If you come to Bangladesh, you must see Dhaka. While many may say it is a very busy city that should be avoided, there is nothing quite like seeing the madness of the capital city.
I paid a visit to Dhaka in May, 2017, but due to limited time constraints I only had one day to see the sights. To make up time and to make sure I could see as much as possible in this short period of time, I hired a tour guide making the process much easier.
I originally met my guide Jahid in Srimongal where he usually works; however, he also does touring of Dhaka. He gave me a great tour of Srimangal and Dhaka, and I strongly recommend him, but I also know there are several other guide companies in Dhaka so it just depends on what you’re looking for. Many Dhaka tours can be found online, but I think the best tours are the ones where a guide takes you to the sights via rickshaw and other public transport. Dhaka is best seen from a rickshaw, not a private vehicle. You can get in touch with Jahid by visiting his website here. Or learn more about my Srimongal tour here.
Jahid and I left Srimongal on the the first bus available to reach Dhaka at 11:00 am. First we went to my hotel, dropped off our stuff, and went to the train station so I could purchase my onward ticket from Dhaka back to India. Tickets for the Maitree Express were all sold out, but Jahid helped me find a bus company with direct service to Calcutta.
After securing my bus ticket, we went to the main offices of Sonali Bank in downtown Dhaka so I could pay my departure tax. The story of visiting this bank is actually quite funny – when we first got there, we were directed to the departure tax window where there were several Indian men fighting each other to pay the tax with the teller screaming right back at them. Apparently she was about to leave for her lunch break, and she was telling everyone in the line that they would need to wait another hour for her to get back. We tried to give the clerk my passport, and she threw it right back at us. The fact that only one person was working the departure window was ridiculous.
But Jahid knows Bangladesh well. In Bangladesh if you’re a foreigner, you’re usually allowed to cut lines and are just treated much better because you’re considered a guest in their country. They want to make sure you’re well taken care of. When Jahid realized we would need to wait an hour, he asked some bank employees if we could speak to the manager about my situation. Next thing I know, I am sitting in the office of the deputy general manager of all of Sonali Bank in Bangladesh. After explaining our situation, his staff personally took my passport, filled out my forms, and made sure I got a departure tax receipt. Only in Bangladesh can you get away with stuff like this.
Now with everything sorted it was time to begin the tour. First stop we went to Lalbagh Fort, a beautiful Mughal era palace in downtown Dhaka. As we walked around the fort, I ended up being the prime attraction for most Bangladeshi’s and snapped photos with countless people.
Next we went for a late lunch/early dinner at probably the most famous biriani places in Bangladesh – Hazir Biriani. It was SO GOOD. After eating, we spent sometime just walking around or riding rickshaws through Old Dhaka visiting mosques and taking pictures of all the colorful fruit vendors.
Towards sunset, we made our way to the main highlight of the tour – a boat ride on the Buriganga river. We went to a dock where hundreds of ferries are moored waiting to leave for destinations all throughout Bangladesh. It was unbelievably crowded, but Jahid led us to an area where we could hire a small wooden boat to take us out on the river. Normally these boats are used for locals to cross from one side to the other, but we instead took it out for our own sunset cruise.
After the boat ride, Jahid introduced me to one of his uncle’s friends who also happened to be a local politician in Old Dhaka. Earlier in the day, we tried to visit the Pink Palace, but it was closed. Jahid’s contact though was able to use his political connections to speak with the guards and let us tour the complex.
Last stop of the night was to try some betel leaf before making it back to the hotel. The betel leaf wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly good. This man wrapped several sweets into the leaf with betel nuts to give it a nice flavor, but it ended up tasting too sweet almost like a nasty mixture of candy. I guess I’m glad I tried it, but I wouldn’t go for it again.
The crowded streets of Old Dhaka are incomparable to anywhere I’ve been. I thought I saw madness in India, but it was 10 times crazier in Dhaka. If you do just one thing in Dhaka, try to take a boat out for a sunset cruise and visit the colorful fruit markets along the river. These are best viewed at sunrise when vendors begin selling their fruits or sunset when the crowds are less, but the light is equally as good.