“I want to turn you on, turn you up, figure you out, I want to take you on.” – R.E.M.
First up, I got to tell ya: Dhaka is an absolute beast. This is a monster with a vivacious intense hard-working mentality of never ending motion. I don’t believe it and you won’t. But here we are, backpacking in Bangladesh and trying to work out this one: DHAKA. The city is a fired up fusion of frenzied velocity. “The Desh” don’t stand still bruv.
Bangladesh is a country often left out of many Asian backpacking adventures and for this very reason, try and make a visit here at some point – it took me a few years too but it was worth the wait. Bangladesh is still completely off the wall, you will probably be the only foreigner you ever meet here (I met 1 Pakistani guy in my entire time in Dhaka and couldn’t have met any more if I tried).
While Dhaka will not make you fall in love with it, the street life and madness just has to be seen to be believed. It’s the craziest city I have ever been in bar none. Yes, this place is totally crazy. I never went here with the intention of ticking off a “top sights” list and to be honest it’s quite hard to get your head round this place so negotiating your way through a top 5 will take you all day, as your rickshaw starts and stops, your tuk tuk (baby taxi) driver mis-understands you and torrential rain soaks you to the bone.
Is Dhaka Safe?
Overall Bangladesh is a safe enough country to travel in, but I found Dhaka to be intense and dangerous traffic wise. The streets are mayhem. You’re not supposed to go out at night but it was fine in Uttara where I stayed in the Nagar Valley Hotel. However, please take care – I had read some crazy reports from fellow blogger friends Derek (Wandering Earl) who once got kidnapped in Dhaka and Johnny (One Step 4Ward) who once got accused of doinking a prozzie in his hotel room in Dhaka, so a safe bet was the airport pick up. Also don’t carry loads of cash around, you’ll be hoarding off loads of kids begging most of the time, which can get annoying. Overall, it is safer than people will tell you.
Having spent three marvellous tiring days exploring its charms and chaos, here are my personal top 6 sights. This is based on Old Town Dhaka by the way, I did visit a few parts of the newer town and the areas at Motijheel and Kamlapur but Old Dhaka is the best place for sightseeing in my opinion. I got my Bangladesh visa in Hong Kong before getting a night train to the city of Chittagong.
1.Ahsan Manzil Palace (The Pink Palace)
This will probably remain the most striking building for me in my time in Bangladesh. As the title suggests, it is a pink palace and it is pretty. It reminded me of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires a bit.
Sadly tourists have to pay 100 Taka inside compared to the locals 20 Taka, but even 100 Taka is only £1 (or $1.2 US) so it’s worth it. You get entry to the museum and as a bonus you can buy postcards here. This is not an easy city to find postcards in. Also – you are not allowed to take photos inside the museum part. I took just a few sneaky ones though.
Also once inside the gates, be ready for lots of locals wanting a selfie with you! It took me an hour from the gate to enter the museum due to the selfie stampede. None of the people had ever seen a foreigner before. Crazy times.
2. Llalbagh Fort
Llalbagh seems a bit extravagant and out of place. One minute you’re on a busy street, then there’s a wall, a huge garden area and this fort. It’s pretty impressive and sits in from of the Buriganga River.
Llalbagh Fort is unfinished, dates back to the 17th century and is one of the most touristic sights in the city. Again, foreigners are sadly charged more and it’s 200 Taka (Just under $3 US) entry. Again you’ll be taking selfies left right and middle with the locals. They have never seen a Northern Irishman before.
3. The Rainbow Mosque
Mosques are everywhere in Dhaka so take your pick. The most “touristic” and recommended ones are the Sitara Mosque and the Khan Mohammed Mirdha Mosque (which you can do at the same time as Llalbagh Fort). However my personal favourite was just a Mosque that poked out in the markets of the Old Town – one with a rainbow minaret so I’ve called it the Rainbow Mosque.
4. Sadarghat Boat Terminal
One of the poorest districts of the city just happens to be one of the wildest experiences in all of Dhaka.
Here, down on the banks of the murky dirty Buriganga River lies the Sadarghat Boat Terminal. I was able to get a ride thanks to my guide and journalist Khan. It’s safer to go on one of the big boats, but the small boats will give you a more rocky experience, and get you wet. You need to pay 5 Taka to enter the area anyway. Just watching life as it happens here is truly mad.
5. Shankharia Bazar/Hindu Street
The Old Town is a crazy place and there are a few markets off the many rickshaw jammed streets. It can be hard to work out which markets are which, but the Shankharia Bazar is easier to find as it is just a few streets north of Ahsan Manzil. Be ready for the madness – I’m talking drum beats, Hindu art, street food and rickshaws.
6. Singer Pro Sewing Machine Shop
This is the only chance (probably) that a sewing machine shop will get to make one of my “top sights” posts so let’s relive that crazy day at the Sewing Machine Shop by sticking it in my recommended top 6 – if you can find it that is!
Dhaka in Bangladesh is completely crazy – by far the most lunaticial city I have ever been in. Take good care when walking the streets – traffic is madness.
Here are some videos from my time in Dhaka, there are more on my YouTube channel. But they won’t do it justice at all – you need to go there, believe me. Just believe me: