Time to Experience Some Hospitality in Bangladesh
I had a quick mid-term holiday so of course I was ready to fly away! This time to I’d snapped up a cheap direct flight to Dhaka in Bangladesh. All I knew before I started the trip was that both the traffic and the hospitality in Bangladesh were legendary. I was definitely looking forward to experiencing the hospitality in Bangladesh; the traffic, not so much.
The fun started before boarding my flight. I was in the front row for some pre-flight drama. The guy in front of me at the security check thought that it was cool to take firecrackers on a plane. Mr Security wasn’t having any of it. Just to level-up on the idiocy, the guy thought it’d also be cool to pretend to not understand Mr Security when he was advised of the rules.
As you could imagine, that did not sit well with Mr Security, who then proceeded to berate the guy and thoroughly search his bag. While watching the drama unfold, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself and think that this was the best pre-flight entertainment I’d seen in a while. I was also glad that because of the commotion, I was pretty much just waved through.
Visa on Arrival in Dhaka
Certain nationalities are able to get a visa on arrival at the Dhaka international airport. It was a surprisingly easy process, despite the fact that it was also a long one. Information online says that you need to show confirmation of a return ticket and proof of $500 in cash to be able to get the visa. I did not have to show either of these.
The visa processing desk is located on the righthand side as you enter the immigration area. I had to line up for a while to get to that desk to present a small white card to the officer. He checked the card was filled-in correctly, then sent me off to another desk to pay the visa fee. The fee was US$50 and could only be paid in cash. After paying, I headed back to the processing desk where the paperwork was completed and slotted into my passport.
I was then ushered to the immigration counter, where there was almost no line. My passport was stamped and dated by a very friendly officer. He asked me how long I was staying and seemed disappointed when I indicated that I’d be there for one week. “Only one week?”, he enquired. He then said, “I’ll give you ten days”, as he manually wrote the visa validity in my passport. His tone indicated that he believed I would want to stay longer.
Leaving the Airport
Despite it being an airport serving a large city, the international airport in Dhaka seemed fairly small. That made it was surprising to see an Armed Police Room upon exiting the arrivals area. I took up temporary residence on a cold metal seat across from that room while I waited for my host to come and pick me up.
My host’s name was Tariq and he had informed me earlier that he lived near the airport. Apparently that doesn’t have too much of an effect on how long it takes to get to the airport when there’s a lot of traffic. Even though he was only a few kilometres away, it took him nearly 30 minutes to reach the airport. I’m pretty sure it would’ve been quicker to walk!
Incredible Hospitality in Bangladesh
Once at Tariq’s place, we sat down to have some tea. He kept apologising for the fact that he wouldn’t be able to spend much time with me, due to work commitments. This was not a problem for me, but Tariq felt that he wasn’t living up to responsibilities as a host because of it. It took at least 5 teas to convince him that all was good.
I can honestly say that I did not want for anything while I stayed with Tariq. I think he spent more time checking if I was comfortable than actually chatting to me. That’s not to say that he wasn’t extremely interested in learning about my previous travels though. When I tried to tell him on several occasions that he didn’t need to fuss over me so much, he informed me that it was the Bangladeshi way. He believed that a guest in his house should never have to ask for anything.
Apparently, some people’s idea of hospitality in Bangladesh is that your stomach should always be bursting from overeating. I must’ve tried a plethora of Bangladeshi snacks upon Tariq’s insistence before heading to bed. In the morning, Tariq got up to make me breakfast before he headed off to work. He told me he could come home at lunchtime to cook me lunch as well, but I told him I’d be out exploring, so there was no need.
Moving Around Dhaka
I had planned on meeting some local Couchsurfers in what I was told was the biggest mall in Dhaka; Jamuna Future Park. As it was only 3km away from where I was staying in Baridhara, I decided to walk. At the start of my walk, things were quiet and peaceful. Buildings were quite spread out and there was even some greenery to be seen. It seemed that Dhaka was still a growing city, as a fair amount of housing construction could also be seen.
Once I hit the main road which marked the border between 2 suburbs, things got a whole lot noisier! It was obvious that I was getting closer to the city centre. Traffic was pretty hectic even though the rush hour had already passed. Luckily I had some earphones to mask the pesky traffic noises. Sort of.
Once I made it to the shopping centre, I found Mahi and Abdul, the two men I was there to meet. They were very interesting young men. Mahi had spent quite a few years living abroad in the USA, while Abdul had spent his whole life in Dhaka. Despite their very different backgrounds, these guys had some super interesting views on the world. We all chatted like we were old friends. They even indulged me while I searched for a geocache hidden in the city’s park.
We had all planned to head to a Couchsurfing meet in Gulshan together. Gulshan is apparently the hip, affluent part of the city. It was only 3 kilometres from where we were, so I voted to walk. I was defeated 2-1 and we ended up in a Tuk Tuk. Adbul and Mahi were telling me there would be a little bit of traffic, so it might take 30 minutes. Boy, were they wrong!
I could now see why Dhaka’s traffic is so infamous. It took us an hour and a half to ‘drive’ those 3 kilometres. There’s no way what we were doing could be considered driving. We would barely move centimetres before having to stop again for several minutes. I was still trying to convince the guys that it would be better to walk, but they were feeling lazy. So we sat in a mostly stationary tuk tuk for the best part of 2 hours when we could’ve walked that distance in less than an hour. Fun.
Getting Out of Dhaka
As Mahi had some time off, he had offered to accompany me to a place of my choice outside of Dhaka. After many days of research and deliberations, he had helped me come to a decision on a place to visit. That place was Birishiri, around 170 kilometres north of Dhaka, near the Indian Border. It was chosen because it was the closest place to Dhaka that had some cool natural stuff going on and wasn’t a complete hassle to get to. Many provinces in Bangladesh require foreigners to purchase permits to enter them. None are required for Birishiri.
Mahi had found the bus to Birishiri for us. It cost 250 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) and ran overnight. But wait, it’s only 170 kilometres! How could it take all night, you may ask. Because the roads are absolute crap. They were so bumpy that the bus only averaged 20km/h for most of the trip. What was even more hilarious was that the fitness app on my phone actually registered a lot of the bumps as walking. I did 7000 steps that night!
Early Morning Adventures Getting into Birishiri
We were dropped off a little bit out of Birishiri, after a not-so-comfortable bus ride, at 12am. I was wondering how we were going to get into town at that time, but Mahi advised me not to worry. He had some friends who would help us out. He then added that his friends were like the ‘gangstas’ of the town. Well, this was certainly going to be interesting.
Mahi’s friends turned up a short while later on their motorbikes to take us to our accommodation. As we had bags, we needed to take a bike each. This part of the journey was more of an adventure than I thought it would be. We started on some perfectly nice roads in the middle of nowhere, then ended up on narrow risen concrete paths above small cultivation fields. After about half an hour of that, we made it to a river.
It was 1am by that point and everything was pitch black. No buildings or street lights in sight. I was wondering how on earth we were going to get across the river. The motorbike guys said we had to wait. Wait until when, I wondered. Were we sleeping there? Surely there was no ferry at that time of night? As luck would have it, a rickety old wooden ferry was running that night. I use the term ‘ferry’ in the loosest sense of the word. It was more like some wooden boards hastily thrown together. But it did the job.
After crossing the shallow river, we rode along more deserted roads to finally get to our accommodation around 2am. There was a lot of knocking and shouting before the lady running the guesthouse came out to let us in. Even though we’d just woken her up, she still offered us tea! I was more interested in sleeping after the night’s events.
Purple Rocks and Green Lakes
Mahi’s friend came to get us in the morning and took us to a village with a church on a hill that overlooked the Indian border.
After walking around the cute little village for a while, then looking over into India, we were back on the road.
We made our way to an area where some locals had set up some makeshift shops. Once there, a young boy of no more than 8 years old took it upon himself to be our guide.
He showed us the best hiking route to see the purple rocks.
And the best viewpoint for the green lakes.
Back to Dhaka For More Hospitality in Bangladesh
Mahi wasn’t able to host me back in Dhaka, but he had organised for me to stay with one of his friends, Taslima. There were 3 generations of the family living in Taslima’s house, including Taslima’s son, her sister and her mother. They were all absolutely amazing. Whether it was just chatting, or planning how to cater to my dietary needs, they made sure that I was always comfortable. I even had some interesting chats with Taslima’s mum, who didn’t speak any English at all!
Once I’d had a bit of a rest, Tasmina dressed me in a Sari, that she then gifted to me. We went for a walk to the local canal around sunset.
We then took a ferry across the canal to a small sitting out area where we were able to watch a light show. On the canal!
Another Kind of Hospitality in Bangladesh
A local by the name of Shahriar, who was very keen to meet people travelling through Dhaka, got in contact with Taslima. He offered to take us both on a tour of the old city.
He was so delighted to meet a traveller that he refused to take any money from either of us for transport costs or entrance fees. The old city was rather interesting, but I prefer to call it the city of colourful forts.
Like this orange fort.
This apparently purple fort.
And this pink fort.
A Final Word on Hospitality in Bangladesh
The hospitality in Bangladesh was nothing short of amazing. Everyone I met was super kind. Everyone went out of their way to help me, whether it be with transport and planning, catering to my dietary needs, or hosting. While other stuff about Bangladesh can be overwhelming, the fact that people are so welcoming and helpful makes it a place that should be on everyone’s ‘to visit’ list!
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