5 unique experiences in Dhaka that most tourists never see

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.

Visa Application 101: applying for a Thai Visa 

The demand for a Thai Visa in the recent times has been skyrocketing. Thailand has long been a dream travel destination for people all around the world. Growing up as a Bangladeshi, we all heard stories of shopping in Bangkok, partying in Pattaya and the pristine beauty of Phuket’s beaches.

At this point, most of the kids growing up on stories of Thailand are now young adults looking to go out into the world for their next great escape. But before anyone can do any of that, we need to get our hands on a valid Thai Visa first and foremost. Here’s a quick rundown as to what one will need and do to apply for a Thai Visa.

Read more: An Account of my Adventure through Bhutan

Essentials:

A Thai Visa applicant will require a number of documents depending on the type of visa he/she is applying for, but for simplicity’s sake, we point out the bare essentials one must have to apply for a tourist visa:

  1. Valid Passport of the applicant with at least 6 months validity
  2. Photocopies of the passport (at least the first five pages)
  3. Properly filled Visa Application Letter
  4. Photo with all the required criteria (size, background, etc) for a Thai Visa
  5. Bank Statement of the last six months and solvency certificate
  6. Cover letter or a travel letter
  7. Testimonial or a letter from the applicants’ workplace or the institution he/she is studying in
  8. Photocopy of work ID or school/university ID
  9. Photocopy of the national ID of the person sponsoring the trip.
  10. Photocopy of National ID/Birth certificate
  11. Letter of a parent or legal guardian’s approval in case of a minor i.e. anyone under 18.  

These are the essential document the applicant will definitely need to have in order to apply for the visa. We also encourage providing documents for a booked airplane ticket and/or hotel booking and will help with the application process.

How to apply:

Now depending on whether the applicant is applying for the visa through a travel agency or individually, there are two paths to take. If the applicant chooses to go through an agency, merely providing the aforementioned document to the agency should suffice. Although you should consider that applying via an agency will increase the costs due to service charges and fee and these fees are non-refundable, even in the scenario where the embassy rejects your visa application. If an applicant wishes to apply for the visa on his own, it will bring down the cost to a certain extent.

To apply for the visa, Bangladeshi applicants need to apply via the organization VFS Global which handles all Thai Visa matters in Bangladesh. They provide options for both online application as well as manual application process. The applicant can download the visa application form from their official webpage.  After collecting all the required documents and filling out the form, the applicant has to go to VFS Global’s office. The office is situated at North Badda, just past Gulshan 1(Check the webpage for exact address). Although they are open from 9am to 5pm, it’s wise to get there as early as possible. Once there, the security will issue the applicant a token. When called upon the token number the applicant has to head to the assigned desk where a VFS employee will check and verify the applicant’s documents.

Fees?

Once verified, the applicant should go to the bank counter where he/she is to pay the application fee. You can pay the Visa fees in cash at the Standard Chartered Bank counter located at the premises. This will be converted into a bank draft against which for every applicant the bank will charge a fee of 40BDT. Or, the applicant may bring a bank draft with him/her issued from any bank drawn in the name of ‘The Royal Thai Embassy’, payable at Dhaka. In addition to the visa fee and bank draft, the applicant will need to pay five hundred for service charge. In total, for a single entry tourist visa the costing would add up to around 3740bdt where the visa fee is 2900tk.

What’s next?

After making the cash deposit and submitting his/her documents, the applicant will receive a receipt. In it the time and date of passport collection will be given. Generally, it takes around 7 to 10 working day to issue the visa and doesn’t require an interview. But in some cases, the applicant shouldn’t be surprised if an official calls to cross-check the information in his/her form. The applicant can also track their application online through VFS Global’s website.

The passport collection process is almost exactly the same as submissions. The applicant will need to go to VFS Globals office to collect his/her passport. And by the end, the applicant will have his/her desired visa and ready to embark on their Thai journey.   

An account of my adventure through Bhutan

Bhutan is the land of the flying dragon, chili cheese and Gross National Happiness. The country is also one of the few countries that are visa free entry for Bangladeshis.

Tourism in Bhutan

Bhutan believes in high impact tourism, choosing the quality of tourists over the quantity. They charge a non-negotiable US$200 per day cost of entering the country; this applies to all visitors, expect Bangladeshis or Indians. This $200 is an all-inclusive charge, covering the guide, accommodation, transport, meals, taxes and trekking. This policy has resulted in a low volume of well-heeled visitors and avoided the tourist trample that destroys the natural beauty that attracted visitors in the first place (read, Thailand).

Read more: 5 countries you can travel to without a visa if you’re Bangladeshi

An account of my adventure through Bhutan

This is one of the rare instances when being Bangladeshi is advantageous. Bangladeshis are free to spend as much (or as little) as they want during their trip. Bangladeshis can also form their own itinerary and can travel without a tour operator. While guides are convenient, they are not a requirement.

Read more: 10 cities to visit under budget

Getting There

Druk Air has multiple flights to Thimpu airport each week. It is the only airline that flies that route and there are only a few flights each week, so plan ahead! You arrive at a super small and cute airport. There are no lines for immigration or the long wait for bags.

Thimpu

On the drive from Paro to Thimpu.

Thimpu is a short 1.5 hr drive from Paro airport. Our pre-booked driver was happy to be a guide and singer of Bollywood music (especially Govinda) of this week-long trip. Our first stop on the way from Paro to Thimpu was at Thamchog Lhakhang. We went for a short walk across the traditional iron link bridge built by Thangtong Gyalpo, the extraordinary 15th-century Tibetan engineer and all-over Renaissance man who opened travel routes all over the Himalaya.

Things to do in Bhutan

An account of my adventure through Bhutan 1

Hang out at Mojopark

We arrived past sundown, met up with a friend and he took us to this bar/lounge– great vibes, music and great company. We met farmers, entrepreneurs and farmer-entrepreneurs for riveting conversations and a peek into the Bhutanese way of philosophizing. Mojo Park is a live music lounge that has bands playing every Friday and Saturday. Lounge is open every night– Wednesday being the non weekend night that was lit.
Opens at 7pm. Chang Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan

Breakfast and views at Tiji Cafe

The next morning, we needed coffee to recover from the many, uhm, enthusiastic conversations at Mojocafe. Tiji cafe served continental breakfast and a had a little sitting area on the porch. The cafe was right at the center plaza; on the pricier side but I appreciated the location, good coffee and better views. Then we went to the immigration office to go to Punakha. The permit was ready by lunch time. Carry a passport photo, just in case.

Visit Buddha Dordenma

We went on a scenic drive to go up to this statue for some classic site seeing. The gigantic statue, stands at 57 ft and is very impressive. The statue commemorates the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy,  celebrates the 60th anniversary of the fourth king and fulfills a prophecy.  It looks super old, but its not, it was completed in 2016 (just saying).
Open hours are 9am-5pm.

Others and lodging

Other things to do include visiting the Tashichho Dzong , the National Folk Heritage Museum and doing archery. We only had a day and wanted to get out of the city so we were already on the move.

Bhutan Suites is the best option. The hotel is close to Changangka Lhakhang and value for money. Each room had a kitchenette, small living room, balcony and mountain views. Clean. A short car ride from the center.

Punakha: Activities and Places

An account of my adventure through Bhutan 2

Dochala Pass

On the drive from Thimpu to Punakha, the pass is a short drive beyond Thimpu. Just take a moment to pause and stare at the Himalayas in the horizon.

Go white water rafting

The river in Punakha is a section of the Mo Chhu, which start high in the Himalayas and meets the Pho Chhu at the Punakha Dzong. “Mo” means female and “Chhu” means water or river, so this is the “Female River.” This section of river has easy Class I and II rapids combined with beautiful scenery, making it the most rafted section of river in Bhutan. We went in the last week of October, and the it may be called white water rafting but the water was relatively calm and felt more like a row-your-boat -down-the-river situation.

The overall experience included great guides who were super cognizant of the fact that it was my first time white water rafting, who were aware, who were acting upon safety procedures and had overall homie vibes.
Hiring rafts and guides 6000 Nu.-8000 Nu.

Walk up to the fertility temple Chinu Llakhang

So, this was a village nearby with a 15th-century Chimi fertility temple. That is what it is. It is also a chance for many visitors to be in shock and then snigger like 8 year olds at all the PHALLUS’ EVERYWHERE. Traditionally, Bhutanese believe that these phallic symbols help to dispel evil and to drive malicious gossip away. The Saint Drukpa certainly achieved his objective of showing us that the truth is uncomfortable.

Other things to do include visiting the Tashichho Dzong , the National Folk Heritage Museum and doing archery. We only had a day and wanted to get out of the city so we were already on the move.

Lodging and Food

Hotel Vara has good rooms with high ceilings and above the terraced rice paddy fields of the region. That being said, we had solid butter tea and breakfast at Hotel Lobesa, which will be our pick for next time. They had great service and some rooms that had direct entrance to a balcony overlooking the valley. Babee restaurant for lunch cravings.
St Wifi Restaurant for amazing dried pork and pea paneer.

Paro: Things to do

An account of my adventure through Bhutan 3

Hiking up the Tigers Nest

Up in the mountains is the famous Paro Taktsang, often referred to as The Tiger’s Nest monastery. Built in 1692, this sacred Buddhist site sits at 3,120 metres above sea level and 900 metres above the Paro valley. We went to some bland Indian restaurant the night before, played with the puppies on the farm and woke up on time for this hike. I strongly recommend good quality walking boots for the walk itself. I had ACL surgery a couple of months before this trip so I gave my knees a break (and basically cheated) and hired a small horse to take me up to the cafeteria for 800 Nu. Even if you take the horse, you have to walk up from the cafeteria which is about half way or 1.5 hrs of brisk walking.
The way down from the monastery is picturesque and really, really worth the walk. Take you time as you take each stair through the valley.
Entrance fee is 500 Nu. Try paying the amount and getting your ticket before you start the trek.

Taking a hot stone bath after the hike

A hot stone bath is the most ideal way to deal with the inevitable muscle aches after that hike. We were staying on a farmhouse and had give the staff a few hours’ notice to draw the bath. They build a fire, heat the river stones for 4-5 hours and draw the bath with soothing Artemisia leaves.

Sunset at Namgay Artisinal Brewery

Go to karaoke: Karaoke seemed to be a part of nightlife at Paro. Our driver took us to a bar with old men, teenagers, confused tourists belting out local hits, Backstreet boys and Kal Ho Na Ho.

Lodging in Paro

We split our nights in between a homestay/ farm house experience and a night in a resort. It was the perfect balance between enjoying comfort and the luxuries of a resort and hanging out with locals and experiencing the simplicity at the farmhouse.
Navana Homestay delivered in its promise of clean rooms with high cielings.
We stayed at Udumwara  Resort. It is next to a flowing river and there are pleasant cottages, but the rooms were run down. Dechawara Resort came with better reviews and recommendations but was sold out.

Food in Paro

Our food journey in Bhutan was not one with variety, but lots of comfort. Bhutanese meals are primarily five items and a combination of chili, cheese, potatoes and lots and lots of comfort. I have never done this, but I ate at the same restaurant for every single meal in Paro. Kuzu Resturaunt is homely with the nicest chef whose motherly/sisterly presence was all I needed. She piled on rice, managed the boys’ multiple requests for more pork cheese and whiskey and gave me the recipe for my favorite dish (Sikkim Pa, beef jerky in cheese) by the end of the trip.

Staying Connected

Bought a sim at the airport, right before the exit. 600 Nu. Country code: 00 975.

Getting around

Our driver was dope. 14000 Nu for 6 days

With Sabira Mehrin of Wander Woman: Creating a community of independent women travelers

Like many patriarchal societies, girls need permission to do basic things in life– to stay out after dark, to get a job, to make their own career choices. In this context, there are still women who are pushing boundaries and venturing out on their own. One big change is that more woman are now travelling and seeking adventure.

Read more: These 4 apps will make traveling a lot easier

What is Wander Woman?

Among many things, Wander Woman is a travel company– by women, just for women. Wander Woman started out as a Facebook group but is growing into so much more. The group currently has 10,030 members.

Wander Woman comes with one sole purpose – bringing all women together in one platform to share the love for travelling around the world.

Travelers post their tips, ask for help to navigate blocks in their journey and share their stories. Solo travelers can also coordinate with each other, form groups for short trips based on common interests.

Read more: 5 countries you can travel to without a visa if you’re Bangladeshi

Who is Sabira Mehrin?

Sabira Mehrin is the founder of Wonder Woman. She is full of life and full of determination. She is trying to bring women together, help them travel and see the world, while creating a community of cool explorers that help each other.

She is also efficient. She has to figure out how to deal with her biggest challenge in administering a facebook group and keeping the group authentic. “I was very picky! I only wanted member with authentic profile, with legitimate work portfolios- and it was extremely hard to administer the group. So I made the best use of all my time- in traffics, and such.”

Why Wander Woman?

In a little more than 12 months, Sabira Mehrin has turned a small Facebook group into a full-fledged start-up. But what made her want to create this group in the first place?

“When I was a student in IBA, I used to participate in global business competitions and conferences. All of them were organized by big companies. So whenever I traveled, I never faced any kind of hassle in the process of purchasing tickets and all. All of these were done by the professionals.

But when I got into job and started planning a self-funded trip for myself for the first time, I realized I only knew few people who could give me the right kind of information. Also, while researching, I came across very few Bangladeshi travel bloggers. So I saw the lack of information, the discrimination, and saw that the issues were mostly for the women. And I thought, how can I create a platform that makes it easier for women to travel? And my best friend gave me the idea to start the group- just to assess the situation. I opened the group and added 200 people. And from there it started to grow, and it didn’t stop!”

Why do people trust Wander Woman?

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to woman and travel- including safety, reliability and of course, trust issues. However, the closed nature of the group, the direct interactions and careful moderation has led to a thriving community with trust.

When we asked this question, Sabira exclaimed with genuine surprise, “I don’t know! They just do! I have spoken to so many parents about permissions and stuff, and they all seem to come around after talking to me! And I feel privileged to be blessed with this type of trust. So if anyone has trouble getting permission for solo trips, just show your parents our group! Let them see that it is safe, and we will do our best to give you the best experience possible!”

What’s next?

What’s not next is a typical, commercial agency. Sabira keeps that in mind as she finds partners to help her build the community. “When we first started out, a lot of travel agencies reached out to us. But I soon figured they were all being very commercial. We would prefer if we could find people who were more interested in building the community with us.

Sabira has big plans for Wander woman for 2019. “Wander woman got registered”, she said. “We want to make travelling more accessible to the students in near future. And I know that people believe that wander woman is a little too niche, but I refuse to compromise the quality of our packages. So we might not reach out to the the mass market just yet. Let’s see what happens!”

Read more: 5 tips for the solo traveller in Bangladesh

Tips for a solo traveller?

Sabira is an avid traveller. So when we asked her for tips she said, “Solo travelling is about two things- courage and planning. You don’t have to be fearful, necessarily, but you need to be cautious. So while some places are safer than others, you can still make the best of your situation by being smart. I have come across so many helpful people, help was coming from unexpected places whenever I was in a pinch. That was really surprising for me.”

Read more: 4 Bengali traveling myths that are completely wrong

So if you are a girl and you love travelling, do check out their group! Because there is something for everyone!

Chattogram, shrouded in history, adorned by nature.

“A sleeping beauty rising from mist and water”. This description of Chattogram was given by Chinese explorer Xuanzang in the 7th century. And to this day, this description stands somewhat true. A 2000-year-old city, one of the largest ports of the East as described by Ptolemy in the 1st century, a mythical realm of hundred tribes and an exotic land where the mountains meet the ocean, Chattogram is a beautiful destination for history and travel addicts both. For those of us looking for a quick escapade this vacation, Chattogram is a destination that’s a package full of everything.

Getting to the promised land

Chattogram can be travelled to by bus, train or air. Daily domestic flights from Dhaka to Chattogram are operated by all the local air carriers. Both AC and non AC Buses to Chittagong leave every hour from Kamalapur bus station starting from the morning. But the best way to travel to Chattogram will surely be by train. The night train to Chattogram is a pleasant and comfortable journey and can be a part of the whole Chattogram experience if you consider it that way. Two night trains leave from Dhaka for Chattogram, the Mahanagar Express leaves at 9 PM and Turna Express leaves at 11 PM. Both will land you in Chattogram early in the morning. Consult the Bangladesh Railway website for details on the fare and timing.

Chittagong night train

What’s interesting about the night train journey is the small town stations it passes by on its way. Sometimes the train will stop at these stations for you to catch a quick glimpse of the lives at small towns. It’s like reading a short story, these small stations. It’s like the low lit platforms want to tell you a captivating story but rather decides to leave it unfinished as the train starts to move on, leaving a scintilla of mysterious enchantment.

Staying in Chattogram

Chattogram is the second largest city in Bangladesh and has all the elements of a mega city. There are cheap to mid-range hotels and reputed five and four-star hotels like The Agrabad or Peninsula. A good mid-range option is The Landmark hotel. Located right in the heart of the city and charging a modest price for quality bed and breakfast, The Landmark hotel is a good option for travellers with a tight budget and finer taste.

Places to visit and things to do

The long list of places to visit in Chattogram begins with the city itself. Chattogram metro, like any other city in Bangladesh, is not devoid of traffic and infrastructural woes. It has its fair share of traffic and pollution. And yet, with spiralling roads that run up and down on the hills and names of areas as beautiful as Cheragi Pahar, Agrabad and Pahartoli, the city screams grandiose. Only to be humbled by the kind-hearted Chatgaiya people who take a pride in the own distinct heritage and dialect.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
Cheragi Pahar

The city itself has a charming colonial vibe to it. From the grand red brick building of the old railway station to the historic old Circuit House, the city nurtures its history with a careful preservation.

You can climb up the Batali hills, the highest hill in Chattogram city and get a breathtaking view of the sunset over the city and the Bay of Bengal in the far.

Visit the Pahartali European Club, where one of the first struggles of Independence took place under Masterda Surya Sen during the British era.

Take a boat ride in the Karnaphuli river in the evening and top it off with a dinner at any of the local eateries with Chittagong special Kalabhuna beef and Mejban meal.

Travel to Chittagong
Chittagong Old Circuit House

When you’re in Chittagong, make sure you try Hydrabadi Biriyani from Handi at GEC moar and Dum Phoonk’s Dum Biriyani at Jamal Khan Road. Don’t forget to try the special faluda from New Liberty Drink House in New Market.

Adventure’s calling

Now for the adventures part, the first thing that you’d like to do is visit the Kaptai lake and kayak between the mountains. Get on a bus from Bohoddar Haat that’ll drop you in front of the Kaptai Kayak Club. The rent fee for kayaking one hour is 200TK.

Steering your Kayak slowly in the clear waters of Kaptai lake, through the mists, in between the lush green hills and forests, is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
Kayaking in Kaptai

On your way back, you can take a CNG run auto rickshaw to reach halfway and the rest half by bus as usual. The road from Kaptai to Chittagong city is a rewarding one with Kaptai lake on one side and green hills on the other.

You can visit the Chandranath temple in Sitakunda. To get there, take any bus that goes that way from Alangkar moar and get off at the Sitakunda bazaar. From there, take an auto to reach the foot of the Chandranath hill. Climb up 1020 feet to reach the temple that’s dedicated to the goddess Kali and marvel at the magnificent view from the hilltop.

The Chandranath hill is shrouded in mysteries of ancient Hindu mythology. Monks in red overalls can often be seen sitting in temple doorsteps that forbid you to enter without permission from the priests. But the stories of Chandranath and its mythic adventures are for another time.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
View from Chandranath hills

You can also visit the Medhas Munir Ashram. Another mythical monastery on a hilltop and the place from where the first ever Durga Puja in the region started.

And of course, you can always extend your stay and take a trip to Cox’s Bazar. It’s just 4 hours away from the city and the largest sea beach in the world.

Goodbyes are hard

One does not visit Chattogram only once. From the deliciousness of the Kalabhuna to the mysterious journey atop Chandranath hills, Chattogram keeps calling you back for more. And perhaps the land of 12 awlias isn’t done with you yet.

Travel solo at least once in your life, it can be enriching

Traveling has always been one of our top choices for choosing what to do in upcoming holiday seasons. However, as our lives get hectic- the fond memories from our childhood of travelling with our family simply become memories that are difficult, or in most cases impossible to relive. In addition, knocking your best friends on Facebook to check their schedule and plan trips result in nothing but utter disappointment, as you find them drowning in deadlines or juggling a hundred things going on in their lives.

So, do you let go of your plans and spend the vacation like a typical weekend with Netflix and pizzas? Of course not.

Solo trips to the rescue! Although solo trips are not a popular choice or a choice for many at all, they are an incredible life-experience. Today, we bring you some reasons to consider travelling solo at least once to have the experience of a lifetime!

Confidence and Responsibility

Solo trips would surely help you gain confidence as an individual. You initiate conversations, get to know people and enjoy little things you normally wouldn’t. Moreover, as a solo traveler, you would also seem more approachable and locals might start the conversation themselves. As you explore and return from the trip, it would also clear your misconception of solo trips being anxiety-inducing, no-good trips. Additionally, solo trips teach you to be more responsible as you take care of your belongings, passport, and other documents and try your best to avoid any danger in the foreign country.

Moreover, solo trips are more peaceful and therapeutic as you escape from your daily life. You can get away from people you know and spend more time with yourself at a quiet cottage. This also means giving yourself the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. Imagine giving yourself a fake identity to strangers like all those times in the movies; fun, eh?

Make friends along the way

One unique and wonderful aspect of solo trips is that it also gives you the opportunity to meet more locals. When going with your family, friends or your significant other to a trip- it is given that you would go to have all your meals with them or sit next to them in public transportations, movie theatres and amusement park rides. However, travelling solo lets you meet people along the way and do the activities with them, which can be very fun.

A big advantage travelling solo brings is the reduced waiting time. For example, from perceiving theme parks as a noisy, rowdy place filled with screaming kids, crowds and endless walking, you would perceive it as the truly magical place it is meant to be- simply because of the amount of time you save skipping lines and entering as a solo rider. I had a similar experience in Universal Studios Singapore and I cannot describe the sheer happiness as you cross the long queues, get on your ride as a solo-rider and look at all those people waiting in groups.

Step out of your comfort zone

A solo trip like any other trip lets you meet new people and experience new cultures, traditions and food. However, it also lets you do those to a greater extent as you step out of your comfort zone, transform into a more confident, responsible and ‘fun’ individual and surround yourself with people living their life to the fullest to be a part of them.

So go out there, plan a trip for yourself and experience the magic. After all, a solo trip can be exciting, nerve-wracking and rewarding all at the same time; let go of the fear, have one for the first time and you shall find yourself planning the next one soon enough!

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!

Staying at small hotels when traveling is the best thing ever, here’s why

I learned a new word the other day. Scintilla. Which means, a tiny spark of a feeling. Beautiful, isn’t it? Ever since, I’ve been dying to use the word properly, somewhere relevant. And when I got the green light from my editor to write about the hotels I stay in when I travel, I found an opportunity to use this word in a proper relevant context.

That’s right, a tiny spark of a beautiful short-lived moment is exactly how it feels to stay in small mid-range hotels. You see, hotels are not just a bed to sleep at night. They are much more than that. They are a collection of stories and experiences, a platform where travellers pass by and stop for a while, leaving their own stories and memories. When you think about it like that, hotels are no less than storybooks. And the small hotels? The stories formed in these small hotels are just cosier than the ones in five-star hotels.

Here are a few reasons why staying in small hotels is better than you think.

1. Easy on the ol’ wallet

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To get the obvious out of the way, small hotels don’t take a toll on your wallet. Most of the small hotels are priced cheap to mid-range. There’s no point in paying a hefty sum of money to stay in a hotel if you’re planning to just spend the nights over there and go exploring the entire day. But of course no harm in paying for a bit of extra luxury either. No one’s judging.

2. A cosier environment

Staying at small hotels-HiFI Public

Small hotels offer you something that high-end hotels won’t. A cosy homely feeling that you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll find fellow travellers as you crammed in a small lobby or small rooftop makeshift eatery that’ll serve you authentic local delicacies. Or the receptionist who’ll always greet you with a smile and go out of his way to help you travel a bit easier in the region.

3. Authentic cultural experience

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High-end hotels play it by the book. The more or less same amenities and the same experiences everywhere but in a different style. That isn’t the case with small hotels. Most small hotels are located in a local neighbourhood, run by the locals, offering the best of the local cultures. If you truly want to experience a region, try staying in one of the small hotels for the best authentic experience.

4. A story to tell

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There’s always something different about each of these hotels you’ll ever stay in. Each one has a different story to tell and a different experience awaits you in each one. I’ll never forget the lovely 2 AM conversation I had with the front desk clerk of Chinatown Inn in Kuala Lumpur. Or that one time I slept in and the family that runs Bich Duyen Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City cooked me a warm breakfast because it was too late in the day to find breakfast in the city.

These are the experiences that don’t go on your Instagram. But these are the experiences that make travelling worth your time and money.

I call myself a traveller when in reality, I really haven’t travelled much. But in this short span of my travelling journal, I have come across experiences that I’ll cherish forever and stories that I’ll keep telling every day. If you’re travelling somewhere new, don’t hesitate to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Because when you open yourself up to the new and the different, that’s when you truly travel.

10 cities to visit under budget

In this hectic life of work, studies and constant roundabouts of quizzes and deadlines, our lifestyle somewhat becomes mundane. Travelling is one of the many ways let off some steam. But, what holds back most of us from travelling is obviously the cost of it. The plane fare, hotel, food and the list goes on.

But fret not. We have ten cities for you to visit under a budget of 40,000 BDT.

Because life starts when you really start living and we want to give you a nudge on that!

Read more about countries that don’t require a Bangladeshi visa: https://hifipublic.com/en/2018/09/28/5-countries-you-can-travel-to-without-a-visa-if-youre-a-bangladeshi/

K for Kathmandu

Born in a valley, Kathmandu is surrounded by the Himalayan mountains. And is known for the mountains, temples and the cleansing of the spiritual aura. It is truly a magical place to be if you want to surround yourself with the mystery of nature. Kathmandu has all of it.

Darling Darjeeling

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From an unworldly sunrise at Tiger Hill to hot steaming momos in Batasia loop, the adventures in Darjeeling would be one of the most magical trips you can afford to do in a budget. It is also very well known for the temples it bears such as the Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda, Observatory Hill and Mahakal Temple. But one can never be in Darjeeling and not see the monasteries! With unusual architectural style and great historical background, each monastery s have a story to tell. Samten Choling Monastery, Yiga Choeling Monastery, Dali Monastery and many more awaits!

Read more about Darjeeling here: https://hifipublic.com/en/2018/12/25/darjeeling-an-experience-of-a-lifetime/

Yes, to Paro!

Surrounded by mountains, this small town in the peaceful country of Bhutan can be your ultimate getaway. From the ancient Rimpung-Dzong fortress in Paro valley to a spectacular hike to Tiger’s nest, Paro never falls short on adventures and surprises.

Into the dreamy world of Kashmir

If you are a new traveler and Kashmir is your first place to travel, then kudos to you because it is a very good place to start your journey to the unknown. Kashmir is well known for rafting, hiking and of course the mountains! November is a good time to visit since there aren’t many tourists seen around the popular spots. Try to stay around the local areas or get acquainted with a local family to know Kashmir better. Multi day trekking, horseback riding, hiking in Sonamarg, rafting at Lidder River and many more exciting trips awaits!

Sin Chao Hanoi!

Capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a crowded city of night market and venturing into places like the Hoan Kiem Lake, eating the best delicacies in Tai Hien Street, traveling to Ni Ling, Sapa Valley and many more beautiful places. The living and food costs are affordable and you can take a motorbike taxi for going to places for saving some extra bucks.

Read more about Vietnam here: https://hifipublic.com/en/2018/06/08/travellers-notebook-ho-chi-minh-city-alternate-title-in-the-land-of-the-blue-dragon/

Yangon

The former capital city of Myanmar Yangon is known for the Pagodas because of their magnificent architectural designs and the tranquility of being in a space which promotes spiritual cleansing. If you are interested in taking pictures of rich designed buildings, church and temples and Pagodas, Yangon is your spot!

Explore Phnom Penh

If this is your first trip to Cambodia, then you better grab a list because Phnom Penh has many things to offer for you to explore in a very affordable rate. Starting from exploring the beautiful royal palace, to walking around the National Museum to taking a ride by the ferry out to Koh Dach is honestly a dream come true.

Cleanse your soul with Chiang Mai, Thailand  

Starting from having a heart to heart conversation with the Monks of Wat Pha Temple to adoring the elephants and spending a handful amount of time with them, Chiang Mai has endless possibilities for you to escape reality and explore the beauty and joy of nature. If you are into adventure then do not worry because Chiang Mai, has zip lines, paragliding, rock climbing and many more!

Manila, Philippines

10 cities to visit under budget

Manila is one of those places you can travel by yourself given if you have the right maps and instructions. The city holds historical representation through Intramuros, indulge in the most delicious delicacies in Binondo, the Manila Chinatown and various other museums and palace.

Jakarta, Indonesia

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We cannot finish this list without including Jakarta, one of the most budget friendly places of all times. Jakarta is a friendly place with cheap transportation, beautiful monuments, amazing nightlife and delicious street food. Indulge yourself with the best things when you travel here

One of the key things to do before travelling anywhere on a budget is listing down places you want to stay and travel to. Let this year bring you joy and many adventures to enjoy!

4 Bengali traveling myths that are completely wrong

Traveling is something we Bengalis love to do. We might act a bit old school when comes it, but you would rarely find a Bengali who doesn’t fancy traveling. Back in the day, our parents would probably start planning for a tour six months before a vacation starts. Now, in the age of information technology we fancy eating street food in Bangkok one fine morning and we might find ourselves doing it the next weekend. And yet, few old timer traveling myths still remain embedded in our habit.

Here are 4 such traveling myths that are completely wrong.

Myth 1: You need to buy plane tickets months in advance to get the best deals

Wrong. This might have been true ages ago when air traveling was not as frequent as it is now. Back then, airlines would hike up the ticket prices at the last minute because options were so few.

These days, it’s the opposite. With so many budget to high-end options, airlines scramble to fill in half empty seats as the date of departure comes close. Moreover, if you try to book a ticket months ago, you are most likely to see the static prices rather than dynamic ones. The ideal time to book your air ticket would be 4-5 weeks in advance.

Myth 2: Packages know best

While some packages might offer convenience once in a while, in most cases packages will rip you off. And the offers are almost never the best you can get. Comes with the added hassle of doing everything by the package terms and conditions.

If you try and explore by yourself, chances are you’ll cover the trip with half of what the package programs ask of you and get more out of your traveling.

Myth 3: Duty Free is a good bargain

This is a very common myth among those of us who frequent in airports. Duty Free items means that they are not taxed. However, it doesn’t mean anything about retail prices. There’s a higher chance that you’ll find the same goods at a much lower retail price in local market.

Myth 4: It’s a good idea to change your currency at the airport

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Almost never. At airports, the transaction fee is built into the exchange rate percentage. And that means you’ll get a bad rate at airports almost all the time. It’s better to change your currency from your bank before traveling. Or do it in a local money changer once you reach your travel destination.