Overshadowed by its touristy neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, Bangladesh often is overlooked as a vacation getaway. Of late however, travelers are discovering that beneath the demands and toils of a developing country, lays the sheen of a land rich in natural beauty and cultural wealth. Add to these effervescent locals who are still untainted enough by excessive tourism to enthusiastically welcome visitors to their hearts and homes; and Bangladesh may just be the next favorite destination for people seeking travels off the beaten path.
Bangladesh has some of the most amazing beaches in the world. The only coral island in Bangladesh, St. Martin’s Island is famous for its gorgeous white sandy beaches and tropical turquoise waters. There are plenty of opportunities here for snorkelers and scuba divers, the best spot being at Chera Dwip, a small island off the south end of the island that is made of sharp coral and surrounded by crystal clear blue waters. To reach St Martin Island, take a bus from Dhaka or Chittagong to the port of Teknaf. And from there, catch a ferry, or a speedboat, or Sampaan, the latter being a wooden boat native to Bangladesh.
Located a few hours north of St. Martins, Cox’s Bazaar is the longest sea beach in the world. The beach’s intense heat can be wearing, but the beach is somewhat fitted with lined with umbrellas lining its coastline that provide some breaks from the rays. Grab a meal at, a beachside cafe; dinner here promises some of the best sunset views in Bangladesh. Or better still, get away from the domestic tourist rush by taking a boat trip to Sonadia Island. Here peace and quiet greet you, along with local surfing instructors who will encourage you to take advantage of the warm waters and gentle waves for an impromptu surf session.
Further up the coast lies Chittagong City’s Patenga Beach. Lined with boats that haul in the catches of the day that are freshly available at the street vendors on the beach itself, this is a good place to get insights into the ocean dependent lifestyle of the people of Bangladesh. Patenga Beach isn’t the best choice for swimming, and the rocky shore lined with concrete boulders makes it difficult to get to the water’s edge.
Tranquil Tea Estates and Lakes
Further inland, Bangladesh has plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation off the beaches as well. Just outside of Chittagong sits Boga Lake, a natural lake that is over 700 feet deep, and sits at the top of a hill at over 2000 feet elevation. Summiting the hills to the lake can take over an hour, depending on the starting point, but visitors are well rewarded with a clean swim in its beautiful clear waters.
Srimangal, the tea capital of Bangladesh, is a great place to explore via bike. The slopping hills are gentle enough for several days of bicycling, and the area’s plentiful tea plantations and tiny towns are perfect places to sightsee and stay along the way.
Dhaka, the capital city may be miles away from sunny beaches and tropical paradise, but its cultural treasures make it definitely worth a visit. Get started at Lalbagh Fort, a Mughal palace decorated with intricate architecture; don’t miss the mosque completely covered in celestial star artwork dating back nearly 500 years.
The Dhakeswari Temple located in old Dhaka is a nearly 1000 year temple that, apart from being a prominent heritage site is also a one of the most important bastions of Hindu worship in Bangladesh today. Local Dhaka tour guides are also quick to walk you over to Ahsan Manzil in the vicinity, to give an idea of the opulent lifestyles of the Nawabs; this pink palace was converted into a museum eversince. A day trip away from Dhaka transports one back in time to Sonargaon, a charming old town that will acquaint you with the history, lifestyles and traditional architecture of the country.
Travel deeper into the heart of Bangladesh to experience the wonder of Mahasthangarh, Bangladesh’s oldest city. The ruins date back to the 3rd century B.C. when the city was massive, and a political center. The staff is not allowed to guide visitors through the ruins, but because of its vast size and centuries of history tucked in here, it is advised to hire a local Bogra tour guide to provide guided tours through the ruins; from visiting sites like Shila Devi's Ghat, where the daughter of the king committed suicide before the city was handed over to the Muslims, to walking around the 6th century Govinda Bhita Hindu Temple.
Other famous ancient ruins in Bangladesh include the famously beautiful and detailed Kantanagar Temple. Although partially destroyed in an earthquake in the mid 19th century, the temple is one of the area’s best examples of pristine terracotta architecture.
Compared to the ornate detailing of the Kantanagar Temple, the Shait-Gumbad Mosque may seem almost plain by comparison, but visitors get the chance to view plenty of archeological dig finds and information on mosques across Southeast Asia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mosque is only an hour away by bus from Khulna. As with all mosques in Bangladesh, modest clothing, respect, and headdresses are required to visit, and hours are often limited around daily prayer schedules.
To establish a balance between a fast growing country and a protected, sustainable environment, Bangladesh has begun developing its ecotourism industry. These opportunities are helping Bangladesh preserve its natural resources while also offering travelers the ability to enjoy them. Many ecotourism tour companies have hence sprung up offering everything from guided tours introducing visitors to indigenous tribes in the hills of Bangladesh to even home stays with local villagers.
To this end, the Sundarbans is a perfect example of what kind of conservancy is possible in the country. The world’s largest mangrove forest, this World Heritage Site is home to a complex eco system brimming with wildlife. Guided tours on boat through the waterways snaking around the islands and hiking among the dense forest growth includes the chance to view the island’s famous Royal Bengal Tiger and other indigenous species. Do remember to engage a local Sundarbans guide at Dhaka itself and make your choices from a variety of things to do, be it bird watching, boating up narrow creeks, taking a mud bath or even trying your hand at otter fishing, the latter being a practice unique to Bangladesh. Top it up with a day trip to Kuakata Beach, famous for its sunrise and sunset views over the Indian Ocean.
Bangladesh’s booming ecotourism projects count for a step in the right direction; the extra initiative and funds will ensure future success in the efforts to protect Bangladesh’s historical sites, beautiful beaches, and exotic wildlife. The best way for you to get involved? Plan a trip to Bangladesh to support the country’s efforts in ecotourism; visitors will be rewarded with much more than they give!
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