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 organized 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 in Dhaka 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. This is the 6 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- 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 the 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.
Additional info about 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’re having 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 places 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
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 money you have to head to one of the fanciest areas like Gulshan and Baridhara where you can find ATM everywhere.
Most ATM seems to accept foreigner bank cards, booth visa, and MasterCard.
1L Bottle of water – 15TK.
0.33L Coke/Pepsi – 25TK.
Meal in a local restaurant – 50TK to 150TK.
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.
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.
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.
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