Impressions Of Dhaka, Bangladesh

We’re slowly headed back to the U.S. from our incredible trip to Bhutan, and on the way back planned a one night stopover in Dhaka, Bangladesh. That was my first time visiting Bangladesh, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

A (non-Bangladeshi) friend recently told me that Bangladesh is his favorite country in the world. Not the city of Dhaka as such, but the countryside.

Meanwhile I’ve had others tell me that Dhaka is a horrible place. So I was curious to find out for myself. We were only there for a day, so we arranged for a five hour city tour. That doesn’t make me an expert on the place, but that won’t stop me from sharing my first impressions.

What did I make of Dhaka?

The people were friendly-as-could-be across the board. The entire time we explored Dhaka I saw one other caucasian, so we were getting a lot of looks from people, etc. Not mean looks, but curious looks. A few kids also came up to us to ask for money — not in an aggressive way, but in a kind way. But everyone we interacted with was so friendly, and largely they just wanted to practice their English (especially kids and teenagers).

Along similar lines, I felt safe everywhere we went. Of course some things have happened in Dhaka in the past, but for one of the biggest cities in the world, it still struck me as reasonably safe.

The city’s infrastructure was significantly better than I was expecting. I was expecting it to be similar to Kathmandu, but it was much better. The roads were in great condition, even though traffic was horrible (traffic almost gives Jakarta and Sao Paulo a run for their money, and many times we didn’t move for 10 minutes). They’re working on improving public transportation and building new roads, though, so hopefully that improves over time.

Dhaka-Bangladesh - 4

Driving in Dhaka is also crazy. There’s a system of organized chaos, so it’s not that I felt the driving was dangerous, but rather that I just needed some anti-anxiety meds to not be stressed in the car.

Dhaka isn’t a city designed around tourists, so there’s not all that much to do if you’re looking to sightsee. However, I enjoyed the sites we did see, including Lalbagh Fort, Dhakeshwari National Temple, Shaheed Minar, Curzon Hall, and the Liberation War Museum. I was especially touched by the museum — it was chilling to see some of the artifacts they had from the genocide.

I could certainly see myself spending a few days in Dhaka without getting bored.

Dhaka-Bangladesh - 1

But beyond that what impressed me was the direction the country is headed. I was happy to hear about the percent of people attending university, the success of women in the country, etc.

Dhaka-Bangladesh - 3

The city was also cleaner than I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “clean” by any stretch of the immigration, but I thought the city was much cleaner and less polluted than Kathmandu, which I wasn’t anticipating. Maybe I just visited on a good day.

Dhaka

Bottom line

Dhaka exceeded my expectations. No, it won’t be a tourist hotspot anytime soon, but it’s an interesting place to visit on a stopover, and is well worth spending a couple of days in, in my opinion.

What impressed me about Dhaka was the infrastructure, how (relatively) progressive the city seemed to be, the friendliness of the people, and the great food. I also felt safe at all times.

If you’ve visited Dhaka, what was your experience like?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Lucky,

    This phrase “by any stretch of the immigration” should end with “imagination”?

    Nice post.

  2. While a London or a Tokyo are great cities to visit, after going to somewhere like Yangon it certainly makes you want to visit frontier markets more. May lack traditional tourism draw, but it was great having old gentlemen with no English want to shake your hand because they’re happy to see you there, or approach to engage in no-strings conversations rather for opportunity to make a sale.

  3. “some things have happened in Dhaka in the past” doesn’t quite honor the memory of those young western and Japanese tourists who got slaughtered with axes at the hands of savages last year.

    Sure, Dhaka is an interesting place in a developing part of the world with some unique cuisine, particularly around the Chittagong area. But let’s not get lulled into a false sense of security. Westerners and particularly those in minority groups not permitted in Islam (LGBT – myself included) should be vigilant at all times.

  4. I am from Bangladesh. I highly recommend visiting Sylhet if you ever get a chance. While Dhaka is more modern and bustling with commotion, Sylhet has the city life mixed with the countryside. It is beautiful with tea gardens, nature and such. Fantastic resorts have been built on the outskirts of Sylhet (i.e. Dusai, Grand Sultan and The Palace) which I think you will love. Also not many people realize but Sylhet also borders the eastern frontiers of India such as Assam.
    P.S. Kind of biased as I am originally from Sylhet.

  5. I do annual or more supplier visits to Dhaka, generally stay at the Westin. As Lucky says, horrible traffic, and It’s possibly my least favorite airport in Asia, right up there with Chennai.

    I honestly don’t see anything especially remarkable about the city, though, since I lived in India for five years, it may not seem quite so unique.

    As a drinking man, it’s a minor annoyance that you can’t get a beer in the restaurant on Friday (though you can get one with room service). There’s a Intercon coming up sometime soon – a renovated older property – so will probably stay there when it opens.

  6. @Petter – I’m not from the U.S.A. so I wouldn’t know. But yes, I believe the slaughter of 50+ gay people in the Orlando night club was also done by Islamic terrorists.

  7. Dude, your travel advice is so off I wonder how you really travel. First, you count a one night stopover as seeing a country?

    And second, Dhaka is ridiculously underdeveloped if you go the more average income places, which is 75% of the city. I’m guessing you just drove around in an air conditioned car and did a half day tour. If you would have gone down to Old Dhaka or walked into the more normal parts of town you would have seen severe poverty…. leprosy is still a thing there. I still remember lepers begging on the side of the streets.

    As someone who’s been to both places and spent more than one day, I absolutely recommend Kathmandu 10x over Dhaka.

  8. Lucky, I am surprised that you didn’t post a single picture of food. Dhaka is city of people, food, mosques, rickshaws, traffic etc 😉

    Thanks for visiting and writing up a blog about my home town.

  9. Lucky, please tell us you were able to visit the National Assembly building
    and will view the film MY ARCHITECT.

  10. Traffic worst than Sao Paulo on a rainy Friday by the end of the day is pretty hard to beat. I had several times when flights were delayed out of GRU because the crew was stuck in traffic coming from their hotel to the airport 🙁

  11. Try the countryside next time. Work friend had to drive three hours outside the city and was stopped in his van by two warring villagers about two hundred angry villagers were about to fight with machetes and pitchforks in a field. Rivalry between markets I guess. They stopped the van and made them wait while they searched it. Never going to a country like that.

  12. I used to send people to various places for work to give training, and one of them was Bangladesh… The description one shared with me, many years ago was that there were “shantytowns” (my words) on or slightly off the airport grounds. Did you see anything like that upon landing or departing?

  13. I highly recommend the book ” The Blood Telegram” by The ex US ambassador to Bangladesh Mr Blood. ” saying somethings have happened does not quite cover it and as an American we are lucky not to be slaughtered on sight anywhere in Bangladesh

  14. Hah, São Paulo. A few years back I took a bus from downtown airport to GRU. Because of the rain what was supposed to be a 30 min ride became a 6 hour trip (could have walked faster). My AC flight was leaving at 10 pm, I got to the airport by 10 pm, check in was still open. Crew showed up at midnight.
    I do not know Jakarta but São Paulo is the benchmark in terms of traffic for me.

  15. Ben, I’ve read your blog for years but have never taken the time to comment. As someone who grew up in Dhaka, I was excited when I saw you had visited, albeit just for a day. While I don’t travel as much as you, I’ve been to 40+ countries, and if I’m objective, I have to admit that traffic in Dhaka is the worst. The only other city that I’ve seen as bad is Lagos. It’s amusing to see how people pounced on you to debate whether traffic is really worse in Sao Paulo or whether Kathmandu is 10X better or worse. If you really care about learning about new people and places, how much do those matter? My travel motto is that each country has something to offer, and my job as a traveler is to seek that out. I am glad you felt welcomed and safe. I would advise all Westerners visiting Bangladesh to both be careful and enjoy the warm hospitality that Bangladeshis are known for. Do visit again and take time to go to the beaches, forests, and tea estates. And thank you for what you do.

  16. Lucky,
    Very nice report/recon and enjoyed the “un-biased” view of a relatively unknown part of the world.
    Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country and their top leader (Prime Minister) for more than a decade has been all women (Khaleda + Hasina). USA is STILL lagging behind in that (~50% of USA is Women and we couldn’t find it in our politicized/prejudiced/male-dominated hearts/minds to elect one!).

  17. @SC
    Just had a look to Sylhet…
    Sounds a very nice city !!
    And Assam is definitely the place to go when you visit India !!!

  18. > I believe the slaughter of 50+ gay people in the Orlando night club was also done by Islamic terrorists.

    D.E.A.D.

  19. Dreadful place. Noisy, smelly, polluted, unattractive, unsafe/dangerous; best avoided ( as per the strongly worded travel advisories) unless there is a compelling reason to visit. On the other hand, many Bangladeshis living outside the country are most charming and sophisticated.

  20. I honestly cannot understand how you can even compare Dhaka with Kathmandu. Having been to both places, I agree with he comments that Kathmandu is at least 10x better than Dhaka.

    I would even go as far as considering Dhaka as potential unsafe and certainly a lot more gay “unfriendly”

  21. After more thought, I realized this is a perfect example of how Lucky is a great first class reviewer, but should never be seen as a source of travel experience advice.

    Kathmandu is a much more interesting, cultural destination but the way it is set up and with the infrastructure it requires you to get out and actually walk around and see things. Most travelers enjoy this but some, like Lucky, do not.

    Dhaka you can drive around from place to place in a luxury car, get out, snap some photos and get back in. Then head back to the handful of luxury hotels.

    I would pay money to see a trip with Lucky and Rapid Travel Chai to a third world spot! Lucky couldn’t handle it.

  22. New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or other large Metropolitan cities (Sao Paolo, BA, Shanghai, Beijing etc.) around the world have certain sides that have these issues. Only major difference is that they spend large $$ to hide these issues from tourists..

  23. omg Sao Paulo traffic is the WORST. My brother missed his flight because of it. But it’s still a great city 🙂 LA traffic is right up there too….

  24. @James – “First, you count a one night stopover as seeing a country? And second, Dhaka is ridiculously underdeveloped if you go the more average income places, which is 75% of the city. I’m guessing you just drove around in an air conditioned car and did a half day tour.”

    Did you even bother to read the third paragraph?

    “We were only there for a day, so we arranged for a five hour city tour. That doesn’t make me an expert on the place, but that won’t stop me from sharing my first impressions.”

    Sounds pretty honest about the limitations of his remarks to me.

    Pretty clear to me

  25. Banlgadesh is definitely the most underrated country in South Asia. I spent two weeks there with my university as part of a course I took. The people are extremely friendly, you can walk around in a market without being hounded by aggressive merchants (unlike elsewhere in S/SE Asia). I found it to be more laid back than India. True, there isn’t anything like the Taj Mahal but I think that is part of what makes Bangladesh so wonderful. The countryside is gorgeous too- we took a boat trip down to the Sundarbans national forest which is one of the largest mangrove preserves/groves in the world. When I was there 4 years ago there were some hartals (strikes) and unrest right before and while I was there (so we extended our Sundarbans trip by one day and canceled our trip up north to a town/village) but I never felt unsafe

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