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Dhaka (Bangladesh), March 12th 2008
Sometimes you travelled through a country that gave you a very special and good feeling while being there. Bangladesh is such a country. But, why? That is a question that is difficult to answer, because Bangladesh is a country with two faces. Let’s give it a try.
Let’s start with the absolute highlight of Bangladesh. Its people! It is really incredible to experience how warm-hearted and friendly the Bangladeshi people are. The people really love the fact that you bring a visit to their country, even if it’s difficult for them to understand why the hell somebody wants to visit their country. And like we said, that is a difficult question. The Bangladeshi people have a pretty good image about their selves and excuse themselves often about the low quality tourist infrastructure that they can offer. But they are proud on their hospitality and that’s justified. Bangladeshi people are always interested in a conversation. It doesn’t matter if you are in the bus, or waiting for a street to cross, there is always somebody who wants to have a chat with you. Of course, these conversations are often short and superficial, but that’s because of their limited knowledge of the English language (and our non existing knowledge of the Bangla language). But even with this ‘handicap’, they won’t let the opportunity pass to have a short chat with a foreigner. Wherever you go in Bangladesh, people are always rewarding you with a row of white shining teeth. You are really a guest in their country.
Edwin enjoying a cocunut at the beach in Cox's Bazaar
But there is also a different side of the medal. There must be a reason why so few travellers decide to spend their holiday in Bangladesh. The most important fact is that foreigners often have a negative image of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is often associated with extreme poverty (40% of the people have an income of less than one US-dollar a day). Besides that, the country often gets the headlines when it is hit by a natural disaster, like the cyclone Sidr in November 2007, or when there is a ferry accident in where many people lost their life. Finally, Bangladesh is more and more frequent in the news regarding the fact that Muslim extremism is growing within the country. But, Bangladesh has a bigger disadvantage regarding tourism. It has no big highlights. It has no Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, Machu Pichu or Borobodur. That is a problem, because most traveller decide about their next travel destination by looking to the highlights they want to visit. And if you have no highlight, the chances are small that people decide to bring you a visit. But if you look a little bit further, there are some interesting highlights in Bangladesh. One of the greatest places to visit in Bangladesh is the largest remaining mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans. But unfortunately, a big part of the Sundarbans is also located in India. And indeed, that is where the majority of the tourists go. Another nice place to visit is Dhaka, Bangladeshi’s capital city. The first impression you probably have is that the city is chaotic. But if you take the time to explore the city in more detail, you probably are going to like it. Especially Old Dhaka is a great place to stroll around. The trip between Sundarbans and Dhaka can be done by ferry. Taking one of the ferries (preferably the Rocket Steamer) is a great way to enjoy the typical Bangladeshi ferry life and to get in touch with the local people. Be prepared to pose many times for a picture! Finally, one should consider bringing a visit to the south-eastern part of the country. It is the place to enjoy beach life Bangladeshi style at one of the beautiful beaches in Cox’s Bazaar or Saint Martin’s Island. We liked Saint Martin’s Island more, because it also a great place to observe traditional fishing life. Do not expect to visit something like Santa Monica Beach or the Costa de Sol. It is beach life Bangladeshi style. But that’s also fun. While being in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh, you could consider bringing a visit to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, if the security situation permits.
Sadarghat harbour in Old Dhaka after arriving with the Rocket Steamer
|Travelling in Bangladesh can be tiring. This is the result of the fact that you get a lot of attention. Wherever you go, you will be in the spot lights, if you like it or not. Some people say that you have to go to Bangladesh if you want to know how it feels to be famous. We experienced that it is even hard to find privacy in your hotel room. When other hotel guests found out in what room we were staying, they knocked on our door late in the evening to have a chat with us. Of course, the intention is always good, but sometimes it is just a little too much. Bangladeshi people give you a lot of energy, but sometimes they suck all the energy out of you. Another thing that you should not expect is a great Bangladeshi cuisine. At least not if you are travelling on a tight budget. Eating in the low end restaurants is monotonous and often very fat. The meals are often a combination of rice or bread (roti/paranta), with sabji (vegetable curry) and dahl (lentil soup). If you are lucky to be in Bangladesh when there is no H5N1-bird flu, luck that we did not have, it is also safe to eat some kind of chicken curry. But, there is hope. If you want to spend a little bit more money, you can go to one of the restaurants of the top end hotels. They often offer a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet, where you can eat as much as you can for approximately € 6,- per person. And the quality is often very good. To be honest, this is what we did several times at the end of our Bangladeshi journey.
Despite the fact that travelling through Bangladesh can be tiring and that there are no famous highlights to see, it is a great country to visit. Whatever disadvantage you encounter, the friendliness and hospitality of the Bangladesh people compensates it. If you are looking for a special country to visit, pretty of the beaten track, Bangladesh is a great destination to explore. And if a visit to only Bangladesh is a little bit too much for you, consider a combined visit of Bangladesh and India. We travelled last months through north-eastern India and Bangladesh, and the following itinerary is a great one if you want to combine these countries. Start with your journey in Siliguri (India) from where you can bring a visit to the spectacular Indian Himalayas. Afterwards, travel east to the state of Assam where you can observe the wild elephants and rhino’s in the fabulous National Park of Kaziranga (see photo impression). Than, travel to the state of Meghalaya where you can walk on the unique living root bridges (see article), before crossing to Sylhet in Bangladesh. After enjoying a visit to one of the many tea estates, you are ready for Dhaka. Take a ferry (Rocket Steamer) to Khulna where you can organise your trip into the Sunderbans (see photo impression and article), after which you can cross back to India for some final days in Kolkatta. The best of two worlds!