I finished my contract teaching English in Thailand, I had been in Asia well over a year by now and felt quite a home in the continent…. until I went to Bangladesh, suddenly – not so much.
So here was the plan:
1) Finish teaching contract in Chiang Mai
2) Travel around Asia for as long as the money lasts on a ridiculously cheap budget
3) Get to Australia without flying after we touch down on our first destination
Sounds pretty easy, I wanted to go to India to start and then pretty much loop across the whole continent over the next year or two although it didn’t quite work out like that and rather than go straight to India I found a cheap flight to Bangladesh – and so the hardcore backpacking began :S
I roped two friends into the crazy trip (Swede and Andy), we flew from Bangkok to Dhaka, the Capital of Bangladesh – as I was semi-permanently leaving Thailand the week before so my the week before I set off was inundated with leaving parties, sad goodbyes and tearful partings so I didn’t really get time to actually plan anything for the trip to Bangladesh. Basically, we found ourselves as the ONLY white people in a 1970′s airplane on Air Bangladesh one-way to Dhaka. I had no idea what language they spoke, what their currency was, what the climate or cuisine was liked, if they spoke English, I had no accommodation booked, no idea if there was anything to see and no direction in which to travel. Oh shit.
Straight after landing the plane we were swamped by Bangladeshis, people stopped, jaws dropping, giggling, pointing, running up and touch us etcIn fact, people running up to us in awe and amazement became quite a theme throughout my time in Bangladesh and I never realy got used to it although I can’t deny it wasn’t hilarious. Also, should you ever happen to be in Dhaka please walk into the middle of the street , stare straight up in the sky and point for about 15 seconds – then quickly have a look around you and I guarantee at least 500 people will be standing still looking directly up trying to see what the crazy white man is pointing at (sometimes you ave to just amuse yourself )
We managed to get some money and a ‘taxi’ (read guy cycling while pulling a homemade wooden cart) to a hotel. It was 45 degrees and I had no idea where we were going. But we went straight to the old city, amidst a lot of shocked faces, and found a hotel for around $1 a night, no air conditioning, no cold water but cheap and on a budget of 5 GBP a day that was the most important thing – besides, when in Rome…
We checked in and went for a walk, wandering around old Dhaka was an experience in itself. Never in my life have a seen such an overpopulated place – it was literally difficult to walk due to the sheer amount of people; and the rickshaws were everywhere, thousands of them, pouring out of every alley, ringing their bells to tell you they are coming and you need to get out of their way
The culture shock was so large and I was so far out of my comfort zone that my head was spinning, but what can you do?! So we got stuck in, we accepted that we were going to sweat, accepted we were going to be dirty, accepted that it was going to be difficult but we were seeing things that most people will never see and experiencing a country that most people will never visit – soaking up such a different culture is the reward for all the stress, and it more than outweighs the negative aspects. As it turns out, the people of Bangladesh were so friendly and open that retrospectively I was ashamed I judged their country. They were so happy that we had made the effort to come there that anyone who could speak any English would spot us in the distance and sprint to us to see if they could help – I challenge you to find that behaviour on Oxford street.
It had been nearly a day since we arrived and we hadn’t ventured to an actual restaurant yet but our stomachs were yelling out to us so we had to take a leap of faith
The photo is from second restaurant we braved. The food in Bangladesh was delicious, honestly. It tended to be quite a sweat, scented rice mixed with chunks of meat with lime squeezed over it and I couldn’t get enough. The same couldn’t be said about the drinks – the restaurant owners loved having us sit down in their place so they would rush over with some sort of milk, perhaps goat milk?, anyway it was revolting, vile, gag-inducingly sour but we had to take it on the chin, finish it and conjure a thankful smile. The fake smile was a work of art though, especially in countries where the locals are so friendly – you have to smile because they are so nice but you don’t want to smile too much or you could end up with 3 more glasses of the goat’s piss, so through trial and error you discover the tipping point and now I am a master
So day 1 and 2 were under our belts we felt a lot more at ease in Bangladesh, the stress had subsided and the travel euphoria was taking over – i love that feeling. Knowing you are lucky to have the opportunity to be there, you want to savour every sight, smell, sound because you may never return to this place, not knowing what to expect with every corner you approach but relishing the excitement of it all.
I’ll chat some more about what we did in Bangladesh tomorrow – what a truly unique country.