Traditional geometric painted boat, Dhaka, Bangladesh
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Traditional geometric painted boat, Dhaka, Bangladesh

© Creative Commons / Wonderlane's

Bangladesh Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

143,998 sq km (55,598 sq miles).

Population

163.7 million (2013).

Population density

1136 per sq km.

Capital

Dhaka.

Government

Republic. Gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Head of state

President Abdul Hamid since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2009.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Sockets accept a mixture of British-style three-prong plugs, standard European rounded two-pin plugs, rounded three-pin plugs and American-style two-pin plugs.

India’s sleepy eastern cousin, Bangladesh slumbers gently under monsoon skies at the mouth of the Jamuna River, one of the world’s great deltas.

Formerly East Pakistan, this intriguing backwater became independent in 1971 after a year-long civil war that still plays a major role in the national psyche.

An influx of tourists was predicted following independence, but this has yet to materialised, meaning visitors have Bangladesh’s many and varied attractions to themselves.

Those attractions range from Mughal palaces and gleaming mosques to palm-fringed beaches, rolling tea-plantations and jungles full of snarling Bengal tigers.

Bangladesh’s frenetic capital, Dhaka, was once the main port for the whole of Bengal, and its rickshaw-crammed streets present a faded mirror to Kolkata across the border.

Dhaka is a city of rain-washed colonial buildings, gaudy film posters, docksides thronging with boats and the constant cacophony of car horns and rickshaw bells. It can be a shock for the senses, but the blow is softened by friendly, inquisitive locals and delicious Bengali cuisine.

South of Dhaka, the Jamuna River breaks down into a tangle of jungle-choked waterways as you enter the Sundarbans, one of the last refuges of the Bengal tiger.

Here, as elsewhere in Bangladesh, the best way to get around is by river – legions of boats ply every waterway, from tiny coracles to the paddleboat ‘rockets’ that chug between Dhaka and Kulna.

The south of Bangladesh is something else again; tropical beaches give way to forested hills that hide a host of Buddhist and animist tribes. Then there’s Sylhet, in the heart of tea plantation country, where foreign remittances have built a miniature version of England amidst the monsoon hills.

Above all else, Bangladesh is place to leave the mainstream travel map. Let the crowds mob the beaches of Goa and the forts of Rajasthan; in Bangladesh, you won’t have to queue to be amazed.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 03 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Bangladesh has a long history of political violence. If you’re currently in Bangladesh, or intend to travel there, even if you’re a regular visitor with family or business links you should monitor the media and regularly consult travel advice. Details of English language news broadcasts are as follows:

  • ATN Bangla - 6pm
  • ATN News 1pm and 7pm
  • BTV 4pm and 10pm
  • Independent TV 4.30pm

There are also several online English language newspapers and agencies.

Political violence

Tension between the government and opposition parties is common. Since January 2015 the opposition have called for a nationwide blockade of road, rail and river transport. They have also called for a programme of rolling enforced general strikes (hartals), which usually take place during the working week (Sunday to Thursday).

The nationwide blockade has been marked by violence and clashes between the police and protestors. There are regular reports of arson and vandalism across the country. Buses have been burned, resulting in deaths and serious injuries. Explosives and firearms have been used in the past.

During civil unrest, blockades and hartals you should take great care. Be vigilant at all times. If you’re travelling during a blockade or hartal avoid demonstrations and protests as they may quickly turn violent. There could be attacks on property and public transport. If you see a demonstration developing, or are in a situation in which you feel unsafe, move away to a place of safety. Stay away from large gatherings, and avoid political offices and rallies.

Crime

Armed robbery, pick pocketing, and purse snatching can occur. Don’t carry large amounts of money with you or wear jewellery in the street. Thieves often work in pairs on motorcycles or motorised rickshaws known as ‘CNGs’. Passengers using rickshaws, or travelling alone in taxis are particularly vulnerable, especially at night. Avoid using public transport if you’re on your own. Cycle rickshaws aren’t safe; they offer little protection for passengers in the event of a crash.

There have been reports of officials abusing their authority. Make sure you’re accompanied if you visit a police station.

There have been reports of theft and harassment at Dhaka and Sylhet airports. Beware of touts offering to carry your bags. Arrange transfers in advance. Taxis, including those serving the airport, often overcharge and drivers have been known to rob passengers. Passport theft at Dhaka and Sylhet airports is a particular concern. Be vigilant and make sure your documents and any valuables are kept secure at all times.

Abductions

Abduction of children and businessmen for ransom is not unknown. Although this does not appear to be particularly directed at foreigners, you should be aware that the long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.

Local travel

Consult a reliable local contact before going into unfamiliar areas or areas where there is a history of trouble.

Due to the current unrest and the need to ensure public safety, the Bangladesh government has decided not to operate any inter-district passenger buses after 9 pm across Bangladesh until further notice.

Dhaka

In Dhaka, there have been reports of petrol bombs and small crude hand made bombs (known locally as cocktails) going off in many parts of the city including Gulshan, Baridhara and Banani where many foreigners live.

In line with safety and security advice in this travel advice, British High Commission staff have been advised to avoid the area around Road 86 Gulshan 2, where the BNP opposition party has its Gulshan office, until further notice. Due to an increase in demonstrations, which can turn violent, staff have also been advised to avoid using the Gulshan 2 intersection and Road 90 between 11am and 4pm each day.

In line with this advice, British High Commission staff have also been advised to limit their movements in the areas near Dhaka University campus and other universities, government buildings and political offices, which can be particularly volatile during civil unrest and demonstrations. Other areas which have seen violent protests include industrial zones housing large numbers of garment factories, and the financial district close to Dhaka’s Stock Exchange. The period after Friday prayers can be a time of increased tensions.

Chittagong Hill Tracts

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which comprise the districts of Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban. This area doesn’t include Chittagong City, or other parts of Chittagong Division.

Security in the Chittagong Hill Tracts continues to be a cause for concern. In 2010 clashes between rival ethnic groups led to fatalities. A gun fight in 2011 between rival political factions resulted in at least 5 deaths. There are regular reports of violence and other criminal activities, particularly in the more remote areas. If you propose to visit the Chittagong Hill Tracts you must give the Bangladesh authorities 10 days’ notice of your travel plans.

For further information, contact:

  • Chittagong Divisional Commissioner’s Office (tel: 031 615247) or;
  • Chittagong Deputy Commissioner’s Office (tel: 031 619996).

Indian border

Take particular care near the border areas. There are regular reports of individuals being killed for illegally crossing the border with India. There are occasional skirmishes between the Indian and Bangladeshi border guards, including exchanges of gunfire.

Road travel

If you intend to drive you should get an International Driving Permit.

Roads are in poor condition, and road safety is also very poor. Drivers of larger vehicles expect to be given right of way. Speeding, dangerous and aggressive overtaking and sudden manoeuvres without indicating often cause serious accidents. You should take particular care on long road journeys and use well-travelled and well-lit routes where possible. Traffic is heavy and chaotic in urban areas. City streets are extremely congested and the usual rules of the road not applied. Many drivers are unlicensed and uninsured.

Driving at night is especially dangerous as many vehicles are unlit, or travel on full-beam headlights. There’s also a risk of banditry if you travel between towns after dark, by train, bus or ferry.

Rail travel

Bangladesh has an extensive but old rail network. Rail travel in Bangladesh is generally slow. There are occasional derailments and other incidents, which can result in injuries and deaths. Trains have been actively targeted and derailed during the current unrest.

On some trains, first class compartments may be lockable. Make sure the compartment door is locked if you are travelling overnight. For further information see the Bangladesh railways website.

Sea and river travel

River and sea ferries are often dangerously overcrowded, particularly in the days around religious festivals and other holidays. There have been a number of serious accidents in Bangladesh and capsizing is common. Take care if you use the ferries.

There are frequent acts of piracy in and around Bangladeshi waters.

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