Bangladesh is still a relatively undiscovered jewel for adventurous tourists with misunderstandings about what delights it actually holds or even where it geographically is. In all honesty, it’s a complicated experience but worth it in so many ways. Bangladesh not only has the nicest welcoming people, a seriously good cup of tea, delectable mouthwatering curries, endless rivers and riveting rickshaws but the largest mangrove forest and the longest continual natural beach in the world! Now that’s pretty damn awesome! Toss away media misconceptions and take the leap into the Bangladeshi world! Getting around Bangladesh is going to take time due to the lack of infrastructure so soak up this four part one month itinerary and see what takes your fancy! First up: Week One – South West Bangladesh.
There are many ways to get into Bangladesh and all are relatively easy! Yes, you can fly in but this is by far the most expensive way. If India tickles your fancy, I recommend travelling overland to Bangladesh from Kolkata specifically. I really enjoyed exploring this part of India and there are plenty of things to do, including quite unique things! I bought a bus ticket for 280 rupees = £2.80 / $4. Buses leave early, with breakfast included, to beat the immigration queues. Hop on the earliest at 5.30am and you’ll get taken to the Indian border of Petrapol. Don’t want to start from India? For all entry and exit options, I recommend the Bangladesh Lonely Planet Guide. They’ll fill you in.
Petrapol is what you would expect from a border town. Scams are rife and no-one really wants to be there. Your bus company will usher you into a pop-up shop, saying you have to change all your American dollars and Indian rupees into Bangladeshi Taka as you can’t take them into the country. It’s a lie. Just keep walking straight towards the immigration office and if you do need to change money, you’ll find lovely rates in permanent places on your left.
The immigration office is on your right. Line up with everyone else, work your way through the different steps and four hours later, minus $50 for your visa upon arrival, you’ll be in Bangladesh in Benapole baby!
Benapole ⇒ Khulna ⇒ Bagerhat UNESQO Sixty Dome Mosque ⇒ Khulna ⇒ Mongle ⇒ Sundarbans Mangrove Forest ⇒ Barisal ⇒ Kuakata Beach
If you land in Bangladesh in Benapole, unusual ideas of Bangladesh may rush through your mind: there’s a seriously large amount of goats galloping around in old t-shirts, a fair handful of people asking for money and tea without milk. Yes, goats do like to wear t-shirts here but there is milk, kind genuine people, honest beauty and endless adventure.
If you’re a solo female traveller (or even a foreign dude), this is where the high intensity of Bangladesh begins. It will take you some time to get used to the country as Bangladeshi tourism is in its infancy and you most certainly are an unusual sight. Stay calm, take it all in your stride and be prepared by reading my Solo Female Travel Guide To Bangladesh.
Grab an auto-rickshaw and get your merry self to the train station! Taking the bus to Khulna would be a sin right now: take the train! It costs 45 Taka = £0.40 / $0.60 and takes 3 hours to get to Khulna through local villages and endless green fields whilst sprightly young boys run along the roofs and swing through the windows, motherly ladies touch your hair and fuss over your newly bought scarves and eager vendors loudly shake their peanut cans next to your ears.
Khulna, the launchpad for your dreamy trip into the Sundarbans, has decent hotels and restaurants to keep you happy whilst you prepare for your trips outside of this scraggly town. I stayed at New Safe Hotel which is a good budget option and has some awesome roast chicken across the road but City Inn may be more agreeable for you if you need some Western comforts.
Architecture geeks, you’re in for a treat! Get a rickshaw to the Sonadanga Bus Station in Khulna and take a day trip out here! The Sixty Dome Mosque, also known as the Shait Gumbad Mosque is the largest and most traditional mosque in the country. Funnily enough, it actually has 77 domes, not 60. Make sure to visit on any day but Sunday – the attached museum isn’t open then. Leave early in the morning so you have time to explore the surrounding countryside, mosques and mausoleums and have 200 Taka = £1.80 / $2.50 ready to purchase your entrance ticket.
I recommend taking a walk anti-clockwise around the pond from the Sixty Dome Mosque to get to Bibi Begni’s Mosque and Chunakhola Mosque. You’ll escape the Bangladeshi tourists from Dhaka, wander into simple contented Bangladeshi village life, discover the joy of playing Carrom and be welcomed into the lesser known areas with open arms by the village kids. Both of these mosques are free. One tip: the village kids are going to hustle you for pens in return for showing you around. To Give Or Not To Give? Do what you think is right.
It’s true! Bangladesh has the largest Mangrove Forest in the world! Not only that, but people come to see the breathtaking Royal Bengal Tigers here where they’re relentless man-eaters: so much so that 20 to 30 people are killed by them right here each year. Beautiful but deadly…ooh now that’s some Bangladeshi Adventure! You’ll also see crocodiles, dolphins, monkeys, boars, deer, pigs and numerous magical birds that Teacake has no idea about the names of (over 300 different types have been recorded)!
You’re gonna need a tour company to get in here (Teacake and Bangladeshi locals will not let you in here on your own: go figure). The best Sundarbans 3 to 4 day tours leave from Khulna and they range from ‘Excellent!’ to ‘What a nightmare’. The best companies recommended by locals and Lonely Planet are Bengal Tours and Guide Tours. Make sure to book your trip into the Sundarbans at least 3 weeks in advance. They book up fast!
Teacake made a serious mistake by not booking 3 weeks in advance or with either of these companies. By booking last minute, I ended up going on a private boat with a couple of friends. Yes, the boat was awesome, the food was great, I hung out with a bodyguard with a gun, I saw tiger footprints, crocodiles, dolphins and lots of Mangroves but I was clearly swindled. It cost way more than it should of and I hardly went far and deep into the forest as others did passing by.
At least I didn’t take a day trip from Mongle, where boatloads of men to go up and down the river then head straight for a place infamous for sexy times. My poor friend Chris ended up there and came back with some pretty wild tales. Moral of the story: book ahead.
Take the infamous and romantically traditional paddle wheel steamer Rocket boat from Dhaka. Teacake didn’t get it on it but I met a solo female traveller who did and she loved it!
Cox’s Bazar may be Bangladesh’s most popular beach but for all you true explorers out there, it may be too convenient and Western for you already. Kuakata Beach is unfortunately going the way Cox’s Bazar is with big hotels moving in, starting to plonk themselves on the beachfront for all the Bangladeshi tourists from Dhaka. Nonetheless, walk away from the hub in either direction and it returns to an isolated and deserted shanty scene.
With the political situation at the moment, locals are hesitant to rent you a motorbike. They’ll insist on driving you but be persistent and you will eventually be able to get one by yourself. I got one for 1000 Taka for 4 hours.
Go east along the beach and you’ll follow a breathtaking route along the coast, through tiny humble villages and the Gangamati Mangrove Forest where locals farmers will be busy bees with their rice and fishermen will be constructing their mighty wooden boats.
Keep going around in a loop and you’ll be able to find your way to the Misripara Village Buddhist Temple.
Once you get back to the beach and you’re hungry, Kuakata rates as the worst place to eat food in Teacake’s opinion. Everything is cooked up in the morning and left to be eaten all day which equals cold dishes for dinner. Not very scrummy. In the evening on the beach though there is some amazing fish to be freshly ordered and grilled. Become familiar with Bangladesh’s awesome street food too: Fuska. Its spicy, tangy and crispy nature is simply wonderful.
You can get to Kuakata Beach by taking a bus from Khulna to Barisal first then changing there to get to Kuakata. You can do this trip in one day or split it up by staying in Barisal overnight.
Just one more thing to note: This isn’t a place to be sipping cocktails and sun lounging. You’ll be eaten alive by curious locals, especially if you’re a lady in a bikini. Be mindful of the culture and keep your polka dots at home. Also, when the crowds staring at you get too much, just remember that they’re as curious about you as you are about them and that you’re safe here. Bangladesh will look after you.