Exploring Timor-Leste, one of the most recently formed countries in the world, and often cited as the least visited among South East Asia, I was excited to see what this place had to offer.
Flying into Kupang, Indonesia is the closest you will get, unless you fly direct into Dili International. Those flights as I found out, were very expensive, unless you were making the short journey across the water to Darwin, Australia. Still, getting to Kupang, which is on the same island as Timor-Leste, puts you twelve hours out of reaching the capital.
But, the journey isn’t supposed to be easy, so I was ready for the task. The most difficult item was actually applying for an authorization letter ahead of time, and after getting it approved, you can get a visa on arrival at the border. Had I known that, I would have applied in the embassy of Timor-Leste in Bali.
This meant going to the embassy in Kupang and applying there. Luckily, it was a pleasant experience. I didn’t have all the forms I needed, but was able to email the correct confirmations. The embassy workers were all very friendly, and by asking nicely, I got my letter in one day, as opposed to three working days, which is the norm.
After getting my letter of approval on Friday, I was set to catch the bus the next morning at 4:30am. It was a going to be a long day, but luckily I made some friends on the bus and that made the journey quicker.
On the way, we drove through windy mountain roads, and passed through many cities. I could see the water on the way much of the time. And as importantly noted, the roads on the Indonesia side (for about five hours) were all very smooth. But that changed immediately after making it to Timor-Leste.
The border crossing itself was easy. Stamp out of indonesia, then walk through no-man’s land in the middle along side a beach, which surprisingly had a lot of locals during the heat of the day. Then make it to Timor-Leste side and notice the difference immediately. We had switched buses with the same company, but the TL bus was a lot older and rougher looking. The roads (which was almost seven hours of the journey) went through dirt-made highways and we passed through areas of thatched shacks. It was a lot poorer than Indonesia.
Even though I had only a few days here, I took things slow. Making it to Cristo Rei (the famous hike in the country), then going up to Dare (a small church town in the mountains), exploring Dili and feeding some five meter saltwater crocodiles. I think I explored a good amount of things.
But with any travel, the best part was the people. So many nice and friendly locals, even in the face of the poverty and economic underdevelopment they face. Through the war – ending in 2002 with their independence – where almost a quarter of the population was killed or displaced, they were still all fairly happy. I don’t know of a more resilient people. Almost twenty years later and they have moved on ahead with their lives. Many people invited me to see other parts of the country, which I would have done, if I had more time. Other locals were just happy to talk to a foreigner. And so, perhaps Timor-Leste needs a second visit, with more time and a desire to see more.