In my last post, I called Timor Leste “Frustratingly Fantastic”. The following post may seem extremely negative on Timor Leste, but I’m so happy I had a chance to visit the country and would definitely consider going back someday. These are my Timor Leste Travel Tips…
- The official currency is the US dollar. They accept all denominations from $1 up. Timor Leste prints it’s own coins of denominations of 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents and 1 dollar.
- Change can be a problem. For example, if something costs $6, you may not be able to pay with a $10 bill.
- Consider bringing extra US dollars. I brought enough for my whole trip but one woman who only brought $70, enough to get her visa and 2 nights at the hostel, was borrowing money from me when none of the ATMs in the center of the city had money. If all ATMs are out, the best ATM to use is at the fancy Timor Plaza mall outside of the center.
- If planning to take public transportation around the country, add a few days of time to your trip to reduce worry. You may be stuck in a place for a night without transport.
Public Transportation is incredibly cheap but maddening. The average bus ride is only $1 per 1 hour of riding. But there are no logistics since there are multiple private companies that all charge the same price. At Becora station in Dili, there were several buses headed to Baucau. We got on one that had a few other passengers. We waited for 2 hours and 15 minutes before the bus had nearly filled up before going. In Los Palos, I was told the bus for Dili would leave “at 4:00 to 5:00 in the morning”. Wanting to catch an early bus to have more time in Dili, I got to the bus just after 4 am. Then we proceeded to drive circles around Los Palos looking for more passengers for the next two hours! At least I picked the best seat behind the driver with great coastal views and extra legroom and the bus wasn’t completely full.
- See if your bus will drop you at your destination. The international bus from Kupang to Dili dropped every local at their destination before dropping us at the station rather than our hostel. In arriving at the Becora bus station in Dili from Los Palos, all of the locals stayed on but I was told to get off the bus. I think the drivers just don’t want to deal with foreigners and not being able to speak Tetun but insist if you must.
- Travel light. If traveling outside of Dili, consider packing a smaller bag because some buses are jam packed. The walk to Valu/Jaco Island would be so difficult with a large bag.
- Beware the main bus stations. The local guys are trying to get you to get on the bus that they earn a small commission (how big can it be, our ride to Baucau was $4?) They will even grab your bags and start walking off with them. I held my bags tightly and gave a light push when they got too close. I’m bigger than most Timorese men, so that helped.
- Ask a local rider what the cost of transportation should be. There were a couple occasions where the driver tried to overcharge us.
- Pay for transportation at the end of the ride. We paid for our boat to Jaco Island at the start and they didn’t pick us up on time. We were lucky there was a group of 4 Australians (the only other tourists that day) on the island and we caught a ride with them.
- In Dili, avoid the yellow taxis if you can. They are old, dirty, and try to overcharge. They are not helpful with directions. Funny story: when the shuttle from West Timor refused to drop us at the hotel, we started walking on non-marked roads. None of the locals could give us good directions so finally we got in a yellow taxi who claimed he knew where the hostel was and he wanted $10. We knew it couldn’t be far so offered $2. We drove about 10 feet when I looked to the left and saw the sign “Dili Central Backpackers” and yelled “STOP!”.
- Traveling with just English is difficult. If you don’t speak Tetum (the local’s language), it’s extremely useful to speak Portuguese or even Bahsa Indonesian.
- Consider alternative accommodation.
- You may lack sleep in Timor-Leste. Sleep is interrupted by high winds, rain, buses honking at 4am looking for passengers, and many, many roosters.
- As the newest Asian country, it’s having growing pains.
- People are not as friendly and helpful as Indonesians. But, if you speak fluent Portuguese or Tetum they are much more helpful. That being said, we met some wonderful, friendly, and helpful Timorese.
- Some of the younger children are generally shy and scared of Malae (foreigners). The rumor is that they were told by the mothers that if a Malae takes their photo or touches them they will be kidnapped. But most of the older kids were really friendly.
- The people in the east, which also happens to be the wettest and most lush area, are generally taller and healthier than those in other areas. There is also healthier livestock there. For the average Timorese citizen, the diet consists of rice and vegetables. Leaves are one of the major vegetable sources, including leaves of the cassava plant.
- Water security is scarce.
- There is so much charitable aid in Timor Leste. I counted dozens of offices and trucks with government agencies and NGOs around Dili and the rest of the country. Way more than in West Timor (Indonesia)
- Most of the Television stations are from Indonesia, so the children speak better Bahsa Indonesian instead of Portuguese, the official language.
- China is pumping an incredible amount of money into TL’s infrastructure. They are widening and fixing the drainage on the highway that runs the length of the northern coast. Local speculation is that they want to build a naval base on Atauro Island. On most days, you can see Indonesia and Darwin, Australia from parts of Timor.
- All of the larger shops and many hotels are Chinese or Chinese/Timorese owned. Consider this when deciding where to spend your tourism dollars.