Bangladesh For A Vacation? You Must Be Crazy!
"Huh! Bangladesh? What's there to do there?" Crazy ah?
Every single person (10/10 i'm not kidding) had this response when I announced Bangladesh would be my next vacation destination; which actually isn't surprising considering that (most) Singaporeans subscribe to the "herd mentality", flocking like sheep only to popular tourist spots. India, perhaps some of the more advernturous Singaporeans might travel to for vacation, but Bangladesh? (most) Singaporeans probably think of Bangladesh as a country that exports construction workers who grope young women at countdown parties.
The river is a major livelyhood of many Bangladeshi people.
Nothing could be further away from the truth.
For the sake of our readers who aren't opposed to finding out more about Bangladesh, i'm going to break up this post into the following sections:
- What There Is To Do/See
- How We Got Around
- Food! (it's more than just curry)
- The Experience
What There Is To Do/See
In all honesty, Bangladesh isn't really a "sightseeing" kind of travel destination. What Bangladesh is, is one of the most facinating travel experiences (I don't know if "sheepy" Singaporeans can relate to that) that's changed the way i'll ever view another holiday again.
The 100 year old Rocket Steamer is without a doubt, the most amazing cruise experience i've ever been on. EVERYONE should experience it. The Rocket is more than just an experience; it's an ADVENTURE.
In fact, I was so taken with it that I dedicated an ENTIRE POST just on the Rocket Steamer! (If you're only planning to read one thing, THIS has got to be it)
The view of the sunrise from "The Rocket"
Picture of our 1st Class Cabin from Nijhoom.com as it's better than the one I have. They should thank me for the free publicity though
The Rocket Steamer at the dock
As an extention to the river experience via the Rocket Steamer, you may choose to embark on an adventure in the Sundarbans to spot the Bengal Tiger. An African safari is the in thing among Singaporeans nowadays isn't it? (oops. Iceland is the Sheepiest trend this days. My bad) Why not a Tiger spotting adventure then?
Image credit: weeklysciencequiz.blogspot.com. Tiger spotting in the Sundarbans
For lovers of architecture & museums, Ahsan Manzil, also known as the Pink Palace, in Old Dhaka, is where you want to be. The gardens of the palace are a getaway for locals who just want to chill and have picnics away from the hustle and bustle of work.
In the gardens with the "Pink Palace" in the background
You can see the locals having their picnics or simply taking a nap in the gardens to pass the day away.
Old Dhaka (where the Pink Palace is) also offers a glimpse into the everyday life of a typical Bangladeshi. In Singapore, you'd never catch me spending an hour wandering around the port or wet market. Here, I was fascinated.
Just making my way through the crowded port made me feel I was in an old school movie scene. (I'm sure you've come a cross a similar scene) Many curious locals even stopped what they were doing just to follow us around and see what these "foreigners" were up to.
The river is a livelyhood for many a Bangladeshi. Can you spot the Rocket Steamer in the above picture?
Surprisingly, there is NO smell of fish and blood in their markets. For the first time, I actually felt a market was interesting!
Now, one thing I particularly enjoy doing in every city I travel to is having a coffee/beer at a roof top terrance while enjoying a panoramic view. Something like the "One Altitude" or "Kudeta" we have in Singapore.
Roof top view of bar & restaurant at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Image credit: randomwander.com
Roof top view of bar & restaurant in Dhaka.
Enjoying the view of Dhaka from above while enjoying a freshly squeezed iced orange juice for 2 SGD! (With Jamie, my travel buddy for our Bangladesh/India adventure)
While in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, THIS (above) was the closest we got to a "rooftop dining" experience. Before you dismiss this as "chey, what's the big deal about this?", i'll have you know discovering this restaurant was among the toughest challenges of our stay in Bangladesh. This was our bit of serenity; the only one of it's kind, away from the incessant honking and curious onlookers pestering us for a trishaw ride.
How We Got Around
Jamie & I hunting for the "right" bus at the main station
Nothing could have prepared us for roads and transport in Bangladesh. If you think the traffic and driving styles in Ho Chi Min, Bangkok or even Manila are bad, wait till you see Dhaka. It's a maze of roads with the craziest drivers we'd ever seen. Everyone seems to be competing for the title of the "king of accidents".
Enter the CNG. Bangladesh's answer to Thailands tuk tuk; albeit a gas powered metal prison on wheels. One of the drivers in particular, had never heard of brakes and was oblivious to horns. His answer to slow moving traffic was speeding up and try to "scare" of other drivers, resulting in loads of hard braking, swear words (at least I think it was) from other road users, and the occasional collision in to someone elses vehicle.
If I were absolutely honest, we were glad to be in our metal prison on various occasions. It protected us from the occasional collisions and persistant children asking for money everytime the CNG came to a halt. Plus, it protected our bags from being stolen; and safeguards the driver from robbers and fare cheats, like those we have in Singapore. (for international readers, some Singaporeans have the tendency to run off to avoid paying for the taxi fare)
To get across short distances (less than 20mins) we shared a trishaw, the cheapest "mechanized transport" available. At times, I felt sorry for the huffing and puffing trishaw driver, trying to pedal two heavy guys all over the city for a pittance.
The public buses look like our old SBS buses back in the 90s. They seem to be made of really thin metal though. EVERY SINGLE bus was covered in dents and evidence of frequent collisions. Thankfully nothing too serious happened with us on board.
Taking the public bus in Bangladesh is pretty similar that of India or even the Philipines. Signboards upfront show the bus's final destination. Once you've confirmed it's the bus you want, just grab a seat and wait for the "ticket guy" to come collect the fare.
The view of the port from our cabin in the Rocket Steamer. T
Unlike in India, trains aren't a major means of transport among the locals. Ferries are the preferered choice for most locals (ours was the Rocket Steamer) given that over 230 rivers and waterways connect the major cities in Bangladesh. If a trademark of Europe is traveling by night train, in Bangladesh, it's the overnight ferry.
The Sadarghat Port, we had to "hunt" for our ferry here.
Being at the port was like a scene out of a "B" movie. Locals jostling past us, street vendors trying to push food and titbits onto "would be" passengers on the next ferry, "salesmen" from the various ferry companies shouting (to anyone who would listen) out, trying to get more "customers" to board their ferry. It was a fasinating experience. I hadn't felt struck by such a "wave of culture" since my trip to Morocco. While I enjoy a European holiday as much as the next Singaporean guy, Europe just doesn't provide as overwhelming a cultural experience as either Morocco or Bangladesh does.
Food! (it's more than just curry)
Having a Chicken Bryani on my first night in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Everyone in the restaurant were staring and talking about us.
Most Singaporeans probably can't tell the difference between a Bangla and an Indian. (yes, that's how ignorant Singaporeans can be) To Singaporeans (most), the choice of food for a darker skinned person is presumed to be curry. Now, while I don't dispute the fact that Bangla cuisine involves curry, it's more than just that.
All over Bangladesh, (in most cities anyway) you'll come across lots of stalls selling street food like the in the picture above. For the good part of a minute, I almost though I was in Bangkok. The good thing about having lots of stalls; I got to choose from the stall with the least flies swarming around it.
Flies aside, Bangla street food was absolutely amazing. And yes, they didn't involve curry. In fact, my favourite was a particular flaky pastry; many layers of dough flakes encrusted with hardened sugar. (the pile of curry puff like stuff in the above picture) Think something along the lines of a Delifrance pastry with a taste of Krispy Kremes Original Sugar Glazed Donut with every bite. Delicious.
They call this desert "Sweet Meat" No idea why; it certainly isn't meat
Because of the number of flies swarming around these tubs (above), I wasn't too keen on trying "Bangladesh's most popular desert", also known as "Sweet Meat". It certainly isn't meat of any kind. I'm not a chef, but this tasted like balls of "Couscous" soaked in condensed milk. It was pretty good to be honest; but i'd prefer it warm and without flies on the side if I had my way.
Fish!. The most popular stall in the wet markets.
Look at the size of this! (Jamie's hand) I've never seen anything like this in our markets!
Being a "river country", it's no surprise that FISH, rather than chicken or pork, make up the staple food of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, I suffered a little on this count, mainly because i've never been a fan of freshwater fish and it's millions of bones. Codfish, without bones, is more my kind of thing. But anyway, "curry-fish" is a typical Bangla dish.
If you thought those fruits behind us were mini oranges, you're dead wrong. They are Bangladesh's answer to Taiwan's Betal Nuts! It tastes pretty much the same; the only difference is in Taiwan, you get them served to you buy sexy women in lingerie. Here? This chap and his son standing behind us in the picture.
It's pretty much "Teh Halia" (ginger tea). Supposedly the best one in the city of Barisal
A "REAL" restaurant in Bangladesh. I don't know whats with the blue lighting though. I was getting a headache.
A typical "Eatery" in Bangladesh. This is NOT a restaurant. Think of this as a prata house and the above picture like "Ding Tai Fung". (an average chinese restaurant in Singapore)
2 Parathas, 2 Eggs, 2 Potato balls, and 2 Teh Tarik (milk tea) for SGD 0.8c each! Is that cheap or what!?
The reciept we were given for the meal above. 100 Bangladeshi Taka in total. Thats the equivalent of 1.60 SGD or 1.30 USD
So, i'm rushing through the food posts. You'll have to read the small captions under each photo instead. This post is turning out to be longer than I planned it to be.
Would I recommend Bangladesh to a friend?
Yes! Yes! Absolutely Yes!
In fact, I would rank my trip to Bangladesh as one of the most awesome travel experiences i've had (where we've been). Now, I wouldn't recommend it to "Sheepy Singaporeans" who just want bragging rights by taking a photo at the trendiest European destinations (It used to be Istanbul. Today sheep travel to Iceland). For someone who's looking for a truely enriching "travel experience" though, you really don't want to miss this place. The last time I felt so "enriched" while traveling was in Morocco.
Wander about the streets and port of Old Dhaka. Ride a CNG through the crazy Bangladesh traffic. Laze along one of the world's longest unbroken beaches at the Cox Bazaar. Discover the jungles of the Sundarbans and come face to face with the Royal Bengal Tiger. MOST of all, embark upon the river adventure of a lifetime. You don't have to go all the way to South America to feel like Indiana Jones.
Visit Bangladesh. The Asian Destination of TRUE Wanderlust. (Not Suitable For Sheep)
For flight prices & Bangladesh Visa information, please refer to "getting there" in our previous post: "Now THIS" Is What An Amazing Cruise Experience Should Be Like.