Bangladesh: Integration and Assimilation - Cox's Bazar!

Photo of Bangladesh: Integration and Assimilation - Cox's Bazar! 1/1 by Tanya.Korteling

There were a few of heart leaping moments as we checked in at Kolkata for our Dhaka flight. First the attendant thought six of us were travelling. Not a problem so long as we hadn't paid for six, extra seats to spread out on we thought. Next she couldn't find our names on the system...cue panic number one. Then she asked for our visa...cue panic number two. Of course we didn't have as UK citizens can get a visa on arrival. Luckily one of her colleagues overheard and put her straight.

As they say "things happen in three's". Security then took me to one side and confiscated the blunt knife from my travel cutlery set...gutted! On the plus side though it left my cabin bag about 0.1kg lighter, every little helps.

A middle aged man (Bangladeshi I think) caught my eye as we boarded the plane. He'd dyed his hair and beard bright orange. I couldn't help but think it was a little strange and wonder why!

Dhaka Airport - Bangladesh

After a quick and uneventful flight we began our descent to Dhaka. The views as we flew in were pretty cool, it's an island framed by rivers and agricultural land. From the air it looked to be currently pretty waterlogged.

We disembarked the plane into the sun, the weather was hot and humid again, like India. We squeezed onto a rickety airport bus to take us to the terminal. En-route I noticed one of the ground staff had also dyed his beard the same bright orange as the man on our flight. Curiouser and curiouser, what was this orange beard thing I thought. Some strange fashion statement maybe, the latest fad?

Immigration which was a pretty straightforward process due to us being able to get Visas on arrival. There was just a little hassle as we didn't have any accommodation pre-booked. Bangladesh immigration requires hotel contact details before you granting a visa. A quick google search to find a hotel name and phone number though and we on our way.

Airport Entertainment

A little girl of about three years old entertained us in departures whilst we waited for our next flight. She seemed fascinated by us and wouldn't leave us alone, laughing and chattering away. After we'd walked to our gate, we suddenly realised the little girl had followed us all way across departure lounge. Her dad grabbed her and told her to say bye bye, which she did with a little wave and blew us kisses...cute!

We boarded a little turbo prop plane with about sixty people on it. Across the aisle from us was another man with a flaming orange beard. I was now wondering if it was something cultural and made it my mission to find out what was behind it. I later discovered that around one in five older Muslim men in Bangladesh dye their beards and/ or hair orange with henna. It's to show their devotion to the prophet Mohammed who dyed his beard.

Bags collected, security waved us straight though. In fact security seemed pretty lax, they also waved through the chap in front of us who was holding a 9mm pistol. A little concerning to say the least.

We found domestic departures and Andy went to buy tickets for the next flights to Cox's Bazar in South Bangladesh. I waited with the luggage, swatting at the cloud of mozzies that tormented me.

It was Andy's turn to do the planning for Bangladesh. He'd decided we'd fly straight to Cox's Bazar for five nights, saving Dhaka for the last two. With only a week to spend in Bangladesh, Andy was keen to not do a typical Tanya whistle-stop tour, visiting lots of places with only a night or two in each. We had no idea what to expect of Cox's Bazar, but thought we should give it a look as it has the longest unbroken beach (about 174km) in the world.

Andy returned with a ticket for the wrong return date giving us only three full days there. Well that wouldn't work especially if we were going to have a trip to Saint Martins island too as I hoped. I was most perturbed and may have put my parts on a bit (I blame it on tiredness and hunger). After returning my grumpiness (being together 24/7 was taking it's toll a bit I think), he changed the flights for right date.

Arrival in Cox's Bazar

There were some great views as we approached Cox's Bazar. Fishing boats dotted the sea, and forested hillsides ran along the coastline next to the beaches. We landed at a small dusty domestic airport and waited for our luggage on the tarmac. It was soon hauled over by hand on a wheeled luggage cart.

Photo of Cox's Bazar, Chittagong Division, Bangladesh by Tanya.Korteling
Photo of Cox's Bazar, Chittagong Division, Bangladesh by Tanya.Korteling

Whilst few Westerners seemed to come here, Laboni beach was teaming with domestic tourists. Everyone in Bangladesh (or so it seemed) comes to Cox's Bazar on holiday. The population of Bangladesh is about 189 million and I'm pretty sure half of them were on that beach. People strolled along the shoreline, played football, rode quad bikes and horses, and relaxed on red sun-loungers under red parasols.

Photo of Laboni Beach, Cox's Bazar Sadar Upazila, Chittagong Division, Bangladesh by Tanya.Korteling

Touting for business outside the airport were taxi's and three-wheeled auto-rickshaws called CNG's. CNG's are so-called because they run on Compressed Natural Gas. Two of the CNG drivers started a heated argument over who would take us. We soon solved that one and chose different driver, leaving them rowing.

As we drove along, although there was a lot of traffic there wasn't so much loud meeping. The auto-rickshaws and CNG's had a different horn to india, more of a tuneless tinny noise. There were also many cycle rickshaws with colourful folding hoods pedalling about.

We had no accommodation booked so it was a case of driving about in our CNG until we saw something that looked okay. Andy spotted the White Orchid Hotel which seemed okay from the outside. He ran in, checked it out and booked us in for two nights, bath swaying it for him. Andy loves his baths but they're relatively unheard of here and it had been showers only since we left the UK.

Integration and Assimilation

After a quick freshen up it was 'integration and assimilation' time. In laymans terms - 'finding our bearings' and 'getting in the swing of things'. We do this every time we arrive in a new country and it involves wandering around to see what we stumble upon. We also try to familiarise ourselves with where we are and how things work. This time we also had to find an ATM, as we had no Bangladesh Taka, and a beer as it was Saturday and we were feeling thirsty.

Photo of Bangladesh: Integration and Assimilation - Cox's Bazar! by Tanya.Korteling

We strolled up the road absorbing the atmosphere of this new was mental. Cycle rickshaws, CNG's and electric rickshaws were everywhere and it took full concentration to avoid being knocked over.

The next hour was spent trying every ATM on the road but none would accept our cards. Eventually just as we'd started to get worried, we stumbled upon a Dutch-Bangla one which worked, thank goodness.

Cash sorted we headed down a wide side road lined with stalls selling a multitude of goods. Many had dried fish hanging up for sale, suffice to say it didn't smell too pleasant. There was a constant hassle from the CNG drivers and cycle rickshaw wallah's, which soon became irritating. Cries of "you want a seat" reached our ears every minute, a firm no thanks and they'd be on their way, only to be replaced almost immediately by the next one .

Photo of Bangladesh: Integration and Assimilation - Cox's Bazar! by Tanya.Korteling

As we'd also found in India we received alot of attention from children as we wandered around. There wasn't so much outright begging, mainly just curiosity. I guess it was to be expected, as we seemed to be the only westerners about.

The road led down to Laboni beach, the main beach of many that make up the length of Cox's Bazar on the Bay of Bengal. At the top of the beach women where lying out coconut husks around recently planted coconut palms. It looked like the husks were acting as fertiliser for the young trees.

Photo of Bangladesh: Integration and Assimilation - Cox's Bazar! by Tanya.Korteling

Being a Muslim country everyone was modestly dressed. There's no chance of cracking a bikini out or catching some rays that's for sure. Alcohol is also more or less illegal and is only available in a few of the bigger upmarket hotels - at a price. If you're caught drinking in public you could be arrested.

There's nowhere to buy alcohol from shops, the only place you can buy from are diplomatic warehouses. These have a limited selection of beer, wine and spirits which you can be purchased legally if you're a non-Bangladeshi passport holder. Our Saturday beer hunt had proved fruitless so far, so we admitted defeat for now and returned to our room to get ready for the evening.

Dinnertime and a Beer

That evening we went for a meal in the Seagull Hotel, reputedly one of livelier places in the evening and which sells beer. There was a huge big screen outside in the hotel grounds showing the cricket. Neither of us like cricket though so we headed inside to find the bar and restaurant. Both were dead which was disappointing as we'd been hoping for a bit of life. We settled for a few hands of long-tail rummy instead whilst we waited for our food.

I had a local dish, Korola Chingri Bhorta, which was shrimp mashed with bitter gourd and potato. It's the ultimate Bangladeshi comfort food, and served with rice was delicious. Andy had Vegetable Kofte Curry (cutlets in gravy) and Paratha, again really tasty. We also had two local Hunters beers each, which weren't so good. Brewed in Bangladesh, it was clear there was no quality control, we estimated they varied from 3% to 7%.

We were back in our room by 10pm that night, pretty much as soon as we'd finished eating. Andy was knackered and lack of beer or any form of nightlife left little to stay out for.

First Impressions

Bangledesh was a first for both Andy and I, and unlike India we'd not had time to do any research. This meant we had no idea what to expect...not one iota. So integration and assimilation over, what were our first impressions of Bangladesh?

To be completely honest at that point we weren't sure. We knew we were going off the beaten track by coming here and hadn't heard of many westerners who had. We quite liked Cox's Bazar, again like India it's rather an assault on the senses. Being the top tourist resort in Bangladesh it also had almost has a festival feel to it.

Although we seemed quite a novelty to the locals, they were generally pretty friendly and we didn't feel particularly hassled. I don't think we form any opinions of Bangladesh as a whole based on just Cox's Bazar, elsewhere may be completely . With only a week in the country we can only experience a small part, there's no chance of discovering everything it has to offer. The rest will just have to save some for another time.

This post was originally published on Can Travel Will Travel.