Whenever I travel, I like to record a day-to-day journal entry so I can remember each day as they were. I usually keep my entries private, but since I'm travelling and experiencing some incredible yet challenging things, I wanted to share with you my thoughts, feelings and everything I do from my journal (of course not everything *winking face*). I went to Bangladesh on July 23rd to July 31st from Chiang Mai, Thailand where I had been living since May, 2015. I hadn't seen Bo in almost two months and I wasn't going to see him until the end of August. So, as our hearts grew fonder, we decided to plan a trip to Bangladesh before he embarked on his Rickshaw Race from Northern India and it worked out perfectly, as I also had to leave the country to extend my visa in Thailand. We arrived in Dhaka and left straight for Cox's Bazar and then ending the trip in Dhaka again. Without further or do, here are my entries from my time in Bangladesh with Bowen, his brother Peter and his friend Paul. Sorry about the late post, too! That's what constant travel and poor wifi can do for a blogger!
July 23rd, 2015 - DHAKA TO COX'S BAZAR
So I'm lying here at a bus terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh. There's an annoying fly hovering around and I just wanna squash it, but that wouldn't be very vegan of me. From a young age, I had been exposed to poverty considering I was born in the Philippines in a house the size of your average bathroom that housed 6 or more people at a time. But, this place is on another level. When I got here last night, I was immediately overwhelmed when I exited the arrival terminal at the airport as I expected my hotel transport to be there, but surprisingly they weren't. Panic. Frustration. Fear. The three emotions that I felt, which is unusual for me as I have had years of travel experience in this, but I guess this time I didn't have mum or dad to help me, or anyone else for that matter. No one else. I did meet a guy called James from New Zealand, he helped me with a situation that I encountered on exiting. The security guard saw me in panic and offered to call the hotel for me, I was so grateful until I returned the phone. As I placed it in his hand he mumbled "send me money, I'm poor, send me every month, yes?". I replied quite stunned, “No sorry, Sir” because what else would I say? He then started yelling at his friends and then at me in bengali. I just wanted to get out. So, James stood with me until my transport arrived. As I was driving in the van to my accommodation, I was looking around and although it was dark, the vibe, feel and atmosphere was already different to anywhere I've ever been in the world. Thinking my hotel would be this miraculous, big place as you would expect from the photos and the price, it was a single door entrance into a run down apartment building. They were friendly, but my heart was still racing. This man from Dubai came up to me and started talking to me about cricket and that he was "going to call my room". As he followed me up in the elevator like we were long lost pals, I had to be blunt and say goodbye. I went into my room, the bell boy was nice so I gave him $1 USD and I'd never seen anyone so happy! The room smelt like urine and the sheets were itchy. As I showered, talked to Bo and got into bed, I could hear noises outside my door. As I peeped through the hole, the man that I had spoken to was lurking about (which was strange as he is on the 4th floor). I tried to sleep, but not knowing whether he was there or not was freaking me out. I woke up this morning after a restless nights sleep of footsteps, car horns and yelling. I'm alive, grateful and reunited with Bo and that's all that matters. I haven't even kissed his lips yet. Being in a Muslim country, it's hard to be able to show affection in public so to show our respect, no PDA (public display of affection) allowed. Everyone is lying on a cushioned bench just waiting until our bus to arrive at 10:50pm. We are heading to Cox's Bazar. Another 7 hours to go. But that's okay.
HOW LONG: I stayed in Dhaka for 1 night before meeting the boys
HOW WE GOT THERE: I flew from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Dhaka, Bangladesh with Bangkok Airways. Price Approx. $600 AUD return (back to Chiang Mai)
WHERE WE SLEPT: On my first night in Dhaka, I stayed at the 'Richmond Hotel and Suites'. Price Approx. $55 AUD twin share, A/C, including breakfast and airport transfers
WHERE WE ATE: Breakfast was provided at the hotel. Lunch, dinner and snacks were from stalls and vendors at the bus station
OTHER TIPS: We could've got on a bus earlier but all tickets were booked out. I would suggest booking tickets in advance either online, a few days before or via hotel concierge/travel agent
July 24th, 2015 - COX'S BAZAR
We made it! Safe and sound after a 10 hour bus ride from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar. Surprisingly, the bus we drove in was comfortable and clean. They also provided us with blankets and a bottle of water. Getting on at 11:30pm (almost 40 minutes behind schedule) we thought we could settle right in and go to sleep. However, they decided to play loud Bengali music until 3am. I didn't mind as I had earplugs but I could tell a few people were getting quite annoyed as they were wrapping clothing around their heads to cover their ears. We picked up a few people along the way, including a sweet 15 year old girl. She couldn't stop asking me questions and showing me her photos, she even gave me a pair of earrings. She was so kind. I ended up sleeping from around 3am to 7am. Bo on the other hand had been sick for the past few days, so his ride wasn't as pleasant as mine. That's Delhi belly though. I was praying for nice weather, but as we rolled up to Cox's Bazar it was pouring rain. In hope it would pass in the next few days, we set off to find a hotel close to the beach. The Sea Palace Hotel was the one at best value. $17 AUD each per night for a room. Pete and his friend who was joining us from Ireland shared a room, and Bo and I shared another. We settled in, had showers and slept. The exhaustion from the transit had set in. We woke up and decided to check out a cute little Eco Resort Cafe that Peter had stumbled across. We took a rickshaw there, even though we were in raincoats I was complaining about getting wet and not wanting to walk! We got to the cafe and were amazed by the atmosphere. The cafe was beautiful. A two story restaurant overlooking the beach where there were people still splashing in the tumbling waves in the dusk of the rain. I loved seeing the joy within these people. They weren't going to let a bit of rain ruin their fun at the beach. We sat down at our table, with the ambiance chilled with coloured lights and bamboo shutters covering the windows. We ordered baked potatoes with beans and vegetable pizza. It was delicious. It was the first kind-of western food we had encountered here. The lights went out as we began to eat, so the waiter brought over a candle. It continued to rain as we enjoyed our meal. Again, the waiters were more than hospitable, giving us free naan because our food was 'late' (it wasn't, I've waited longer in Australia and I never received anything free). We left, still raining I decided to suck it up and stop whinging about a little rain. Walking through the mud, fearing I would slip in my unstable shoes, dodging the traffic and jumping puddles, we made it home! I don't know why I was complaining about a little rain! But I am so lucky I have such an amazing boyfriend to encourage me to get beyond my comfort zone and even if I was to slip, I know he'd pick me straight up. That's the thing when we are by ourselves for too long. We get in our own little comfort zones, we enjoy the 'easiness' of the life we create, we make boundaries for things that are uncomfortable from a cold shower to eating the same thing everyday. Sometimes you need that one person to push you just that little bit in one thing in your life so it can create change and make space for bigger and better things that can help change and shape you. We got into bed, fresh, clean and grateful, watched a movie and slept like babies that night to the sound of the rain.
HOW LONG: We stayed in Cox's Bazar for 5 nights (6th night was on an overnight bus back to Dhaka)
HOW WE GOT THERE: 10 hour overnight bus with 'Greenline' bus company. Price Approx. $15 AUD with A/C, blanket and bottle of water
WHERE WE SLEPT: 'The Sea Palace Hotel'. Price Approx. $34 AUD per night, non A/C, twin share and including breakfast
WHERE WE ATE: Breakfast was provided at the hotel daily. Lunch, dinner and snacks were from local restaurants. 'Eco Resort Cafe' was a nice restaurant we ate at just off the main road. A bit expensive but the food was amazing
OTHER TIPS: This hotel was one of the cheapest we could find. It appears that Cox's Bazaar does not cater for backpackers
July 27th, 28th, 29th - COX'S BAZAR
These next few days were all very similar due to the torrential rain in Cox's Bazar. Our days consisted of breakfast, a small walk to the beach if the rain isn't too heavy. Then we would get water and snacks and then back to the hotel room to watch countless movies, read, write. trawl the wifi and eat. We only even ordered room service as going outside meant getting absolutely saturated!
July 30th, 2015 - DHAKA
Wowwww! The sun is shining today! It's so beautiful. I haven't seen blue sky since our first day in Dhaka. After being on an overnight bus, the bed we woke up in felt like a cloud. I stretched my arms and legs so hard, it was euphoric. Bo and I got dressed and raced up to the rooftop restaurant to have breakfast! After the 4 days in Cox's Bazar and having only roti bread and oily curry for breakfast, it was nice to see wholemeal bread, jam and fresh fruit as our new breakfast options! I must admit, I did get sick of the roti bread and curry. Toast has never tasted so good though. I swear Bo had about 8 slices of toast. He was in his element! We stuffed our faces with the foods of familiarity as the sun shone in on our faces! We had depicted a plan to head to the cricket to see the first test match of Bangladesh vs. Soith Africa. First, the boys needed bus tickets to the Bengali/Indian Border. The hotel organised a taxi for us. The taxi driver was so nice. When we got to the bus counter, we met a really nice guy from the USA. When you see another tourist, you automatically become friends, especially since he was the very first we had seen in the time here! He told us his story and why he was here. He's a wildlife photographer and has spent the last 3 years coming back and forth to Bangladesh, shooting images of Bengal tigers, swimming with the Dolphins in the mangroves and holding photography and art workshops. Oh, the people you meet along the way! The tickets were a breeze to get with thanks to a lovely Bengali girl that was with the guy. We then headed off to the cricket! The traffic was crazy as we approached the stadium. The taxi driver parked a couple of blocks away as it was just impossible to get through. We walked to the ticket office to purchase VIP tickets. The line was huge but the taxi driver managed to help us surpass the line. Pete walked straight into the office, walked directly to the counter (in front of everyone) and got us 4 tickets just like that. I must admit, I felt pretty special but at the same time I was baffled by how they depict foreigners as the superior people. People that don't have to wait and stand in line! We walked through a street of chaos to get around to the stadium entrance. On the way were sugar cane juice stands, fruit stands, people selling Bangladesh fan gear and people even body/face painting. I was one of the lucky ones that got my arm pulled from the crowd to get the Bangladesh flag painted on my arm even though I said no! But, the hassle goes on until some money is paid. I didn't mind though. The taxi driver lead the way and we made it to the gate. I was so ecstatic! We walked up the stairs, and as I peered over the last few steps I saw the green cricket oval and the players in their white kits! I screamed with excitement. Who would've thought I would ever get the opportunity to see a cricket match in another country? It doesn't sound that exciting, but for me, I'm pretty happy with that achievement because I actually never liked cricket, but this was the perfect opportunity for me to really enjoy something I don't like. Does that make sense? Finding the beauty in the things you'd never thought that did. We sat on the green, plastic chairs and cheered on Bangladesh. We walked down to the bottom of the steps, and sitting across on oval was the South African Support team. We yelled out to them and we shared a few sentences back and forth. The day was filled with sunshine and cheer. After the game was finished, our loyal taxi driver had waited for us and he took us back to the hotel. We then had a lovely dinner and enjoyed our last night in Bangladesh.
HOW LONG: We stayed in Dhaka for 2 nights
HOW WE GOT THERE: 10 hour overnight bus with 'Greenline' bus company from Cox's Bazar. Price Approx. $15 AUD with A/C, blanket and bottle of water
WHERE WE SLEPT: We decided to stay at the 'Richmond Hotel and Suites' again as it was near the airport. Price Approx. $55 AUD twin share, A/C, including breakfast and airport transfers. This time, my experience was a lot better. The room was clean and the staff were very helpful
WHERE WE ATE: Breakfast was provided at the hotel daily. Lunch, dinner and snacks were from local restaurants
OTHER TIPS: We soon realised that Bangladesh is not a place where many tourists go so it was hard to find relatively cheap hotels that were of a good standard. If you want to stay in a decent place then you may have to pay a bit extra. Taxi's aren't that cheap either. To drive to the bus stop and to the stadium which was only about 5km away, we had to pay $20 AUD. I would suggest getting a tuk-tuk instead
July 31st, 2015 - DHAKA
I had the most restless sleep last night. I tossed and turned ever so softly so I wouldn't wake Bo up. As I finally drifted off to sleep, it felt like a split second and the alarm went off. Bo packed his bags, we headed up to the rooftop restaurant and enjoyed our final pieces of toast together before he set off on his big adventure. We said our goodbyes, but I wasn't at all sad. I'll see him in 3 weeks and I just know that the time will fly. It's truly been amazing being able to hangout with Bowen again. We can just lay there for hours on end just talking, holding each other and watching movies, sometimes hours go by without a word said, but I love that about us. Being comfortable like that with someone is rare. So, enough with the soppy stuff. After the boys set off, I went back to the hotel room, packed my bags and waited for 9 hours until I had to leave for the airport. It was nice though. I sat up at in the rooftop restaurant and enjoyed cups of tea whilst I edited some vlogs for YouTube. I must admit, I had missed the Internet. The only decent wifi we got in Cox's Bazar allowed to upload Instagram and maybe a few scrolls down on Facebook. But, it was nice being offline. I mean, it wasn't completely offline but I do look forward to days where we won't have the Internet and we can enjoy our moments for what they are and not behind a screen. There were a few gentleman coming back and forth from the restaurant, eating and having coffee. This older, larger man with a colourful striped shirt on asked me if I would like to join them for lunch. I politely declined as I saw the whole table covered in chicken, fish and mutton and it would've just been awkward. It was time to head downstairs and catch my shuttle van to the airport. As I was sitting on the couch in the lobby waiting for my bags, the same man came up to me and said 'Heyyy, do you recognise me?' in a cheeky yet stern voice. Of course I did! He sat down with three other men. I asked them what they were doing in Dhaka (knowing they were from Bangladesh), they said they were the owners! Three brothers that owned the hotel! I was so surprised! They were so hospitable. They offered me a cup of tea, we sat in the lobby on the couches chatting about the hotel and Bangladesh. The three of them all lived in London and were here to check up on the hotel. We had a good chuckle but I had to get moving to the Airport! There was no way I was missing this flight! Right now, I'm sitting here at Gate 6 waiting to board my flight to Bangkok. It's going to be tough when I land there, I will have to spend the night on a few chairs. I don't mind sleeping in airports, the key is earplugs, a loud alarm and a backpack to use as a pillow! Bangladesh has been quite an experience. In the beginning, I was scared of it. I arrived here in Dhaka, basking with fear but, after a while I realised I was over reacting. I thought that by being in Thailand on my own for while now, it would help me grow as a person because I'd be getting out of my 'comfort zone' and going beyond what I already knew. I was at times but I also was very comfortable. I had my own comfy apartment, I had an abundance of fruit and food I wanted to eat, I could do whatever I wanted with my time from yoga, to editing videos, to studying, to reading and watching movies. I had my friends living in the same building as me. The only thing that maybe pushed me a little bit was cycling up a mountain. But that's just ONE aspect. But my time in Thailand so far hasn't pushed me out of my comfort zone at all, everything was familiar to some extent. In fact, it made me more comfortable. However, I have truly been out of my comfort zone here in Bangladesh, and I think when I start traveling to other countries it'll only open my eyes to even more of the unknown. I have been so ignorant in my time before. I won't have a comfy apartment to sleep in, there won't be an abundance of fruit and the foods I want to eat, and I'll still have copious amounts of time but hopefully that time will be used to see things I've never seen before and experience things that will shake me to my core and make me question life to its very meaning. What is this life anyway? How did we get so lucky to have the lives we have? To be able to wake up every day in a warm bed and not have to search for plastic bottles in piles of garbage in the rain to make some money? How did we get so lucky that we get choices and opportunities in our lives? We are so lucky that everyday we don't have to push if we don't want to. Everyday we are lucky that things are familiar. It makes me question too, do people ever really want to grow? Do they want to grow beyond the unknown? I don't think I will return to Bangladesh in the near future. For backpackers, it’s quite expensive as they don't cater for tourists but for rich Bengali people. But it's an experienced I'll never forget and any experience is better than none.
Love and light,
Mary Christine xoxo