Bangladesh is not your normal backpacker destination. I found the country to be very expensive, but it does have that other worldly charm that few other countries in Asia possess.
I do not blog much about my short stay in Dhaka because quite frankly I didn’t do enough to warrant writing about it, but I did some good people, and most importantly of all, experienced another different country and culture to add to my long list. As you can imagine, the tourist attraction in Dhaka are extremely limited, and almost certainly nobody would bother coming to Bangladesh if backpacking in Dhaka was the sole intention. However, Bangladesh has a lot of other interesting places aside from its capital and [probable] point of entry, Dhaka.
But first thing first: most nations require a visa to enter Bangladesh, and it certainly isn’t cheap. For me, I paid £40 for my single-entry visa, which was obtained before I left the UK, as Visa-on-Arrival for UK citizens was not available when I arrived (EDIT: as of early 2015, UK citizens can obtain Visa-on-Arrival!).
Whatever your nationality, you need to consider that prices in Bangladesh are not cheap, by the kind of standards you are probably used to in this part of the world, or in south east Asia. Although most Bangladeshis are nice, curious people, they do seem to extort as much money out of us poor backpackers as possible.
Hotels are very expensive all over the country, and although hostels do exist, be warned that there are no international standard hostels here. Transport can be cheap on the buses, but if you take any private transport (i.e. boats upriver) then be prepared to be fleeced!
Some of the main places for a backpacking expedition in Bangladesh would have to be the Sundarbans National Park (which can also be entered from near Kolkata in India), and Cox’s Bazar, which just so happens to have the world’s longest unbroken stretch of beach, if topping up your tan is important to you! But can these places realistically be visited on a backpacker’s budget?
The Sundarbans National Park in the southern tips of Bangladesh is one of the best places to see the Royal Bengal Tigers in the wild, though be warned: these tigers are known man-eaters. As well as the tigers, you can also spot monitor lizards, elephants, leopards, crocodiles, plus many species of bird. However, most people come here for the chance to spot the tigers, and can do so from the east Indian city of Kolkata, as well as the flight south from Dhaka.
The Bangladeshi parts of the Sundarbans can be reached from Kolkata by taking the train to the city of Canning, from where bus or van services can take you into the park itself. From Dhaka, I would recommend travelling in an overnight air-conditioned train to Khulna, whereby the next day a boat trip upriver to Kotka will be necessary, at which point the Sundarbans can be reached for around 200 TK (negotiate a good price for this boat trip if it is not already included in your tour package!) and the entrance fee to the Sundarbans Park itself will be around 750 TK, as of July, 2014.
Cox’s Bazar is a 120km unbroken coastline alongside the fabled Bay of Bengal. It is probably the main tourist attraction in Bangladesh, attracting not only international visitors, but also proving very popular with local Bangladeshis and the vast nearby swathes of Indians and Pakistanis. Situated in the Chittagong division of western Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar is much easier to get to than the Sundarbans, and as such a much better prospect for any backpackers wanting to come to the country for something new.
From Dhaka, you can fly for around 90 minutes to Cox’s Bazar, which has its own airport, and the journey by bus would take 12 hours, but much, much cheaper if you are on a backpacking budget! The bus trip from Chittagong is probably a 4 hour ride, depending on the traffic.
All in all, there are some amazing places to see in Bangladesh, but I feel it needs to improve its tourism infrastructure all across the country. Overcharging foreigners is a malpractice used in India and Sri Lanka, so we cannot blame Bangladesh for that all on its own, yet reducing the price of the visas is surely a logical step? Whatever happens, there is much beauty to be seen in the country, yet I think that with regret it may a long while before my fellow backpackers book their flights to Dhaka!