A strange old time in Bangladesh.

In Chittagong we sat in the hotel room. Through the window we could see beggars sorting through piles of rotting vegetables. Their little kids sniffed varnish out of bags and stumbled up and down the road.

The bike sat in the underground ‘carpark‘.   A group of labourers slept down there, on a tarpaulin in the dark. They took it in turns to manually pump sewage from the hotel foundations. They sang in canon while they worked, like the old African slave songs, and waved at us with big smiles.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is trying to leave Bangladesh. In the internet cafes, people fill in the ‘Online Diversity US Visa Application‘. Yesterday a man showed us the way to a restaurant. He handed us a CV, and asked us to give it to someone in Britain. It wasn’t his- he couldn’t speak any English. He had printed someone else’s CVs off, and carried them with him in case an opportunity presented itself. We tried to explain that we were frankly the least likely candidates for employee referral, but language barriers prevented any real communication. So if anyone out there needs a slightly fake computer engineer, who is very certainly also a dab hand at Bangladeshi eatery navigation, please get in touch.

It is pretty tough being a tourist in Bangladesh. Everyone immediately tries to place us in a relevant social context, because we are so unbelievably alien. No one can tell what social strata we are from- we don‘t speak with an accent, dress a certain way, or have the usual discerning attributes locals do. We are usually a damn sight scruffier than pretty much anyone because we ride around on a bike. And then why the hell are we on a bike..?

Everyone assumes we are incredibly rich, (because how else would we be able to afford this, and because we are Western)… but we don’t fit into the system. The first three questions of any conversation are: ‘Which country?, ‘What profession?’, and ‘What is the status of your relationship?’ (Often that’s the lot, and our inquisitor will back off to stare from a safe distance until we leave. )

It doesn’t help that we really don’t fit into any sort of system anyway- we don’t have ‘professions’ as such, just little jobs, and we spent the last year and a half saving and living in a caravan! (It is a lot easier to not try to explain things, but maybe that’s a bit rubbish of us.)

The staring here is pretty phenomenal. If we buy fruit, we get a crowd. If we ask directions, we get a crowd. If we walk down a path, we get a 10-strong gang of children following us, mimicking our walk. (This is good fun, because you can subtly change your walk until you are walking like an Egyptian, then suddenly turn round and see everyone else doing it. Yes I am secretly still six.)

Eating is a particular joy- no one can get enough of watching the aliens eat Bangladeshi style. This morning we ate fried egg on toast. We ordered ‘fried egg‘, and then ‘toast‘, and combined the two. Shock horror. I thought the waiter was going to drop dead, he was so stunned.

The concept of ‘tourism’ seems strange to some people. At 5am this morning we stopped to ask a policeman for directions. He saluted and asked if we were from the British High Commission in Dhaka.

A young guy wandered up to us at a petrol pump, and stood trying to work something out. He eventually asked what was in the bike boxes. Adam said ‘Clothes’. No response. He pointed to his T-shirt. The guy’s eyes lit up- he had it figured out: ’You’re a traveling T-shirt salesman!!”

And there’s the restaurants. Every restaurant has a beautifully printed menu, but they are only ever prepared to actually cook one of the items on it. And it usually involves chunks of mutton. A restaurant may well have all the ingredients necessary for your desired item, and will be totally prepared to make it into something that you don’t want, but asking for the same ingredients to be turned into something else from the menu will invariably result in the waiter just saying ‘Na’ and looking away. (This extends to boiling an egg instead of frying it.)

Despite the craziness and the cultural differences, there are some definite high points. Some people you meet here are amazing. Folk are incredibly welcoming, genuinely glad to see you, and interested in everything, in a way you don’t see in many places. And it’s a bit trite maybe, but there are very strong bonds between people here- everyone knows everyone in their neighbourhood, and knows them properly. And there is lots and lots of laughing and smiling happening, more than in England, definitely. I remember a few years ago there was one of those bizarre ‘happiness’ polls (how the hell do they work those out??), and Bangladesh came in at Number One.  NB: As a postscript, I have just checked, and its still the happiest nation in the world!  It's kept its title for a few years then, it must be doing something right...


Anyway, so we were trying to ship the bike from Chittagong. We spent a few days visiting shipping companies, and investigating prices and timetables. Then we gave up. It all looked far too much like hard work. The bike would be on a ship for a month. It would cost the same as flying. The shipping agent tried his hardest to ignore us, even while we were actually sat in his office. (He came up to us after ignoring us for half an hour to announce he was going on his lunch-break. Did we want to sit at the desk for an hour and wait?) The other one was worse. In the end we decided that despite the dreaded Road of Death, we would ride back to Calcutta to ship by air from there, thereby arriving at the same time as the bike. So there was only one thing left to do: go to the seaside!!

Bangladesh is very proud of Cox's Bazaar beach. It is officially the longest beach in the world. So we went to see it.

It was a nice beach. Very large. We rented a tiny quad-bike and zoomed up and down on it, past gawping beach-goers. We walked around on it. I poked some starfish. Adam practiced his handstands. I practiced my jumping.


We decided as we were in the area, it would be silly not to visit the Burmese border, 3 hours south.

on our way to, well, who knows...

I’d pretty much changed my mind after the not-so-fun bouncing trip down there, and the horrible arrival into a grotty little smuggler’s port, where a rickshaw man cycled us all the way to nowhere, before trying to leave us there. 

But in the end it was quite good, and we looked out at Burma across the river, and stood on the Bridge of Friendship, (apparently not actually friendly enough to be completed…)

The (almost) Friendship Bridge between Bangladesh and Burma



We were really in the middle of nowhere though, and people were stunned to see us. Kids followed us and army officials invited us into their huts.  We floated round the fishing boats, debating whether they would be willing to smuggle us into Burma.  

We wandered down to the Burmese immigration, just to make sure they didn’t perhaps want to let us in and save us all the hassle. Funnily enough, they didn’t, so we came back.

The forbidden land. Burma and the bast'd Burmese government who don't want us.

possibly some Burmese folk.  admittedly you can't see much...

We are back in Dhaka now, after a mammoth trip starting at 4am this morning to avoid the worst the Dhaka-Chittagong highway could chuck at us. We made it without stopping, and got here 7 hours later.

We are here to pick up our Mr Ahmed rickshaw-painting, before zooming onwards.  We have just been to see him.  He has done a brilliant job and made us a very surreal souvenir of our stupid road-trip.  It will go on our boat (The one we plan to live on when we get home. Not our secret yacht, or anything.) and remind us of long-gone days. 

that's us in the middle.  those are tigers, yes.

Next stop: the Indian border crossing. With a slightly suspect visa form and a badly filled out carnet, we are going to be winging it. The last border took 5 hours, and that was with the right documents. Oh dear.  See you on the other side.


  1. Dhaka-Chittagong again? Your bravery astounds! Best of luck with the flight.

  2. It is absolutely amazing reading this. You do have a cnack at writing. After this trip you will have enought info and pictures to publish a book.


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