Picture of man in pink shirt seeing from his back, holding a pole with pink cotton candy in plastic wrap on display.

Cox’s Bazar is known as a refugee camp—but it’s also a popular vacation site

Before Cox’s Bazar became home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, it was Bangladesh’s favorite vacation spot and still provides a classic day at the beach for tourists.

A cotton candy vendor plies his fluffy wares at Cox’s Bazar, a roughly 60-mile stretch of beach on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh.

To those outside Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar is the world’s largest refugee camp, home to nearly a million exiled Rohingya who fled what the United States has declared a genocide in neighboring Myanmar. But many Bangladeshis know Cox’s Bazar as a favorite tourist destination—and as one of the world’s longest natural sand beaches, hemming about 60 miles of shoreline along the Bay of Bengal.

These disparate Cox’s Bazars are separated by a ridge of hills and checkpoints that place the beach and the refugee camp in “two different worlds,” says Ismail Ferdous. He knows both well. One of Ferdous’s earliest memories is of riding a train to Cox’s Bazar for a family beach vacation. More recently, as a photographer, he has documented the Rohingya crisis.

On a winter’s day early in 2020, Ferdous took a break from working at the camp to walk along the beach, 18 miles away. The temperature topped 100°F, and the shore was packed. Sprawled or strolling along the beach were garment workers, telecom executives, street vendors, and madrassa students. Some had ridden 10 to 15 hours on an overnight bus just to spend the afternoon in the water.

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