not? I honestly have no idea…
It must be that no one really spoke about traveling to Bangladesh I guess, it still is a quite unknown destination in the backpacker scene. Very few travelers visit this country. It simply is NOT on the backpack trail in southeast Asia. But with my trip I am willing to show you that there are many reason to change that and may be you should start considering to visit Bangladesh. Although, I have to say this place is not for everyone. Keep reading and I will explain to you why.
Some handy facts for traveling to Bangladesh
- This is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with an estimated population of more than 165 million.
- The national currency is Taka and 85 Taka is about $1.
- Bangladesh is almost entirely flat.
- Garment is the biggest industry although originally half of the Bengali population are farmers.
- The Bengal Tiger is almost extinct.
- Almost 90% of the people are Muslim, which makes it the 3th largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The other 10% is mainly Hindu.
- Bangladesh was first part of India, then became East - Pakistan and successfully fought for independency in 1971.
- A normal Bengali salary is just $5 a day!
My trip to Bangladesh
I was invited by the Bangladesh Tourism Board to experience their country and looking back at my trip I am super grateful to be the first international travel blogger who has been sponsored a trip to Bangladesh. Together with Sarah Richards, who wrote an extensive guide about ‘how safe is traveling to Bangladesh for women’, we had 10 days to get a feel of the Bengali culture and explore some tourist places. I now wish I had stayed longer and explore more of the country because there are many cool places to visit in Bangladesh and I only saw a fraction. At least now I have a good reason to go back and trust me my Bengali friends I will!
How did I like my Bangladesh travel experience?
Wow, wow, wow, wow! I am traveling around the world now for more than 6 years and have seen a ton of cities and been to 87 countries, but what I saw in Bangladesh blew my mind. Because my blog and Instagram account are doing really well the last two years I mostly traveled to so-called instagramable places, like Maldives, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Greece and Australia. But what people don’t know is that before that I loved traveling to places like India, Iran, China, Guatemala, Myanmar, Bolivia, Colombia and so on. With my trip to Bangladesh I finally felt like the good old traveling again where experiences are more important than pretty pictures. And exactly that is what Bangladesh is about! This is not a place to go on a holiday to get your pretty pictures taken and show them off on social media. The landscapes are not to die for and the hotels aren’t those ones with amazing infinity pools. Bangladesh is for travelers!
If you are looking for a real and authentic experience than this is the ultimate country to travel. There are hardly any tourists and even if you go to the most famous Bangladesh tourist attractions you will feel like you are off the beaten path. The experience of really exploring a country, finding ways to get from A to B, struggling with the language, seeing things you have never seen before in your life, interacting with genuinely friendly locals, being frowned upon like they did not see a Western for years, feeling the appreciation of visiting their country and not being screwed over as a tourist was simply incredible. Bangladesh was an absolutely amazing experience!
Things to know when traveling to Bangladesh
In the next paragraphs I am giving you an honest inside into Bangladesh tourism. Some things may sound negative, but all I want is to prepare you for what is coming because I simply know you are going to need these Bangladesh travel tips badly.
Bangladesh is just one adventure after the other and exactly that is what this country makes so unique and incredible to visit!
1. Is it safe to travel to Bangladesh?
This was the most asked question during my 10-day trip throughout all my social media channels. About a 20 people a day would either warn me or tell me to be careful. But for what? Why do people think Bangladesh is not safe? The more people would ask me the more I loved showing how wrong they were. If you are searching on Google how safe Bangladesh is, then let me tell you first hand! I can assure you that there is no real treat for tourists. Last year there was a terrorist attack, yes that is right. But what about Paris? There is a constant threat but no seems to care. When it happens in a less developed country we all start asking questions! I did not feel unsafe a single second and I have even been off the beaten path in Bangladesh on my own with a GoPro, an iPhone 8 plus and a Canon DSLR. No one cares about your gadgets, people don't even know how to use them. They are only interested why a white guy is visiting their country. Traveling in Bangladesh is totally safe! Travel responsible and nothing will happen, I am 100% sure about it.
2. Bangladesh is crowded
No wait, I mean: Bangladesh is out of this world: I feel like I just visited the most crowded place on earth. I have been to busy cities, like Sao Paulo, Tokyo, New York, Tehran, Seoul or Jakarta, but all these cities are villages compared to Dhaka. I constantly asked myself: Where do all these people come from? I simply could not believe what my eyes. Bangladesh is the most crowded place I have ever been to, busier than any city in India, China or Pakistan.
I felt like it was rush hour 24 hours a day. If you are planning a trip to Bangladesh prepare for an intense journey. Your eyes and brain will never get a break! There is literally something to see on every meter, it is hard to describe. A day in Dhaka will drain you completely. If you have ever been to New York and felt exhausted after a day in the city, then amplify this feeling by ten and then you know what to expect from traveling in Bangladesh.
3. How to get around in Bangladesh
When it comes down to transportation to get to the Bangladesh tourist destinations then accept some challenges. The transportation network is not that advanced yet. As I said everything is an adventure in this country and so is getting to and from tourist places in Bangladesh. Dhaka is made easier as there you can find Uber and Uber is really cheap here. I would say an average ride will cost you max $3. Dhaka without Uber would be a nightmare to get around.
Of course taxi drivers don’t speak English so how to tell them where you are going and how much would be an acceptable fair to pay? Uber solves all these problems in Dhaka, but don’t expect your Uber driver to be able to read the map or use navigation. This sounds weird, but this is Bangladesh, nothing is what it seems. Use Google Maps yourself and guide your driver to your destination is the best solution. Make sure you have a data connection, more about buying a sim card in Bangladesh later.
What is a useful tool to get around Bangladesh is the search engine of 12Go Asia. There you can find long distance busses, domestic flights and even train or taxis. Try it yourself below.
As soon as you travel a little outside the center you won’t find an Uber, sometimes not even a car. All you can do is hop in a tuktuk, tricycle or catch an overcrowded bus. Getting to places can take up to 30 minutes, but the same route can also take you 2 hours. Traffic is madness!
On most Bangladesh travel routes expect to suffer from bad road conditions. On my trip to Sylhet we had a driver to show us all the tourist places. Sitting a couple hours a day in the car was exhausting as a lot of roads where just dirt roads in this region.
4. Traffic in Bangladesh
I always used to say that Tehran had the worst traffic in the world as during my trip for the airport to my hostel I had two small car accidents. It is may be a bit crazy to say but to me the traffic here is one of the Bangladesh tourist attractions. Did you ever get stuck in traffic as a pedestrian? Now there you go! This will only happen in Bangladesh. :)
Most streets in Dhaka are filled with tricycles, buses, trucks and some cars, but not that many. You can hardly get through and walking is sometimes even faster. One time I was going from Old Dhaka back to my hotel in Gulshan and it took me nearly 1,5 hour for just 13 kilometer! You cannot escape the traffic on your trip to Bangladesh but like everything in this country it is an experience.
Once while crossing the street I got stuck half-way as there was zero space between the tricycles and the busses. Then the traffic slowly started moving and the bus started pushing me forward. This was crazy! It made me laugh and knew I was experiencing something unreal, but if you easily panic or are claustrophobic you better stay away! ;) Mind you the traffic is so extremely slow that major accidents are actually impossible to even happen.
5. Airport delays
In Bangladesh flight schedules are just an estimate and you kind of know that there will be a delay. Airports are chaotic and lines are huge, but the advantage of being a western tourist is that someone will come and pick you up to put you in front of the line. Not that I asked for it, but it always happened like that. Of course they do it for the money! A dollar can go a long way in this country, but don’t be a dick and treat everyone with respect!
6. Train travel in Bangladesh
This is something Bangladesh tourism should advertise with. LOL! Of course they will never, but that is why I do it for them. Because where in the world can you surf a train? Standing on top of a riding train has been a dream since I was in Cambodia in 2008 where I saw people doing it. Here in Bangladesh it is completely normal to invade a train when it arrives at the station. People will fight for their spot wherever on the train. Already looking at that phenomenon was a moment where I just stopped and stared. But I wanted to do this myself, I wanted to climb the train, sit on top of it and hitch a ride. It took a lot of courage and my heart was beating like crazy but I managed to get my tall body on top of that train.
Of course with the help of a ton of people and everyone cheering. Seeing a white tourist in Bangladesh is one thing, seeing him at a local train station is already surprising, but a western climbing up to the roof of a train made them go crazy! I definitely felt like one of them and I made a ton of new friends on top of the train.
You won’t read this in any Bangladesh travel guide, but this was one of the best experiences of my trip to Bangladesh!
Best way to sit on top of a train in Dhaka is to go to the Airport train station and then take a train to either Tongi or Komlapur. I hitched a ride to Tongi, which was away from the city and it was a challenge to get back. If you hitch a ride to Komlapur you will end up close to Old Dhaka and start your sightseeing.
See my vlog about traveling by train in Bangladesh below.
7. Pollution is next level
One of the major downside of my Bangladesh travel experience was the pollution. Sorry to say but this is the most polluted country I have ever visited. Brunei and India come close but Bangladesh definitely takes the cake. As a tourist you have no choice you gotta deal with it. You can’t blame the people either; they don’t know better and lack education about the effects of pollution. When I traveled on a train to the outskirts of Dhaka I could see big open fields full of trash. At first I though it was a dump but then I saw it actually was just an open field.
8. Smog in Dhaka
This is serious! I have often seen Chinese and Indian cities in the news but never anything about Dhaka. Because I suffer Bronchitis I started coughing straight away. Walking around in Dhaka it was surprisingly that no one was wearing these anti pollution masks. An important Bangladesh travel tip is to get one before your trip as I could not find a place to buy one either. When I traveled to northeast Bangladesh by plane I realized how nice it felt to breath fresh air. Walking out of the airport in rural Sylhet made me gasp for fresh air.
Nice place to stay in Dhaka
Especially if you are traveling in Dhaka I would recommend you to get a nice place to stay. Keep in mind though that the Bangladesh tourism industry is not yet that developed so there is not much choice. For a nice mid-range accommodation you will easily pay about $50 per room in a good area. The Gulshan area is where most tourists stay and where you will find most embassies, a couple international hotel brands and is only 5 kilometers from the airport. The area is not that extremely busy and a little less noisy. When you roam around the city your brain will never get a break and at the end of the day your head will feel like exploding from all the impressions. You simply saw too many things and heard to many noises. On top of that you will feel extremely dirty because of the smog. A nice place to stay, a quiet room, fresh air and a hot shower are the only things you want trust me!
Where to stay in Dhaka?
Luxury: Westin Dhaka ($180 - $250)
Mid-range: Executive Inn ($80 - $120)
Budget: Hotel Progati Inn ($30 - $50)
8. Best sim card for Bangladesh
There are a couple sim cards in Bangladesh that can be obtained by tourists. Immediately when you walk out of the arrivals in Dhaka Airport there are some booths offering you a prepaid sim card. I have written articles about getting a sim card in Indonesia for example in where I tell people to not buy a sim card at the airport as they charge you way more than in the city. Here in Dhaka airport buying a sim card is not a bad idea. I did not see any other places around the city where to buy a Bangladesh sim card for tourists. Getting a sim card at Dhaka airport takes a lot of time and you will need to fill in a ton of paper work. No clue what they do, but it takes a damn while to get everything sorted. Good thing is they do it for you and make sure it works. For 5GB with a 3G connection I paid 1,000 Taka = $12. There is no 4G in Bangladesh!
I decided to get a sim card with Banglalink but for traveling to Sylhet I found out that was not a good idea. The best sim card for Bangladesh according to locals is Grameen and this is also the outcome after taking a look at the coverage maps for both providers above. Some vital Bangladesh travel tips for the modern traveler! ;)
9. The people of Bangladesh
If you are an unexperienced traveler I bet Bangladesh might be a little too much. I have been to places before where tourists are a rarity and I am used to a little too much attention. Everywhere you go people will stop and stare, if you are a girl you will probably even get more attention. As I said before I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable but I am a man and most Bangladeshi already look up to me for being almost 1.90 meter.
People are simply not used to tourist and will stare at you, not because they want something from you, simply because they are interested. If you walk around in local areas people will even follow you and I understand that sounds scary, but the Bangladeshi people are some of the nicest people I have met around the world.
A hundred times a day you will get the same question: which country? I always replied politely saying I was from Holland and taught myself how to say I love Bangladesh: 'Ami Bangladeshke posondo kori', or at least something that comes close to this. Saying this to people on the street will be received with cheering.
These people have not a lot but they will share with you, because they are extremely happy to see tourists in their country. One of the best things about traveling in Bangladesh are the people of this country. Service in restaurants is outstanding, Ubers are extremely nice, hotel staff are the most friendly ever and locals will always smile when they see you.
10. No scams - HONEST PEOPLE
How good does it feel to travel hassle free? One other great thing about Bangladesh tourism is that you will hardly find any people that try to scam you or at least I did not come across one in my 10-day trip to Bangladesh. Neither will you find any touts approaching you and hassling you to buy their shit. Compared to like India where people will try to rip you off 10 times a day this is a blessing!
11. Be prepared to take a million selfies
I hope you are comfortable with cameras because if you are going to travel in Bangladesh everyone wants to take a photo with you. Not everyone has a photo with a camera, but even if they don’t have they will ask you to take a photo with your smartphone. After ‘which country?’ the second most asked question is ‘selfie?’! :)
Most of the time you will be the Bangladesh tourist attraction yourself! People want selfies with you at all times. Airport staff, hotel staff, people on the streets, police, army and of course kids.
12. Tipping in Bangladesh
I already mentioned that most people live off $5 a day and may be even less. That means a couple cents is a lot to some people. Giving someone a dollar extra will get you the biggest smile in return. I am not much of a tipping guy but here in Bangladesh I tipped extremely generous. Another way of giving is to buy things from the streets vendors like fruits, ice cream or drinks and hand them out to the people around you or those ones that wanted to take a selfie with you. Small things are still appreciated here in Bangladesh.
13. Streetfood in Bangladesh
I know people will say I am crazy but I did try some and nothing happened. Even locals warned me not to eat any street food because it would upset my tummy. I think after 6 years of traveling and eating on the streets my stomach can handle a lot. Honestly I have to admit the street food did not look really appealing as most of it was deep-fried and that is not really my thing. There are a bunch of fruit sellers, but none of them sell juices. And although the fruit looked good, it was laying there all day in the smog.
14. Keep on eating a drinking
While sightseeing in Bangladesh there is constantly so much going on that you will forget to eat and drink. Buying some snacks seems easy in a place where they sell 1 million things on the streets but somehow it was not. Bring snacks and water. If you are lucky you will find someone selling coconuts on the streets!
15. Visa on arrival Bangladesh
Getting a visa on arrival seems a little tricky, as you have to have a couple documents ready: hotel confirmation, invitation letter and return ticket.
The first two I did not have so I got a little nervous, but in the end as long as you pay the $51 and have a return ticket they are not that fuzzy about not having an invitation letter or a hotel reservation.
While traveling around Bangladesh I learned that crossing the border overland a visa on arrival for Bangladesh will only cost you around $8. Check out the visa policy of Bangladesh in the link.
16. What to wear in Bangladesh?
You might think it is always warm in Bangladesh, but in winter there are places where the temperature drops till 12 degrees Celsius at nighttime. Therefore depending on the season bring something warm for the evenings. A jacket, a hoodie and jeans will do. Daytimes are extremely pleasant, although in summers it can get really hot.
For a man short pants is totally fine and although local men will always wear long pants, for male tourists it is accepted. Be aware that if you enter religious buildings you might have to wear something to cover your knees, but someone will always provide you something.
On my trip to Bangladesh I was hardly ever wearing my flipflops while mostly on my travels I wear them every day. The streets are full of surprises here in terms of trash, potholes, etc and therefore I would recommend to wear some comfortable running shoes or something similar instead of sandals.
17. Travel to Sylhet
On my trip to Bangladesh I took a domestic flight to Sylhet in the Northeast of the country. It is regarded to be the Switzerland of Bangladesh. In my opinion not anything quite like it, but still a super cool place to visit in Bangladesh. Cool things to do in Sylhet are visiting a village where women are in power and you can actually meet the queen. Of course you have to tour the tea plantations and take a boat ride through the swamp to see the wildlife out here. Check out my complete list of things to do in Sylhet.
Bangladesh travel guide
I hope this Bangladesh travel guide will make your trip a lot easier. I wish I had known about some Bangladesh travel tips before my journey. Nevertheless my trip was one to remember and may be one of the best I took in the last year as it made such a deep impression! I made so many new friends with local people and seriously you Bangladeshi guys are the best, you made most of my days memorable! Thank you all for such a great experience!
Please leave me a comment with questions about traveling in Bangladesh or anything else. I would love to hear from you! And if you like it please share it on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for me, that would be amazing!
I wrote a couple more articles about traveling in Bangladesh. If you need some Bangladesh tourism options then definitely have a look at my Sylhet blog. This province in the northeast of Bangladesh is almost entirely surrounded by India and is called the Switzerland of Bangladesh. And if you want to read my personal story of how I felt being the only tourist in this country then read my weekly adventure blog of my trip to Bangladesh in where I tell you exactly about my ups and downs during this intense journey!