In this post, I wanted to share with you our experience with a layover in Dhaka. Overall, we spent circa 12 hours in Dhaka and managed to see some of the highlights of the city. Is it worth getting out in Dhaka on a transit? How many hours are too little to exit in Dhaka? All that and more I will try to cover in this post blog, so stay tuned!
But first, let’s look at some useful information about Bangladesh:
Some useful information about Bangladesh:
Currency: Taka. 1 GBP = 115 BDT, 1 USD = 85 BDT
Time zone: GMT+6
Plug type: C, D, G and K. You can buy an international travel adaptor here.
Safety: Dhaka isn’t the safest city in the world, so make sure to pay attention to your belongings.
Food poisoning risk: medium / high (depends on the place)
Air pollution: very high. It makes sense to bring a dusk mask like this one.
Do you need a visa to exit in Dhaka airport during a transit?
Check the latest visa requirements for visiting Bangladesh here. The general rule is that most nationalities need a visa to exit Dhaka airport. Many people, however, are eligible for a visa on arrival. You can see the full list of the nationalities, who can get a visa on arrival in Dhaka airport here.
It costs $51 (USD) to get a visa on arrival, so many people decide to stay at the airport and not visit Dhaka during an interchange between flights. However, we were very curious about Dhaka, so we paid $102 in total to spend 10 hours in Dhaka.
Without further ado, let’s get started with transit through Dhaka airport – things to do on a layover in Dhaka.
Layover in Dhaka: 8, 10 or 12 hours in Dhaka, Bangladesh
As we arrived on a very small plane from Bhutan (check my post about 4 days in Bhutan), the immigration control was very fast. You are asked to pay the visa on arrival fee and then come to another counter with a receipt, where you’ll be issued a visa.
Dhaka airport has plenty of ATMs and all of them were working with prepaid international cards, so extracting money for the day trip in Dhaka was very easy. There was also free WiFi in Dhaka airport, however, we had very affordable roaming with our Nepalese SIM card, so we didn’t need to buy a SIM card, but you can, if you want to.
What was missing at Dhaka airport is a place to leave luggage. That was a major drawback and we had to book a hostel just to leave our bags for a day in Dhaka. We booked a place called Green House Guesthouse. If you travel with a backpack, that wouldn’t be an issue for you.
How long should your layover be (enough to exit the Dhaka airport)?
Many people ask whether they can go and explore Dhaka on a 5-hour layover, for example. Most of the locals would say that you shouldn’t exit the airport until you have 8 hours until your next flight. However, that also depends on the traffic conditions. To be on a safe side, I would recommend exiting if you have 9 hours layover or more. We had 12 hours until our next flight (and it ended up being even more than 12 hours due to our next flight delay).
Things to see in Dhaka during a layover (8-24 hours)
Gulshan 2 neighbourhood
Alright, let’s talk about the things you can see and discover in Dhaka during your layover of 8-12 hours.
As out guesthouse was located in Gulshan 2 neighbourhood, we decided to walk around and explore the area a little bit. Gulshan 2 was probably one of the most walkable areas of Dhaka and it was very clean and well-maintained.
Moreover, Gulshan 2 is an area where wealthy people live in Dhaka, so most of the nice restaurants, cafes and coffee shops are located in this area. Gulshan 2 also has a large park with a lake – perfect for a stroll or even a run. I’ve seen quite a few foreigners running in this park. The park only has 2 entrances and both of them are heavily guarded, so you will be very safe in this park.
We went for lunch in the Gulshan area as well, however, it was slightly outside the residential buildings, close to the start of another area. The place we visited for lunch was a cafe called Creme de la Creme Coffee, which was serving common Western and Asian dishes like pasta, pizza and sushi. I found the prices to be quite high (especially after Nepal that was very affordable), but the food was okay. The cafe was also sparkling clean and the service was amazing.
Guarded restaurants in Dhaka
What surprised me a lot in Dhaka, and we have seen it in a couple of places, is that cafes and restaurants are generally heavily guarded, just like the Gulshan 2 park. To enter the Gloria Jean’s Cafe, you need to walk through the metallic detector like in an airport. Moreover, the guard(s) will take a look at the contents of your bag as well. I’m not sure what is the reason for that, but I assume it has something to do with the inequality and differences between wealthy and poor and general crime prevention. If you have more information on that, let us know in the comments section below.
The next destination for our layover in Dhaka was the Dhaka University. We found online that one of the buildings was very pretty and went on a quest to find this building around the campus of the university, which was pretty big.
In the end, we had to take another Uber to the building which is called Curzon Hall. It ended up being even more beautiful than in the photos and we managed to sit on the grass in front of it and observe the busy life of students walking around.
In total, it took us about 50 minutes to reach Curzon Hall from Gulshan 2, even though the traffic was very little. I can imagine that it would probably take 2-2.5 hours
Initially, we were also planning to visit the Dhaka Fort or Lalbagh fort, however, it was closed on Sunday (and that’s when we were in Dhaka). Moreover, it was a bit far and according to the Google estimates, it would take us another 30 minutes to get there from the Curzon Hall. The return journey to Gulshan 2 would have been over 1 hour 10 minutes. We decided not to risk it, however, if you feel like you have enough time, go for it.
Ahsan Manzil Museum
Another worthy place in Dhaka is Ahsan Manzil Museum located in a former palace. The building is stunning, however, it’s pretty far, even further away than the fort. You can perhaps skip the University and head there instead if you feel like it’s more interesting.
Again, we weren’t able to see Ahsan Manzil Museum, as it was just too far away and on Sunday afternoon, the traffic was just too heavy to drive there.
Take one of the tours in Dhaka
If you don’t feel like exploring Dhaka on your own, taking a tour might be a great option. There are some tours currently offered in Dhaka that include:
Close to the Ahsan Manzil Museum, you can find the Dhaka Port. That’s where the ship graveyard is located. It’s not the most glamorous place and I didn’t want to go there at all, but I just wanted to let you know that it exists and you can take a river ferry to enjoy a closer look at the ships being disassembled.
Unfortunately, all of that is manual work and so many people die while performing this work while getting paid nearly to nothing. This is very sad and it’s the main reason why I didn’t want to take a river ferry (that looks more like a gondola).
Summary of a layover in Bangladesh: is it worth exiting the airport?
To summarise, I must say that I was very happy that we exited the airport and got to see at least a little bit of Dhaka. As I mentioned before, I’ve heard very mixed reviews about the city and it turned out to be way better than I thought. Dhaka is developing rapidly and soon there will be a metro that hopefully will partially solve the city’s huge traffic problem.
As for safety, I felt very safe in some areas, while I wasn’t comfortable to walk in the others. Dhaka is a huge city with all sorts of people living there, so it has all the problems of a huge city. Moreover, Bangladesh has a very high level of inequality, so it’s better not to risk and not walk in the areas, where it’s not advised.
While I provided you with many options to do in Dhaka on a layover, I only recommend you to visit 1 or 2. If you have longer, let’s say, 24 hours in Dhaka, then you can easily visit them all, otherwise, just don’t risk it because traffic can be unpredictable.
I hope you found this post useful!
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