Bangladesh travel guide
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 gained independence in 1971 after a 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, 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.
143,998 sq km (55,598 sq miles).
162,910,864 (UN estimate 2016).
1,173.3 per sq km.
President Abdul Hamid since 2013.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2009.
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 plugs with two flat pins.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
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.
There is continuing tension between the government and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led 20 Party Alliance. Protests and demonstrations can quickly turn violent and lead to clashes with law enforcement agencies. Violent attacks, incidents of arson, and vandalism can suddenly break out across the country, mainly in towns and cities.
Be vigilant at all times. 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. If you’re travelling during a hartal (strike) avoid demonstrations and protests as they may quickly turn violent. There could be attacks on property and public transport.
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.
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.
Consult a reliable local contact before going into unfamiliar areas or areas where there is a history of trouble.
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).
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.
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.
The UK Department for Transport (DfT) recently carried out assessments of security at Dhaka International Airport. Following this, the DfT has assessed that security at Dhaka airport does not meet some international security requirements. The UK government is working to support the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that all international aviation security requirements are met. Read more about the DfT assessment.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list isn’t exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
In 2012 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Bangladesh.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
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.