Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Bangladesh : Chittagong Division : Bandarban
Bandarban Hill District is the most remote and least populated district in Bangladesh. The lure of the tallest peaks of Bangladesh, treks through virgin forests and chance to meet more than 15 tribes of the region up close is growing both among Bangladeshis and tourists from other countries. Since the insurgency ceased in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (a cluster that includes all three hill districts of Bangladesh) it has opened up for tourists more than a decade back, though some of the western tourist guides may still describe the area as a major security risk.
she-ra rental car
Bangla (official); Marma, Bawm and Mru (local)
There are three ways to get to Bandarban. The easiest is a direct bus ride from Dhaka which takes 6 hours. The few services available are Dolphin at Kalabagan, Unique service, Shyamoli Paribahan at Gabtali, Asad gate, Fakirerpul, Kamlapur, Saydabad and S Alam at Kamalapur. On the high tourist season it is advisable to buy tickets in advance.
There are a few services available that offer a bus ride from Chittagong which takes 2 hours (the most available is Purbani at Bahaddarhaat). To reach Chittagong from Dhaka there are three options - taking a flight (Bangladesh Biman or GMG airline), a bus ride (Sohag is undoubtedly the best service, available at Kalabagan and Mahakhali) or a train ride from Kamalapur (Turna Nishitha, Mahanagar Godhuli and Subarna).
From Cox's Bazar, it is a 3-hour busride (the most available is Purbani at Laaldighi). To reach Cox's Bazaar from Dhaka it is possible take either a 10-hour bus ride (Sohag is the best) or a flight (Bangladesh Biman or GMG airlines). From Chittagong it is 4-hour bus ride (apart from Dolphin, Purbani is the most available).
Purbani Bus Srvice, Phone:01820412800 (Chittagong), 0361-62508 (Bandarban)
It is possible to get to Bandarban directly from Rangamati by way of Chandraghona, but the perilous route is not advisable at all.
Car rented from Chittagong, readily available from Bangladesh Enterprise (phone: +880 (0) 31 670512) at Chandgao, Al-Amin Enterprise (phone: +880 (0) 31 720600) or Alam Enterprise (phone: +880 (0) 31 714566) at Hazi Para in Agrabad, Bismilla Fashion (phone: +880 (0) 31 612749) at Reazuddin Bazar or Samara Fashions (phone: +880 (0) 31 615925) at Azimir Super Market at Monim Road, would take anyone to Bandarban. Though it is possible to rent a car at Dhaka to go all the way to Bandarban, it is not advisable in any way. Plainland drivers are generally lousy in the hills and they don't know the locality at all. It would be prudent to hire a driver who comes from Bandarban.
Inside the town, which can be easily covered on feet, the most available mode of transport in the rickshaw. For places out of town there are three-wheeler taxis near the Traffic Mor (circle or intersection), four-wheel drive vehicles for hire near Hotel Green Hill, and a rent-a-car station near Hotel Hill Bird. There also are the regular public transit system of ancient four-wheel-drive vehicles, known locally as Chander Gari (meaning the Moon Car) available Ruma and Rowangchhari Bus Stations, as well as near the Sonali Bank. Major road routes are Chimbuk-Ruma, Bandarban-Rowangchhari-Ruma, Aziznagar-Gojalia-Lama, Khanhat-Dhopachhari-Bandarban, Bandarban-Chimbuk-Thanchi-Alikadam-Baishari-Dhundhum, and Chimbuk-Tangkabati-Baro Aoulia. It is also possible to travel by native boats by the river Sangu, from either the Bazaar Ghat or the Kyaw Ching Ghat.
A hike to either Keokaradong (883 m) or Tahjindong (967 m), the two tallest peak is an exhilarating experience. On the side of both the peaks reside the remotest tribes-people of Bangladesh - the Khumi and the Kuki. Boga Lake, one of the two highest lakes in Bangladesh lie directly on the trek, while the other one, the Raikhiang Lake lies only a little off the way.
There is an abundance of Brumese, Thai and Chinese trinkets, textile and other stuff in the town. But, the best buy is definitely the products of local handloom - cloth fabric, shawls, blankets and more - as well as products of bamboo, cane and wood - buskets, flutes, hats, mask and more. Prices are amazingly low, and textile qualities are amazingly high. The designs are refreshingly exotic and extremely geometric. Only the textile from Myanmar (called Burma here) have floral or fire patterns, and are made by machine looms.
Both the Bandarban Bazaar and the Marma Bazaar sell, hawk and peddle an incredible number of floral-patterned Burmese cloths that are used to make dresses in Marma style. A thicket of tailoring shops line the streets of both markets to cater to buyers of these cloths. It is a fun activity for women to buy cloth and take it to a tailoring shop. Custom fit Thami (sarong) and Angi (Blouse) are tailored in a day.
There are good restaurants in Bandarban Bazaar where local cuisine can be sampled, which is mostly too hot for unaccustomed palates.
The best places to eat are Khaoa Daoa (a Muslim restaurant, meaning they serve beef) and Adarsha Bhaatghar (a Hindu restaurant, meaning they don't serve beef).
Chinese or Continental food, though available and expensive by local standards, is of poor quality here. Check with Ree Song Song in the town or Kyank Ching at Parzatan Motel Megla.
The local tribespeople consider almost everything that walks, flies or swims as food, so with a little luck it is possible to sample dog meat, and even dried snakes or deer meat (both are protected species in Bangladesh). Nappi, a semi-dried fish-paste with powerful flavor, is one of the top delicacies. Most of the hotels in Bandarban do not have any restaurant attached.
Though there are no designated bars or pubs, alcoholic drinks are widely available due to the culture of the tribes-people. A local rice wine called Arraa is a potent drink. It is often flavored with stone-apples, pineapples and elachi. It is best drunk with coconut juice. Ching Rey is a beer made from the first brew of Arraa. Tea is a fairly common drink in the daytime, and available at plentiful hot tea shops. Tea here is well-cooked and served with thin milk and salt instead of sugar.
There is no formal nightlife here. But, if you stay outside the town, it may be possible to sit at a gathering of tribal village fold for a little music and lot of drinking.
With a little luck, it is possible to stay at one of the numerous government rest houses, especially in quiet seasons. The most notable is the District Circuit House, followed by Hill Top Rest House, maintained by the District Administration, and the Forest Department rest House. Department of Roads and Highways have two rest houses of fair standards - one near Chimbuk, the other near the circuit house. But, these can not be booked in advance, unless the traveler is on government business or a government guest or employee.
In Bandarban Town itself there are numerous inexpensive hotels, all of which are at Bandarban Bazaar, the market district of the town. The most prominent are:
The telecom watchdog, Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC), has permitted Rankstel and QC Telecom, two privately owned phone companies, to provide telular (Fixed Wireless Transceiver based phones) services in Bandarban, which is about the equal to connections provided by Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB), the government owned monopoly on fixed-line telephone service, and are far more available.
There are a couple of cybercafes that offer internet services. But, since they are not connected to the information superhighway via submarine cables, the connections are pretty slow, often dipping below 0.4kb. These usually remain open from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
Postal codes for Bandarban are - 4600 (Bandarban Sadar), 4630 (Thanchi), 4641 (Lama), 4660 (Nikhongchhari), 4650 (Alikadam), 4610 (Rowangchhari), and 4620 (Ruma). The surface mail is notoriously slow and undependable. There also is a possibility of mail from foreign nationals getting opened and checked by civil or military authorities.
As malaria is a major health threat in the region, malaria prophylaxis is highly advisable. Avloquin and Malacide are two popular local brands of the drug, purchasable from major Dhaka, Chittagong or Bandarban drugstores that are known as a "pharmacy" in Bangladesh. Incidentally, Bandaraban District Hospital has arguably the best treatment and research facilities for malarial treatment in Bangladesh.
Drinking water often comes from hillside streams. Therefore, insist upon water from tube wells, or carry your own supply of water bottles or water purification tablets. Halotab is the popular local brand of purification tablets. Bandarban pharmacies may not have any in stock, so it is advisable to purchase some in Dhaka or Chittagong beforehand.
There are a few laundries (local name for washing shops) in the town, but no dry cleaner. These would wash your clothes by the river. Photoprocessing is easy, as there are quite a few shops at Marmabazaar. The photoprocessing experience can become an exciting experience if you try a shop that has photo studio attached.