As part of a longer trip to the area, we arranged in advance with Bangladesh Unbound for a 5-day customized tour. If you are considering visiting Bangladesh, I would strongly recommend Bangladesh Unbound. I was so pleased with my experience that I feel compelled to write a thorough review that might encourage others to visit. I will first address the service, and then the experience.
We research and arrange as much as possible in advance. We are into details. Not only did Bangladesh Unbound accommodate my desire for details, but my emailed questions were usually answered in hours, often with extra information. Rather than sign up for one of the tours, we opted to pick and choose from among several, combining them in a way that made sense for us. Bangladesh Unbound owner, Farjana Mahmud, was more than happy to correspond with me about how to create our itinerary, including suggesting changes where her local knowledge saved me from asking for something that wouldn’t have worked as well. I felt like my explanations of our preferences were considered carefully.
Once we had arrived, our assigned guide, Arafat, and driver were focused on delivering a great experience. More time, less time, change of order, different food, whatever we suggested might make us happier, they attempted to deliver. Even non-requests were considered; I asked casually about how something worked and rather than just an explanation, we make a brief detour so I can see it firsthand.
Bangladesh is filled with friendly and open people. Especially away from the few key tourist spots, light-skinned people are a rarity. if people stare or ask to take a selfie with you, it is with warmth and curiosity. We were offered tea countless times. Despite the poverty, begging was almost non-existent. It is a Muslim-majority country so women may feel more comfortable with a hat or scarf simply to avoid extra attention (as being white is enough) but we never experienced any remarks (as we have in other countries).
We visited three areas: Dhaka, Barisal, Srimangal.
In Dhaka, we did most of ‘Old Dhaka’ and ‘Sonargaon’. The key sites such as the fort, and pink palace were worth seeing although the more mundane (for locals) people-watching from a rickshaw and busy restaurants were just as rewarding for us. If I were to visit again, I would spend more time just being in the city, walking or rickshawing. The highlight of the Sonargaon segment was the island but if you have time for travelling further from Dhaka you’ll see more of that elsewhere and the museum there is pretty small.
The overnight ‘rocket’ ferry to/from Barisal and daytime exploration by small boat of the area was exceptionally good. This is where being a tourist means that you can’t quite see things as they are because your presence draws friendly attention. We had impromptu tours of boatbuilding, schools, and brickmaking and felt like we got a really good look at some of the aspects of life on the largest river delta in the world. The ferry itself was fun too. The ancient paddle-wheeler was good for hours of people and river-watching itself, and we had the privilege of being able to retreat to our first-class cabin.
The tea plantations and day hike in Srimangal were quite nice, and a nice contrast to the density of Dhaka. Both the brief bike tour and hike to a waterfall provided good opportunities for using our muscles after mostly being passive. We were also lucky enough to get a quick tour of a tea leaf processing facility, which was not part of the original plan.
The food! Bengali cuisine is fantastic. It’s certainly similar to Northern Indian but with more intense spices (not necessarily hotter, more flavours). We were thrilled that no one tried to find us Western food. Certainly, the standards for hygiene are different but we ate raw food and street food too and had no difficulties (which is as much luck as hygiene I suppose).
Finally, I know there are safety concerns. There was an attack a few months before we visited. We were undeterred. There are crazy people all over the world, and apparently, there are some in Bangladesh too. That is not a reason to avoid an entire country. I never felt even slightly unsafe. Like everywhere else, the vast majority of people were friendly and peaceful. Each of the countless times I answered: “what country?” with “America” I got smiles. We visited a Hindu temple and neighbourhood, and a mosque as well.
Bangladesh was a great experience, certainly made better by the responsiveness and caring of Ms Farjana and her team.