How I learned to stop worrying and love Bengal.
For some, the country of Bangladesh conjures up little more than poverty and a cricket team. Henry Kissinger in 1971 summed up Bangladesh as “a basket case”, and arguably worst of all some people would be left scratching their heads asking, “Bangladesh… is that a country?”
Well, Bangladesh is indeed a country. A country with smoggy, ram-packed city streets, contrasting with green, lush countryside, and rivers meandering through it all to the back and beyond. It’s by turns overwhelming and chaotic, then mellow and beautiful.
In Bangladesh prices are cheap, foreigners are few and far between, and the public transport is developed just enough to get around independently – in other words all the ingredients necessary for adventurous travel. Best of all, to get off the beaten track in Bangladesh, all you have to do is arrive.
The below gives general advice on independent travel in Bangladesh and details how to organise a trip to the Sundarbans – a vast mangrove forest in the south-west, recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site and a natural wonder.
Edge of the Sundarbans at sunset.
How to get a Visa (it’s More Convenient than you Think).
Bangladesh has a benevolent visa on arrival policy with visas offered at the Dhaka international airport (though I’ve heard land crossings are more of a mixed bag). Still you do need a few extra things beyond just your passport.
Firstly, you’ll need $50 in cash to be paid up front – they won’t accept cards. Unfortunately, my friend and I didn’t have any cash on us (much less dollars), but they were very amenable in getting a policeman to accompany us through immigration to access the ATM to get out the cash.
Second, you’ll need a hotel reservation. This also caught my friend and me off guard – we told a little white lie about having reserved our chosen hotel over the phone, so we didn’t have a reservation email. Showing the webpage of the hotel on my phone seemed to help in making this seem legitimate. Obviously, best just bring a reservation email with you.
In addition, you will need to write the full address and contact number of your hotel – they’re quite strict on wanting a local contact number not just an email. For a tourist, the phone number of your hotel is fine.
Worth noting that the Bangladesh Ministry of Tourism page on visas on arrival state various conditions, including that there be no diplomatic mission in the applicant’s country of origin. This was happily ignored by the airport staff who were providing visas to a range of Westeners many of which had a Bangladesh mission at home (including myself, a Brit). They also didn’t care which country we’d come from (India). Finally, there were several intimidating signs around the visa area saying you absolutely need a letter of invitation, but I presume these are just for business visas as we were never asked for one.
All in all, when you have your $50, your hotel reservation and hotel contact details, getting into Bangladesh is a hassle free experience, and the immigration staff are surprisingly benevolent relative to every other country I’ve visited.