One day in Bangladesh, I was invited to a friend’s house and saw these painted stairs. They were painted as a wedding present. This colorful daily reminder reminds them of their friend, and their wedding, every day.
This would probably not work in the U.S., but one could offer some other gift from the heart.
Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):
When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…
Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).
Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):
“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.
Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.
Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.
Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.
— Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)
Old Dhaka/Hindu Street: Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.
Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.
Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.
New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.
BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.
On another day:
Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”
Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.
Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).
Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.
Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.
Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!
After many hundreds of hours spent thinking about tailoring, I’ve got a new favorite tailor — he is on time, makes clothes that fit, and he is not creepy (according to one of my friends). Getting tailor made clothes is a normal pastime in Dhaka. It’s part of every day life for the Bangladeshis (although there are also retail shops where you can buy ready made clothes), and as an expat, this will most likely become a part of one’s daily routine as well. Previously, Juhl/Jewel, Juhl DIT 1, was my favorite but after he got too busy last summer, I ceased going to him. Now, the tailor comes to my house — Tailor Johnny! He is the nephew of Al Babar tailor also located in DIT 1 and he is the tailor known for his halloween and glitterball costumes.
Tailor Johnny speaks enough English to understand basic tailoring requests (plus he text messages in English which is useful) but works best from a photo or a sample. But, he can actually measure you and make clothes from those measurements. He is the ONLY tailor in I have found who does not make the clothes too tight. Plus, he can also make mock-ups of your suits etc. and then use pins to adjust it to fit perfectly (this may sound like no big deal — they do this in Thailand and elsewhere at tailor shops — but in Dhaka, this does not happen so it’s rare to find someone who actually can “tailor”). Tailor Johnny is also punctual. This also sounds like no big deal but it is. His prices are not cheap (for Bangladesh) as pants/trousers, fabric and make cost runs about 1,000 Taka ($13) and adjustments to existing clothing runs about 700 Taka.
One of the few drawbacks about finding and publicizing about a good tailor is that he may get too busy. The tailors get busier during Ramadan so it can take longer to get one’s clothes back. Most tailors take a few days to a week to finish a project. But, during Ramadan, it can be weeks to months. The other busy time of the year for tailors is December-January which is wedding season in Bangladesh. Unlike in Hoi An, Vietnam, most tailors in Dhaka cannot mail you clothes.
I hope that Tailor Johnny can handle the publicity that his reputation is getting him.
Mishti is the word for sweets. To say that Bangladeshis love them would be an understatement. Many cultures love sweets but the Bangladeshis more than love them. They are in love with them.
There are some basic mishti that they love. At any celebration boxes of “rosh gulla” will appear. These are dough balls soaked in sugar water till they have a sandy sticky texture. At weddings and on the street, you will see “jallaby” being deep fried and then soaked in sugar water. At homes, you will be offered “mishti doi” which is sweetened yogurt served in a clay dish made specifically for this custardy yogurt dish. Sometimes, you will be offered “pithe” which are a less sweet hardtack style biscuit. Or you may be offered “rasgulla” or “reshmallai” which is boiled milk formed into sweet balls. The ones in Bangladesh are the size of marbles and the ones in India are the size of golf balls.
Bangladeshis also eat cake. They like their cake to have a thin frosting, not the thick crests of butter cream frosting seen on most American cakes.
In my very informal survey of the sweet tastes of Bangladesh, I have discovered that Bangladeshis love chocolate. Chocolate is exotic. Peanut butter cups are also popular and exotic. Caramel is only slightly popular and mint is not at all.
A. Spa at Home. There are several cosmeticians who come to your home for a full range of spa services. I have used only one and would like to take her with me to the end of the world. Since it is not possible, I am passing her onto you. Her name is Koli, number 01916355643. Koli does an outstanding Thai massage, as well as elaborate facials, body scrubs, excellent manicure/pedicures, waxing, etc. range. For mani/pedi she has the instruments, but I would advise having your own nail polish and top coats. If you have your own instruments, even better. Clearly, her services are much cheaper than a salon.
a. Nelos. I use them almost exclusively for blow-dry-s and for head and feet massages. All these are outstanding services.
b. La Femme. (in the same building). I use them mostly for massages and for manicure when my Koli was pregnant. I prefer Nelos for hair services. Salons also do hair for weddings and mehendi.
c. Que Bella on road 13 in Baridhara. While I was not impressed with the blow-dry there, they cut my small son’s hair exquisitely (he has long hair which has to be layered). Also, they have an unbelievable masseuse. She gave me one of the best massages in my entire life. Her name is Shiba, I think.
C. Eyelash Extensions. A recent discovery, Moo has a salon in banana, immediately after Jatra. Taneem Square at 158/E Kamal Ataturk avenue, top floor. Phone 01819192208. You must make an appointment. Cost – 2500 taka. Effect – stunning!
D. Laser hair epilation. If you have ever attempted this in the US, you’d know the high costs associated.Here, Dr. Manzur fromthe Apollo Hospital does these services, she has a machine and has been US trained as a dermatologist. Call 01713063089. Prices depend on the area you are working on, but you can buy packages as well.
How to live the good life in Dhaka? I will now share some recommendations from an expat who thoroughly loves her life in Dhaka. As she says, this is because she has learned to enjoy “the good life which is affordable here.” This first part is about tailors (she also mentions porcelain and spas which I will share next time).
a. Ferdous has extensive fabric selection, including a lot of linen. They copy extremely well (400 taka plus fabric), and make tuxedos (about 8000 taka). They also make excellent suits. Located on the north side of Madani Avenue near Gulshan 2 circle. Store is on the second floor, look carefully when you drive, they have a big sign outside).
b. K L Sweden (located across from Ferdous, on the south side when you drive on Madani Avenue to DIT2 market, the store is down a side street right after the VIP Photo building on the other end of the VIP Photo sign, which is not obvious from the main road; right next to Shinepukur plates store). They also copy shirts very well and have good linen. They also do tuxes. All very good quality.
a. Best copier of western clothes – European tailor, located at the corner of road 12 and UN road, keep walking from UN road in a narrow alley, it is right after another tailor and fish store. It has a bright yellow sign. It is down the alley once you see the fish store. Cheap.
b. Best tailor of Western clothes who can copy anything, or can make them from a simple picture (he is my personal favorite of all times!) – Johny, he comes to your house, his number is 01923270358. Johny makes fabulous ball gowns and costumes (for expats there are many balls each year… Glitter Ball, etc.).
c. Shaheen, also on road 12, is a popular choice. I do not use him, I hear he has a bit of an attitude and is relatively expensive.
d. For sarees and saree blouses and petticoats – Sharonika in Pink City. Located on the first floor (need to take the escalator once inside), and then simply ask for the store, it is a bit inside. As many will tell you, local tailors have trouble making blouses for our body types and I have found Sharonika to be very good at that. Prices are, as usual, cheap. For saree bordering (must be done for each new saree you buy) is only 250 taka.
e. I have heard a lot about the Russian tailor Svetlana, but have never used her. Apparently, she is quite artistic and good, but she is very busy and often out of the country, as well as quite pricey and opinionated on what you should be making, versus what you want to have made.
Finding places can be tricky in Dhaka. As much as I’d like to show you all where things are… I thought I’d make a map of the 99 expat places instead! These places are current as of September 9, 2013. I put an extra huge marker on Goong, the Castle, because that is the number one place people ask for directions to — Road 50, House 12B — and I made it number 12 on the map! Look for the large wooden gate. Go in and enjoy.
In Dhaka, businesses rise and fall like eddies on the delta, and they often change location. So, most importantly, on my map(s), I have put the ACTUAL location, not what the address indicates. Because floor numbering varies in different parts of the world, I have only listed it if the place is not on the first/ground floor. Otherwise, I’ve called it “level” using the ground floor as the first level. As the Westin’s sign is like a lighthouse beacon in the night, I started with the Westin Hotel as number one as it is often used as the North Star. Then I divided Gulshan into four sections divided by Gulshan 2 circle. For those counting, there are not 99 numbers on the maps because many of the locations are in the same building or on the same block. Also, I have not included all 100 restaurants at which I’ve eaten. Only places people ask about.
I have tried to make sure that the addresses are correct, though not always written the way that the locals would write it, and I cannot vouch for the phone numbers except for those who do house calls, like Tailor Johny, because I did not call all the numbers! Bangladesh’s country code is 88 and for some numbers you will need to drop the zero/zed and/or the two or add them or something… it’s confusing. But that’s a whole different topic. If you cannot find the location, check back on my blog as I may have posted a photo of the actual location. Again, the official address may be different; the location is for real. Happy hunting!
Buying art supplies in Gulshan is not easy as easy as buying art. There is one store in Landmark mall (on the ground floor in the right hallway) in Gulshan 2 circle. They have canvasses and oil paint, etc. But if you want to buy fine point drawing pens and art paper in different grades and weights, then head to New Market. The art stores like Modern and ABC are located near each other by the south gate, also known as Book gate, of New Market. Coming from Gulshan, you drive between Chawdni Chowk and New Market, then make a right turn. There are art supply stores in Old Dhaka but that requires more time. And as always, go on a Friday so that the trip will not take so long. Some of the stores are closed for Friday prayer so after 2 pm is best.
One thing about shopping. Make sure to ask for the cheapest items. For example, we asked for poster size water color paper. They showed us the 250 taka German brand, the 120 made in Britain brand, but did not show us the 60 taka Chinese brand until later. The store owners understand a fair amount of English which is nice but you still need to persevere to get the cheaper options explained to you. All the prices are still cheaper than in Gulshan. The stores have lots of really nice supplies which is a delight to find in Dhaka.
Also on “book street” in New Market, are several wedding invitation stores.
Monsoon is only one of six seasons in Bangladesh. The following is how I would describe the seasons in Dhaka.
Spring (wear yellow on February 13 to mark spring!): February 13-April 14 (20-30 C = 70s and 80s F; humidity is 60 %) or “Hot with Mosquitoes and Why Am I Sweating in February?! Oh, Because It Is 90 F!”
Summer: April 14-June 15 (30-45 C = 90s and 100s F; humidity is 85 %) or “Hotter with Mosquitoes and Constant possibilities of Heat Stroke.”
Monsoon/Rainy Season: June 15-August 15 (30-40 C = 90s F; humidity is 95 %) or “Too Wet, Sweaty, and Hot for Hordes of Mosquitoes-Oddly Not As Hot As It Was.”
Autumn/Fall: August 15-October 15 (30-40 C = 90s F; humidity is 90 %) or “Hot and Dengue Mosquito Season.”
After-Autumn/Late-Fall: October 15-December 15 (20-30 C = 70s and 80s F; humidity is 80 %) or “Hot with Mosquitoes But It Is Almost Wedding Season.”
Winter: December 15-February 12 (15-30 C = 60s and up to the 90s F; humidity is 60 %) or “Wedding Season.” Which is still mosquito season.
As the national costumes remain the same all year round, the men wear lungis and women wear sarees and shalwar kameeses, but in winter, they wrap a cloth like a shawl and a head wrap around their head. To a Bangladeshi 20 C is cold and in the winter when the temperature can drop to 10 C, there are deaths. The Bangladeshis also find warm weather pleasant since they are used to it. Most houses and apartments do not have heating and many have only one air conditioning unit.
In my experience of two monsoons, I have been surprised. In 2012, there was no monsoon. And in 2013, it has rained but not in the torrents that I expected. I have seen worse rain storms in Kuala Lumpur and Washington, DC.
The prevailing theme (you may have noticed) is that all throughout the year, there are mosquitoes and on any day, it can be 90 degrees! I have had heat stroke in December, February, and March, perhaps because I did not expect such hot weather in those months. The result has been a rather silly collection of sun hats.
While the lungi is the traditional Bangladeshi men’s wear and the shari or shalwar kamees is traditional women’s wear; fashion is changing. Many people wear denim jeans and western style clothing. Recently, I went to a fashion show and one could see the local influences merging with western clothes.
This show was the result of a joint venture by the French and German cultural centers here in Dhaka, but the billboards around town show modern Bangladeshi fashion from Arong, Yellow, etc.
The most popular search topic on my blog, other than weddings, seems to be what men wear in Bangladesh. So I thought I would blog some more about it. On a typical day in Dhaka, men still wear the “lungi” which I wrote about before. For a more formal event, men can wear a long tunic called a “punjabi” over tight white leggings. Or men can wear a “dhuti” which is sort of the men’s version of the sari. You can even use a sari. It’s tied and wrapped around to look like pants. Very elegant.