From a tiger safari in the Sundarbans swamps to a quintessential Bangladesh boat trip on the Rocket Steamer from Dhaka to Khulna to a white-knuckle rickshaw ride on the crazy streets of Old Dhaka, Bangladesh is full of must-do experiences.
But for people who want to
dive a bit deeper, here are some of Bangladesh’s lesser-known gems to get your
adventure juices flowing.
China Clay Hills
The cool turquoise waters are reminiscent of a high-altitude mountain lake, but
the China Clay Hills that surround them are no more than small mounds that
reach a few metres above the farmland and river systems of north-central Bangladesh.
It is an extremely photogenic spot and a lovely place for a tree-shaded picnic,
but the main reason to venture this far north is for the journey itself.
To get here, take a
three-hour bus ride from Mymensingh to the small, forested village of Birisiri.
It is then a tranquil three-hour rowboat trip up the Someshwari River, or a
bone-rattling, but fun two-hour rickshaw ride, crossing the river in a small
wooden ferry and then passing through a number of remote villages.
This is what all ruins should look like. There is no fancy reconstruction or
meticulous renovation, just a crumbling royal
palace being slowly eaten by the surrounding vegetation. It is like something
out of Disney’s animated film, The Jungle Book -- you half expect a troupe of monkeys to scamper past you singing.
Make sure you take a guided tour from the extremely enthusiastic
English-speaking caretaker, who helps brings the whole place to life for the
handful of tourists who make the journey.
To get here, take a
30-minute bus ride from Mymensingh to the village of Muktagacha, then follow
the signs from the main road.
With its small-village atmosphere and collection of serene Hindu and Buddhist
temples, the island of Maheskhali in south-western Bangladesh is an oasis of
calm – a peaceful escape from the brash beach resort of neighbouring Cox’s
Bazar. But it is the short trip over to the island that is the real treat.
After navigating the long, rickety
wooden pier at Cox’s Bazar, hop your way across a string of rowboats to get to
the vessel that will take you to the island -- either a nippy little speedboat (20
minutes) or, if you are lucky, a large converted wooden fishing boat that
ferries locals across (50 minutes). You will have to dodge dozens of fishing
boats as you leave the dock, before passing the huge and highly pungent fish
market that serves the fancy hotels in Cox’s Bazar. Next along the riverbank is
a small boat-building yard. And finally, just before you head out to sea, you
will pass a series of fascinating ice-making houses where huge blocks of frozen
water slide down rollercoaster runners and into the waiting boats.
Thought to be Bangladesh’s oldest surviving mosque, Goaldi
Mosque is hidden away among the farmland surrounding Painam
Nagar, an abandoned town one hour's bus ride from Dhaka. The small town is filled
with the crumbling remains of dozens of 19th-century mansions once owned by
wealthy Hindus. The mosque has been abandoned and is no longer a place of
worship, but it makes a worthwhile excuse to venture off the tourist trail and
into the countryside without having to stray too far from Dhaka.
As you search for the
mosque, keep in mind, very few Bangladeshi tourists seem to have heard about
this mosque, so you will have to ask the locals for directions.
Teknaf Game Reserve
It is not just tigers that hide in the forests of Bangladesh. There are wild
elephants here too, and one of the best places to go looking for them is the
little-known Teknaf Game Reserve,
which stretches down Bangladesh’s southernmost tip on the border with Myanmar.
Your chances of seeing an elephant are slim – the best chance is in the evening
-- but hiking into the hilly forest is an adventure in itself. You will most
likely be the only tourist walking the forest trails, although you may bump
into local tribespeople as they collect firewood. The trails are marked on
wooden signboards (in Bengali only), so it is reasonably easy to find your way
To get here, take a Teknaf-bound bus from Cox’s
Bazar. Get off when you see the sign with an elephant on it, about 10km before Teknaf.
If you go too far, you can catch a shared auto-rickshaw back to the reserve
from the bus stand in Teknaf.
Floating rice market
Like other, more famous floating markets in southeast Asia, locals come to Banaripara
to buy and sell groceries without ever having to step off their boats. This
particular market in this river-crossed part of Bangladesh deals almost
entirely in rice, which makes a fascinating and unusual foray while travelling
through southern Bangladesh. Saturday is the busiest market day here. Banaripara
can be reached by bus from Barisal.
Taking a boat trip is a highlight of any visit to Bangladesh, but the splendid
stretch of the Sangu River that runs between Ruma Bazaar and Bandarban
is particularly special. This is the Chittagong
Hill Tracts, where, instead of flat-as-a-pancake paddy fields, you will find
dramatic rock faces rising up from the water’s edge, backed by forested hills
teeming with wildlife.
To get here, take a bus
from Bandarban to Ruma Bazar, then find a local boathand to take you
back to Bandarban by river (six hours from Ruma). Your chances of getting a
boat will increase if you have a local guide with you.
The article 'Bangladesh’s lesser-known charms' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.