5 unique experiences in Dhaka that most of us miss out on

Dhaka has a long way to go before it becomes a conventional tourist destination. Nonetheless, tourism is common in the 400-year-old city. There is a fixed rounded up list of places that people always go to whenever they visit Dhaka.  But Dhaka has more to offer than Lalbagh fort, Jatiya Sangsad and the National Museum. There are a ton of places to visit and things to do outside of what the brochure or your tour guides tell you about.

Whether you are visiting Dhaka for the first time, or you’re a local who wants to experience this city like never before, here are the 5 things you must do to complete your Dhaka experience.

1. Embark on a spiritual journey in Hussaini Dalan 

Hussaini Dalan Muharram Dhaka
Hussaini Dalan during Maharram

The Hussaini Dalan serves as the main Hussainiya in Dhaka. The shrine is a major gathering place for Shia Muslims, followers of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. It was originally built during the latter half of the Mughal rule (17th Century) and patronized by prince Shah Shuja, son of Emperor Shah Jahan. The structure has an elegant Mughal and British architectural style. Followers of the Shia community come here to say their prayers; the atmosphere is amazingly calm and serene. You can feed the ducks in the adjacent ponds, listen to the sermon and exchange deep philosophical talks with the clerics.

Pro tip: Visit during the Muharram festivals. You can see and even take the part in the vibrant Muharram parades.

2. Visit the historic Ruplal House

Ruplal House Dhaka
Ruins of Ruplal House

The Ruplal house in Farashganj of old Dhaka is a mansion built in the late 19th century by Armenian Landlord Aratun. Ruplal brothers bought it in 1835 and hired Martin and Company of Calcutta for renovations. Ruplal House and Ahsan Manzil, which is nearby, used to be the ornament of Dhaka back in the day. The area was the residential area for the rich merchant class and top-posted British officers. Ruplal house hosted a lot of cultural activity of the time. Gurus of Indian classical music like Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Wali Ullah Khan and Lakshmi Devi regularly hosted shows. Ruplal house was also politically important during the Renaissance period.

Ruplal house was expensive to build on site. The structure features an Indo-Greek architectural style, massive blocs, porticos, tinted glasses, ballrooms and feast halls. There used to be a clock tower on the top which was damaged by an earthquake. The fall of Ruplal House began after the Ruplal family left during the partition in 1947. Now the Ruplal House is jointly owned by several private and commercial owners.

Visit Ruplal House to find bits and pieces of the old glory days of Bengal. Dhaka boasts a number of establishments which remind us of our glorious past. Ruplal House is just one of the many.

3. Grab lunch in Beauty Boarding

Beauty Boarding hotel Dhaka
Beauty Boarding

Beauty boarding is a famous hotel, or as its commonly known, a boarding house. It also has a restaurant that serves Bengali food in a traditional homely atmosphere. The building was originally a zamindar house. A local rented the house in 1951 and then turned into a boarding house and restaurant. Located near Banglabazar book market, the spot became popular with the local book traders, literature aficionados, poets, and artists.

In terms of its intellectual importance, Beauty boarding can be compared to the Coffee House in Kolkata.

The boarding was a regular spot for poet Shahid Qadri and Nirmalendu Goon who stayed for five years in the boarding. Poets like Shamsul Haque, Rafiq Azad and Shamsur Rahman used to gather for their evening tea.

Pro tip: Beauty boarding doubles as a great background for your photos if you want to keep some mementos of your visit to the land of Bengal.

4. Go book hopping in Nilkhet

Nilkhet book market Dhaka
Nilkhet book market

Nilkhet is the second largest book market in the country and a heaven for book lovers. 2500 shops are crammed together. The shops sell local prints and second-hand copies of original books. Bookworms of Dhaka, especially the students, go to Nilkhet for the best deals on books.

Pro tip: Looking for a rare book? Chances are you’ll find an original first edition copy of it, tucked somewhere in the piles of books that are on display. Make sure you bargain hard to get the best deals.

5. Take a boat ride in Buriganga

Buriganga river ride in Dhaka
Boatride in Buriganga

Buriganga is the major river on which the city of Dhaka stands. On it, is Sadarghat, the largest river port in the country. Hire a boat for an hour from Sadarghat, for only 200 takas per hour. The boatman will take you on a river ride to the other side of Dhaka. On a clear sunny afternoon, see the Dhaka skyline. Ahsan Manzil, the palace of the nawabs of Dhaka, will be visible from the river. Stay to enjoy the sunset. You’ll see hundreds of people commuting and crossing the river on wooden boats.

Riding a boat in Burganga is a chance to spend time in the calm waters, away from the bustling city while getting intimate with the lifestyle of the locals.

The best part of Dhaka is its people. What the city may lack in traditional grandeur and glamour, is made up for by the kind-hearted, lovely and forever curious people of this magical city. Open up to Dhaka, and it will open up to you with its four hundred years’ worth of culture, history, and tradition.

It’s November, the perfect month to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh!

Sounds too good to be true? Welcome aboard this week’s travelogue that will take you on a journey all the way to the far north of Bangladesh, Panchagarh. The isolated corner of Bangladesh and the only place in the country where you can view the Himalayas from.

If you are, like me, broke to the bones and cannot afford a trip to Darjeeling or Nepal to bask in the magnificence of the Himalayas, fret not. Panchagarh is the hidden gem of Bangladesh’s travel scene and an exciting destination that has a lot more to offer than just the Himalayas.

Getting to Panchagarh

Buses to Panchagarh leave from Shyamoli every night. Hanif and Nabil Paribahan are two of the most trustworthy services in this route. Both AC and non AC buses are available and the tickets will cost you 1200 TK and 600 TK respectively. This will be one of the longest bus journeys you’ll ever take in Bangladesh, so prepare accordingly. Of course, the bus will stop on breaks two times on the way so there’s nothing to worry about.

The bus will drop you off in Panchagarh town in about 12 hours. By the time you reach there, it will be well past 7. Have breakfast in any of the local hotels. Take a minibus or an autorickshaw to Tetulia, the last border town in Bangladesh to the north. It’s a 1.5 hours ride from Panchagarh. If the weather favours you, the Himalayan mountain range will be visible on your way to Tetulia.

Where to stay

It’s November and it’s the perfect season to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh!
Tetulia Dak Bungalow

In Tetulia there are two mid-range tourist hotels and two government rest houses. To stay in the government rest houses, you must take prior permission from the officials. You can get the clearest view of the Himalayas from the government rest houses. Right behind the rest houses, there’s a river and on the other side of the river is the Indian border. At night, you can see the border lights lit up and BSF guards walking around.

Kangchenjunga!

It’s November and it’s the perfect season to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh!
Himalayas, or Kangchenjunga as the locals call it. From Tetulia

6AM in the morning is the perfect time to view the Himalayas as the sun rays fall directly on the peaks and that gives a clear and spectacular view of the mountains. Beneath the mountain range, you can see smaller hills and tiny lights flickering on and off. That’s Darjeeling. At night, you can often see tiny spectrums of car headlights running down on the spiraling roads of Darjeeling.

Although October-November is the perfect time to see the Himalayas, often it is not visible due to bad weather over at India. In case you’re unlucky this time, don’t worry. The daughter of Himalayas also has magnificent tea gardens, ancient historical ruins such as Maharaja Dighi and one of the smoothest and most beautiful roads in the entire country. Panchagarh won’t disappoint you at all.

November, perfect season to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh
Panchagarh has some of the most beautiful roads in Bangladesh to enjoy a drive.

The Himalayas are a magnificent sight. It cannot be boiled down to a few words of appreciation in an article. And we’re not even going to try. Pack your bags and head over to Panchagarh to see it for yourself. Let us know how it made you feel.

5 perfect places in Bangladesh for camping adventures

As we skim through the calendar to check our schedules, we often struggle to decide how to spend our mini-vacations with holidays surrounding the weekends. Rather than visiting the eateries you come across in FoodBank, we bring you a more fun and exciting way to spend quality time with friends and family during vacation- five places in Bangladesh to go to for adventure/camping activities.

The Base Camp

Located in the outskirts of the city in Rajendrapur Chowrasta, Gazipur- Base Camp offers excellent accommodation and a number of activities. Some of their thrilling on-tree and on-ground activities for visitors include cycling, zip-lining archery, monkey-pass, forest trekking and of course, the ultimate ‘sitting-together-surrounding-the-camp fire’ experience! Base Camp offers accommodation in bungalow rooms, non-AC nature rooms and weatherproof tents as well as varieties of everyday meals- depending on your budget and choice.

Learn more about The Base Camp here.

Satchari National Park

Getting its name because of the seven streams flowing inside the forest, Satchari (meaning Seven streams) National Park of Sylhet provides an unforgettable experience like no other! Visitors indulge in the flora and fauna, surrounding themselves in the lush greenery of the beautiful forest. Being one of the best birding destinations of Bangladesh, this park provides you the opportunity to catch sight of some of the rarest species of birds. There are also tea gardens nearby for visiting; altogether, a trip there would surely mean a wonderful time amidst Mother Nature!

There are also quite a few adventure activities recently started in Satchori.

Nazimgarh Tent Camp

Imagine getting to choose between dining on the river-banks of the green-blue crystal clear Shari river or dining on a hill overlooking the mesmerizing Meghalaya hills. Indeed, Nazimgarh Tent Camp, also located in Sylhet showcases nature in its purest form. Offering weatherproof tent accommodation, Nazimgarh Tent Camp also provides cycling, boat riding, canoeing and kayaking, trekking and zorb balling activities. It also has three separate restaurants- one of which is set beside a beautiful river and the other on a hill with the beautiful mountains of Meghalaya in view.

Learn more about Nazimgarh Tent Camp here.

Munlai

Munlai gives its guests a memorable experience because of its uniqueness; unlike other places in Bangladesh focusing on simply giving you and your family/friends an enjoyable vacation, Munlai camp also involves the Bawm community. With a two-hour drive from Bandarban, the picturesque setting amidst lavish greenery, hills and the river Sangu- you reach in the serene land of the Bawm community who greet you with blissful smiles. Along with comfortable and hygienic homestays with necessary amenities, you also get to experience boating, camping, trekking, kayaking and the country’s longest zip-line. Moreover, enjoying the mouthwatering local Bawm cuisine served in native style using bamboos under the twinkling starry sky is definitely something you do not want to miss!

Learn more about Munali here.

Neocampers

Neocampers can be described as the family-friendly version of Base Camp; powered by Base Camp itself, Neocampers is ideal for family groups and school field-trips. Targeted at school children to indulge them in day-long fun activities and learn skills alongside mainstream education, Neocampers involves many enjoyable activities similar to Base Camp, guided by professional trainers. In addition to physical activities, workshops for carpentry, pottery-making, treasure-hunting, bird watch, campfire and basic BBQ facilities are also arranged here. Located in Savar, Neocampers definitely gives you a fun, challenging and learning environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Learn more about Neocampers here.

So, next time you unconsciously scratch the back of your head, struggling to decide where to go for an adventure the following vacation- don’t forget to check these five places out!

5 visa free countries for Bangladeshis

Visa processing is one of the most troublesome parts of travelling to a foreign land. Getting an approved visa takes a fair amount of time and money in most cases, not to mention the long list of requirements that come with it.

Consider getting a Thai visa, for example. You have to show your bank solvency, your purpose letter for visiting Thailand, hotel and plane booking confirmation and so on. That’s not all, they’ll even call your universities or workplace to check if you really are who you say you are. Combine that with a hefty sum of money a.k.a the processing fee and the uncertainty of not getting approved, and that’s your Thai visa processing experience.

Bangladeshi passport ranks 94th in the Global Index of Passports, making it one of the weakest passports in the world in terms of ease of travelling. But even being ranked in the lower half of that list allows us to travel to 41 countries without a prior visa. Not so bad for starters.

Here are 5 such countries you can travel to without a visa. Pack your bags and pick one from the list.

1. Bhutan

travel from bangladesh without visa

Bhutan, the small Himalayan country full of happy people, requires no visa for Bangladeshi citizens. Drukair or Royal Bhutan airlines operate flights from Dhaka to Paro. You can also travel by road through India. In that case, you must get a transit visa for India.

2. Sri Lanka

travel from bangladesh without visa

Sri Lanka offers Bangladeshi citizens on arrival visa. Famous for lush green hills, ancient Buddhist ruins and beautiful sunny beaches, Sri Lanka is a beautiful destination for a quick trip outside the country. Jet Airways operate flights from Dhaka to Colombo with one stop in Delhi.

3. Nepal

travel from bangladesh without visa

The daughter of Mount Everest, Nepal has on arrival visa facilities for Bangladeshi citizens. Visit Nepal to experience a rich cultural heritage of the Nepalese people and lose yourself in the magnificent serenity of the Himalayan mountain range in Pokhara.

4. Indonesia

travel from bangladesh without visa

Famous for its beautiful beaches and green countryside in Bali, Indonesia requires no visa at all for Bangladeshi citizens. There are no direct flights to Indonesia, but Malindo air operates from Dhaka to Bali with a long layover in Kuala Lumpur. Find out what you can do during a layover in Kuala Lumpur here.

5. Jamaica

travel from bangladesh without visa

The land of the famed Caribbean pirates requires no visa for Bangladeshi travellers either. Visit the Jamaican islands if you’re in for something different than usual. The experience, far from home, is one of a kind. The country of Usain Bolt welcomes you.

A few more countries that don’t require prior visas for Bangladeshi citizens include Maldives, Fiji, Rwanda, Barbados, Myanmar and Kenya.

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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.