How to survive Bangladesh, an impression of Dhaka

bit hard to see, but people climbed on top and were running around to get ahold of transport back to their home.
local people earning money by taking on passengers. You can see how many are trying to get in.
average morning in Dhaka

First impression

She’s laughing in the same way when she teases me. While we’re walking around at arrival and searching for the exit she can’t stop laughing. Everyone is looking at us — the foreigners. So many taxi touts, money changers and other services all shouting at me; greedy for the money they see. I feel they’re fighting for me and this feeling returns many times later during my stay in Dhaka. While she’s laughing she’s taking charge too, walks through the guards that carry big automatic guns and ignoring anyone shouting at her while demanding me to follow. We exit arrivals and everything freezes. I look around and all I see is a fence, twice as high as the average length of the hundreds of people behind it. They balance their weight against the bars, some curling their arms as snakes around it, some others holding them — like a prisoner behind bars. Some of them are sitting on the ground, all piled up and hardly having any space to move. They’re trying to keep their seat, not giving a single inch while waiting for family or friends to come through the arrival gate. But they only see me. And I see their stares; it’s like everything stopped, the air couldn’t move and I could only see a massive pile of people behind the fence. Such a metaphor; emphasising my freedom and their imprisonment within their own country. Later I would learn this to be partly true. ‘Come, let’s go Lowen!’ she wakes me up. I wish I had taken a photo of this moment but the pressure of a new country, new smells, damp air, the guards with huge guns, shouting people and hundreds of stares, told my instinct to keep up with her. She seems to have seen it all before and walks through the gates, ignoring the guards, walking down to the highway. There’s no space for pedestrians and I follow her. We try to take a CNG taxi’s, but they’re asking for too much money. We continue to walk on a small path, just enough for 2 people side-to-side. While all passersby are staring at us — the foreigners with rolling suitcases. Though we probably look stranger for them, than they are for us.

Disclaimer

This country is not for the fainthearted. If you have no experience travelling in a 3rd world country, I would not recommend you to go there. At least not alone. Dhaka is rapidly developing, but outside of the business districts, everything is chaotic.

The people

You HAVE to understand something before visiting Bangladesh. As a foreigner be forewarned of the stares. Don’t feel intimidated, it’s their way of showing appreciation, interest and maybe even some admiration. Mevish noticed a couple of women I walked by were staring and gazing with open mouths at me as if they were a couple of teenage girls that just saw Justin Bieber walking by.

say hi to everyone
selfies before they noticed us
sometimes traffic is chill, other times you’re stuck

Traffic

The feeling of being in a war zone where everyone is fighting for themselves returns in the behavior of the traffic. All traffic I’ve seen would drive up close to half an inch of other vehicles. This way others wouldn’t take the space. Traffic does NOT stop for you. Crossing a street in Ho Chi Minh city is peanuts compared to Dhaka. They don’t acknowledge you’re walking there and I see locals jumping around for their lives. Hold up your hand high and make a prayer they see you, when you cross the street.

some explain with utmost patience. This man tried to help our driver for a long while. Others however…

Hotels

We read from wiki-travel that there’s hotels in Dhaka from 60 taka and up per night. Besides the fact that some of the listed hotels didn’t exist anymore, all the budget hotels told us they’re full. Although I think they simply didn’t want a foreign couple in their hotel and there’s word most simply don’t accept foreigners. Whether this is for religious beliefs, for avoiding annoying tourists or for our safety.. we don’t know. After a couple of hours we finally found one that did serve tourists. But we still paid around $15 for quite a shabby, no wifi, no hot water, dusty & unclean room. Sometimes there were no towels or toilet paper. In this particular hotel an employee stood outside our room eavesdropping on us. I caught one when I wanted to take a look outside and opened the door. This really emphasised how our every move was captured and the lack of privacy we had.

The culture

Always important, but especially in Bangladesh, is to know the history of the country. It was only 45 years ago that Bangladesh fought for their independence. Visit the Liberation museum to enhance your knowledge. Supposedly over three-million people had been killed in 9 month’s in monstrous ways. The hundreds of thousands of women raped go almost unmentioned. Many couldn’t continue to live, committed suicide or underwent abortion in inhumane ways.

Friday afternoon prayers
The beautiful mosque’s. The mosque was closed, but for us they opened it

Some must-do’s:

  • A rickshaw ride (beautiful bicycles)
  • A CNG ride
  • Food: fish is the local dish. Curries, chapatis & roti (bread), fruit, etc
  • The hustle n bustle in Old Dhaka
  • there’s so many beautiful mosques. Make sure to take off your shoes before you enter them. Otherwise ask someone to help you.
  • Liberation museum
  • The docks and boats
  • Talk with locals. You’ll feel their love and admiration and you’ll understand their culture bit by bit every time you talk with someone.
  • see the docks, take a boat-trip from north to south (we unfortunately had no more time)

Random tips:

  • If mosquito’s love you, spray yourself before leaving the airplane. We were greeted by a couple of 50 in the bus that took us too arrivals.
  • Don’t walk at night outside, but don’t be afraid of most people during the day. 99% are nice, but a couple of them spoil it. Basic understanding of this is important. We walked around the second night, but were sent back to our hotel by a concerned police officer. Tourists have been robbed and killed before.
  • People want your money, so always be wary. Restaurants try to overcharge and it’s next to impossible to get discounts. When they overcharge be very firm in what you belief is the right price. I felt that often 30–40 year olds tried to scam us the most. The younger and older people hardly ever overcharged us and were always happy to help us and connect with us.
  • Don’t be afraid to eat on the street or at local restaurants, but check if the food is fresh. We ate street food every day and had no problems.
  • charpaties cost 5 taka, sugarcane drinks 10, fruit is 20 or around a 100 for a KG. Local restaurants cost around 300 taka for 2 people, offering grilled chicken, naan bread and a drink.
  • ALWAYS ask for the price first, so you won’t be surprised by any scams.
  • Give your change away. Hotelboys will expect tips, but in local restaurants and taxi’s it’s unnecessary, but appreciated. Instead give it to the poor, the sick and the old. They’re in much higher need for money than any high-class restaurant (in which they do expect 10% tips). Never throw away leftover-food, instead ask to package it (you can say pàkket including some hand-signals) and give it away.
  • Call the elder ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’, it’s a form of respect and they’ll love you for it. Learn how to say thank you (dan-ya-baad) or how to greet (salam alaikum), it will go a long way. Say ‘bujina’ if you don’t know/understand (thats what it means) and it will bring up some laughs.
  • So we didn’t go outside of Dhaka. But I can imagine that there’s hardly anyone that can speak English outside of the capital.
Because everybody loves food, nah?

If you love what you’ve just read you could warm my heart 💚 by clapping for me or buy me a coffee ☕️

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flowen

UI engineer • 📕 author • 💻code & 🎨design & 🛤travel are my thing