Ask anyone where the world’s longest and, arguably, most beautiful natural beach is located, and the chances are they’d say somewhere in the Caribbean, Australia, Brazil or maybe New Zealand.
They’d be wrong. The world’s longest stretch of sand is, in fact, located in the southernmost tip of Bangladesh on the Bay of Bengal at the fishing port of Cox’s Bazaar. Designated as one of the seven new wonders of the world the silvery sands, known as Palongkee or “yellow flower,” slope down from a fringe of forest to a shining sea and stretch for over 93 miles.
In spite of its considerable beauty, Cox’s Bazaar has yet to become an international tourist hotspot. At home, it’s a different story. During the winter months around 10,000 rooms in the hotels remain occupied almost seven days a week due to the huge influx of Bangladeshi natives and visitors from neighbouring countries.
The area's is well-equipped to welcome an international market; hotels catering for all budgets are in abundance with the gleaming and sleek 5-star Seagull and Hotel Sea Palace leading the way in terms of luxury, beach front position, cleanliness and cuisine. Night life may not be swinging yet, but there are many restaurants serving Bangladeshi, European Chinese and Thai cuisine and fresh seafood is a major source of revenue.
When we arrived, in early November, it was a week before the start of the high season and the place was all but deserted. From dusty Dhaka, the road trip to Cox’s Bazar had taken 18 hours of hard driving (we’d been warned against taking the rickety planes which operate two or three times a day from Dhaka). Our journey was not for the fainthearted; kamikaze coaches and lorries are par for the course on potholed Bangladeshi roads and our safe arrival was down to the considerable skills of our driver, Selim.
But what an arrival! Through the waving branches of the Tamarik forest, planted after the end of British rule to protect the town from tidal waves, we wandered down to a panoramic, jaw droppingly vast vista of sea, beach and sky that seemed to stretch into infinity.
A neat line of beach loungers topped with umbrellas looked out to a blue sea sprinkled with dhows and boats; the shore dotted with shell painters, fruit and drink vendors, fishermen, a few tourists and the odd horse or two. The only sound was the rise and fall of the waves and the distant phut-phut of quad bikes as they rode back and forth along the crest of the sand.
As we were staying at the Hotel Seagull, we had access to a private beach and the services of a personal guard, who was of more use getting rid of unwanted hawkers than in fighting off more threatening interlopers (fortunately absent). The sea was perfectly warm, clean and shark-free – what more could you want?
A quick quad bike ride up and down the shore and a fully clothed dip and, having purchased an inordinate amount of shell jewellery, it was time to contemplate the horizon and relax – a little known luxury in Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazaar is named after Captain Hiram Cox; a philanthropic captain in British India who earned his place in the hearts of locals after helping to rehabilitate Arakan refugees fleeing from the Burma, at the end of the 18th century. Although the entire stretch from the Bakhali River on the north and the Teknaf peninsula in the south is best known as Cox’s Bazar beach, I learned that there are three beaches to enjoy. Laboni - the main beach closest to town is the busiest in the high season; Himchari - 18km south of Cox’s Bazar, is a wild place with waterfalls, the famous ‘Broken Hills,’ The Himchari National Park rain forest has many species of animals including tigers, leopards, Sloth bears and elephants which inhabit the Himchari National Park rain forest. Finally, Inani beach in the south is known for its more golden sands strewn with rocks and coral, a peaceful lagoon and tall palm trees against a backdrop of lush, green hills.
With more time available, there’s also plenty of scope for island hopping. Saint Martins, the most famous of these, lies five miles south of Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula. It is the only coral island in Bangladesh and home to many turtles. A good centre for snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing, the island is accessible by a three hour ferry trip from Teknaf and there are several hotels and guesthouses for an overnight stay.
On the last day of our visit, we travelled southwards along the spectacular coast towards Teknaf and the borders of Myanmar, stopping en-route to visit Daria Naga where 14-year-old freelance guide, Moyna Akhther led us through a natural gorge, grotto and up to a panoramic view point. From there, the far-reaching vista was one of untamed natural beauty. Cox’s Bazar is a holiday destination, unparalleled anywhere in the world and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world discovers it - make sure you get there first.
Recommended Hotel at Cox’s Bazar: Seagull Hotel, +88 02 8322973-6+88 02 8322973-6