You might have read my two articles about traveling in Bangladesh already and figured out I had a great time in country number 87. These two articles already gave some information about my journey, but in this blog I will tell you all the ins and outs about my trip to Bangladesh.
I can understand that some people are only interested in blogs like these in where I tell you what happened, where I went, with whom and what went wrong. But my website is also about giving information for other travelers who might be planning a trip to Bangladesh so I also like to write informative blogs. Besides that I have to create articles that rank on Google so that my blog gets the attention it deserves! Right? ;)
Articles like these, in where I tell my story, will never rank in a search engine, but I am more than happy to write these stories for people like you who keep on returning to my blog and read all my adventures. I am more than happy with you, seriously thank you for following my adventures! If you feel like, please leave a comment at the end of this blog, would love to hear from you.
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My 45-hour journey to Dhaka
I present myself as one of the most uncomplicated travel bloggers in the industry. I have been traveling the world on a budget for many years and still feel fortunate that now people pay me to explore the world. I am normally the last one who complains. I told my sponsors in Bangladesh I could fly from either Dusseldorf, Brussels, Amsterdam or even Frankfurt as all these airports are within 4 hours and will cost me only around $30 to get there. Normally with a sponsored trip the client will always provide me an itinerary, which I have to confirm before they book it. Not this time!
The moment I see a sponsor books my flight I know for sure a trip is happening and it will always make me smile. But this time I was kind of in disbelieve. My trip was starting from Paris? At 10.00 in the morning? Oh no, Paris is far! This itinerary made me take a 9-hour bus ride to Paris Airport and wait there another 9 hours for departure. Then I had a 10-hour layover at Mumbai Airport (where they have 45 minutes free WiFi!) and finally after 43 hours I would land in Dhaka. It took me 2 hours to get my visa and to get to the place I was staying. Finally after 45 hours I saw a bed! I was broken.
First 36 hours in Dhaka – traveling is not always fun!
I made it to the house of my host in the afternoon and after 45 hours of traveling all I wanted was to sleep. I basically slept about 16 hours straight and woke up hungry in a dark room without windows in a deserted house. I could hear the crazy traffic outside and could taste the smog of Dhaka in my room. I started coughing straight away. I was hungry. There was no hot water. How do I get food? Where is my host? Is it safe out here on the streets? I had no local currency. Do I have a key to come back inside the house? I felt lost and hopeless, but at the same time a bit pathetic. This was country number 87, you are on the road for more than 6 years, man up Tom, I was telling myself! I seriously had one of those moments that traveling was not cool anymore! I fell back asleep again… 2 hours later I woke up, nothing changed, I felt even worse!
And then there she was: Sarah Richards. One of my best travel blogger friends who was also invited to take this adventure. She arrived at our host looked at me and said: you look terrible Tom! Come on let’s find a nice place to stay by ourselves. Let me get you out of your misery and make you smile again and 5 minutes later I walked around with our suitcases on the streets in Dhaka. A little bit lost, but the adventure had begun. Everything in Bangladesh is a challenge especially the first steps. WE finally ended up in Executive Inn, a place I would definitely recommend staying at in Dhaka.
Charity party The Flag Girl
Our trip to Bangladesh was organized by Priota, also known as The Flag Girl. She is the ambassador for Bangladesh Tourism and is doing an amazing job to promote tourism in her country while at the same she is also standing up for women rights in a male dominated country. On the day of the Shakrain Festival she hosted a party in her late grandma’s house, who was the first female journalist of Bangladesh. This night she honored some very brave Bangladeshi women who had struggled in the past for various reasons and Priota and her project offered them a kick-start into a bright future by giving them the opportunity to study in college. A very generous project and if you are ever looking to donate towards a female charity in Bangladesh I surely can recommend The Flag Girl.
The next day after slowly waking up and still being a bit jet legged Sarah and I decided to just wing it and explore Dhaka without a plan. Or actually we had the crazy idea to catch a ride on top of a train. Something unimaginable in our modern world, but here in Bangladesh it is daily practice. We walked out of our hotel and tried to get a tricycle. There were about a 20 of these things lined up and all of them wanted to bring us, but none of them had a clue where we wanted to go.
I showed them pictures on Google Maps, the exact location and even the street name in their language. It was a funny conversation but we did not manage to make clear that we wanted to go to the train station and we decided to walk around. The area where we stayed was called Gulshan and is the most developed area and also the place where you will find upscale hotels like Westin and Le Meridien Dhaka and all the embassies.
We made it to the train track and walked up and down on it to see if we could spot a train or could find out where there was a station. We ran into so many friendly people but no one could really tell us where to catch a train. At least we got a slice of local life in Dhaka although we had no clue if the area we were roaming around in was safe. The fact that it actually never really crossed my mind actually says enough. I had my Canon DSLR, my GoPro and my iPhone with me and felt completely safe. Locals would stop and stare and even come up to us when they saw we were just walking around on the train track. Not because they wanted something from us but simply because very few tourists make it to Dhaka and probably not many of them trying to get lost on the train track in the outskirts of the city. But that is me, I like to get lost!
Meeting locals in Dhaka
While walking around with Sarah everyone who spoke a word English would come up to us and ask: ‘which country?’ Second question: ‘Selfie?’. It never got tired, these people were sincerely proud to have their picture take with a western tourist and they all looked so sincerely happy so why not. ‘Is this your wife sir?’, they would ask me pointing to Sarah. To avoid a ton of other questions I would say: ‘yes, we are happily married’, while smiling at Sarah! LOL. Getting lost in Dhaka was great fun and it made us realize that this trip to Bangladesh was going to be one big adventure!
Suddenly a train was coming towards us, we could hear it in the distance, making a hell of noise. Probably to warn everyone hanging out on the train track. When it passed by I saw exactly what I was hoping for. On top of the locomotive there was a young guy standing, showing of his surfing skills when the train passed with a decent speed and a lot of noise. Wow this was insane I thought, I want the same! Locals told me I was crazy, this was very dangerous. Perfect! That is exactly what I was looking for on my trip to Bangladesh: authentic experiences!
We tried to find a train station, but after a while we decided to hop in an Uber to get us to the Pink Palace, one of the tourist attractions in Dhaka. We got off close to it and paid hour driver $3 for an hour Uber ride. It was only 13 kilometer but this is Dhaka. Probably the craziest traffic I have ever experienced. Sarah and I wandered around trying to get close to the Pink Palace. Unknowingly we ended up in Old Dhaka and wow what an incredible adventure was that. I had never seen so many people on the streets.
I didn’t know where to look, there was so much going on. Look there, oh wow did you see that, be careful, which country, honking, tricycles hitting me, selfie?. Oh my god where did I end up? This place was madness! A million people, narrow streets, one shop after the other, too many tricylces, a constant stream of sounds, cars, street vendors, yelling people, smiling faces, friendly people, adults, staring eyes and even kids running around. My brain simply couldn’t take it all in, there were too many impressions.
How many times Sarah and I looked at each other with open mouth or were laughing out loud about something we almost could not believe we just witnessed. Old Dhaka is the craziest places I have ever been, I can hardly describe it. This is something you will need to experience yourself. It is not listed if you look for the best tourist attractions in Dhaka, but this is by far the coolest experience you can get on your trip to Bangladesh.
If you have been to Old Delhi, the capital of India you kind of know what I mean, but then Old Dhaka is even more hectic! I loved the madness!
We stopped and stared a hundred times, took time for friendly locals who were sincerely interested in why we were traveling to Bangladesh, had tons of selfies taken, tried some street food (yes brave decision), recorded a shit ton of GoPro footage and got stuck in traffic. Dhaka will be the remembered as the first place in the world where I got stuck in traffic as a pedestrian. I literally could not move in any direction. The traffic in Dhaka is so unique I think it should be listed as a tourist attraction in Bangladesh. :)
Boat trip Dhaka and the Pink Palace
To get away from the chaos we took a little boat trip on the river before we finally ended up at the Pink Palace. Officially it just closed, but the friendly guards opened the gates for us and let us in. I thought they would charge us a crazy price now or we had to bribe him, but nothing at all like that. Bangladeshis are lovely people and treat tourists like Gods.
Scams will probably exist but I did not come across a single person that tried to rip me off. Something that happens on a daily basis in the big neighbor India. Click on the link to read all about Bangladesh travel tips.
As soon as we walked into the Pink Palace all the Bengali tourists turned their attention towards us instead of the Palace and after we had our own pictures taken we had to join a bunch of family portraits. It was getting dark and it was time to head back, but in these narrow streets it was unable to find a car so we had to walk back to the main road to catch an Uber. It turned out to be another amazing adventure. Walking around through the dark narrow alleys of Old Dhaka is probably not what you will read in a Bangladesh travel guide. They will probably tell you it is unsafe, you will get robbed or anything like that! WRONG! Shops were closing, it got a little less crowded, mosques were calling for prayer, the small streets turned into mysterious alleys, but nothing close to frightening. In fact it was really cool to see how these streets looked at night and see the locals wondering what are those tourist still doing here, of course with a smile on their face.
Traffic in Dhaka
Finding our Uber driver was another story. While crossing the streets in Old Dhaka I got stuck in the middle and I was gently pushed forward by a bus. It seems something unimaginable but I am serious. This massive bus was just pushing me forward and I had to jump over some wheels of some tricycles. Sarah was following me and all she could say was: this is crazy! I could not stop laughing. Where is our Uber? The next 15 minutes we were just crossing streets, gasping for fresh air in the extreme smog of Dhaka, ordering 6 different Ubers at the same time until someone randomly came running at us. He grabbed my arm and started pointing at a car. Whatever mate we take your taxi, I thought, we need to get out of here. As soon as we got into his car I understood what he was saying: he was our Uber driver, he found us! ;)
The ride back to Gulshan from Old Dhaka was only 13 kilometers but in the end took us 1,5 hour. Sarah and I could not be bothered because after 10 minutes in the taxi we fell asleep. Our brain was dead after 4 million impressions in just 10 hours in this crazy but amazing chaos called Old Dhaka.
Trip to Sylhet
As part of our Bangladesh travel experience we got to enjoy one of the most peaceful regions in Bangladesh. Sylhet is also called the Switzerland of Bangladesh. We heard about it afterwards, but as we walked out of the airport we were literally enjoying the fresh air. The biggest industry in Bangladesh is garments, but in fact more than 50% of the Bengali people are famers. And here in the peaceful flatlands of Sylhet, life in the countryside is still authentic.
No tourists here either in this part of Bangladesh although there are a bunch of really cool things to do in Sylhet: a boat trip through the mangrove forest, the weekly local market, visit local tribes and villages and enjoy the beautiful tea gardens. For a full list of all the tourist attractions in Sylhet click on the link.
Sarah and I stayed in the Wilderness Resort a great place on a stone throw away from the tea gardens and the river on the border with India.
The general manager of this lovely place to stay in northeast Sylhet was the most amazing Thai lady. She arranged all the activities for 4 days and set up a meeting with the Queen of Khasia. For this special occasion we were invited to the queens house and I felt honored to meet this amazing lady. I heard she is still single! LOL :) For more info about traveling to Sylhet, click on the link above to read the full article.
Hitching a ride on top of a train in Dhaka
Before my trip to Bangladesh came to an end I had a couple days left in Dhaka and I had only one goal: to catch a ride on top of a train. Trains in Bangladesh are not the standard trains like you have ever seen. Imagine a full train and then add double that many people to it and you probably come close to what a train in Dhaka looks like. As soon as the train arrives people will jump on it, hang out of doors, climb up to the roof, find a spot in and between the coaches or anywhere on the train we they can hold on to something.
I took an Uber to the Dhaka Airport train station and wanted to catch a train south into Old Dhaka to Kamalapur station. There were thousands of people waiting on the platform and in the distance there was a train coming. I first filmed this incredible phenomenon how people would just literally invade the train when it arrived. Some locals told me people sit on the roof so they avoid paying for a ticket, but even the ones who sit inside no need to worry for a ticket check. There is zero space left! Claustrophobic people stay away!
Although the train was heading in the wrong direction I could not withstand the friendly waving youngsters on the roof. I made clear that I wanted to climb up. They couldn’t believe I wanted this and started cheering and giggling but at the same time they formed a human chain of hands all helping me to climb up to the top. My heart was racing and damn. Was this a wise decision? It only crossed my mind for a second and then adrenaline took over. Before I realized we were on our way and I was standing on top of moving train. Although I took snapchat videos, GoPro footage, normal videos and took photos, I also sincerely enjoyed. This was crazy, this is what I wanted ever since 2009 when I saw people doing this in Cambodia. This trip to Bangladesh made me cross off another bucketlist item and is actually something I should add to my list with 30 things I only experienced because I have been traveling the world.
In my blog with all my Bangladesh travel tips I constantly speak about the amazing travel experience, the super friendly people and the off the beaten path destination this country is. I am not sure if you are going to get your amazing Instagram pictures taken in this country though. If you are looking for beautiful landscapes, amazing hotels, and a place to have a nice holiday I advice you to look elsewhere because Bangladesh is not going to give you any of this. Bangladesh is a place for travelers looking for an authentic experience. Bangladesh is a place to go off the beaten path and where exploring is more important than getting a cool picture.
If you are an adventurer please travel to Bangladesh and I am sure you won’t be disappointed!
Thank you for keeping up with my adventures and please leave me a comment or if you like to share it anywhere on social media, please do so.