Is it worth backpacking in Bangladesh?

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.

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Landing in Dhaka on a smoggy afternoon

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.

Bangladeshi Taka
Bangladeshi Taka

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!).

A common sight!
A common sight!
You might get a lot of attention of you are a foreigner - solo travellers and females BEWARE!
You might get a lot of attention of you are a foreigner – solo travellers and females BEWARE!

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It’s a [concrete] jungle out there!
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.

One of the more, ahem, modern hostels in Bangladesh
One of the more, ahem, modern hostels in Bangladesh
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In any Bangladeshi city, you will find something like this…

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?

Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans swampland
Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans swampland

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.

sundarbans3

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.

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Cox’s Bazaar
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A fisherman’s catch for the day in Chittagong

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.

Maybe learn some Bengali during your trip?
Maybe learn some Bengali during your trip?
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Will it be fish or chicken for diner tonight?

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.

Make sure you try to ply some cricket with the locals
Make sure you try to play some cricket with the locals
The slums are home to playful kids
The slums are home to playful kids

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!

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10 thoughts on “Is it worth backpacking in Bangladesh?

  1. I’m sorry. I understand your frustration and it’s natural. Mostly for lack of information and as a foreigner people took advantage when you were ‘in’. I promise you it’s really cheap when you have proper information. I discovered 4 different trips starting from Dhaka 7 dollars each (Sightseeing, transportation, 2 meals and light shopping included). You can enjoy both natural attractions, boat trips, old historic ruins on each of those trips. 4 of those places are a little away from Dhaka and peaceful. As a student of tourism we are trying to change the experience that you had. With proper backpacking tour plans (we are currently working on that) I hope 10 years from now backpackers will consider Bangladesh as their heaven. Wish me luck 🙂
    And thank you for visiting my country.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey Charbel,
        Great. I suggest you not to spend all the time at Dhaka city center. It’s crowdy and dusty. If you have an agent tell them to take you a little further away from the city (1 hour away from the city) Manikganj, Narayanganj these places can do. There you will get traditional food, rickshaw trip, boat ride, visit some historical places and of course taste of rural Bengladesh (most important) at a very low price.
        Things are very cheap for locals, but when people see foreigners they try to charge them high. So make sure you are not paying too much.

        https://heliumchewinggum.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/7-dollars-for-salvation-4/

        check this link and you will find out a day trip can cost you only 7 dollars (transportation, 2 meals, entertainment and light shopping included!!!) if you are backpacking and know necessary information.

        April 14 is Pahela Baishakh; first day of Bengali new year. Don’t miss it. There will be colorful programs from dawn to dusk with people wearing traditional dress (red and white combo) and hanging out with friends. Don’t mind the rush…celebration will be huge.
        Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. If you don’t mind me asking, what are the 4 trips starting from 7 dollars? I’m starting to plan a trip to Bangledesh, but I’m not sure how much time to spend there, and what sort of budget I should prepare for.

      I know this reply is over a year later, but it seemed interesting!

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  2. Hello! I’m traveling to Bangladesh in mid-June and was wondering if I could get some suggestions as well. I plan to cross over from Bangladesh to India (probably to Kolkata). Also I will be traveling alone as a female, do you think safety needs to be a big concern or will I probably be fine as long as I travel smart?

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    1. Hi there Isabella! Thanks for reading! 🙂 It sounds like an amazing trip! Standard safety precautions should suffice, but always be wary, especially after sunset. My advice is don’t go out alone after dark. But that’s just a general precaution for solo females, nothing specific about Bangladesh. I would also try to learn a few words of Bengali as the locals will really respect you more if you can at least try to speak a few words of their own language. 😀 Have great fun over there, and let me know how your journey from Bangla to INDIA was!

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  3. Hi there!! Thanks for such a wonderful review. Its true that my country is a bit “backpacker unfriendly” but things are changing really fast. U should try the “Milonchori Resort” in Bandarban…. and I would recommend you to visit the Hill Tract belt (Rangamati and Bandarban). U can just Google Bandarban Bangladesh. Oh yes, one other thing, also try to contact Guide Tours Bangladesh, they will lend you a hand free of cost.

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    1. Hi Jonny! The rules have indeed changed since my visit – now UK citizens can get 30 days VISA free stay in main Bangladeshi cities. This is to encourage tourism, and I think it’s a great improvement from when I had to apply for my VISA in London!

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