The Democratic Republic of Timor Leste is Southeast Asia's youngest.
Like my home country the Philippines, it is further afield from the banana pancake circuit. Its lack of tourism however is partly blamed on recent years of oppression and turmoil. Even with Timor Leste's almost eleven years of independence, the country is still struggling to - not get back on its feet - but find its feet.
When To Go
Dry season is from June to October. But even during the wet season, the climate is hot and humid on the low lands.
Visitors can obtain a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport for $30. Come armed with dollars.
Except for Indonesians and Portuguese, all travelers arriving at the land border must apply for the "visa application authorization" beforehand.
Commercial airlines that fly to Dili are:
Merpati Nusantara Airlines from Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. 986,000 IDR* (about $100) one way. Flight duration, 1 hour 30 minutes. Flies daily. Includes an okay meal.
Batavia Airlines from Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. $135* one way. Flies daily. Flight duration, 1 hour 30 minutes
Air Timor from Singapore. $457* one way. Flies Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Flight duration, 2 hours. Website has a cool song on loop!
Airnorth from Darwin, Australia. $290* one way. Flies six times a week. Flight duration, 1 hour 15 minutes.
*Price at the time of writing.
Cab drivers charge $5-10 for a 10 to 15-minute drive from the airport to the city center.
Portuguese and Tetum are the official languages of Timor Leste. However, Tetum is spoken by only a quarter of the population. East Timorese can also speak Bahasa Indonesia. A limited number can understand English.
Obrigado is commonly used to say thank you. Don't forget to accompany it with a smile. Knowledge of numbers in Bahasa Indonesia will help you in haggling.
More than ninety percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Timor Leste is one of the only two, the other being the Philippines, predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia.
If you're from a Southeast Asian country like me, you're most likely not terrified of Hepatitis and Rabies. But you might need to take Malaria a bit more seriously when visiting Timor Leste. In the neighborhood where we lived for eight days, we met a handful of kids with Malaria. Consequently, I slathered a thicker layer of mosquito repellant on every inch of Luna's skin every day. If you can't take an antimalarial drug prior your trip, bring a tropical strength mosquito repellant.
US dollars. Travelers are advised to arrive with US dollars in cold cash. All ATM machines belong to ANZ and can be found only in Dili. There's one on Av. Presidente Nicolao Lobato, one in Leader supermarket and one at the airport.
The country has a poor transport system. Outside Dili, you may spend hours waiting for a bus. It is important to ask locals about the schedule. But even so, schedules may change without prior notice. Roads are generally in a bad condition. And buses are often insanely packed.
Cars can easily be hired in Dili. Before you hire, be reminded that vehicles are right-hand drive. Cabs can be hired too for sightseeing. Rate for half-day rental is $40-60, depending on your destination and haggling skills and charms.
For short rides, take the mikrolet. Quickie cab rides around the city center is $1-2.
220V, 50 Hz. Schuko plug (two round pins), and Australian three-pronged plugs. Bring adaptors for both if keen on charging gadgets.
Best budget option is East Timor Backpackers. Dorm $12, single room $20, double room $25. Good location and has slow but free wifi. It's one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, in town. If you want something fancier, expect to pay about $70-$100. And that ain't even first class.
We stayed at an Aussie volunteer's home near the U.S. Embassy. Our spacious room has an aircon. Bathroom is shared. Having access to a kitchen's a big plus. The house sits in a quiet neighborhood, and has a breezy front yard. Host charges $20 for a single room and $30 for a double. Comes with toast-and-jam brekkie. Shoot an email if you'd like to contact her.
A handful of restaurants serve good intercontinental cuisine, primarily to cater UN workers and other NGO volunteers. If you're on the hunt for "authentic" Timor Leste food, come by Dili's esplanade (east of Esplanada Hotel) late afternoon where the beach is turned into an al fresco food court. Barbecue stands sell grilled chicken wings ($1), pork belly ($2.50), and fish of varying sizes. Pair these with katupa ($.50), glutinous rice with coconut milk steamed in woven palm leaves. Imported beer can be bought for $2.
Other East Timorese dishes are caril (chicken curry), tapai (fermented cassava or rice) and ikan sabuko. But eateries that sell such dishes may be difficult to find. You're more likely to stumble upon an Indonesian warung or a Filipino carinderia.
Head over to Tais Market in Dili for weaved textiles. Handmade baskets are worth a buy too but might be fragile to transport. Think twice before buying that humongous hamper.
On weekends, wood carvers sell their products along Avenida De Portugal, across Cast Away Bar. While some local merchandisers are shrewd, a few haven't really grasped the tricks of the trade. I remember buying a $12 wood-carved product and handing $20 to the seller. He suggested I take the $8 one instead because he didn't have change for it. Uhm, hello?
Sights And Activities
Sights in East Timor are mostly free to visit, if not, very cheap. There's no admission fee to enter Cristo Rei, Areia Branca Beach, Maubara Fort, Dollar Beach (though it got its name from the one dollar entrance fee that locals used to charge), Ai Pelo Prison, and Santa Cruz Cemetery. A dollar is charged to get in the Timorese Resistance Archive And Museum.
This will be further discussed on a separate post.
Darn $2 an hour.
Backpacker's budget per day: $25-$30. More if you hire a car or eat at an expat hangout where meals are $10 up.
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