Back on the road again after a few years of hiatus at home in Hoi An! I am about to begin my photography tour in Bangladesh, and I flew into the country earlier as I wanted to go and explore a new area of this country. This time I went traveling to the Barisal division, which is the province South of the country.
Traveling from Dhaka to Barisal
Being familiar with Saderghat and its giant river boats, for having done many sunrises there, I wanted to finally use one of these boats to travel South of the country. I went down to Saderghat again one morning to take photos, and I asked around about boats heading down to Barisal. As usual, there were plenty of people around ready to help me in my search for information. I quickly learned that the boats to Barisal city were leaving from Dhaka around 9 pm. So I decided to come back in the afternoon.
Traveling to Barisal is honestly a super easy and smooth process. I packed my bag (my very awesome Fstop gear bag!) with my camera gear and some clothes. For this trip, I went into backpacking mode, it had been a while! I left my luggage at the hotel in Dhaka and went back to Saderghat in the afternoon. I walked around, taking photos in the nice afternoon light, and headed back to the boat area around 6 pm. There, I picked up a boat that looked good (they all look pretty nice, but some are more “luxury” than others. There, people guided me to the ticket counter inside the boat. I had the option between sleeping on the floor, having a cabin, and having a cabin with an air con unit. Well, I went full luxury and took the AC cabin for 1100 taka (about $11).
I dropped my bag into the cabin, which I could lock with a key, just like a hotel room. And I went back to shooting around the area until the boat left at 9 pm. It has been a very easy process and I think anyone can do it as there are always a lot of people around ready to help.
I only wish that I could have traveled during the day to enjoy the landscapes around me, but traveling at night allowed me to save a hotel night as well as arrive at my destination at sunrise. And yes, of course, to start shooting straight away after landing in Barisal!
Arriving in Barisal city
Because I went full backpacking mode, I didn’t really know where to go or what to do in Barisal. After all, there is so little information available online. But I know Bangladesh is a very safe and fun country to travel to so I didn’t worry that much!
The boat landed in Barisal city around 5.30 am. A perfect time to start shooting. I grabbed my bag, left the boat (just handed my key back to the reception counter), and started walking towards what seemed to be a fish market on Google maps.
The fish market is about 10 minute walk from the ghat, where the boat landed. Lots of tea stalls were already open and I woke myself up with a couple of yummy milk teas. I just can’t get enough of these guys (will have to check my blood sugar levels back home!!).
Barisal fish market
I arrived in an area where I could see fishing boats and lots of guys running around. That must have been it. So I just walked in and said hello. And just like that, I had 100 new friends!
I really loved this fish market because of how busy it is. Basically (and like most other fish markets), the fishermen land before sunrise and unload their boats. Right next to where they land is the fish wholesale market of Barisal. A crazy, hectic (and smelly of course!) area where hundreds of people come to buy fish in bulk for other markets or for their restaurants.
I spent a couple of hours inside the fishing boats, taking photos and chatting with the fishermen (some of them had few English language skills left from high school). What they do is that they pack all the fish into these giant baskets made of wood. These baskets are so heavy that 5 or 6 guys are needed to push and pull them out of the boats. They then load them on rikshaw to bring them into the marketplace.
It’s pretty intense to see and you can really feel the strength the fishermen need to pull them out of the boat. And this makes for great photos.
I was able to go in and out of the fishing boats without any problem, everyone was super welcoming. I had to say no to so many fishermen asking me to go and have tea with them, as I wanted to enjoy the beautiful morning light to take photos.
Visiting the city of Barisal
After some time I felt smelly enough that it was time to leave. I still carried my heavy bag with me and I really wanted to drop it in a hotel room to be able to move more freely. I said goodbye to all my new friends (and had many, many cups of tea!) and walked out of the market. Later on, I found myself breakfast and a small hotel. It was time for a nap!
Later that day I went to explore the wholesale market (lots of bananas) and walked the streets. There is a very cool local market along the river, as well as many busy streets full of sellers of all sorts. The usual in Bangladesh!
I saw that there were ferries crossing the river, and it seemed like fun. So I jumped into one of these boats and headed to the other side. Over there were many motorbike drivers and rickshaws waiting for passengers. I walked a little bit until one of the drivers, who spoke a little English, came to talk to me. I asked him if he could drive me around for a couple of hours.
Just as we were leaving we were stopped by a man who introduced himself as a policeman. I asked my driver what I was doing, and we explained to him that I was a tourist who just wanted to look around. He took my passport details and told me that it was for my safety. Yes, people keep telling me here that there are many bad people in Bangladesh and that I should be careful… Honestly, I have never met these bad people.
This was a drastic change of scenery as the other side of the river of Barisal is very countryside. Some actual beautiful roads in between rice fields and rivers. The driver took me to a small local village where we met a gentleman who was apparently 100 years old. I doubt it, but this is what they told me. I took some photos, they offered me and my driver some food and tea, and we kept driving.
After a while, we went back to the riverside, and I took a ferry again to bring me back to the town of Barisal.
I decided to spend the latter part of the afternoon walking along the river, as I saw on the map that there was a road right along the river that seemed to be a sort of promenade. There were a lot of people there, all eager to have a chat (and knowing which country I am from!).
I chatted with a small group of students who told me I should go and visit the town of Kuakata, more in the South. They even told me where to go to find a bus. It is just so easy to travel in Bangladesh!
Traveling to Kuakata
I left my hotel and took a rickshaw to the Rupatoli bus station. Over there, many buses leave every 20 minutes, heading South towards Kuakata. I jumped on the first bus that I saw and went on 2 hours, five-dollar, bumpy journey through the countryside.
If you don’t like old buses speeding up and honking like crazy on bumpy roads, avoid taking the local bus in Bangladesh. It is a whole experience in itself!
I arrived in the early afternoon in Kuakata. The bus dropped all of us in the middle of town, and I saw the beach was only a few minutes walk, so I headed that way.
As I stepped onto the beach I started looking around. After less than a minute, a young man approached me. I was expecting someone to come and offer me their services, or sell me something. To my surprise, the man was a Palestinian medical student in Dhaka who came to Kuakata with some friends to relax after their exams.
Yes, I traveled to South Bangladesh to a remote location to meet some Palestinian guys. Life is full of surprises!
That afternoon I walked around the beach. As it was Friday the beach was crowded with people. It reminded me of the beach of Chittagong, with people taking selfies, other people taking selfies, and other people acting like rock stars for their selfies. There were also the classic young kids on their horses, offering people to take selfies on their horses… There were people taking the local fishermen’s boats to sit in and… take selfies. And others rented motorbikes to pretend they were rock stars on motorbikes for, guess what, taking selfies. Ah, Bangladesh, so many rock stars everywhere!
But there were some super cool puddles of water on the beach, left after high tide, allowing me to play with reflections. I was looking for a group of fishermen or fishing boats. I thought I was going to be able to find a busy fish market, or a local fishing village where they all gather, the same way we have in Vietnam. But it seemed that here, the fishermen work in small groups and there are no big gatherings.
Later on, I checked in a hotel and headed back to the beach, which is super busy in the evening. I hung out with my new Palestinian friends, which was super interesting. I listened to their experience of living in Bangladesh for a number of years, and I learned more about Bangladesh from them than from any local person. And yes, I tried all the local specialties there, including a very special milk tea, Super yummy!
Sunrise in Kuakata
I woke up early again to head to the beach, hoping to find some fishing activity. To my surprise, the big was already quite crowded, as people come to Kuakata to watch the sunrise. Lots of drivers were offering people to drive them several kilometers further to have a better view of the sunrise.
You know what I feel about sunrises and sunsets: if there are no interesting subjects in front, it’s just an orange ball rising. So I started walking and met small groups of fishermen in action.
Kuakatais actually a super nice and huge beach. It feels very peaceful as it is quiet and you can hear all the birds from the surrounding trees. I enjoyed this morning’s walk and had fun with a group of local fishermen.
But apart from the beach, I don’t think there is much to do in Kuakata, mostly in terms of photography. And the beach is nice early morning and late afternoon, but I think there is nothing much to do for the rest of the day. So I decided to head back to Barisal, and then back to Dhaka.
I found a bus (VIP this time!) to bring me back to Barisal city. From there, I went back to the ghat where the big boats could take me back to Dhaka. Once again, the boats were leaving Barisal at 9 pm. So I bought my ticket, left my bag in my cabin, and walked the streets in the evening for more local food.
Back in Dhaka
The boat arrived in Dhaka at 5.30 am (these guys were really on time!) and walked the streets of old Dhaka. I found some great areas including a sugar cane alleyway.
Traveling by boat on the river in Bangladesh is a fantastic way to travel, as you can save hotel nights and arrive at your location early morning to start taking photos straight away!
Traveling to Barisal: another great area of Bangladesh
If you have the opportunity to travel to Barisal, just do it! It’s another fantastic area of Bangladesh with super friendly people and a lot of activities happening! The food is fantastic and it is actually very easy to reach this place. If you travel there in the right season (rainy season), you may also be able to visit the floating guava market, which I missed. Hopefully, I will be able to visit it another time!