Tour Dhaka in One Day – Visit Bangladesh

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…

The river in Dhaka.
The river in Dhaka.

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.

Bracelets made from conch shell.
Bracelets made from conch shell.

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.

Go to the spa. Get mehendi(henna) tattoos. It wears off after a few weeks.

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.

Explore! Or try some of the restaurants and find more than the 100 I tried.

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!

Skirting Around the Lungi – Search Terms

I thought I would stop skirting around the issue of what brings readers to madventures.me (later I’ll address the top search terms that people use when ending at my blog). Many bloggers have tried to figure out SEO (search engine optimization) so that they can get more traffic to their blogs. I can only guess that I hit upon a perfect SEO combination sometime in 2012… perfect if you want people to search for “lungi” images. The lungi is traditional Bangladeshi menswear. Although collectively, I’ve written about food and travel 99 percent of the time, my two blog postings about the lungi keep popping up. Here are some of the search terms people have typed in that lead them to my lungi postings. Enjoy.

Many men wearing lungis.
Many men wearing lungis.

“lungi man” (straight to the point)

“sarong lungi naked” (but it’s funny because if you are wearing a lungi, then you are wearing clothing)

“sexy lady in lungi image” (this is funny because a lungi is menswear – like a lady’s sarong)

“restaurant off crack babani 11” (not sure which crack in banani 11 is being referred to)

“lucky me factory september 21 2013” (I have no idea what they were searching for)

“bangla hot six” (this is a popular search so if it refers to the number six, maybe it’s a real thing. If it is a misspelling, then never mind)

“banhladesh hot sixx” (a theme is appearing)

“thread me bare”

“men naked in lungi”

“dhuti dance dress” (a “dhuti” is the name of an article of clothing)

“gae halud fashion for men” (again, not really sure how much is caused by the inability to spell)

“places & contact person to get phensedyl syrup in dhaka gulshan” (Huh?! What is phensedyl syrup?)

“love images on ricksaw on rain” (affection for the images or Bollywood romance scenes?)

“what are black artpaper in dhaka” (I don’t know either. What is black artpaper?)

“non spicy chicken fry outlets in dhaka” (this is funny to me because it shows the level of concern people have about scovilles)

“khmer kela bayon 2013”

“ganga dress in dhaka”

“are laces made in bangladesh” (“laces” in Bangladesh English are “ribbons” to some of us)

“romantic spots in baridhara dhaka” (oh, boy)

“sweaty kameez” (again, I think we’ve come back to the main search theme)

Two Years of Madventures.me

It has been two years of food and adventure blogging on Madventures.me. Thanks to those who have read, recommended, commented on, and taken part in the adventures chronicled on my blog. The search engines have had one more year to consume year one. Here are the top search terms in the last year:

Top search terms November 2012 - November 2013
Top search terms November 2012 – November 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And these are are the top blog postings:

Top blog postings November 2012 - November 2013
Top blog postings November 2012 – November 2013

Essential Bangla — Bengali Language

Mum is the brand here.
Mum is the major brand of water here.

While a smile will get you far, as a foreigner in Bangladesh, learning a few phrases of Bangla is a good idea. I am not a linguist so I’ve made up my own system of phonetics. These are some of the phrases I have learned:

PAH-nee — water — This is the Bangla word I used most in this hot, hot, hot land.

DON-ah-bawd — thank you (foreigners like to use this but I’m told it’s not really part of the culture. I’ve seen nods of the head or a closed fist to the chest used as “thank you” and that works too).

Sah-ley-al-eh-kyum — greetings (it’s from Arabic and is how you greet people or announce your presence) — I often just say “good evening/good day/hello” and that seems to work.

DECK-A-hawb-aa — see you later.

AH-che — gotcha or yes, I’m listening to you and I understand that you are speaking. I like “gotcha” because it rhymes with the Bangla word.

EK-tah — one of (EK is one).

SHESH — done as in “enough” and “it’s over.”

LAWG-bey-nah — No need or I do not need it (useful when rickshaws try to run you over in their eagerness for your custom). This is the phrase I have found most useful.

Half a million rickshaws, all trying to give you a ride.
Half a million rickshaws, all trying to give you a ride.

Map of 99 Expat Places

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.

99 Expat Places Map of Gulshan
99 Expat Places Map of Gulshan

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.

99 Expat Places in Dhaka
99 Expat Places in Dhaka

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!

99 Expat Places Map Guide, page 1.
99 Expat Places Map Guide, page 1.
99 Expat Places Guide, page 2.
99 Expat Places Guide, page 2.

Beggars In Bangladesh – A Reality of Life in Dhaka

This is part of Dhaka traffic.
This is part of Dhaka traffic.

Beggars are part of daily life in Dhaka, as they are in India. They are on every street, often with missing limbs, physical deformities, and naked babies hanging from their arm. Many foreigners feel sad and uncomfortable by the presence of beggars. For many expats, the hardest part is when out and about in town. When sitting in traffic (which is a huge part of life in Dhaka), the beggars will hobble their way through the traffic. They will tap on your car window. Sometimes they bring hungry babies to the car. Sometimes, they make eating motions with their hands. If you walk in Dhaka, the beggars may touch your arm and some may follow you. Usually, a guard or policeman (almost every building in the expat areas has a guard and there are uniformed police everywhere) will shoo away the beggars. During Ramadan, the number of beggars surges in Dhaka because they come to where the money is and because part of the Ramadan tradition is for people to give charity (called Eidy). There are many children beggars and articles have been written about how these children are part of gangs run by pimps and that giving money to these children perpetuates the situation. One thing is for sure, if you give anyone money (buying the beggar child’s stickers — a common device), they will remember you for all the rest of your days in Dhaka. When expats roll down their window or keep the door open to give money to the beggars, the beggars will make it difficult to roll the window up or close the door. Sometimes, the beggar will hang on to your leg and not let go even when you walk away. This adds a disconcerting element to an already uncomfortable situation for many expats. The beggars have no time for fear.

Every time the car stops in traffic, this will happen.
Every time the car stops in traffic, this will happen.

If the beggars are hard to handle, you can get tinted windows for the car. Or you can learn to ignore it. The more you ignore the beggars, the quicker they will move on. And never make eye contact.

Even the Bangladeshis get hit up for money.
Even the Bangladeshis get hit up for money.

Normally I don’t take photos of them but I took a few for this blog posting (though not of the countless mangled children).

Six Seasons of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is an alluvial delta with lots of water.
Bangladesh is an alluvial delta with lots of water. Umbrellas are for sun and rain.

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.

A beautiful Bangladeshi bride.
A beautiful Bangladeshi bride during wedding 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.

Rickshaw in Monsoon Photo

In the long hot rasping breath before the monsoon, my mind turns once more to images of Bangladesh. Decades ago, the only impression I had of Bangladesh was monsoon rain and flooding. Now, I have met the man who took the rickshaw photo of my imaginings.

The photographer, Zahid "Badol", with his photo of boys playing in the mud.
The photographer, Zahid “Badol”, with his photo of boys playing in the mud.

Obviously, to my vivacious and educated Bangladeshi friends, this image is so passe. “Why must you foreigners have only such images in your heads?” To which I reply, “This is not a bad image.” I see the rickshaw puller in the monsoon flood and find it an image of tenacity and perseverance. Not a bad thing to be known for, wherever you are.

A rickshaw puller in the monsoon.
A rickshaw puller in the monsoon.

Modern Bangladeshi Fashion Show

Modern Bangladeshi fashion.
Modern Bangladeshi fashion.

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.

 

 

Clothing for Men in Bangladesh

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.

20130213-210159.jpg

Tradtional Dress of Bangladesh

Red and white shalwar kameeses.

Color, colorful, vibrant, and so on are some of the words used to describe the traditional dress of Bangladesh. It’s not only women who wear colorful clothing. Bangladesh is known for its garment industry and the clothes reflect the bounty of this industry.

A street scene. Notice the trim on the ladies.

Women wear sarees or shalwar kameeses. Some cover their heads and some cover their faces. Some wear all black and some wear all color.

While the traditional dress for men is a lungi (see my post here), many of the men in the big city of Dhaka wear jeans or pants/trousers instead. Men can also wear a dressier bottom (of which I cannot remember the name right now), and everyone dresses up for special days including weddings.

Beautiful formal sarees.

Hopefully, these photos give some idea of what people wear in Bangladesh.

Shalwar kameeses and lungis galore.

Lungi, the Traditional Dress of Bangladeshi Men

Traditionally, Bangladeshi men wore (and still do) a sarong called a “lungi.”  This plaid cotton tube of cloth can be worn in many different ways and the knot can be tied as distinct as the neighborhood that you grew up in (West Bengal, Dhaka, etc.).

For fun, we had a lungi party and were fortunate enough to have expert knot-tiers able to provide us with an education in how to wear a lungi. Some of the guests at the party chose to wear a “dhuti” which is a different style of sarong, made most distinct by the front folds being tied between the legs and hitched into the back of the waistband.

My lungi cost around 325 Taka ($4) so it was about double the cost of what a Bangladeshi man would pay for it.