Overview: Bangladesh, wow. What a country. I can undoubtedly say that it is the most out-of-this-world country I have ever visited. Bangladesh is one of those countries where it’s difficult to describe to someone who has never been. When you finally find someone who has been to Bangladesh, you can just give them a look and they know exactly what you’re talking about.
The vibrant colors, the bustling streets, the hilarious billboards posted all over the country. It really is a country that ought to have more attention. People tend to spend a lot more time in India when they should really spend some time in Bangladesh. While I mostly spent my time in two main areas of Bangladesh, I would happily visit the rest of the country…when COVID is finally over.
Why I Visited: I went to Bangladesh with the intention of finding a few Rohingya family friends who sought refuge in Kutupalong, but it escalated into the founding of my nonprofit organization, Books Unbound. Since then, I have found myself back in Bangladesh several times to work as a consultant, initiate education programs, and reunite with more Rohingya family friends. The COVID-19 pandemic kicked me out, but I hope to return soon!
When I Visited: My first visit was in March 2018, then again in August 2018. I spent more time in April 2019 and February 2020, just before COVID-19 hit.
Top 3 Tips for traveling to Bangladesh
1) Yes, it’s noisy. Get over it. I’m not going to lie, Bangladesh is loud. What would you expect from a country with a population over 160 million? This isn’t the little house on the prairie by any means. But after a while, you eventually get used to the hustle and bustle. The honks from the tom toms and the bleating of goats will eventually lull you to sleep. You might even miss all this crazy noisiness after you leave.
2) Come with zero expectations. This was the best travel advice I ever received early into my solo travel life. It definitely comes in handy when traveling through Bangladesh. This country is unlike any other place I have visited. And every time I visit, I experience it in a completely different way, so I have learned to just go with the flow. Just come with no expectations – then everything after that will be…well, an adventure to say the least.
3) Dress conservatively. This is especially true for female travelers. As a solo female traveler, I need to especially make sure I am dressing conservatively in Bangladesh. I highly recommend having some fun in the local shops and buying some clothes there. They’re so bright and colorful! But if you decide to bring a wrap skirt, make sure it’s properly tied around your waist before you stand up on a local bus full of Bangladeshi men…otherwise, it might just fall down and you end up having quite the scandal. I might or might not have already been there and done that. Thank God for spanx, though! Good save, Sophie. Good save.
National Language: Bengali
Currency: Bangladeshi Taka; 1 USD = 84.69 BDT
ATM / Credit Cards: Cash is mostly used throughout the country. You can use credit cards in higher-end hotels and restaurants. But when you’re out in the local areas, stick with cash.
Getting Around: I spent most of my time in Cox’s Bazar, but also traveled around Dhaka and Chittagong. All of these areas, I traveled locally with tom toms, rickshaws, and CNG taxis. You can take a local bus if you’re living on the wild side. The last time I rode the local bus, we swerved to dodge a goat and I could feel the bus literally tipping over. A few local women screamed in horror and yelled out for Allah. That’s when I knew it was the end. Surprisingly, I’m still alive. After that moment, I decided there must be a purpose for my life since I’m still alive. So I’ll let you decide whether to take the local buses or not. A great representation of riding the local bus is in this incredible video by the travel blogger, Steve Long. Never have I seen a video more relatable.
Books Unbound: I may be slightly biased because this is my very own organization [heehee!] but yeah, we work directly in the community in Bangladesh. We have projects with the Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong and have also done work with the local children in Cox’s Bazar. I have a team of artists and content creators who develop contextualized learning materials for marginalized communities. We hire local teachers to implement the education programs directly in the communities. If you’re ever visiting the area and would like to get involved, contact me. Also, check out our website to learn more!