Having been born and raised in a Bengali middle-class family, the name Bangladesh evoked a profound sense of connection within me. It carried with it the untold stories of my grandmother’s childhood and whispered secrets confined to a crumbled piece of paper. Once intertwined with our own land, the political boundaries of yesteryears reshaped the map, yet Bangladesh remains a treasure trove of cultural opulence and natural wonders.
Interestingly, when I first started venturing out on my solo expeditions, Bangladesh was not initially on my travel bucket list. However, destiny had other plans in store when a dear friend of mine was posted in Dhaka. His insistence that I visit this captivating country compelled me to set aside any preconceived notions and I finally made up my mind to embark on an extraordinary journey. Looking back, I can confidently say that I am eternally grateful for making that decision!
As aptly described by Lonely Planet, Bangladesh is “a country braided with rivers, with a rich culture waiting to be explored by pioneering travelers.”
But let’s be honest and accept that Bangladesh mostly remains shrouded in myths and misconceptions when it comes to travel. In this article, I’d like to bust some common myths and tell you what it’s really like to travel across Bangladesh.
Myth 1: Bangladesh is unsafe for tourists.
Reality: One of the most prevalent myths surrounding Bangladesh is the perception that it may not be safe or welcoming for travelers, especially solo female adventurers. However, I shall be honest in accepting that my experience shattered all these misconceptions. Throughout my journey, I was met with extraordinary warmth, kindness, and hospitality from the Bangladeshi people. The locals went out of their way to make me feel safe, comfortable and welcomed.
I was always greeted with a smile, (and called out as ‘apu‘, meaning ‘sister’). Also, I guess being able to speak in Bangla served as an added advantage. To say the least, I’ve made some amazing friends who cared to take me out for ‘dawaat’ – as they say, and made sure that I get to experience the best that their country has to offer. From the bustling city of Dhaka to the tranquil village of Ratargul, the friendliness, and warmth of the people surpassed my expectations.
Myth 2: Bangladesh lacks tourist attractions.
Reality: On the contrary, Bangladesh boasts a wealth of cultural and natural treasures that will captivate any traveler. From ancient archaeological sites like the UNESCO-listed ruins of Paharpur and the historic Mosque City of Bagerhat to vibrant cities like Dhaka and Chittagong, the country offers a plethora of unique attractions. Nature enthusiasts can explore the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, or enjoy the serene beauty of Cox’s Bazaar, the longest natural sandy beach in the world. And if you’re looking for some hidden gems, then hop off to Lala Khal, near Sylhet, where the pristine turquoise waters will mesmerize you, or set out to explore the swamps of Ratargul on a boat. Trust me, you won’t return empty-handed!
Myth 3: Transportation in Bangladesh is challenging.
Reality: While traffic congestion is a major issue in Dhaka (and I’ll be honest, cars just don’t move here!) – transportation options are plentiful in Bangladesh otherwise. Buses, trains, and domestic flights connect major cities and towns, making travel relatively convenient. Tuk-tuks, cycle rickshaws, and boat rides are popular modes of transport within cities. Once you are out of the city chaos, the country roads will embrace you with freshness and lush greenery. However, it’s important to plan for potential delays and be flexible with schedules.
Myth 4: Language barriers make communication difficult.
Reality: I shall not be biased, at all! Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh, but English is widely spoken and understood, especially among the younger population, and if you’re in Dhaka or Chittagong, you’ll mostly find yourself in a cosmopolitan setting. Most of the local folks, like rickshaw pullers or auto drivers, are eager to engage with visitors and will make an effort to communicate using gestures and simple English phrases. People, here, also understand Hindi – though you won’t find many people talking in Hindi.
Myth 5: The food in Bangladesh is limited and spicy.
Reality: This is for all the foodies out there! I’ve got no intention to tempt you, but Bangladeshi cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors and influences. From mouthwatering biryanis and delectable curries to street food delights like pani puri and jhalmuri, the country offers a wide variety of dishes to suit everyone. Dig into a plateful of bhortas with rice, and make sure that you try their kacchi biriyani during your trip! While some dishes can be spicy, there are plenty of milder options available. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor the famous Bangladeshi sweets, such as kheer-kodom, roshomalai, and mishti doi.
Myth 6: Bangladesh lacks accommodation options.
Reality: Accommodation choices in Bangladesh range from budget guesthouses to luxury hotels and boutique resorts, ensuring there is something to suit every traveler’s preferences and budget. Major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong offer a wide selection of hotels (including major chains like Radisson, Hyatt, and Westin), while smaller towns and tourist destinations have guesthouses and resorts. Places like Sylhet, Srimangal, Rajshahi, and Cox’s Bazaar also have Airbnb options, where you can spend a night at a local’s abode. It’s advisable to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
In case you’re still wondering if you should travel to Bangladesh, let me give you some facts that might help in your decision-making:
1. Amidst the awe-inspiring landscapes and incredible people, be prepared to witness both the beauty and the struggle. Poverty exists, and pollution and dirt are part of the reality. If you’re up for embracing the contrast, dressing conservatively, squeezing into crowded transportation, and experiencing the true essence of a place, then Bangladesh will leave you awestruck.
2. While a lot of people call it a “more raw version of India,” that description surely falls short of capturing the vibrant tapestry of culture and the delightful surprises that await intrepid travelers in this small yet bustling country.
3. If you’re looking to explore something new – beyond the crowded beaches of Thailand and the glamour of Singapore, then the raw rugged countryside of Bangladesh will embrace you with open arms. Hop on a boat and float around the swamps of Ratargul, go for stargazing amidst the quaint tea estates of Srimangal, meet the weavers of Tangail, and spend a night, soaking in the silence of Sundarbans.
Set out for authenticity, immerse yourself in the richness of its culture, and be prepared for an unforgettable adventure. Bangladesh is eager to reveal its wonders to those who are open to the experience.
Also read: A Love Letter to Dhaka, Bangladesh
[If you’ve been to Bangladesh, do share your experience below. And in case you’re planning to explore this neighbor of ours – do reach out to me. I’d be happy to help you plan your trip.]