We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Sarah, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Sarah is from the UK, and submitted the following report about Bangladesh. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: Bengali, English, Arabic
Reasons to Visit Bangladesh
A solo trip to Bangladesh is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Crowds of people follow you all the time (I even had excited people sprinting after me) and ask you endless random questions (in a group of around 40 spectators on a train platform, one man piped up: “Madam madam! Please, what are you?”) Be prepared to be photographed and video recorded a lot too. But being the center of attention is all part of the Bangladeshi travel experience and a trip there can be immensely rewarding.
Bangladeshis are friendly, trustworthy, and helpful – and most seem to love having their photo taken too. If you’re a photography enthusiast, you’ll be guaranteed to come back with some great portraits. As there’s very little tourism, the rip-off mentality is a rarity (one less thing to worry about) and hotel staff are keen to organize chaperones to train stations, informal guides, and local rickshaws. Bangladeshi men are very over-protective though, and I was warned countless times not to go out, well, anywhere! My hotel staff in Dhaka weren’t keen on me going out alone, especially after dark, clearly bemused by why a European female tourist would choose to visit Bangladesh.
Although it’s easy to find a cycle or auto-rickshaw in Dhaka – there are literally tens of thousands of them zipping through the traffic-choked roads – exiting the city is another story. I ended up getting stuck in the Gulshan area during a political rally, with the city on almost total shutdown (a hartal). It was only by a stroke of luck – I found a guide on an online travel forum and he managed to secure a train ticket – that I managed to reach Srimangal in the north-east. If you can stretch to spend the money on a driver/guide, then I definitely recommend it to ensure you actually get to places within the time you have. At the train stations, I found that people were extremely happy to escort you to your platform and even right to your train seat.
My train journey to Srimangal was a welcome respite from the city chaos – passengers dozed on velour reclining seats and tea was elegantly served in china crockery by white uniformed waiters. After what seemed like hours rumbling through Dhaka’s industrial outskirts, the train finally emerged into bright green paddy fields that stretched for miles. It was the rural Bangladesh I’d been hoping to escape to. The sun had turned an enormous dusty ball of faded crimson, drifting lazily towards the horizon. Rattling over dizzying iron bridges, far below flat glass-like rivers flowed molten copper, mirroring the sunset. The scenery was stunning and amazingly photogenic. I watched groups of boys hurrying off to village mosques in jewel-coloured kurta shirts, their caps little spots of bright white in the shadowy dusk. As night fell further, the train trundled on through busy trackside markets, their stalls lit by single tungsten bulbs, overflowing with shiny fruit. Wisps of smoke from cooking fires cloaked the palms and in the distance I could hear the hypnotic sounds of the call to prayer.
My fellow train passenger to Srimangal was a chivalrous but rather cross little man who held himself totally responsible for my ridiculous solo trip. “Madam,” he said “please close the window. There’s robbers out there.” “Madam, just watch your luggage please.” “Who is this man you are meeting. What? You don’t know him? Why are you meeting someone you don’t know alone?” I can’t deny it did sound risky, but I’d been keeping in contact with my well-reviewed guide, Tapas Dash, by text (local SIMs are easy to get at the airport by the way), and I was confident he would be there to meet me on the platform. He was, and luckily easy to spot at over 6 feet tall! We wandered through the town to Green Leaf Guesthouse, which was welcoming and homely. There were a good few independent travelers staying there too (a rare species in Bangladesh). Tapas arranged some excellent eco-focused excursions to places I wouldn’t have had a clue how to reach. The Wetlands area was strikingly beautiful, where flat lotus-covered lakes literally glow gold at sunset. We wandered around serene pineapple plantations, national parks with lovely walking trails, a tea estate and a Manipuri village. The weather in January – February is cooler too, around 21°C, with only a few potential days of rain.
We stopped at the Nilkonthi Tea Cabin to try a glass of their famous seven-layered tea. Sipping each coloured stripe slowly, we tried to detect the flavours – a subtle mix of black, green, milk tea, and spices. A unique taste experience for tea lovers at just one dollar a glass. When I left Srimangal there weren’t any seats left on the train, but one of the kind guards brought me a little wooden bench for the five hour journey.
Finally back in Dhaka, I decided to take a boat ride from the main Sadarghat out on the Buriganga River. It was a nerve-wracking experience being perched in a tiny wooden rowing boat while hulking cargo ships ploughed through the black sewagey water only a few feet away, but worth it for the photo opportunities. As I made my way back to my hotel by cycle rickshaw through the narrow streets of Old Dhaka, I was rewarded with crowds of people cheering and waving, a typically enthusiastic Bangladeshi send-off on my last day!
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 2 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 2 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 2 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 3 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 2 (1 is easiest, 4 is most difficult)