Forget Delhi, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Panama City, or even Bogota.
None of them even get close to Dhaka when talking about madness and craziness. Those cities are so well organised compared to Dhaka.
I decided to fly to Dhaka and Bangladesh only the night before I landed at the airport in Dhaka, after a delayed flight from Kathmandu. Oh, but I’m used to it.
All my previous flights out of Kathmandu always delayed, so I was not surprised when my flight this time was only 7 hours delayed – still an improvement from my last flight, which ended up getting delayed for one week!
And everyone that has flown out from Kathmandu airport knew that this is the worst airport in the world to get stuck on.
So when I finally arrived at Dhaka Airport at 3 am, with no accommodation booked or no idea where to go, I got extremely relieved when the passenger next to me on the flight offered me to use his private driver who picked him up at the airport, to drive me to a guesthouse in a good area. Thanks to Karma!
But, looking for a place to stay at 4 am is never a good idea, especially when you have never been to the city before.
We ended up driving around for more than 1 hour, and the Lonely Planet Bangladesh 7th edition showed to be as useless as a midget on a basketball team. We finally found a place to stay around 5 am.
Dhaka is divided into 17 districts or, locals said Thanas. But you don’t have to visit all of them. There is the six most important for tourists.
Old and Central Dhaka- The madness, the history, the pollution and the dirt-cheap areas
Gulshan/ Banani/ Baridhara- An upscale area with embassies, trendy crowd, and upscale restaurants.
Nothing special here for tourists to see or do.
But if you get tired of the madness of old Dhaka, this is a good area to seek out some air-con restaurants or western food.
Uttara- the northern part of Dhaka, close to the airport. If you are flying out early, this is the area to stay in. This is an upscale area with expensive guesthouse and western restaurants.
If you want to experience the real Dhaka, you have to stay in Old Dhaka.
This Thanas offers a different world from Gulshan.
Even some of the local I talked to in Gulshan said they had not been to the old part of Dhaka in years, and only crazy and poor people would consider going there.
So, it is a perfect destination for me.
Old Dhaka is an exhausting place, with its noise, sound and high level of pollution. It’s the first time any city got to me.
When I went back to my guesthouse around 6 pm (everything was closed down by then), I was done, completely done.
I rarely feel exhausted from travelling anywhere in the world. But in Dhaka, when I getting back to my tiny room, with no windows was pure heaven, the air-con and tv was a big plus!
Dhaka is not about historical sights to see, they have a few of them, but the main thing to see in Dhaka is daily life.
So, if you are planning to visit Dhaka, I would recommend you to get up very early before the cities alive. Walking around the small streets in the early morning was pretty peaceful but yet not clean. Any Indian city is like Singapore compared to Old Dhaka when it comes to cleanliness.
One thing I learned not to care about while travelling is when people are staring at you, especially in un-touristy places. I guess they are not used to see a white traveller with a big curly afro every day.Normally, I don’t care about that anymore. But locals in Dhaka took it to a new level. Like this photo, when I was just having a light lunch with a chai, more than 30 people starring me at the same time, a new personal record!
All life in Bangladesh and Dhaka happens around the river, so one of the insignificant things to do in Dhaka is to get on a small boat at the river.
But try not to get rip-off like I did, even that I agreed on a price for a boat and driver to take me down the river, after about half the way, they stopped the boat and demanded me to pay more to take me back to land.
Even they only wanted 4 dollars more; it’s still annoying to me.
I enjoyed my time in Dhaka and Bangladesh, but it’s not for the faint-hearted and the typical backpacker that only got experience from South Asia and Europe; it’s a hard place to travel, very few people speak English, and more or less no tourist infrastructure.
You have to do everything yourself; the main bus station in Dhaka is the most chaotic place I have ever been, with close to a thousand, with no marking, no signs, just had to walk around for about 30min and shout the name of the destination I wanted to go to.
A lot of fun.
Planning a trip to the capital of Bangladesh? We have you covered. Being one of the world’s most populated cities, Dhaka is a hotspot with the perfect aesthetics for street photography.
There are numerous places to visit and experience in Dhaka, but with proper planning and our list of top things to do in Dhaka, Bangladesh, you can enjoy a little bit of everything this city has to offer.
With a city that’s packed with tourist attractions and various outdoor activities, you will not have a single dull moment as you tour Dhaka, that much we can assure you.
Top Attractions in Dhaka
Ahsan Manzil was built in 1872 at the site of an old French Factory. It was built by one of Bangladesh’s richest landowners, Nawab Abdul Gani, and served as his residence for a time.
Hit by a tornado shortly after it was built, the palace today serves as a reminder of the country’s colonial history.
Also known as the pink palace, Ahsan Manzil is a beautiful site to visit while you’re in Dhaka.
The Ahsan Manzil is located along the banks of the river Buriganga and offers a beautiful view of the river from the property.
The monument’s architecture denotes the ostentatious luxury that was prevalent in the country during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Ahsan Manzil is not a tourist destination you should miss with its alluring grandeur and intriguing history.
The Lalbagh fort is one of the best places to escape the craziness in Old Dhaka.
Lalbahg fort was built back in 1677 and is one of the oldest buildings in Dhaka and wll worth a visit, even tho only a small part of the the monument is open to the public, still it´s a great place to relax.
Built in 1952, the Shahid Minar commemorates the martyrs of the historic Bengali Language Movement, a political movement that advocated for the recognition of Bengali as Bangladesh’s official language.
Thousands gather every 21st of February at the Shahid Minar to pay their respects to this cause.
The architecture of this monument speaks for itself. The design is massive with a semi-circular arrangement of columns.
It rises as high as 46 feet and is constructed with pure marble stones.
With its marble columns as well as majestic stairs and barriers, the Shahid Minar is definitely one of the top things to do in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Shahid Minar is located at the Dhaka University Campus and, until today, serves as a reminder of the importance of one’s mother tongue.
The Armenian church is named after the colony that first settled in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the late 17th century.
The Armenians were Greek and Orthodox Christians who built churches wherever they settled.
The community that the church is named after is practically extinct now. However, its legacy lives on through this historical monument located in Amanitola.
It was built in the 18th century as a quaint little church in the middle of the chaotic city of Dhaka. The church has a rectangular plot with no more than four doors and 27 windows.
It has a majestic arched gate that gives visitors the feeling that they have been transported into a whole new world altogether.
The church also has a graveyard wherein the remains of the original landowner, an Armenian named Agaminus Catachik, lie.
Atop his grave stands a statue portraying his wife, while the tombstone has the words “best of husbands” inscribed on it.
Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban
Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban the Bangladesh Parlament
Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, the National Parliament House the national parlament of Bangladesh was once the largest building in the world and a modern landmark of Dhaka. The Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban is designed by the famous American architect, Louis I. Kahn and some parts of the building is open to public.
Visit Sadharghat River Port
The Sadharghat River Port is located on the river Buriganga towards the south of Dhaka. It is one of the greatest river ports in not just the country but in the world.
The river Buriganga serves as the lifeline of the people of Dhaka, ferrying goods and supplies from one end to the other.
One could spend a whole evening just sitting and watching the ferries go by filled with produce and the hardworking people onboard who depend on it for a living.
The port is chaotic, but it is one of the most down-to-earth experiences you could possibly have in Bangladesh.
While various other tourist destinations are known for their history, grandeur, and beauty, the Sadharghat Port is distinctive in its disorderly hubbub.
It is an unfiltered view of the day-to-day happenings of a city as densely populated as Dhaka and is an enriching experience.
Best Local Food in Dhaka
Al-Razzaque is a restaurant famous for Bangladeshi cuisine. If you want a taste of local Bangladesh, Al-Razzaque is where you go.
They are known for making the best biryanis and gravies.
However, it is their soft, flaky plate-sized rotis that make them a favorite among locals as well as tourists.
Their Bangladeshi breakfast menu is also to die for. Though the restaurant does not provide an English menu, the English-speaking waitstaff is always very eager to assist customers looking to sample the local fare.
How about a taste of India in the middle of…Bangladesh?! Indeed, Dhaba is a lovely air-conditioned restaurant that serves Indian street food in a clean and hygienic environment.
While everything here is mouth-wateringly delicious, Dhaba is most known for its explicit chaat, an Indian spicy snack food.
They also have some excellent freshly made fruit juices on their menu. Rest assured, if you are looking to satisfy your craving for Indian food, you need not look any further than Dhaba.
Holey Artisan Bakery
The Holey Artisan Bakery has a reputation for serving the best sourdoughs, croissants, baguettes, and bagels in all of Dhaka.
They also serve a wide range of delicious pastries but are particularly known for their steak ale pies and tuna and celery sandwiches.
In addition, they have a lovely spread of desserts to appeal to your sweet tooth. Their dessert menu includes key lime meringue pie, New York cheesecake, and carrot cake as well.
Their sweet and savory dishes go exceptionally well with their house espresso. If you don’t believe that this bakery is worth a visit, listen to the New York Times, who lauded this modest establishment as “among the most beloved restaurants in Dhaka.”
Holey Artisan Bakery is now located at a new address inside of a shopping mall, Rangs Arcade.
To appeal to the café lover in you, Dhaka offers a quaint coffee shop with a courtyard in Banani. You could stay in and have a coffee while enjoying the ambiance or even get a quick bite to eat. There are a variety of universities here, making it a bustling area for kids and youngsters.
While at Roll Xpress, be sure to try their south India Dosas, and life as you know it will never be the same. The food, the coffee, and the ambiance are to die for. With a lovely cottage aesthetic, it makes for the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon in Bangladesh.
Local Arts in Dhaka
What would a list of top things to do in Dhaka, Bangladesh be without mentioning Jatra Biroti? Jatra Biroti is a music lounge known for its live music events.
With bright walls, dim lights, and flowing fabrics, the ambiance that this place creates is spot on.
They have an open-mic night every Friday, while Saturdays are reserved for electroacoustic music only. However, if you are a lover of folk music, then a Thursday night would be the perfect time to visit Jatra Biroti.
Are you a photography buff? If so, then you just have to pay Chobi Mela a visit.
The simple translation of the word “mela” is fair, and that is exactly what Chobi Mela is: a photography and videography fair that offers everything else in between that new media has to offer.
It showcases the best visual expositions from both local as well as international artists.
These exhibits crop up at various venues all over the city of Dakha. However, it is not year-round, so it is advisable to check out the details on their website before planning your visit.
Kumudini is practically a three-floor high shopping arcade that sells only traditional Bengali clothes and handicrafts.
They are well known for the exceptional quality of their products. The handicrafts they sell include a variety of children’s toys and unbelievably intricate embroidery.
They also make a large number of jute products. Keeping in mind the high quality of the handmade products available here, Kumudini is the best place to shop for Bengali products to take home as souvenirs for family and friends.
Boi Bichitra is one of Dakha’s leading bookstores. They have seven stores across the city, which are stocked with international as well as local bestsellers.
They also sell stationery as well as toys for children. They have a wide range of magazines like GQ and Harper’s Bazaar.
The selection that can be found at Boi Bichitra perfectly highlights the diversity in literature that Dhaka has to offer.
While it is true that Dhaka is filled to the brim with beautiful architecture, art, and music, it is also a densely populated, busy city.
The unfiltered view of the city is just packed with scenic routes, aesthetic streets, hardworking locals, and mouthwatering food.
You may visit Dhaka and then return home, but we promise that you will take with you a part of this chaotic, bustling city.
Additional info about Dhaka.
Accommodation and hotels in Dhaka.
When deciding where to stay in Dhaka, you have to know what you want to do, since getting around the city can take all day.
If you have an early flight or train, you have to stay in the Northern part of the city in the area of Gulshan or Baridhara. There’s guesthouses/hotel all around Baridhara but not much budget options.
Most modern places have a big bathroom with western toilets, good showers, and the bedroom got good air-con, fast wi-fi and satellite tv. Prices range from 20usd+.
In Old Dhaka, Hotel Al-Razzaque seems to be the foreigner’s place to stay; it’s far from fancy, the rooms are tiny, but you get your own bathroom, tv, and air-con. It’s not clean. 4usd
On the ground floor of the hotel is a large and popular restaurant, busy any time of the day with Bangladeshi families and businessmen. Food is pretty darn good. From 0.6usd
Money/Prices in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
1USD – 88TK
Dhaka is cheap, very cheap, even compared with India and South East Asia.
There’s very few ATM and, more or less, nowhere to exchange money in Old Dhaka.
So if you need to exchange money or to withdraw some money, you have to head to one of the fanciest areas like Gulshan and Baridhara, where you can find an ATM everywhere.
Most ATM seems to accept foreigner bank cards, booth visa, and MasterCard.
1L Bottle of water – 15TK.
0.33L Coke/Pepsi – 25TK.
A meal in a local restaurant – 50TK to 150TK.
A meal in a good restaurant – 450TK to 1200TK.
Hamburger meal with fries and drink – 350TK.
Coffee in a coffee chain – 150TK.
Pack of Cigarettes (Marlboro) – 200TK.
Beer local 0.5L can – Couldn’t find any.
Beer imported 0.33L (Carlsberg) – 400TK.
Gasoline (1 litre) – 100TK.
Beer in Dhaka.
I couldn’t find any kind of local beer, just international brands like Carlsberg, Tuborg, Heineken, and Fosters.
It’s hard to find beer and alcohol I Bangladesh; you can not buy alcohol in shops or supermarket.
The only place to find it is high-end restaurants and hotels, but all of them allowed me to take it with me, as long as I packed it down in my backpack and didn’t show it to anyone.
Is Dhaka Safe?
I personally had no problem in either Dhaka or Bangladesh, but Dhaka is still one of the very few places anywhere in the world. I didn’t feel comfortable to take up my camera to take photos.
4 out of 6 friends that have been to Bangladesh have got robbed there. So it’s a country people should be careful when travelling around.