Solo Female Travel in Bangladesh is no joke. You need to be mentally and physically ready. It’s a Muslim Pic ‘N’ Mix box of sickly sweet experiences, endlessly jabbing, twisting and pulling at each and every one of your delicate senses. Get ready girl…
As you nervously taste the first bite and step into this world, your mind is forced to retract into a safe, dulled down place to try to make sense of it all. It’s a lot to swallow. Everything is different to the Western world, everything is like nothing you’ve seen before and it takes time to get with the programme. Like curious Alice hurtling down the rabbit hole and landing with a heavy thud in its belly, you attempt to begin digesting all the opportunities before you to make it to the end of your unpredictable journey in one piece.
With the overwhelming experience you’re going through, you might just find yourself at breaking point, desperate to jump on the next plane home. The bitter-sweet taste of wanting to throw the towel in and jump ship happened to me twice. Through sheer patience, resilience and continuous reminders about why you’re embarking on this journey though, your mind will begin to slowly open up again and thrust itself into full bloom.
Before I knew it, I’d gorged on the whole confectionery box and was feeling the dizzying, glorious after-effects of the sugar rush. Bangladesh has changed my life and been the most rewarding solo female travel adventure I’ve undertaken to date. I’ve proved everyone wrong about Bangladesh being impossible to visit and not worth exploring. That includes the media, my friends and yes, even myself. I want to change your mind too and open up this rabbit hole even further so you can jump right in there with me. It’s a rough ride but the crazy adventurer in you needs to do it. The rewards are gold dust.
I’m going to hold my hands up right now and tell you that I was scared to enter Bangladesh. Why? Due to a lack of knowledge and the fear of the unknown. Was I going to get groped? Would men disrespect me? Would I get shot (more on that in a minute)?! Needless to say, these horrendous visions were flashing through my over-active mind and creating a curious yet secretly worried explorer.
Having made it out the other end, I will now never let a judgement snake through my mind and slide out of my mouth unless I’ve been to the place in question. The love and care I received in Bangladesh blew me away and after a week of looking like a rabbit in headlights, I felt a deep love and respect for the people of Bangladesh, just like they had been feeling for me all along. A random afternoon with this family is one of my most treasured experiences.
However, it’s important to note that you should…
There is no break from this whatsoever, apart from the time when you finally lock your bedroom door and let a long breath of air out that’s been slowly racking up in your ‘patience-o-meter’. Bangladesh is giving itself to you every day and you need to be prepared to give yourself back. A whole lot of yourself. Remember, foreigners are still very much a rarity here and a Western female by herself?! You’re going to stop traffic lady.
Everyone stares at you. Everyone. Your skin feels like it is on fire. I had men chasing me down the street desperate to know where I was from and why I was there. If I was walking, at least I was on the move. Stopping anywhere for a few seconds meant I was like honey to a bunch of overzealous bees. I cannot stress enough how harmless the curiosity is though. I had groups of thirty or so men surrounding me many a time but I never felt threatened. Yes, you want the ground to swallow you up whole to give yourself five minutes peace but they just want to see who you are. You need to accept this. There’s no escape and if you and Bangladesh mentally agree this is going to happen, you’re winning already.
The worst things that happened to me? Being filmed eating mutton biriyani like a circus monkey, a woman removing my head scarf to see what my hair looked like underneath and immigration questioning me for 30 minutes when I left Bangladesh because they found it hard to believe I’d be there for ‘tourism’. I can cope with that.
Bangladesh is politically in a very interesting and unfortunate situation right now. The parties there certainly don’t get on and last year between September to November 2015, one Japanese and two Italian men were shot dead. Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks but the government and locals assert that the motive was to put the current government under pressure to make Bangladesh look unsafe for foreigners. I won’t talk any more about this now as I’ll be addressing it next week in a new post but I decided this wasn’t going to stop me going. I refuse to give into fear. Sounds crazy? Not really. People get shot in London everyday.
‘Where’s all the women?’ you may exclaim. Get used to it. You’re not going to see a lot of chicks on the street, especially outside of Dhaka. They’re at home, doing ‘woman’ stuff so understand that you’re going to be entering a man’s world. In this case, there’s a couple of things you really need to take note of to make sure your day goes as good as it can.
Out of the goodness of their heart and wanting to make sure you’re safe, men are going to question a lot of things you may usually do. Especially if you’re a kickass solo female traveller. Going off on your own is uncomfortable for them. Going out of your hotel at night sends them running after you in a panic. Going out to eat alone in a restaurant? Uh oh…and riding a motorbike through rice fields? Crikey! That could cause a heart attack girl!
At times it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re fifteen again and your Dad is telling you, ‘You can’t go out’. There are times where you just want to be left alone, yet people are going to think you’re incredibly lonely. Take it one step at a time and understand where they’re coming from. This isn’t natural to their world, so take a deep breath, tell them you’re OK and keep on going.
Some people who stare at you are certainly staring at you for sexy times. I found this in Dhaka especially. Walk like a badass and give them the evil eye. You’ll look ugly in no time. ‘Atta girl. On the flip side, I found waiters in restaurants can become nervous when you walk in. Maybe they were worried about communicating well? Smile and assert that you want to eat something incredibly yummy and you’ll get something eventually.
What will also baffle locals is why you’re not with a guide. Many people choose not to do Bangladesh solo but I’ve always had a bit of an allergy towards ‘organised’ adventure and yes, I felt completely safe doing it by myself. You will need a guide for the Hill Tracts in Chittagong and for the Hum Hum Waterfall in Sreemangal but this is expert mountain stuff. For the rest of Bangladesh, go do it yourself Wander Woman!
Telling a local you’re single and childless is like telling them the sky is bright purple. Ludicrous. Save yourself a ton of bafflement, confusion and a possible impromptu marriage attempt in the village you’re passing through by just telling people you’re married. You don’t need a ring. They’ll take your word for it.
Bangladesh is a Muslim country. Be respectful and make sure you kit yourself out in the longest dresses you can find which don’t show any cleavage. I found even wearing trousers which show off your behind can be too risky. Buy a long top to cover that too.
In terms of the head scarf…well, in the first couple of weeks it just made me feel more comfortable. Especially with the continuous staring. As time went by, I became more confident and sometimes wore it around my shoulders. Listen to your gut essentially and have one handy to pop over your head when the going gets tough and you need a break from the stares. Oh and whatever you do, don’t pack your bikini for the beach. Hell no.
There are areas for women depending on the situation. If you’re on the bus, sit at the front. There’s a very good chance the guys in charge will take care of it for you though and if you’re foreign, you’re getting the absolute front row seat. Can’t quite say whether this is good or not because Bangladeshi driving skills = absolute hell. There are also areas for women in restaurants, bus and train stations.
There’s no WiFi in Bangladesh. OK, there are a few areas. I can count the times WiFi magically appeared on one hand in the whole month I was there though. Did it work? Once out of the three times I found it. As soon as you land here, get a SIM card. It’s cheap and the data connection is awesome! For a crazy blogging lady like me, I got $15 worth of credit and hotspotted the taka out of that and it lasted me for the whole time I was here. You’re gonna need to make calls to hotels to book ahead and call someone if it’s an emergency. Whatever you do, don’t give your number to others. They’ll never leave you alone (I found out the hard way). I recommend Grameenphone for the phone company and Agoda to get even cheaper prices for hotels online.
Bangladeshi people are so nice that at times, they can be too nice. If you look like you need help, the whole village will come running and that can become quite overwhelming. The help I received when I really needed it though was gratefully received. I had guys grab a ride for me when I got dropped off in the middle of nowhere at night at a random bus stop. I got essential directions and most importantly, tips for the best tea and cake in town. Thanks guys!
Last but not least, don’t feel bad if you just need to book yourself into a nice room and shut yourself off from Bangladesh for a day. With any box of sweets we eat, an overdose needs some recovery time and girl, you’re gonna need it. Come tomorrow, you’ll be ready to go out there again and see Bangladesh for what it really is!
I can’t wait to show you the beauty of this country in my next post! Ooh we got some good photos and stories for you!