Bangladesh’s second city is at first a slap in the face: a teeming mess of highly polluting trucks competes with hordes of rickshaws, taxis and transport vans in a battle for every inch of available space. But after a bit of time spent here, the city’s character does reveal itself.
More interesting is the fact that Chittagong is a great gateway to some of the best regions that Bangladesh has to offer. Foremost among these is the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The undulating hills lay just a few hours drive east of Chittagong, and offer some very special trekking opportunities amidst remote villages and even more remote cultures. Also nearby Chittagong is the famous beach at Cox’s Bazaar. The beach is popular, that literally millions of Bangladeshis make the trip here every year to dip their feet in the muddy waters of the coast. Unfortunately this has made Cox’s Bazaar very crowded and busy with tourists, but by journeying further southwards towards Teknaf, the true beauty of the Teknaf Peninsula becomes clear.
For travellers, the areas surrounding G.E.C. traffic circle are the most interesting places. All the best hotels, restaurants, shopping and culture are concentrated around this traffic circle, which is probably why it’s also the busiest in town. If you need to stay in Chittagong for a short period, basing yourself here is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Rustic mountain escape with spectacular and unforgettable views of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a short drive from the port city of Chittagong in eastern Bangladesh.
Hill Top Inn
Find peace and calm in two palatial homes that share space with a lovely mango tree in a quiet upscale neighbourhood of Bangladesh’s port and trading centre, Chittagong.
Nishorgo Fardeen Eco-cottage
See the last of Bangladesh’s wild elephants at this locally owned, rustic 3-room eco-lodge located about two hours’ drive from the beach resort of Cox’s Bazaar, just opposite the gate of the Teknaf Game Reserve in Eastern Bangladesh.
Chilla of Hazrat Sultan Bayazid Bostami (Nabi Nagar, north of GEC; open: 09.00–17.00; entry free) Dozens of pilgrims come to see the giant tortoises here. The animals are believed to be evil spirits who were forced to assume their current form when they incurred the wrath of the Muslim saint Bostami, who originally hailed from Iran and visited Chittagong during the 8th century. Worshippers feed the spirits scraps of food (if you feel like participating in this ceremony, you can buy bananas and bread on the road leading up to the shrine). Once fed, the mud on the tortoises’ backs is used for ritual cleansing. It’s a curious site and definitely off the beaten track.
Zia Memorial Museum (Stadium; [open] 10.30–16.30 Sat–Wed, 15.00–20.00 Fri; entry Tk2). For a taste of recent Bangladesh history, visitors should drop by this museum which houses the radio transmitter that Zia used to declare the independence of Bangladesh. There are also photographs and background information on the man who was eventually assassinated by his own military men just a few years after he took power
Dhaba: MM Ali Rd, CDA Av, Dampara; [open] 18.30-22.00. The Chittagong branch of the Dhaka Dhabas, with the same delicious phuchkas. Popular, so go early as they sometimes run out of stock. Doesn’t open for lunch.
Bonanza: 1692 CDA Av; tel: 652079, 652564; [open] 12.00-15.00, 18.30-22.30. This restaurant does it all – Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indian & Bangla – and thankfully the quality of all them is quite good, especially the Indian selections. Polite and unobtrusive service plus white tablecloths also make this place a real standout. High prices.
One shop that is a must-stop while in Chittagong: Bishaud Bangla(792/A Mehedibagh Rd; tel: 285 4595; mob: 01713 109940) is an island of Bangladeshi culture in Chittagong. It has a well-stocked bookshop, and sells handicrafts and funky T-shirts. Come prepared with a wad of money and a few spare hours, because this is not a place you’ll want to leave quickly or empty-handed. It also serves a great array of snack food if you start to feel light-headed.
If you have any interest in the Chittagong Ship-Breaking Yards, Youth Power for Social Action, a local Chittagong-based NGO, might be able to help you have a closer look, but just bear in mind that this is hardly a ‘tourist’ thing to check out in Chittagong.
By air: From Chittagong, you can fly to/from Dhaka, although occasionally there are also flights to/from Cox’s Bazaar or Jessore as well (there is probably still not enough demand to make these regular routes so call and inquire for the latest information).
By bus: Chittagong is served by several major bus companies. Overnight coach services are available as well, but the hair-rising driving and unending Hindi music doesn’t allow for much sleep. Most of the bus stations are located on Zakir Hossain Rd near the G.E.C. circle.
By train: Travellers should check the useful Bangladesh Railways website to figure out which train they need before heading to the station. The station is located on Station Road, in the heart of Chittagong and easily access by baby taxi from GEC Circle or Agrabad. The ticket windows are open whenever the trains are running.
Chittagong is cheaper than in Dhaka to get around. A CNG, (green baby taxi) ride from the port area to GEC Circle should cost Tk50–70, and between Agrabad and GEC about the same. Many locals use rickshaws to get between places in the city, although the presence of hills means that your rickshaw wallah might be working a little harder than expected. The usual ‘one taka per minute’ rule applies for rickshaw rides.