The national language is Bengali Bangla and is spoken everywhere. It's an Indo-Aryan language derived from Prakit, Pali and Sanskrit and written in its own script. Many Bangladeshis understand only limited English such as basic affirmatives, negatives, and some numbers. This is especially so in rural areas and among the lower socio-economic classes. Learning a few Bengali words ahead of your trip will prove very useful.
Two centuries of British colonisation lead people to identify most foreigners as either British or Americans, and to view them with curiosity. The first question you will probably be asked is "What is your country?" "Desh kothay?" in Bangla. If hawkers or rickshaw-wallahs are over-zealous in selling you their products or services, simply say "Amar dorkar nai" "I don't need [this item]" or "Lagbey nah" "No need" as a colloquial way of saying "No, thanks."
If you don't wish to give money to beggars and other unfortunates, simply tell them "Maaf koro" with informal you or "Maaf koren" with polite/formal you, which means "Pardon me"; or you can apply a tricky concept by saying "Amar bangthi poisha nai", meaning "I have no change." Above all, if you're refusing a service or product, don't linger. Walk on as you say these phrases. Otherwise, your lingering may be misinterpreted by peddlers as your uncertainty about refusal.
Bangladesh is a country full of friendly and open minded people. But being a poor country with a high poverty rate, there are some impoverished or bad-natured people who may find ways to exploit a foreigner/tourist. Please stick to common sense precautions, such as not walking around unnecessarily or alone after dark. Also, if you do find yourself in trouble, create some noise and draw the attention of others who are almost certain to come to your aid. Foreigners, particularly Caucasian, will for the most part will be safe when walking around city streets as you will undoubtedly be watched by multiple curious locals at any one time. When travelling by rickshaw, CNG auto-rickshaw or bus, be careful to keep valuables close at hand. Don't wear expensive jewellery without precaution; most middle-class locals now simply wear imitation gold/silver and rhinestones/clay and beaded pendants.
The clothing of local women varies, according to religion and degree of religious conservatism, socio-political climate varies from time to time, geographic region, and socio-economic status. In general, as a female tourist, it is wisest to wear at least the salwar kameez, which is both easy to wear and relatively versatile and functional, while being generally culturally respectful. However, most of Bangladesh is a relatively open-minded Muslim country, and the youth in major cities e.g.: Dhaka, Chittagong, etc. are quite Westernized.
Nationwide strikes or âhartalsâ are widely employed as a means of political expression in Bangladesh. The political opposition over the past several years has called a number of these hartals, resulting in the virtual shutdown of transportation and commerce, and sometimes attacks on individuals who do not observe the hartals. Clashes between rival political groups during hartals have resulted in deaths and injuries. Visitors should avoid all political protests, demonstrations, and marches. During hartals, visitors should exercise caution in all areas and remain indoors whenever possible. Hartals, demonstrations, and other protests can occur at ANY time.
It's best to not eat, drink or smoke anything offered to you by strangers - there's a growing problem in many Asian countries of drugging, and you're likely to see signs warning you against it on buses, trains, etc. That's not to say you shouldn't take someone up on their offer for a home cooked meal, but you may want to think twice about that piece of candy the person in the seat next to you just handed to you. Also, be careful about the sanitation procedures of local street food and snacks.
Speeding bus/coaches/trucks cause many deaths. Road signs and traffic lights are often ignored by cars, and traffic jams are always a given, making it very difficult for pedestrians to travel. It is wisest NOT to drive yourself or to walk major roads alone. Consequently, road travel if absolutely necessary is best undertaken with an experienced local driver in a good vehicle with safety belts. Use rickshaws with precaution; although a very authentic local drive, it is also the most dangerous vehicle for transport, especially on major routes now being banned.
fm radio stations
ABC Radio Dhaka - 89.2 MHz (http://www.abcradiobd.net)
Radio Foorti-88.0 MHz Dhaka, 98.4 MHz Chittagong, 89.8 MHz Sylhet (http://www.radiofoorti.fm)
Radio Today- 89.6 MHzDhaka, 88.6MHzChittagong (http://www.radiotodaybd.fm)
Radio Aamar 88.4 MHzDhaka
Bangladesh Betar Relays BBC World Service - 100.00 MHz
Bottled wateris recommended, as the tap water is often unsafe for foreign stomachs, and some hand-drawn tube wells are contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic. This will easily pass through filters designed only to screen out bacteria. A more environmentally friendly option is to boil your own water, or use purifying tablets. However, nothing short of distillation will remove arsenic.
It's also wise to use discretion when eating from street vendors - make sure it's freshly cooked and hot.
Mosquitoes can be abundant in some areas and cities, especially during the rainy and humid seasons, and nets covering your bed at night are often provided, even in some of the cheapest hotels and in all households.
Consult your travel doctor about precautions against malaria and typhoid fever. Get vaccinated and take preventive and curative medication with you before you go.
Pollutioncan be a problem, and in some of the cities like Dhaka and Chittagong you may wish you'd brought along an oxygen tank. While some effort has been shown recently to clean up the country such as the banning of plastic bags, there's still a long way to go and most people use the many waterways as garbage dumps - it would be unwise to swim in most of the rivers and downright senseless in a lake.
Men can easily leave their razors at home and rely on the ever-present barber shops where a basic shave will run around Tk 10-20. Make sure they use a new blade, though you won't usually have to ask. "Deluxe" shaves will run around double price and barbers will often assume foreign tourists want this, so be clear if you're just after a quick shave and don't want the dubious massage and forehead/nose shaving.
Amar dike takaben na!
Foreign tourists are still very much a novelty to many Bangladeshis not anymore! - kids see you as a toy to play with, while others see you as their opportunity to practice their English with endless enthusiasm. Most however, are content to just look... and look... and look. If it becomes too much, Amar dike takaben na roughly means "please stop staring at me!!"... but use the !! sparingly, since most Bangladeshis will think they are favouring you by admiring you so much publicly.
Most Bangladeshis are religious but fairly liberal and secular points of view are not uncommon. The people are in general very hospitable, and a few precautions will keep it this way:
As in most neighbouring countries, the left hand is considered unclean and is used for toilet duties, removing shoes, etc. Hence, always use your right hand to offer or receive anything, and to bring food to your mouth.
Men, especially strangers and foreigners, should never attempt to shake hands with or touch local women — simply put your hand on your heart and bow slightly to greet.
Women travelling without men may find it slightly harder to get an auto-rickshaw driver who will take them to their destination.
Mosques are sometimes off-limits to non-Muslims and certain areas of them off-limits to women. Inquire with someone at the mosque before entering and before taking any pictures. Cover your head and arms and legs, and take off your shoes before entering.
Standing from your seat and bowing slightly to greet elderly individuals will gain you respect and social approval. Do not refer to your elders or those in socially senior positions to you i.e.: doctors, professors/teachers, religious leaders, etc. by their first names; this is considered extremely rude and utmostly derogatory. Children do not call their parents by their first or last names, and in some regions of the country, wives do not call their husbands by their first names either.
Keep in mind that Bangladesh sees only a tiny number of foreign visitors, and most locals will be genuinely curious about you, watching your every move and expression. Don't underestimate how impressionable some can be, make sure you're leaving good ones!
Internet is available in most of the larger towns, with prices hovering around Tk 15-20/hour. Most are on broadband connections, but speed does not meet international standards. WiMAX service is now available from some internet service providers. You can also find WiFi connectivity in some places around the big cities.
Internet calls may be be possible, though the Information Ministry has outlawed them. Try Dialpad (http://dialpad.com), Hotelphone (http://hottelephone.com), Mediaring (http://www.mediaring.com/...) or Skype (http://www.skype.com). You'll likely need your own microphone/headphone.
Most women wear either a sari or a salwar kameez [an easy/ready-to-wear, three-piece outfit, with a knee-length tunic "kameez", pants "salwar" and a matching scarf "urna"]. Foreign women may want to consider wearing at least the salwar kameez, out of general cultural respect. Having said this, rapid westernization has changed how modern city dwellers dress, especially the upper class. Jeans, shirts and t-shirts are common among the younger generation, although remember it's polite to keep your shoulders, chest and legs covered. This also goes for men â shorts are worn only by young boys, and undershirts are worn alone without a shirt covering it only by the lowest class in public.
The country code for Bangladesh is 880. Add a 0 to make a call to any Bangladesh city or region outside the national capital.
It is not possible to access international information directory assistance from within Bangladesh. If you need international directory assistance, check the Internet telephone directories.
Landlines are a rarity in Bangladesh, and aren't reliable even when you can find them. Bangladesh Telephone Company Ltd. BTCL or formerly BTTB, known generally as T&T is the public sector phone company and the only landline service in the country.
Mobile phones are a better bet and widely available. In most towns they'll be your only option, and many shop owners let theirs double as PCO's / ISD's. Banglalink (http://www.banglalinkgsm.com/) and Grameenphone (http://www.grameenphone.com/) are the most widely available, followed by Citycell (http://www.citycell.com/), Robi (http://www.robi.com.bd/), Teletalk (http://www.teletalk.com.bd/) and Airtel (http://www.airtel.com.bd/). Except Citycell all work on the GSM network and offer prepaid packages at reasonable prices – usually about Tk 140 $2 to get started. International calls are possible, and often more reasonably priced than you would expect if you're calling the US or major European countries although prices can rise drastically as you get more off the beaten path. E-ISD facility offered by different mobile phone service providers can reduce the cost significantly. For the E-ISD service dial 012 instead of 00/+.