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Clustered around the Buriganga River and unfolding north around Hatir Jheel lake, Dhaka's vast cityscape hums with energy. Indeed, Bangladesh's capital is brimming with life – nearly 15 million people live here and in the surrounding areas. Come here to see ancient palaces line up next to contemporary art, teetering piles in the Banglabazar Book Market and a constant surge of boats on the waterways.
Hostels in Dhaka are scattered throughout the city. You can stay in simple accommodation that helps to fund slum community projects, upscale rooms close to Dhaka's embassy district, or a cosy homestay. Some have free breakfast and others serve home-cooked food for a small fee. Stay cool in a Dhaka hostel with unlimited and free purified water, or keep fit with a mini-gym. A few Dhaka hostels have a free airport transfer service to make your journey a little simpler.
Take the pulse of this thronging city by heading to Sadarghat in Old Dhaka. This part of the river swarms with life as small boys fish from the bank while tiny wooden boats zip around stately paddle steamers. Central Dhaka is home to the finance industry, the University of Dhaka, and Baitul Mukarram, the national mosque of Bangladesh. Wealthy Gulshan has wide avenues and chic cafés, while Uttara is known for international dining. Nearby is the cultural city of Sonargaon, with its ancient ruins and museums.
See Dhaka from its hub with a river tour of the city leaving from Sadarghat. Other sights include 1,200-year-old Hindu Dhakeshwari Temple and Ahsan Manzil, a bubblegum-pink 19th-century palace – each room painstakingly restored from individual photos. At Shankhari Bazar, tour artisans' workshops filled with the scent of incense and bright marigold blooms. For a hidden escape in the city, head to the giant lily pads of Baldah Garden. This lush walled patch was a gift from the family of one of Dhaka's ubiquitous wealthy zamindar (landlords).
Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is around an hour's taxi ride from Old Dhaka (depending on traffic). You can also catch a train from Kolkata, which takes around 11 hours; or the bus, taking around 9 hours. In Dhaka, travel short distances on cycle rickshaws and use auto-rickshaws to get further afield. Buses have Bengali signage only, but if you're feeling adventurous (or can read Bengali), they're the most budget-friendly option. Dhaka's congested roads mean that walking can sometimes be the fastest way to get around.