Bangladesh may not be a popular tourist destination but it is definitely a place that you should visit at least once in your lifetime. It is one of the most interesting countries I have visited so far- a perfect destination for anyone who loves to experience different cultures, traditions, and cuisines. As a travel addict and food adventurist, for me, this country is epic! But before you pack your things and fly to Bangladesh, it will be best if you must first know this few pointers. Here are a dozen of things that I believe you should know about this humble but very interesting country:
I am sure most of you know this fact already; but I am also pretty sure that some still don’t. When I told some of my friends that I would be visiting Bangladesh, most of them thought I was going to India, including my Aussie best mate who eventually came with us in exploring the humble but very exciting country.
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a country in South Asia, located on the fertile Bengal delta. It is bordered by the Republic of India almost all around it (to its north, west and east) except by the south-east which they share the borders with the Union of Myanmar (Burma). It is separated from the Democratic Republic of Nepal and the Kingdom of Bhutan by the narrow Indian Siliguri Corridor. Together with the neighboring Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. The name Bangladesh means “Country of Bengal” in the official Bengali language.
2. It is a Muslim Country, not Hindu.
Though it is the direct neighbor of India, thus making a huge contributor to its history, food, music, customs and traditions, and even language; religion tells a different story. About 90% of the people of Bangladesh practices Islam. It also has the fourth largest population of Muslims in the world. skin
3. There is a dress code. Not much skin, please.
I felt I was out-of-place when I arrived at the airport in Dhaka on my casual tee and a pair of walking shorts. I felt so under dressed big time! My outfit screams I am a foreigner and a first-timer in Bangladesh! I believe Bangladesh is one of the most conservative countries that I have visited so far. Women are usually dressed fully covered from shoulders to feet (some traditional locals have their heads even covered not to expose their hairs). Men usually wear long-sleeved shirts and pants (or lungi- their version of a kilt); some of them even top it with a sports coat even under the scorching sun. Kinda’ impressive, to be honest. If you plan to roam around in the streets of Bangladesh, I highly recommend following their dress code (most especially if you are a female). A normal blouse would work but it will be a lot better if you top it with a scarf to cover the shoulders, and perhaps the breast up to the neck.
4. They love dancing. They really, really do.
In the Philippines- the country where I came from, singing is a big thing. Everyone loves to sing. For every family, there would definitely be one or two very good singers. In Bangladesh, it is a different story. Everyone just loves to dance! Whatever move you make, as long as it is with the beat (well, not really), it is well accepted. There are no awkward moves or whatsoever- as long as you are having fun, that’s it! Dancing is so big that it is one of the highlights of a traditional Bangladeshi wedding. We are fortunate to be invited to attend one, and man! It was epic! The celebration usually lasts for a week with heaps of music, fun, and dancing! There are special musical nights sandwiched in between formal receptions and proper ceremonies. How cool is that?
5. Bangladeshi sweets are divine!
Cuisine in general is somewhat similar to Indian food- savory, thick, and spicy. The food is very tasty that it creates a symphony of flavors in your mouth in every bite. Their version of Biryani is amazing and their curries are just perfect to tingle your palette’. What really got me though are their desserts! The variety of their after meal treats are just a piece of heaven! My personal favorites are the “Mitha Doi” (sweetened homemade yogurt), “Roshogolla” (sweetened fermented/curdled milk soaked with sugar water), and the Mishti Doi which I coined “Dhaka balls”. Golf ball sized sweets made up of milk, flour, ground nuts, and heluva’ ingredients I could not identify. These are must try! Trust me. So if you have a sweet tooth too, you will never be disappointed in this country. Their wide selection of sweet treats will definitely solve your cravings.
6. Bangladeshis normally eat with their bare hands.
This way of eating is not uniquely Bangladeshi since there are also few countries around the world that do this. Although cutleries are available upon request, expect some “stares” from the locals when you eat with a fork and a knife. According to my local Bangladeshi friends, it is not really rude to use cutleries since some of them actually do use them too in some occasions, but it is just a signal that loudly shouts to the rest of Bangladesh that you are a foreigner (of course, in addition to the fact that you look a bit different). I would recommend embracing the culture by enjoying your meals whilst in Bangladesh the traditional way. Just make sure to wash your hands properly! And since I already mentioned, “staring” on this entry, let us talk about it more in the next number.
7. The locals love to stare; and they stare a lot.
When we roamed around Dhaka, You will see a lot of people on the streets. Some of them selling different kinds of goods; some begging for alms; some just chilling; and some just staring, yes, just staring on something or at some point, at you. Trust me, when they stare at you, they do not mean to intimidate nor mean any harm. Perhaps because you look different, they were just amazed by your presence in their streets. And since they actually already figured out that you are not from their country, then they become curious of where you came from or what brought you there. They really make you feel you are the center of attention. Bangladesh is not really a popular tourist destination, therefore, locals are not really that used to see a lot of foreigners in their land. If you find yourself caught in the middle of locals staring at you, do not panic and do not be paranoid. They simply acknowledge your presence and perhaps making you feel at home. I suggest do not stare back- just give them a warm smile, a friendly wave, and a nice “Hello”. You will be surprised on their sweet response after that.
8. “Tipping” may not be compulsory but widely practiced.
Prices of goods and services in Bangladesh is really cheap; so as the wages/salaries of the common people. Tipping the attendants, waiters, drivers, or butlers is highly recommended. Again, I would like to reiterate that it is not compulsory but it will be highly appreciated. Come on, an extra bucks for tips won’t really harm your wallet plus it is so worth it to give for the amount of hospitality and service that they will provide you.
9. Tobacco is dirt-cheap but Liquors and Beers are gold.
If you are a smoker, you will be very happy with the price of tobacco in this country. A pack of cigarettes costs just a little more than a dollar! Yes, that is how cheap “ciggies” are in this part of South Asia. Unfortunately, since it is a Muslim Country, alcoholic drinks are not really very common. Unlike in some countries where you can buy a six-pack of beers almost everywhere, alcoholic drinks are only available on lounges and bars in five-star hotels. No dude, you won’t find them on 7/11’s or in convenience stores and even if you do, they are very, very expensive.
10. Moneychangers accept only Major currencies.
If you are from a country that is unheard of, I suggest that instead of your local currency; bring US dollars, British Pounds, or Euros with you. Although credit cards are widely accepted in stores and restaurants, cash will always be handy in street shops and fares. The local currency in Bangladesh is called Taka. In case you still have some Takas left after your trip, exchange them back to dollars before leaving the country. You might have a hard time looking for an outlet outside Bangladesh that would be willing to get your remaining Takas out of your hand.
11. Very Heavy Traffic and lots of Crazy Driving.
Traffic is not new to all of us, especially if you live in the city, but the traffic in Dhaka is one of the most challenging that I have seen so far. Try not to go near the main roads during peak hours and unless you would like to be stuck for a while sitting in your immobile car. Outside the city routes are equally challenging. Drivers drive fast and swerves a lot. They just love to overtake every vehicle ahead, which makes it like a real time “grand tourismo”. Near death experiences happen every five minutes and close calls for collisions (like half and inch clearance between moving cars) are normal. If you are looking for a real adrenalin rush and thrilling adventure, take the front passenger seat of a passenger van or bus and enjoy the heart-pumping and unforgettable ride.
12. Bangladeshi People are excellent hosts.
Hospitality at its finest- that is how I will describe it. The people are very warm, sincere, friendly, and kind. Our hosts (special shout out to Sadid Chowdhury and Tanya Ahmed and their amazing families, relatives, and friends) really made us feel very special and welcomed. They treated us not as friends when we were in Dhaka but as members of their family. Seriously, I have never experience that kind of hospitality and accommodation anywhere else. I am confident to say, we did not find friends in Bangladesh; we found a family.