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5 tips for the solo traveller in Bangladesh

Travelling in Bangladesh can get pretty hectic and confusing at times, especially if you’re travelling solo. But if you planning to ditch your group and set out alone into the unknown, you need to know that it isn’t as hard as it is made out to be. If you can remember some basics, you’re good to go.

Here’s a hands-on guide to help you navigate through the jungles and alleyways of this land of adventure. Buckle up.

Pack light (Comfortable clothes, Accessories, Medicines, etc.)

If you’re travelling solo, chances are, you’ll be backpacking in most places. Even if you’re not, there’s no point in carrying loads of trousers and tees on a trip.

Pack light, take only the essentials.

It’ll help you move faster and it’ll be easier for you to keep your belongings in check. Make sure you carry a few wearables, nothing too heavy or uncomfortable, considering we’re not travelling in winter. Remember, you’re on a trip, not casually hanging out in Dhanmondi Lake.

It’s not important that you look your best, but that you feel your best.

So be comfortable and chill out. If it’s summer, always keep a water bottle in your backpack. Bangladesh is a humid country. 

Do not forget your phone charger, earphones. Pack a few common medicines for headaches, stomachaches and such, just to be prepared. 

Get small packets of toothpaste, soaps, hand sanitizers etc. You never know where you’ll be staying.

Always keep mobile data on your Phone

The worst part about travelling solo in Bangladesh is probably the lack of navigational accessibility. The roads and streets aren’t marked. The local people will definitely cooperate but sometimes mislead too. If you’re looking for directions or trying to select the best routes to your destination avoiding traffic jams, Google Maps is your best friend.

Keep some mobile data always to help you find your way.

Also, you need to maintain a Snapchat streak, right? (No? Okay)

Communicate with the locals

You’ll need to talk to people on your journey. There’s a lot of talking involved. You’ll need to ask for directions, clarify your intentions of travelling to a place (I know right?) and so on. But most importantly, people in Bangladesh are generally curious and they’ll ask you a lot of questions and try their best to show you around and help you. Be nice to them and they’ll be nice to you. Bangladeshi people have the reputation of being the nicest people on the planet. You’ll get a glimpse of that reputation when you’re out on the streets.

Keep in mind that Bangladesh is a conservative country and it will be better to maintain appropriate attire to avoid harassment. Especially if you are a woman travelling alone. It will be best to get used to people staring at you. Most of the time, they stare because they’re curious.

Know about the fares when taking a rickshaw or a taxi. You have to bargain right to get a good deal on fares. Ask the locals for help and they’ll gladly help you out.

Keep your documents organized

Keeping your travel and personal documents safe and organized is one of the most important parts of your preparation. Keep your tickets, hotel reservations, your ID etc. all organized in a wallet. Keep your money and your credit card safe. If something gets lost, the return policy isn’t particularly user-friendly in Bangladesh.

Always keep some extra cash in hand, merely a precaution.

Be safe

Although it’s generally safe, it doesn’t hurt to stay prepared. Small robberies, muggings and stealing isn’t uncommon in Bangladesh. Keep a pepper spray or a small knife with you to stay vigilant. Don’t get trigger happy though.

Travelling solo can actually be more fun than travelling in a group. You get your own freedom to relax and explore. If you do it the right way, travelling solo can be the best experience ever. So, follow these checklists on your next destination and most importantly, do enjoy.

Wari-Bateshwar – finding traces of a 2500 year old civilisation

Waking up at the last day of the Bengali New Year was a tedious task, but  thank lord it’s Friday. The curse of an off-day persists as well, as boredom caught on to me pretty fast. After freshening up, an old letter hiding away in front of my computer caught my attention. After picking it up and checking out the content of the letter, I found some beautiful pictures of Wari-Bateshwar. I collected these pictures a few years back, and forgot about them. I made my mind up to visit the place as I shuffled through the pictures. And so, I readied up and left for Narshingdi.

Blessings of Friday also meant wide-open roads free of traffic. I climbed onto a bus going from Mohammadpur to Abdullahpur to reach Bisshoroad, and as soon as I reached the place I got on a BRTC bus going towards Bhulta, Naranganj. After a brief wait, the bus went through 300 Feet and Kanchan bridge and reached Bhulta bus stand within an hour and half. From here, I hopped onto a local bus going towards Pachdona bus stand, which took another hour to reach. And finally, I hitched another bus towards Marjal which reached the Marjal Bazaar in 40 minutes.

From there, I got onto a “Easy Bike” (a battery operated vehicle) and told it to go to Wari. On asphalt surrounded by nature, the Easy Bike soared through the lazy noon as my eyes feasted on the beauty of nature. The driver of the Easy Bike provided quite some historical information behind the history and heritage of Wari-Bateshwar village and gave me some ideas about Sir Habibullah Pathan.

Having quite little time on my hand, I decided to finish my exploration by daylight; so I decided to visit the Wari-Bateshwar Open Museum. This is the first open museum in Bangladesh, and here lies evidences of 2,500 year old civilization based near the old Brahmaputra river. The excavation of this place started around 2000, and around 50 archaeological sites have been uncovered til now. From these sites, printed silver coins, glass and terracotta pottery, metallic objects, and several Buddhist temples have been uncovered.

I took some time and explored this museum built on a massive land. A lot of pictures from the excavation can be found here. I must say, the museum being based under the open sky is quite educational. In this museum one can find a 2500 year old dummy of the map, banners describing various facts. A documentary based on Wari-Bateshwar is also available in here.

After exploring the museum, I started for the residence of Habibullah Pathan. His house holds some of the archaeological vestiges from the sites. It takes around 10 minutes to travel to the residence from the museum. I met with Sir Pathan as soon as I reached the place, as cupboards held various historically significant artifacts excavated from the sites.

This man is the reason why the Wari-Bateshwar region is quite known as an archaeological site. Back in 1933, local school teacher Hanif Pathan wrote to the Weekly Mohammadi newspaper on this forgotten region, and his son, Sir Habibullah Pathan decided to write on this place understanding it’s importance. Hearing his calls, on 1989, Dilip Kumar Chakrabarti from the Cambridge University’s Archaeology department arrived to Wari-Bateshwar and predicted it’s 2,500 year old history. I had quite a nice conversation with Mr. Pathan, and brought a book on the history of Wari-Bateshwar along with me.

As I was returning home, some rural festivals celebrating Chaitra Shangkranti caught my attention. I got into one of them and checked out the offerings from the stalls which are mostly related to the last day of Bengali year. Rural sweets and mouth-watering food was also being served.

The sun was nodding to the west, and daylight slowly started fading away. Sitting in a nearby paddy field, I enjoyed the the last sunset of the Bengali year. With hopes of seeing a brand new sun rise in the next year, I headed home.

Getaway of the week #6: Munshiganj

Munshiganj, also known as Bikrampur is located about 33 kms away from Dhaka city. An ideal location for a day’s visit, Munshiganj is a little bit underrated as a travel destination and the lack of selfie savvy tourists is perhaps on of the best things about travelling to Munshiganj.

To get to Munshiganj, get on a bus from Gulistan. There’s a BRTC run bus and a few private run buses that’ll take you to Munshiganj in 1.5 to 2 hours. The tickets cost around 60-70 taka. Try to leave very early in the morning and get down at Sreenagar. Take an autorickshaw to Gadhighat to visit Arial Beel and hire a boat for an hour or two. The boats should cost no more than 500/600 taka.

The Arial Beel is a massive waterbody between the Ganges and Plain. This depression remains submerged in water during the wet seasons, thanks to accumulated rain water and green farmland reveals itself in winter when the water dries up. During the rainy seasons, the Arial Beel offers a beautiful view of endless watery horizon along with a garden of pink water lilies grown in the water. Life is simple and peaceful there. Watch the local villagers catch fish and harvest water lilies. Spend your time in silence and bliss.

Check out Shyamshiddhi Math on your way back. The massive tower was constructed by a rich merchant of Bikrampur in 1836 AD, over the pyre of his father. The tower stands tall as the highest in the sub-continent, taller than Delhi’s Kutub Minar. The tower has compartments on it’s sides where birds have made their nests. It’s a site worth checking out. Ask your boatman for directions.

Head over to Munshiganj sadar, the central district and take a rickshaw to Idrakpur kella or Idrakpur fort. Idrakpur fort is a Mughal era fort built in 1660 AD by Mir Jumla II and is one of the most historically important constructions ever constructed by the Mughals. The fort acted as one of the three triangular naval defence points protecting the capital of Dhaka from Portugese and Mogh Pirates. Admission to the fort is free.

For the last destination of the day, take an autorickshaw and visit Panditer Bhita, the birthplace of the famous Buddhist scholar, Atish Dipankar. This is where Atish Dipankar was born and grew up. This is also where he first started is learning on Buddhist teachings.

If you have time, you can also visit the Padma resort and Mawa ghat. However, if you do not have time, you’re not missing out on anything. And of course, you can always come back. Get a rickshaw and go to Munshiganj Sadar again to get on a bus to Dhaka.

Munshiganj is a beautiful destination carved by nature and adorned by history. If not anything, the random walks down the streets of Bikrampur and the taste of daal in that local eatery will be a break from your daily life. As Anthony Bourdain used to say “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Traveller’s notebook: in the Land of the Blue Dragon, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is not the first destination that comes to an average Bangladeshi traveller’s mind when thinking of getting out on exploring a new place. But it’s a country boasting a proud South East Asian culture that has a rich colonial history and filled with warm, welcoming people, mouth-watering local delicacies and a crazy coffee culture. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon is also the key city that played a pivotal role in the US led Vietnam war during the 70s. But the best part? Ho Chi Minh city is crazy cheap. With a budget of BDT 5000 to BDT 6000, you can fully experience everything Saigon has to offer you in just 2/3 days. And that includes the cost of your accommodation, food and travel (Unless you plan to stay in 5-star hotels). The airplane fare is the hefty part since Bangladesh doesn’t have a connecting flight to Vietnam. The cheapest one would be Scoot air that’ll cost around BDT25,000 if you can book early, with one stop in Kuala Lumpur. Nonetheless, you can travel an entirely new country and experience a beautiful new culture within just BDT 30,000 and that’s something.

Getting to Vietnam

As mentioned already, the airplane fare is a bit tough on the wallet and the journey could take roughly 6/7 hours with stopovers. But Bangladeshis don’t need a prior visa to visit Vietnam, so just book your ticket, pack your belongings and you’re good to go. After you get down in Tan Son Nhat International Airport, get your on-arrival visa and complete immigration. Keep a few passports sized official pictures with you in case required for the visa. After you’re done with immigration, head over to the exit and you’ll find stalls selling traveller sim cards. Get one for yourself and activate a data plan. You’ll need to use the internet a lot. It’ll cost around 100,000 to 250,000 VND. It’s best to mention here that in Vietnam, everyone is a millionaire and handling your massive piles of cash can be quite a task for first timers. But you’ll get used to it. And in Vietnam, you definitely need to be cash-savvy.

After you get your sim and activate your data plan, head over to the bus stop located right outside the exit gate. Bus 109, the yellow colour marked bus will take you right to District 1, the most happening area of the city and also where you will find plenty of cheap to mid-range hotels. The bus will cost you around 20,000 VND.

Staying in Ho Chi Minh City

District 1 is filled with hotels and hostels of all sorts. It is also known the as the Backpacker street as the area is popular with backpacker tourists, tightly packed with hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs. Although one can easily get a room in any of the hotels, all of them equally decent, it is best if you pre-book it before your journey to get the best deals. You can get bunk beds in the hostels if you’re looking for the cheapest stay just to sleep for the night, or you can head over to the countless mid-range hotels just a minute of walk away from one another. Bich Duyen Hotel is recommended for a comfortable stay at an affordable price. The rooms are small but cosy with amenities one can only dream of in a mid-tier hotel somewhere else. The front desk receptionist is a lovely guy who’ll fire up a conversation with a smile. He’ll even make you a nice breakfast at the small kitchen at the back, if you ask for it. Free of charge for one meal.

Getting around

Ho Chi Minh isn’t that big of a city and it is best to walk around to really absorb the culture. However, it is a packed city with hundreds and thousands of people commuting by motorbikes on the roads. Fitting for its title of Motorbike Capital of the World. You think Dhaka has the worst jaywalking scenario? Think again. Crossing the road here can be an art. You can find bikes for hire almost at every corner of the city. They’ll keep calling you. But it’s best to use a ride sharing app to save the hassle of bargaining. Download Grab on your phone and use Grab MOTO to commute around points of interest. You can also rent a bike yourself and ride it around if you have a valid license. Watch out for the rental sign boards. You can use the bus 52, the green colour marked bus to commute inside the city. But beware of the tight traffic. Vietnam has Right Hand Traffic. Don’t get confused.

Ho Chi Minh has its own version of the Rickshaw. It looks more like a cradle than a rickshaw, but they are a dying form of transport in the city and will ask a lot for a ride, if you find one. Nonetheless, they can be a nice experience if you’re willing to pay for it.

Places to see, things to do

The streets of Saigon are a bold mixture of the old and the new. One cannot but notice the stark contrast between the small street vendors selling local authenticity in the old ways and the burgeoning Saigon skyline just on the other side housing malls, 5-star hotels and corporate offices. Saigon has a lot to offer. From to narrow alleys of the local neighborhood to wide and polished avenues with lush green gardens and colonial structures between them.

Saigon is the French Riviera of Southeast Asia. Old colonial structures pop up everywhere in this cacophonous city. The city hall built in 1902 is a remarkable structure, a reminder of the French Colonial history of this region. Although it isn’t open to the public, the structure has been preserved and is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Saigon.

There is of course the Notre Dame Basilica. Built in 1863, the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most sophisticated French structures in Saigon. One of the many fine architectures built by the French in Vietnam, the Notre Dame is a worthy counterpart of its namesake in Paris in terms of Grandeur.

Right beside this, is the Saigon Central Post Office. This magnificent building has yet again a French architecture and is always buzzing with post office employees and tourists alike.

There is the historic Ben Thanh market which is basically the New Market of Vietnam. Visit Ben Thanh for a shopping spree of the traditional Vietnamese goods. Haggling here is an art form, but visiting from Bangladesh, you shouldn’t be a stranger to it.

Saigon has countless old pagodas. Visit one to experience a unique South East Asian Buddhist culture. The pristine environment will certainly take your breath away and is surely a spiritual experience for some.

Take a walk along the Dong Khoi street to experience what life was like in the old war era Vietnam or head over to the Thu Thiem Bridge during dusk to see the magnificent Saigon Skyline in sunset.

Visit the war remnants museum and see the exhibitions solely dedicated to the infamous Vietnam war. The atrocities caused by the US Army, the horrors of chemical warfare and how the Vietnamese people fought back under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

At night, the area where you’d most likely be staying comes out alive. Just around the corner of District one is the famous Bui Vien Walking street. Just as the clock strikes midnight, the cafes, bars and clubs of this street spring open and you will see both locals and tourists sit on the side of the road on small plastic tools, enjoying music, mingling and having local beers. The entire street remains open the entire night and keeps buzzing with loud music and people everywhere. Take a walk down this street to experience a nightlife like nowhere else in the world.

If you have time, head outside the city to explore the Vietnamese countryside away from the bustling city. The Vietnamese countryside is adorned with lush green rice fields and rivers and small hills in between them. Head over to the Mekong delta to see what it is like to live in a Vietnamese village. See the Cia Rang floating market, and entire market place in boats on the river Saigon. Visit Chu Chi Tunnels, a massive network of underground tunnels used by the Vietnamese guerillas during the time of war. The tunnels are extremely narrow so be advised if you have claustrophobia.

Most important of all, take random aimless walks down the streets of Saigon, visit local shops, local eateries, talk to local people and absorb the culture. That is the best part of exploring Saigon. People in Saigon are very friendly and often curious. You will often find random locals asking you where you’re from, engage with you in a friendly chat and invite you over to Saigon again in the future.

The weather in Saigon is extremely humid. Wear light clothes and always keep a bottle of water with you.

Bon Appetit!

Saigon is an eater’s heaven. Mouth watering local delicacies are found in countless street stalls on almost every street corner. Try Banh Mi, the Vietnamese style ham sandwich or a bowl of delicious and warm Pho noodles on any of the local street stalls. Street food vendors are here like vampires. They come out at night. You will find so many individual and groups of stalls scattered around the city. Locals love sitting on the sidewalks and enjoying a hot bowl of Pho or a dish of rice after a day’s hard work. Check out Co Bac and Co Giang, two of the most famous street food alleyways. Most of the dishes here will cost you around a 15,000 to 20,000 VND.

Vietnamese are crazy about their coffee. It makes sense since Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world. You’ll find Ca Phe Sua Da, the Vietnamese cold coffee almost on every street. The Highlands Coffee, the Vietnamese version of Starbucks is everywhere and they sell the special French pressed Vietnamese coffee. Almost all the variations of coffee can be found in Vietnam, starting from Coconut coffee to cheese coffee and everything in between. They even have coffee flavoured Coca-Cola.

Of course, there are international food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King as well, along with numerous mid to high end cafes and restaurant selling local delicacies in traditional environments. Eat to your heart’s content and don’t forget to leave a tip.

Goodbye Saigon

To get back to the airport you can either get a grab or take the bus. But taking a grab is recommended because you’re more likely to get a cheaper rate thanks to Promo codes and you really get to see most of Saigon on your way back to the airport travelling on the back of a scooter. Leave well ahead of time, keeping in mind the traffic.

Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is a city that can be explored in just two days. But the same cannot be said for Vietnam as a country. There are hundreds of places and experiences waiting for you. From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay and more. Saigon will surely leave you hungry for more of Vietnam and its never too late to start planning another trip to the land of the blue dragon.

Getaway of the week #5: the Republic of Uttara

Cover illustration by Fahim Anzoom Rumman (botagainsthumanity). Find his page here.

This week’s getaway is a special place located about 13 km away from the city of Dhaka, the Republic of Uttara. Uttara is a nice little place to leave the city for a day, away from the hectic weekdays. Ideally, this little, somewhat primitive small city-state should not take more than 30 minutes to visit but thanks to the adventurous route that leads to this place, it almost takes an entire day to visit Uttara and come back to the city, safe and sound.

So, if you’re tired of all the cliched places people visit these days like Sreemangal and Cox’s Bazaar (or you want to turn your image of a lazy duck who sits at home all day playing PUBG into that of a spontaneous traveller), buckle up. You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Getting to Uttara is the tough part. Finding a bus that goes to that town is tougher. You have to wait in Shahbagh square for at least 20 minutes and literally beg the conductor mamas before someone takes pity on you and lets you on their bus. You might have to keep standing all the way so wear light and comfortable clothes and keep your baggage low. We recommend you don’t carry expensive gadgets, especially a camera. Two reasons. Number 1, Republic of Uttara has little to none views that would require the attention of a lens. And if you want to take a photo of the daily life of Uttara people let us tell you that this is the place where urban planning goes to die. Uttara is rich in experience, not in suitable photography subjects. Number 2, you will get mugged in Uttara and lose your gadgets. Even if you get spared in Uttara, you will most definitely get pickpocketed on the bus. So, take ample precaution in protecting your belongings.

Illustration/image by Inksmith. Find more of his fantastic artwork here.

The bus journey to Uttara can take we-don’t-know-how-many-hours long. If you are blessed, it might, just might take 2 hours, if you’re lucky. Take a few dry snacks with you and a bottle of cold water to save you from dehydration (unless you’re fasting, in which case…you will die.). Try not to get annoyed by people falling over your shoulders. Bangladeshi people have little to no concept of personal space and they are generally curious in nature. But they’re all good-hearted people, we’re sure. At least that’s what the brochure says.

After getting down in Uttara, roam around the broken and tattered roads  for a while. Watch what life is like in a small town away from civilisation. Eat cheap street food and gamble with diarrhoea if you dare. Take a rickshaw and head to a famous tourist spot called Dia Bari. This is the pride of Uttara. Anyone who’s from that region will proudly boast about Dia Bari and recommend you this place when going to Uttara. In reality, it is nothing much. Just an open field with a small water-body nearby. But hey, even that is hard to find in Dhaka so the tourist spot tag is justified for this green field.

Get back to town after you’re done exploring Dia Bari. Go window shopping in the street market that illegally occupies all the footpaths you were supposed to walk on. Have the roadside milk and water drink that they call tea. Roam around the town again to explore the bits and pieces of the old way of life the natives of this land once lived.

By the time you’re done with everything, it’ll almost be dusk. Prepare your mind and your body for another long journey back to the civilisation and get on a bus, if you can.

The Republic of Uttara is a small, underrated place to be visited. But the experience is one of a kind. There is no immigration system yet so you don’t need to get your visa done. But we hear it’s in the works. We cannot promise you that you’ll fall in love with Uttara, but we can promise you one other thing. When you get back from Uttara to Dhaka, you’ll realise how much you loved Dhaka. Uttara is your place to go if you want to rekindle your love for Godforsaken Dhaka.

Getaway of the week #4 – Dohar

It’s called the mini Cox’s Bazar. And for good reasons too. The endless horizon of water and splashing small waves at your feet on the muddy banks does remind one of Cox’s Bazar. Yes, talking about Moinot Ghat or Dohar as many prefer to call it. About one and a half hours journey away from Dhaka, Dohar is the perfect place to spend a day away from the busy urban life. The best time to visit Dohar would be now, as the continuous rain has filled the river Padma to the brink and the overcast sky and the calm Padma waters together make an unforgettable view to feast your eyes on.

Buses to Dohar leave from Gulistan from as early as 6.30AM. This one bus, Jamuna express will drop you off right on Moinot Ghat and costs 90tk. If you start early, expect to reach your destination by 8.30AM. If you’re lucky and the sky stays overcast, you’re in for a treat. Walk around barefooted by the river and let the small waves slowly break down at your feet. You can sit there if you like, or on any of the boats tied there to the ground. Maybe you’ll even get to listen to folk music from the half distorted Chinese mobile speaker of a nearby fisherman. It doesn’t sound bad at all in that setting.

Hire a boat for 200tk per hour and go deeper into the river, float around aimlessly, watch the villagers fishing, feel the cold and calming river winds against your face. If you’ve had a hectic week at school or work, that’s all the therapy you’ll ever need.

You can get down and take a bath in the river if you want. But do not try it if you’re not good at swimming. Dohar has had a disturbing history of drownings and a few danger spots even. If you’re adamant, make sure you take advise from the locals on how to avoid the dangerous spots. Above all, stay safe.

For lunch, you can find decent hotels at the river bank. Maybe give the “Bhaat, Bhorta, Ilish maach” platter a try. It certainly brings a little different local taste to the mouth. After lunch, you can start heading back, but this time instead of getting on the bus, why not explore around a bit?

Dohar falls under Kartikpur and Kartikpur is a small and quiet village-town. You can walk in the narrow village roads, among the tree lines, exploring a village life from a more personal point of view. The idea is not get to Kartikpur Baazar and from there you’ll find a bus to Dhaka. You’ll get auto rickshaws that’ll take you to Kartikpur Baazar. Hop in one and after arriving at the Baazar look around for Niranjan Mishtanno Vandar to try one of the best sweets ever produced in the country. If you’re into sweets, of course. (Who isn’t!)

There’s a small bridge, and across it you’ll find the ruins of an ancient temple. Visit the temple if you want.

The last bus to Dhaka leaves at 6 so get your exploration wrapped up by then and hop on the last bus to get back to Dhaka by 8.

We will be traveling down this road again, for our next Getaway of the Week, Munshigonj. Happy exploring!

Getaway of the week #3 – Cumilla

Cumilla is a famous and historical town with a bagful of surprises. With a rich history spanning from ancient Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms to the British Era, World War 2 and home to the famous Rosh-malai, Cumilla is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Bangladesh.

Located 100 km away from Dhaka, you can get to Cumilla in about 3 hours by bus. Comfortable AC buses operated by BRTC leave from Kamalapur from 7AM onward. The ticket costs TK 150. The cost is cheaper if you choose non-AC buses.

After getting off the bus, have breakfast in any of the local restaurants. There are a lot of local and highway restaurants around the bus drop off point.

From there you can take a rickshaw to the War Cemetery. Costs TK 30. The War Cemetery is a peaceful place that houses the deceased allied and a few axis Japanese soldiers who died during World War 2. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth Society and is a calm and quiet place to spend some time and contemplate the fate of the fallen soldiers.

You can take an auto rickshaw to the ruins of the palace of Queen Maynamati, and explore the rich history once this region held. You can walk around and discover hidden paths that goes up the hill and leads to a temple, or another path that leads into a jungle. There’s all kinds of hidden gems to discover there.

From there, you can take a CNG to the Shalban Vihara, the ruins of an ancient Buddhist Monastery. There’s a new massive Buddhist temple there as well, built quite recently. Pay a visit there to experience a different culture. Explore the deep Shalban forest. Visit the Maynamati museum to learn about Cumilla’s history.

Visit the Jagannath Temple by an auto rickshaw. The Jagannath Temple is also called the seventeen jewel temple from the seventeen jewels it once crowned, but are currently damaged.

Besides the magnificent histories of ancient kings and Buddhist monasteries, Cumilla is also steeped in colonial history. Cumilla Victoria Government College in the city was named in memory of Queen Victoria. On the darker side of colonial history, communal tension spread over Cumilla when a Muslim was shot in the town during the partition of Bengal in 1905. In 1931, approximately 4000 peasants in Mohini village revolted against a land revenue tax. The British Gurkha soldiers fired indiscriminately on the crowd, killing four people. In a major peasant gathering, the police fired at Hasnabad of Laksam in 1932. Two people were killed and many were wounded.

You’ll find bits and pieces of the colonial era lying almost everywhere in Cumilla. After you’re done with all of that, visit Monohorpur to taste the Rosh Malai from the famous Matribhandar. Take a rickshaw and visit Rani Kuthir and Dharmasagar Lake.

It’ll almost be evening by the time you’re done exploring Cumilla. Go to the bus stop and catch a bus to Dhaka to get back in the city by 9.

Travel Booking BD – fresh approach to becoming an award winning travel agency

The Bangladesh travel industry has been on a steady growth, with number of outbound leisure trips remarkably growing year after year, with the ticketing industry in Bangladesh worth over BDT 3250 crore, with up to 40,000 Bangladeshis going abroad every month. This week, HiFi met Kashef Rahman, founder and CEO of Travel Booking Bangladesh, a tech based travel startup. They’re a one stop solution for traveling needs, with services ranging from buying tickets, to booking hotels, pick-and-drop transport and more. Travel Booking Bangladesh, in less than half a decade, has become one of the most profitable travel agencies in Dhaka, with a  robust community of 34,000 active members on their Facebook group, and an extremely loyal customer base. Kashef can usually be seen rigorously multitasking, holistically managing his team as well as clients, looking ridiculously young for a man who did his undergrad at North South University in the early 2000s.

“I always loved traveling.” says Kashef. “Me and my wife always used to travel. Regardless of how we were doing financially, we would make at least two big trips a year. Our friends and family would notice and always come to us for help.” Kashef Rahman had an extensive background in telecom industry, starting out working in call centres in Grameenphone and going on to become a post paid channel head in Banglalink. TravelBookingBD took root, as people would come to him for help with their traveling processes and decisions. Kashef would gladly help, as this was his passion and area of expertise. As requests grew in number, and started coming in more frequently taking up more and more of his time, Kashef decided to open a Facebook page. There were days on which he’d be back from work, and sit down to answering calls in front of his laptop, with his then newborn daughter on his lap. Eventually, time came for a watershed. Kashef left his job at Banglalink to focus fully on this startup that would one day, take him places (pun-intended).

Travel Booking BD now operates with a team of 35, and an in-house tech team, which is extremely uncommon and possibly non existent for a Bangladeshi travel startup. They have a robust website, and an app (which has over 3000 downloads), and an extremely loyal customer base, with over 60% of them being returning customers (who travel four to five times a year). Rome wasn’t built in a day. Travel Booking BD is renowned and loved by users for a meticulously transparent and prompt service system that delivers the lowest rates in the market. “We always buy tickets in bulk,” says Kashef, “and although it helps us lower cost, it is risky. And that brings us back to our ability to sell those tickets. That is where we deliver, garnering us a strong relationship with our partners overseas.”

Travel Booking is a tight flat ship, with employees broken into small teams: a flight team to book tickets, a visa team, a package team (for booking hotels), a product team, an accounts team and an in house tech team. Having worked closely with management information systems in his telecom days, Kashef had realized earlier on that tech would transform how service is delivered, at a time when travel agencies in Bangladesh weren’t thinking ahead. I had the delight to go over Travel Booking’s extensive and highly detailed Query Management System that allows the company to seamlessly interact with clients across multiple platforms, and also collects insights for Kashef to go over, and make strategic or marketing related decisions. The system allows for billing, and updates, which are sent to clients in emails. The emails themselves are extremely thorough, with detailed pricing breakdowns and dates.

“Ethics are very important, regardless of which industry you are working in,” says Kashef. Travel Booking BD’s service is centered around prompt deliveries and accountability. “We deliver what we promise. We have a no hidden charges policy,”  he adds. Kashef was also one of the first entrepreneurs within his industry to properly utilize Facebook to grow his startup, in 2012. “Back then, other local travel agencies had not yet taken their marketing activities to social media. I was running the official Travel Booking BD group, and the engagement was consistent, and meaningful.” Travel Booking also has a successful public Viber group, another concept that very few companies thought of. However, the marketing activities of TBBD has not stayed restricted to social media alone. Anyone who gets to peek inside Kashef’s office can see numerous cricketing trophies he has won playing cricket for North South University and at corporate cricketing events. Being passionate about the sport, Kashef invests frequently in sponsorships at university cricket events and corporate cricket matches. Earlier this year, TBBD met a major milestone getting cricketer Shakib Al Hasan as their brand ambassador, and also getting their names on the Rajshahi Kings jersey in the Bangladesh Premier League.

Travel Booking BD is an innovator in the travel agency world, with a high responsiveness approach towards adapting in a rapidly changing market. They are a candidate in the 25th annual World Travel Awards. To help TBBD bring this trophy home, register for an account in order to cast your vote at this link. A verification email will be sent to your email account and you will need to click the verification link to verify your email address before you can login to cast your vote. Nominees are listed alphabetically within each award.

Getaway of the week #2: Sreemangal

They say it’s never a bad time to visit Sreemangal.

Located about 174 km away from Dhaka, Sreemangal falls under Sylhet division and is arguably the better destination between the two. Sreemangal, called the Tea Capital of Bangladesh, is adorned with hill after hill of lush green tea gardens, rubber trees and of course is home to the famous and mysterious Lawachara  National Forest. The best time to visit Sreemangal is either in the rainy season, when the rain makes the tea gardens greener and the smell of raw tea leaves you a little high, or in winter, when the dense fog keeps the forests and the tea gardens covered in mystery and you can enjoy one of the coldest climates in the country.

Sreemangal is accessible by train and bus. Both bus and train take around 4 hours to reach Sreemangal. Buses are available all through the day, but the best way to travel is probably by the night train, Upaban Express. However, since we’re talking a day’s trip, there’s also a train that leaves Dhaka at exactly 6.30 AM from Kamalapur and drops you off at 10.30 AM in Sreemangal. Don’t worry, you can still catch the bus if you miss the train by minutes (surprisingly, trains do depart on exact times in Bangladesh). Bus tickets cost 380 Taka.

After getting off at Sreemangal, have breakfast and freshen up a bit at Shah Hotel, Panshi or Paanch Bhai restaurant. They’re about two to three minutes’ walk from the station. Then get a autorickshaw to the Lawachara forest. They usually charge 40 Taka per person. Takes about 30 minutes to reach the forest.

What’s most appealing about Lawachara is perhaps not the deep dark jungle itself or the never-ending railway lines that pass right through it but rather the road that leads to Lawachara from Sreemangal town. As your rickshaw runs through the asphalt amidst the rubber gardens and tea gardens, the weather suddenly gets colder as it enters the Lawachara region. You can smell the jungle air here. This is Sreemangal for you. Calm. Quiet. Magnificently untouched.

Spend as much time as you want inside the forest before it closes down at 5. Walk around the jungle trails, take pictures, keep sitting, mediating on the railway tracks in the middle of the quiet, cold forest. You may even get to see wild boars or monkeys if you’re lucky. There’s a pineapple stall right outside the main entrance of Lawachara that sells the sweetest hilly pineapples. Do try if you’re into it.

You can also visit the Humhum waterfalls instead. The trek to Humhum takes about two hours. So, that’s four hours up and down. You need to hire a guide for this one. Talk to your autorickshaw driver for the arrangements.

If you want to get back to Dhaka by nightfall, its better to catch a bus at 6/7 from the town, so plan accordingly. On the way back, you can visit the pineapple gardens on the hills, take a stop at BTRI and walk around the tea gardens, have a cup of tea and fritters at Rangdhanu Tea Cabin inside the BTRI complex. Visit the famous Nilkantha Tea Cabin for the seven-layered tea and judge it for yourself. You can reserve an autorickshaw for the day and the driver will show you around the places himself.

After you’re done exploring almost everything, get back to the town to catch the bus and get back to Dhaka within the night. Sreemangal will definitely call you back. Next time perhaps, plan another trip for a day or two?

Traveller’s notebook: Kuala Lumpur

Have you ever had the urge to wake up in the morning and discover yourself in a different bed, in a different room, in another city? To go up to the window, look down at a busy street bustling with all kinds of people who speak different languages, in a country that’s not yours? A day that’s not your routine, an urge to explore this difference? That’s wanderlust.

We’re a generation of wanderers and we have long been a species of wanderers. What ties us to our 9-5 routine is not natural. We want to explore, even if we don’t realise it, each one of us, to our very core, are explorers.

And if you want to fire up your drive for exploration and your hunger to experience diversity, there is no better place to start your journey other than a short trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Prologue

Malaysia, being one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Asia, sees a massive number of tourists every year. This mixture of tourists from different parts of the world only adds to the cultural diversity of Malaysia and is itself a bonus point for the tourists in this tropical island of Malay.

Getting a Malaysian visa is easy. Apply through an agency or go for the e-Visa. You’ll get your visa within seven days. A number of flights operate daily from Dhaka to Kuala Lumpur, the cheapest being Malindo. Malindo is recommended if you’re either travelling on a budget or if you’re reluctant to spend a fortune on a flight that lasts a mere 4 hours . The in-flight entertainment and the meal makes up for the small leg room.

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur

Upon arrival, make sure you get yourself a sim card and enable internet services. Sim card booths will be right outside the arrival lounge with big banners and are hard to miss. Complete immigration, collect your luggage and head to the exit. It’s best to get a Grab, Southeast Asia’s equivalent (superior, perhaps) to Uber, with your newly activated sim card. Grabs usually take about 60-70 RM depending on where you’ll be staying in the city. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the city from the airport so grab some snacks from Starbucks or a 7/11 if you’re hungry.

Staying in Kuala Lumpur

It’s best to book a hotel according to your preferences beforehand. If you’re planning to experience the night and be in the centre of all the buzz of Kuala Lumpur, get a hotel in Bukit Bintang. The Goldmark hotel is a nice stay if you’re travelling on a budget. A bit hard to spot, this hotel is not so much from the outside but it offers a good service at a cheaper rate and you cannot complain about the amenities. The plus side is that The Goldmark is right in the centre of Bukit Bintang and Bukit Bintang is alive the entire night.

However, if you prefer quieter nights and a surprise in the daytime, you’re in for a treat at Hotel Chinatown Inn. Hotel Chinatown Inn has a nice ambiance, cheaper than others and the front desk staff are really friendly. Also, they have books for you to read in the lounge, left by the guests. Located inside Chinatown Square, or Jalan Petaling, if you arrive at night, you’ll enter the hotel crossing a rather empty looking street. But when you get out in the morning, you’ll discover yourself in a street that you can’t recognise, buzzing with street shops and people of different ethnicity, loud noises and smell of Chinese street food. That’s the specialty of Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. It has two different experiences on two different times of the day. So, recommended hotels, The Goldmark or Chinatown Inn. Take your pick.

Getting around

Getting around in Kuala Lumpur is perhaps the easiest of all the other megacities in Asia, thanks to the free bus service GOKL. Download a GOKL map for free on your phone and hop on the free bus service and it’ll take you wherever you want to go within the city limits. Also, there are the MRTs and Grabs. Uber is available as well. Best not to take a taxi for getting around within the city limits as they tend to be rather expensive. Walk through short distances, it’ll help you absorb more of the city and you get to discover new things. You’ll be surprised to find roadside bands singing “O Bondhu Lal Golapi” with people dancing around while you cross a busy street (this actually happened). Walking is the best way to explore a new city to be honest.

Eating in the city

Kuala Lumpur is a food haven. You’ll find pop up food stalls selling sausage rolls or other local delicacies almost on every other street corners. They have a dedicated food street in Bukit Bintang area, Jalan Alor. The food stalls are lined after one another serving all sorts of dishes, from meat to seafood and all other sorts in between. The foods here are cheap and mouthful and the local delicacies are a treat to the tongue. You haven’t tasted the true essence of Malaysia if you haven’t eaten in Jalan Alor.

There is a very interesting small colonial style café near the Goldmark Hotel in Bukit Bintang. Visit them for a quiet affordable breakfast in the morning.

Besides that, there are plenty of local and international food chains in different places in the city. One particular recommendation is Damascus Inn on Arab Street and their chicken shawarma. Probably the best in the world. Recommendations among the local delicacies are Nasi Lemak and Nasi Goreng. Also, if you’re into it, try the BBQ squid from the street stalls in Jalan Alor.

The specialty pulled tea of Malaysia, named Teh Tarik, is a must have. Available in all of the local food shops, a cup of Teh Tarik costs around 5/6RM and if you have gone to Malaysia and have not had Teh Tarik, you really have not tasted Malaysia. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim majority country so you don’t have to worry about halal food. Most restaurants are halal.

Landmarks to visit

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, do visit the majestic Petronas Twin Towers at Kula Lumpur city centre. This famous landmark is easily accessible both by MRT and GOKL free bus. Roam around and explore the happenings at the city centre. Explore the nightlife at Bukit Bintang. Experience the diversity of colours and smells of spices in Little India. Lose yourself in the crowd of Chinatown and eat to your hearts content in the local street food stalls. Kuala Lumpur boasts a proud mixture of different cultures and races and make sure you taste a bit of each as you live out the time of your life on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Make a short trip to Putrajaya or Cyberjaya if you can. Putrajaya is where all the major government offices and ministries are located and is the home to the famous Masjid Putra and Cyberjaya is the Silicon Valley of Malaysia. Both Putrajaya and Cyberjaya are much more organised than Kuala Lumpur but they lack the liveliness and diversity of Kuala Lumpur. Visit Batu Caves, if you have time to spare. A 300-foot-high limestone cave which is home to the famous Hindu Temple. Climb about 300 steps of stairs if you dare and you are in for a sight and experience of a lifetime.

Shopping

You won’t leave a foreign land without some souvenirs, would you? Kuala Lumpur is a shopping heaven. You’ll find malls housing brands like Gucci and Luis Vuiton to small crammed shops in Chinatown that’ll take a test of your bargaining skills. Go to Berjaya Times Square if you want good stuff for a cheaper rate. Go to Chinatown for cheap souvenirs and accessories. Visit Suria KLCC if you’re in the mood for an expensive shopping spree from famous Brands.

Get ready to be back

It’s almost the time to get back home, nomad. Like before, get a Grab or an Uber and specify your terminal. Remember, Kuala Lumpur has two airports side by side – KLIA1 and KLIA2. Make sure you specifically instruct your driver of the location and set out with spare time in hand as you may face heavy traffic.

Kuala Lumpur is a welcoming city, a city filled with people of diverse culture and vibrant street art that will absorb you if you are willing to experience every bit of it. Respect their culture, be modest when visiting masjids or temples, take permissions for photographs where its forbidden and live your fullest. Until next time.