If you've ever seen a news article on Bangladesh (let alone a selection of them), you could be forgiven for immediately dismissing the country as a possible tourist destination. Suffering from deep poverty, a precarious natural position and poor infrastructure, Bangladesh is often disregarded as a nation of little hope, and struggles relentless next to popular neighbor India when it comes to bringing in the valuable tourist buck.
Bustling capital Dhaka is a swirling vortex of human chaos, with overt poverty along its stinking riverbanks but plenty of colorful character. It's interesting, but it's also likely to be one of the least pleasant places you've ever visited, and most tourists hurry to escape.
The best way to leave the capital is on a creaking rocket steamer, following the dirty flow of Buriganga down to Khulna, a non-descript city that forms the gateway to the Sundarbans. The world’s largest mangrove swamp is a gloomy, unknown expanse of waterways and intense forestry, where on average a human is eaten by tigers every third day. In the company of a well-qualified guide, this harsh wilderness becomes a forest safari, with an exciting assortment of inhabitants, but should never be attempted alone, and can be a dark and harrowing experience.
A more peaceful pastime is up for grabs on the quiet tea estates of Srimangal, or the Buddhist-influenced islands of Rangamati. The local’s favorite holiday destination stretches across several islands around the blissful man-made Kaptai Lake, and has a chilled out, hill-station vibe. Cox’s Bazar – a stretch of white sand beach unique to Bangladesh - is the talk of the country during summertime, but nothing like as overwhelming as locals would have you believe.
A more typical Bangladeshi experience is to be found in Puthia, a tiny village full of pointy, disintegrating temples that echo a modern-day Angkor, and are pleasantly tourist free. Bathe in the open pools with the locals and their buffaloes, or fish amongst the overgrown lily pads. Gaud is similarly well endowed with tumbling mosques and palaces aplenty.
For the ambitious traveler, Bangladesh’s lack of visitors and historical treasures – as well as wild outdoor experiences – make the transparent poverty and fast-paced life a non-issue. If you’re the type who prefers your trips a little wild, for all its unavoidable issues, Bangladesh might just be for you.