Are you getting ready to go to Bangladesh? Then the “Practical Information” chapter is what you need to get ready.
If you benefit from being able to choose exactly when to visit Bangladesh, then go in November or December, when the humid and heavy heat of summer finally begins to ebb away. The skies are blue, the air is clear and the sunsets spectacular, although the clear skies mean that you won’t see those dramatic monsoon clouds splayed across the landscape.
Bangladesh rarely makes any ‘top ten’ lists worldwide, but an often asked question comes more along the following lines: ‘Since I’m in Bangladesh, what are the top ten things I should see?’ Here’s a suggestion list to get you started.
With three days, take your first day exploring Old Dhaka, experiencing the frenetic
energy offered by the historic capital. The second day can be spent doing a day trip
out of the city: Savar or Sonargaon would be good, although a boat trip would be
best – contact one of the local tour operators to see if you can join a trip that’s already been arranged. Finally, spend your last day like a Dhaka urbanite by checking out some of Bangladesh’s many handicrafts or textile shops, some of which do business under free-trade banners.
Travellers might find the services of a tour operator more efficient and helpful in the search for information and guidance while considering a journey to Bangladesh.
All foreign visitors to Bangladesh require a visa. To be frank, getting a Bangladesh visa can be a pain in the backside, so let this process be your first lesson in the patience you will inevitably cultivate during your stay in Bangladesh.
What follows is a list of the all the foreign Embassies and High Commissions in Dhaka, as well as a list of all high commissions/embassies of Bangladesh abroad. We would appreciate notice if this list has changed.
Bangladesh is almost wholly surrounded by India and while there has been talk over the years of a road connecting the region to China via Myanmar, no political will has yet to materialise on this front.
Need to figure out the best way to get to/from Bangladesh? Here’s a conclusive list of all the options for getting in and out, including how to drive an Indian-registered motorcycle into the country. Also included is information on border crossings.
People new to exotic travel often worry about tropical diseases, but it is accidents that are most likely to carry you off. Road accidents are very common in Bangladesh so be aware and do what you can to reduce risks: try to travel during daylight hours, always wear a seatbelt and refuse to be driven by anyone who has been drinking.
The Anopheles mosquito that transmits the parasite is most commonly found in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh. All other regions of the country are considered low-risk malaria areas, and there is no malaria in Dhaka.
Dhaka is the only place where somewhat decent medical facilities exist, but major procedures such as childbirth or surgery should definitely be undertaken abroad. Many expatriates head to Thailand for their regular medical treatments and more intensive diagnostic procedures.
Are you concerned about the more mundane medical issues you might face in Bangladesh? Then the following 10-page description of the potential problems you might face during a stay in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s security situation can be viewed from two perspectives. If you’re at all an adventurous person who likes the unexplored and unknown, then Bangladesh can be a perfectly safe place to travel when taking local advice, and even female travellers have braved the country solo.
It is an unfortunate reality that women need to be far more conscious and vigilant over their safety and surroundings whilst travelling in Bangladesh, because of cultural norms that people hold in the country.
The great majority of travellers to Bangladesh, including expatriates, will find almost everything they need on the ground. Naturally, this doesn’t include luxury food items such as alcohol, chocolate or fine coffees, but for just about everything else there is a local equivalent that will allow you to experience some of the local culture at the same time. On second thoughts, there is local alcohol, but as you’d expect from a non-alcoholic nation it’s often of poor quality.
For most travellers, money withdrawn via bank debit card is the easiest and most convenient way to get cash, as there are now ATMs in almost every major city of Bangladesh (this includes all the divisional capitals and most of the third-tier cities listed in this guide but not all, so do check ahead as there are some notable exceptions among the tourist destinations, like the Chittagong Hill Tracts).
Compared with all other forms of transport, river journeys are the most ‘Bangladeshi’ way to travel, a type of journey you really can’t experience anywhere else. Given the fact that the country lies at the mouth of the Ganges–Brahmaputra river basin, the world’s largest delta, any journey to Bangladesh should include time spent on the water, whether that be a multi-day excursion to Sundarban, a cross-country journey on the Rocket paddlesteamer or a day outside Dhaka on the Sitalakhaya.
The airline market in Bangladesh has just seen a few new competitors setting up shop, which at first was very good for local travellers but prices have since increased to the point where some might think twice before flying, especially because bus travel is just so cheap in comparison.
Typically referred to as a ‘reserved vehicle’, hiring a car is definitely the most convenient way to travel around Bangladesh, allowing you to stop where requested and providing for some interesting journeys in the countryside. Naturally, it is also the most expensive way to travel, with a daily fee for a sedan vehicle costing about US$40-60 per day, depending on the distance travelled and where you go.
Despite some recent improvements in the quality of accommodation across Bangladesh, travellers should maintain subdued expectations when it comes to finding fine beds, especially outside the main commercial cities. Luxury accommodation is still something of a novelty here, although the big hotel chains and some excellent guesthouses have set up shop in Dhaka. A boom in domestic tourism means that over the lifespan of this guidebook there will hopefully be some better options coming available in other locations, as rumours of new resorts and accommodation flutter around like flies at a streetside snack stall. But for the time being, standards remain low. Such is the reality of a country whose citizens have yet to afford travel for pleasure and become demanding consumers of travel.
An unfortunate aspect of travelling in a poor country is that the notions of hygiene and cleanliness are far more basic here than in neighbouring countries, and even the hardiest of stomachs will eventually encounter an upset at some point during a stay in Bangladesh. Extra rice or bread might be served by hand; in most restaurants food is prepared ahead of time and left to stand for long periods, therefore eating earlier is better than eating later. These bouts of the ‘chitta shittas’ are often the topic of many conversations among resident expatriates and travellers, and you might be surprised at how frequently the topic of bowel movements is discussed, even at dinner tables.
Making sense of Bangladeshi holidays is complicated by the fact that four different calendars combine to make up Bangladeshi holidays: the Gregorian, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist calendars all contribute a few holidays each.
Bangladesh is also rich with holidays unique to Bengali and indigenous culture. Here are the major ones that you may want to watch out for.
Bangladesh has been on the destination list of most fairtrade organisations for several years. Undoubtedly, the potential for fair trade to promote positive change is enormous. Better yet, most of the income that does exist in this sector reaches women, who unfortunately bear the brunt of the poverty suffered here.
Culture vultures on long-term visits to the country will find a vibrant artistic and entertainment scene in Dhaka. The website www.somewhereindhaka.net provides excellent up-to-date listings on some events in the city, including stage, film and food events.
Bangladeshis absolutely love to talk, something referred to as adda, or gossip. So, despite some historical causes for concern (eg: successive military governments), the country normally enjoys a vibrant and vocal media, much in line with the debating nature of its people.
Patience is your best tool in setting up a business in Bangladesh, as the young country has still to set up standardised procedures for many business transactions, or it operates according to laws that have scarcely changed since the time of partition. Furthermore, reliable business information and advice is hard to come by.
Western visitors will quickly find that while in Bangladesh, they are in fact the tourist attraction – for the local people, that is. For a country that still has so few foreign visitors and so many people, any traveller will quickly become that camera-toting, oddly dressed Westerner who does stand out in a crowd of millions. This wouldn’t be such an issue were it not for the fact that the concept of privacy is very different in Bangladesh (ie: there is none), and so the presence of visitors also turns heads, including those that should be looking at the road! Don’t be surprised if you cause an accident, and do realise that it’s not your fault. If you stay still for too long you will no doubt have a crowd on your hands, as it only takes two curious onlookers to generate a dozen more.
While traditional tourist thinking keeps people away from supposed disaster zones such as Bangladesh, there’s another way of looking at such disheartening situations. Visits to the country are in fact a real opportunity to do something positive for communities in need, like building houses for cyclone or flood victims, or helping a slum education project to operate more efficiently and save costs.