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Backpacking in Bangladesh; Traveling permanently for the first time
I had just finished my contract teaching English in Thailand. Personally, I had now been in Asia well over a year and felt quite a home in the continent. That was until I went to Bangladesh. Suddenly, I was out of my depth. My experience Backpacking in Bangladesh was something else entirely. What a ride.
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Backpacking in Bangladesh; My life plans:
1) Finish teaching contract in Chiang Mai
2) Travel around Asia (mostly Southeast Asia) for as long as my money lasts on a ridiculously cheap budget of about $10 a day.
3) Get my Australia working-holiday visa, and reach without flying after we touch down on our first destination
My Asia Travels Begin; Bangladesh
Sounds pretty easy, right? So I wanted to go to India to start and then pretty much loop across the whole continent over the next year or two. But it didn’t quite work out like that. Rather than stick to my plan and go straight to India from Thailand, I found a super cheap flight to Bangladesh. And with that, my trip to every country in the world truly began.
I roped two friends into the crazy trip (Tom and Andy). We flew from Bangkok to Dhaka, the Capital of Bangladesh. As I was semi-permanently living in Thailand, the week before we 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 or find out about the places to visit in Bangladesh once we arrived.
So we went backpacking in Bangladesh without a plan. That’s the best way if you as me. Upon boarding the flight, found ourselves as the only Europeans in a 1970’s airplane on Air Bangladesh one-way to Dhaka. Complete with ash trays in each seat!
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. Here we go.
Landing in Dhaka
Straight after landing the plane, we were swamped by Bangladeshis. People stopped and stared, jaws dropping, giggling, pointing, running up and touch us. In fact, people running up to us in awe and amazement of these guys being here and being so clueless. It became quite a theme throughout my time in Bangladesh. I never really got used to it although I can’t deny it is good fun.
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. I guarantee at least 20 people will be standing still looking directly up trying to see what the crazy white man is pointing at. It’s a phenomenon.
Old Dhaka; $3 a night hotel split 3 ways
We managed to get some money from an ATM. Soon a rickshaw ‘taxi’ (a guy cycling while pulling a homemade wooden cart) took us 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. We wandered around for an hour. Asking each hotel for their cheapest room. Finally, here we found a hotel for around $1 a night per person. No air conditioning, no cold water but cheap and on a budget of 5 GBP a day that was the most important thing at this stage of my life.
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?! We are here now. So we got stuck in, overheated, under-nourished. But accepting that we were going to sweat a lot each day.
We 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. Anyone who could speak any English would spot us in the distance and sprint to us to see if they could help.
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 the second restaurant we braved. The food in Bangladesh was delicious, honestly. It tended to be quite a sweet, scented rice mixed with chunks of meat with lime squeezed over it. 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 a new ‘guide’ or rickshaw driver. 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 on our backpacking in Bangladesh experience. 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. And not knowing what to expect with every corner you approach but relishing the excitement of it all was just the adventure I was looking for.
I’ll chat some more about what we did when Backpacking in Bangladesh tomorrow – what a truly unique country.
Travel insurance for Bangladesh
It’s a long story, but many travel insurance companies don’t cover Bangladesh. THESE GUYS DO, and it’s only $10 a week. Enjoy.
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