Those who have traveled to Bangladesh may tell you that if it were to be one of Asia’s hidden gems, it would be an emerald with thousands of shades of green. This luscious nation sits in South Asia just east of India on the Bay of Bengal.
With over 700 hundred rivers, Bangladesh is also a country that has been perfected for boat travel. While the country is considered to be off the beaten path for most travelers, those who do take a venture to its border will find a warm welcoming. With plenty to explore, Bangladesh will keep you on your toes and show you the beauty of Asia.
স্বাগত – Welcome to Bangladesh
Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh, which sits along the banks of the Buriganga River and like most Asian cities, it is busy. Very busy. With 20.2 million people living in the Greater Dhaka Area, it is one of the world’s most densely populated cities. For Bangladesh, Dhaka is the center for the economic, political, and cultural communities within the country. While the new city has been modernized, parts of the old city still stand for tourists to catch a glimpse of the past. Dhaka is also famous for their colorful rickshaws, which are the main method of transportation and guarantee that you have a more authentic experience as you venture through the streets.
Culture and Language
Bangladesh is a fairly young country as they gained independence in 1971. Previously, Bangladesh was called East Bengal, which then changed to East Pakistan when it became one of Pakistan’s five provinces. However, a civil war overthrew Pakistan and declared the country as independent, while also renaming it Bangladesh.
But Pakistan isn’t the only country that has influenced Bangladesh and the country has had periods of time under the influence of the Mughal and British Empire. The Mughal Empire controlled Bangladesh’s area during the 16th century and were the people who brought the Muslim religion to the country. Today, the majority of the population are still Muslim, though the country does have religious tolerance and acceptance. The British East India Company left their mark on the culture, when they settled the area and helped increase their finances with Bengal’s textile industry.
While Bangladesh was more or less successful under the British rule, it wasn’t until their independence from Pakistan that they become more politically stable. With power divided into three branches of the government and general elections, Bangladesh has worked hard at advancing their society and managing a promising future.
More recently, Bangladesh has made the news for taking in over 1 million Rohingya refugees who are escaping violence and persecution in the neighboring country of Myanmar. In the ongoing crisis, Bangladesh has continued to respect religious tolerance by helping those in need.
But don’t let the refugee crisis fool you. A warm welcome is traditional in Bangladesh’s culture and those who are seeking entry into Bangladesh will be accepted with open arms. The country is eager to share their customs with visitors, so you shouldn’t shy away from experiencing the real Bangladesh by visiting the local areas, markets, and shops.
Part of the country’s happy vibe is due to their religious tolerance. While the predominant religion is Muslim, Buddhism and Hinduism are also important for members of the society and you can see the three religions peaceful co-exist throughout the country. Family is also important, which is in line with most Asian cultures. However, the society is patriarchal and traditional gender customs are observed.
For visitors, the family life is kept more private. Instead, you’ll be welcome to view the country, but don’t expect to partake in any family dynamics. The people of Bangladesh are extremely polite, and they will often show visitors their deep respect through their own customs and language.
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh, which is spoken by about 98% of the population. The language is derived from Sanskrit, but it does have its own written script. You may also see the language called Bangla. But the language is important because it is used by the government, media, and educational institutions.
English is also an official language in Bangladesh and is left over from the days of colonization by the British. Some schools even teach English and a large portion of the population have a fairly high level of fluency in the language. For many tourists, this is a big advantage for traveling because it brings a certain level of comfort and ease with interacting with the locals.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Bangladesh, you do need a tourist visa to enter the country, but there has been some confusion as to how you may acquire the visa. While most US citizens are eligible to receive a tourist visa upon arrival, it is not recommended. Many tourists have been denied entry to the country upon their arrival, even when they believed that they had all the required paperwork and documents.
In order to guarantee your entry into Bangladesh, you should instead take the time to apply for a tourist visa with the Embassy before you arrive to the country. You can find the application for a tourist visa on the official Bangladesh Embassy’s website. You will need to print out and complete the application and submit it to the Embassy along with one passport photo taken within the last 6 months, a valid US passport with at least 6 months validity from the date of your intended travel to the country, a copy of your passport, and include proof of your itinerary and hotel reservations. A fee will also be collected and as of now, the tourist visa costs $160 US dollars. Your passport will also need one blank page to receive your visa and entry stamp.
You should not overstay your visa because it will lead to heavy fines. You will also need a valid visa to leave the country, so if yours expires, you will have to wait until a replacement one is issued to you. A replacement visa is costly and may also come with the overstay fines. A departure tax will also be collected upon your exit. The cost is $29 US dollars and should be included in your airfare. However, be certain to check with your specific airline because not all companies include the tax in their airfare price. If you are traveling out of Bangladesh by a land border, your exit tax will be different, and the amount will depend on the location of your next destination.
It is also important that you have had recent vaccinations of Hepatitis A and Typhoid. These vaccines are required to gain entry into the country. Other vaccine recommendations include Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, and Rabies. If you are traveling from a country with Yellow Fever, you will also need a current vaccination for that disease too. However, it is best to be up to date on all your vaccines before traveling to Bangladesh.
Finally, there is a currency restriction and you will need to declare any amount of money that is over $5,000 US dollars. You may also not depart with more money than you declared upon entry or leave with more than $5,000 Bangladeshi taka in your possession.
While it is important to consider the cost of your visa, you also need to focus on planning the rest of your spending budget for your trip to Bangladesh. Bangladesh is considered to be an affordable place to travel like other Asian countries, so you’ll need to take the time to plan your vacation. The most important considerations for your budget are airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
But before you can enjoy your time in Bangladesh, you’ll have to spend a pretty penny to get there. The average cost for a flight from the United States to Bangladesh is just over $1,000 US dollars. While some deals can lower the cost to 600-$700 US dollars, you should expect to spend a good chunk of money. The time of year when you travel to Bangladesh and when you book your ticket can also affect the cost.
The high tourist season in Bangladesh runs from March to April, but there are also peaks in tourism from October to February for the winter holidays. It is during these months that plane tickets will be more expensive as the demand for travel increases. But you should also plan ahead and book a ticket instead of waiting. The longer you wait to book a ticket, the more expensive it will be overall.
Plane tickets will always be the first major expensive in your budget because you need a way to reach your destination. But once you have a ticket booked, it is important that you determine your budget for accommodation during your stay. Hostels will be the most affordable accommodation option with prices usually ranging from $6-$9 US dollars.
For travelers who want more privacy and nicer accommodation, a nice hotel room would cost about $25 US dollars per night. However, a western style hotel may cost a little more with room going for $50 US dollars or more per night. Places that cost $50 US dollars or more would also likely be considered luxury accommodation in Bangladesh.
Once you’d decided on your accommodation for the duration of your stay, the next portion of your budget will need to go to food and drink. Bangladeshi food is known to be quite spicy. They also have surprisingly good desserts and sweets. One of the famous sweet dishes is called paratha, which is a typical Bangladeshi breakfast. The dish is like a flatbread that is eaten with eggs or lentils. Kachchi biryani is another famous dish that is most common in weddings, but has several tasty layers of meat, rice, and potatoes.
For your main course, bhuna khichuri is deep fried dish that also has slow cooked meat with rice. A plainer rice dish is called patla khichuri, which is a soup-like dish with meat and vegetables. Finally, kababs are a popular street food, and many will top it off with a dessert of misti doi, which is a sweet yogurt.
Street food will be the most affordable dining option in Bangladesh with dishes normally costing less than $2 US dollars each. However, you may even find some local restaurants that have meals for the same price. However, nice restaurants are also affordable and there are many places to eat out that cost less than $5 US dollars. If you are sticking to touristy areas, you should expect to spend up to $30 US dollars for a meal at a restaurant.
Drinking is also important for some travelers and it will be crucial to know how expensive it is to enjoy the nightlife. For local alcohol, you should expect to spend about $3 US dollars per bottle. However, imported or more touristy areas may sell drinks with price tags that cost up to $7-$8 US dollars each.
Bangladeshi beer. Photo: morebyless
It is also important to know that tipping is important in Bangladesh’s culture. While you don’t need to spend a lot of money on tips, giving a 5% tip to hotel attendants or servers is a nice gesture.
But altogether, Bangladesh is still suitable for backpackers who are looking to stay on a tight budget. If you plan correctly, you can live off of as little as $20 US dollars per day. A more moderate budget would have you spending about $50 US dollars per day, while luxury vacations can easily cost hundreds of US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
Bangladesh is a unique country because often the first choice for methods of transportation is to go by boat. The country is filled with waterways, which. means that you can catch a boat to almost anywhere. But a word of caution for the waterways – it is better to take a smaller or private vessel. Ferries are common, but they are often filled past their capacity limit, which makes them dangerous. By choosing to hire a small boat, you can better control the number of people and stay safer. But boats are affordable. Even long-distance boat rides will cost about $8 US dollars, while shorter trips may cost have of that price.
Buses are also a popular way to travel around Bangladesh and they are even cheaper than boats. A long-distance bus ride will usually cost less than $7 US dollars. But buses are slow and can also be overcrowded.
Taxis and rickshaws are another option to get around cities and most will cost less than $4 US dollars. They are also the best way to get around because driving in Bangladesh can be quite hectic and expensive. Instead of having to take on the stress, you can hire local drivers for short trips to get to and from important areas like the airport and your hotel.
For travelers who want to spend more time exploring the country, but less time on the road, domestic flights may be an option. However, they are not the most reliable system and they can be quite expensive with a single ticket costing over $200 US dollars.
Ultimately, walking is a good choice to explore a small area. However, you should take extra caution to remain vigilant of your surroundings and keep your belongings close. It is also a good idea to never walk alone.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
While Dhaka is the country’s main city, there are a lot of other cities that you can explore in Bangladesh. Here, we will give you a brief overview of the top city destinations in Bangladesh.
Dhaka is the beating heart of Bangladesh and the main hub for the country’s culture, economy, politics, and education. It is also where people will fly into and is often the first place that tourists explore in Bangladesh. The main tourist attractions include the National Memorial, Parliament House, Maynamati ruins, and Balgha Gardens. Food lovers will also enjoy walking the city and tasting the various street food dishes.
Located on the seaside, Cox’s Bazar is home to Bangladesh’s longest beach in the world. With 75 miles of sand to explore, the area has become a must-see destination for tourists. While it was once a fishing town, the influx of tourism has made it popular with guests who also wish to view the Buddhist monastery and gorgeous architecture. With plenty of homemade goods for sale, you can also walk away with beautiful art and support the local sellers.
Sonargaon is an ancient area, which showcases the country’s history in the form of gardens, museums, and a royal palace. Tourists can walk through the city and witness Bangladesh’s history and culture come to life. The city is also located just a short distance away from the capital, which makes it a good day trip activity.
Bogra is one of Bangladesh’s oldest towns and it has become a big tourist destination for people who wish to view a 3rd century archeological site called Mahasthangarh. In this town, you can also see the peaceful co-habitation of the Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu religions as there are other temples and palaces to explore too.
The 200-year history of Mymensingh is what attracts tourists to this area. Here, you can stroll through important cultural and historical sites, as well as relax in the calming gardens. The riverside location also means that you can take a boat ride and view the historic city from the water.
With a stunning natural beauty along the Surma River, Sylhet is one of the most visited places in Bangladesh for foreign and national tourists. With rivers, hills, lakes, gardens, rainforests, and even waterfalls, you can easily lose your time exploring in nature. It is also here, that you will see just a handful of the vibrant shades of green that fill the country’s landscape.
Khulna is a popular destination because it is the closest city to the famous Sundarbans, which is the world’s largest mangrove forest. Here, is where tourists go to catch a glimpse of the famous and endangered Bengal tiger.
For those who are interested in temples, Bandarban is the place to go. This area has many Buddhist temples that you can explore and is nestled in a dramatic natural landscape with a lake and cascading waterfall. The people have also constructed a large statue of Buddha to honor their religion.
Points of Interest
While cities are often the main attraction, there are also a few points of interest that are sure to draw you in for a peek.
As we mentioned above, the Sundarbans are world famous and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the area is so stunning and packed with exotic wildlife that we thought we would mention it again. The area is where the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers meet each other before going into the Bay of Bengal, but it is also a lush rainforest that is home to endangered and disappearing wildlife. The national animal, the Bengal tiger lives in this area and you can also find saltwater crocodiles, river terrapin, turtles, the Ganges river dolphins, and horseshoe crabs. With plenty of walking trails, you can escape to nature for a pleasant day.
St. Martin’s Island
Also called Narikel Jinjira, this coral island is one of the most popular points of interest in the country. The island is small, but features palm tree lined beaches and a preserved marine life for excellent diving and snorkeling. With clear water, tourists are eager to get their toes into the Bay of Bengal and relax in paradise.
In Jaflong, the Mari River is famous as people flock to its water to collect the stones that come down from the Himalayan Mountains. The stones are collected in the winter or dry season, but even in the monsoon season the area is attractive to tourists who wish to see the waterfalls flow from the green mountains.
With a higher altitude, the Sajek Valley is the place to go if you want to get above the clouds. Here in the hills and valleys, the clouds often fill the space, which gives for a mystical and mysterious feel. With a vast scenic beauty, it is also a photographer’s dream.
Get Out and Go
While Bangladesh is not the most visited Southeast Asian country, it still should not be forgotten. For those who take a trip to this nation, they are rewarded with experiencing a rare and exotic Asian beauty. With endless rivers, jungles, and mountains, you can spend your days exploring in lush tropics and you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger.