What time is it? It’s probably tea time. No, it’s definitely tea time. Especially in Cox’s Bazar. I’ve lost count of how many cups of tea a day I drink. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, sure the tea here is drowning in sweetened condensed milk and packed with loads of sugar. But that’s what keeps you going when you’re in Cox’s Bazar. That and my favorite energy drink, Speed! If you haven’t already, check out my tribute to Speed:
Back to the tea! If you spend a week in Cox’s Bazar and don’t drink a single cup of tea, I really question whether you even stepped out of your hotel room. That’s the first thing you should do when you arrive. Walk the streets and look for the finest tea shop around. There really are a plethora to choose from.
You can go for the fancy, luxurious tea-and-saucer in an established restaurant with plastic tablecloths.
You can take the alternative approach and sit in a makeshift tea shop, holding a scolding hot dixie cup of tea. You spend your time paranoid that the water will burn through the plastic. Don’t worry, it rarely does.
The best part about “tea time” is that it can happen any time!
Nihab knows when it’s time for tea: after a long day of filming.
The Perks of Drinking Tea: Making Friends
If you’re chilling outside with a cup of tea, chances are you’ll make a couple friends.
Sometimes you’ll have babies thrown into your lap with no questions asked. Then you sit in a panic as the mother disappears for 20 minutes and you are seriously contemplating whether she just gave you a child or not. This brings up more questions about what to do — Are you ready to raise a child? What name would you give the child? Did this mother really just leave her child for you? Is she ever actually going to return…?
[good news] She returns — after she ran to the market to buy her child a new dress and asks for a photoshoot in the new dress. You breathe a sigh of relief when you realize that you won’t be raising that child after all. You can continue your globetrotting life.
All of that happened over a simple cup of tea. Brilliant.
Before we get to talking about the tea in Cox’s Bazar, I just want to acknowledge that, contrary to popular opinion, there is more than just tea to drink in Bangladesh. I was introduced to a drink here that supplemented my coffee addiction while on a tight budget.
That’s right, SPEED. The world’s greatest energy drink. Let me preface by saying that I am strongly against energy drinks. Monsters, Rockstars, BLEEEEH. I would never go out of my way to drink them. I never intended to go out of my way to order Speed. This is how the addiction began:
If you’re unfamiliar with my Rohingya Reunions, you can find it here. It’s basically the reason why I came to Bangladesh in the first place: to find my Rohingya friends. The thing is, I have a lot of Rohingya friends. And every single time I visit their homes, what do they offer me for a beverage? SPEED.
Of course I’m in that awkward spot where I want to be culturally sensitive all the time…so I drink and eat pretty much anything. So if I’m visiting 4 families in one day, I’m averaging 4 – 6 bottles of Speed that day.
As you can imagine, the addiction starts quickly. If you’re in Cox’s Bazar, I recommend trying Speed just for the experience. But chances are you won’t be sitting with Rohingya friends who give you bottles of Speed everyday. So you’ll be fine. One Speed didn’t hurt anyone, right?
I’m not even being sponsored by Speed to advertise. But now I think I should. Let’s let the white girl represent Bangladesh’s #1 Energy Drink.
I was going to describe Cox’s Bazar’s food in one word, but then I found a billboard that speaks for me, so here you go:
That’s right. Oil. So much oil that they’ve even got a huge billboard in town to advertise. I wouldn’t recommend coming to Cox’s Bazar if you’re on a strict diet. There’s no way to avoid the oil…but once you embrace the oil, you can embrace the luxuries of Cox’s Bazar cuisine, which includes:
You know they’re good when they’re served in the newspaper and plastic bags and are still burning hot with oil seeping through. Be sure to grab them in the morning when they’re freshly made! There are usually several other snack options if samosas aren’t your thing. Definitely a go-to snack to carry with you before you end up stuck in traffic for 3 hours on your way out of town.
Here’s another popular street food to try. I always ask for extra chillies for that extra spunk — but I have an insanely high spice tolerance. So don’t try this at home. Side note, if you’re really lucky, they’ll even package your snack with recycled condom packages. That’s called being resourceful.
Speaking of being resourceful, don’t forget to throw away your trash at one of the several garbage locations in Cox’s Bazar. You can’t miss them. They’re open-mouthed penguins with a sign that says, “Use Me” to which you proceed to “use” the penguin by dumping your trash in its mouth. Definitely my favorite part of Cox’s Bazar.
But now let’s talk about the real food. Roti. Naan. Paratha. All the bread. So so good.
I recommend you just take a stroll around Cox’s Bazar in the morning to find the best roti stalls. You can’t go wrong.
But if you’re really searching for really good stuff, it’s better to head out of the city and into the villages. That’s where the magic is. And you can enjoy the sunset as well. Bonus!
But here’s the real advice. If you truly want some good, good food, you better find a way to get invited to a local’s house for dinner. Homemade Bangla food is absolutely incredible. Let’s hope you’re not a vegetarian, because the chicken curry is always amazing. You can’t walk away without 2 full plates of rice. Really, you can’t. They will make you eat it all.
And if you make a request, you might able to receive roti-making lessons. Apparently I’m not that skilled in making roti. It was rated 4 out of 10. The shape of my roti was compared to the continent of Australia. If you can try making a less Australia-like roti, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of me.
But yeah, we have a lot of food here. A lot.
Most of it includes potatoes and oil, which isn’t bad for a time. Just find that healthy balance. Go out and find some mangos.
They have mangos everywhere. Big mangos, little mangos (seriously, I almost died when I found these baby mangos). Don’t worry, not all mangos are this small. I just don’t happen to have many photos of mangos.
Now we have to talk about how to complement all of this lovely food with some fun drinks! Check out my Drinks post!
Yes, I make the occasional Bangla music videos here and there. It’s a great way to share the incredible footage of the area and inspire you to come visit! I’m currently taking requests for new Bangla songs…
One of the best photography spots around — the salt flats in Cox’s Bazar. Located outside of the city, you have to navigate through some local villages to find your way there. The best mode of transportation to get there is a tomtom. You can find a tomtom driver in Cox’s Bazar to take you around the salt flats area. Just be ready to bargain. You probably will want to go with a local who can show you around the area — it’s a little bit off the beaten path.
As you pass through the local fishing villages, you can stop by and grab some tea at any of the tea shops around.
The pictures speak for themselves. The salt flats are such a beautiful part of Cox’s Bazar. Prime photography opportunities right here! Also a great chance to find some local villagers and hang out with them over a cup of tea.
Perfect to watch the sunset as well. My top advice when in Cox’s Bazar: never miss a sunset. You’ll regret it.
One would think that after you’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen them all. Some beaches are obviously more beautiful than others. But they’re fairly straightforward. They have sand, water, and the occasional waves and rays of sunshine. The essentials. So when you say, “Let’s go to the beach!” that’s generally what you would expect.
For Cox’s Bazar, it might be a different story. Known as the World’s Longest Beach, there’s far more than meets the eye. Not only is it a beach, but it’s also:
When there’s road construction in town, this is the only solution. I say highway so you know it’s not a road with a crosswalk. The CNG drivers won’t stop, especially if you’re trying to enjoy a nice sunset walk. 10 points for whoever can take out the white girl walking along the beach.
A Place to Gallop on Horseback
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. You might be able to race those CNG drivers.
A Place for Cheap, Good Coconuts
Less than $1 for an incredibly refreshing coconut. After you finish the juice, be sure to ask the Coconut Man to crack it open for you so you can eat the flesh. Get the best bang for your buck!
Breeding Ground for Dogs
Beware of the dogs. One of the biggest mistakes that tourists make is they assume that dogs in other countries are same as the ones in their country. They’re not. They will bite. But the good news: The dogs don’t like water. So if you do end up getting attacked, just run into the waves. They’ll leave you in no time, especially if you have a tripod to hit them. And the local fishermen will help you escape. Tried and tested by Sophie herself.
Hands down, Cox’s Bazar has some killer sunsets. This beach is a photographer’s dream. You won’t want to miss it. The best time to catch the sunset is around 5:15pm.
Have you visited the World’s Longest Beach? Got any recommendations to share? Reach out to me — I’d love to hear more!
What led me to Cox’s Bazar was the Rohingya refugee crisis. Cox’s Bazar is one of the closer towns to Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp. Tons of NGOs flooded in to serve the Rohingya people after the crisis in August 2017.
When I wasn’t working in the refugee camps, I went on village excursions with Nihab Rahman. We discovered all the hot spots for photography and I quickly fell in love with the area. If you’re an avid photographer, you can’t miss a week or two in Cox’s Bazar.
What I Did
This is the birthplace of Books Unbound, my nonprofit that provides informal learning materials to marginalized communities. We started with the Rohingya refugees in April 2019. I was based out of Cox’s Bazar. My first time in Cox’s Bazar was filled with back-to-back meetings with NGOs, visits to the refugee camps, and photography excursions to local villages with Nihab.
Who Should Visit
Photographers, backpackers, aid workers. Travelers who have graduated from the mainstream Southeast Asia adventures (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) and are ready to jump into something less mainstream. If you enjoy riding rickshaws, avoiding angsty cows, eating roti, drinking tea, and catching the World’s Best Sunset on the World’s Longest Beach, check out Cox’s Bazar.