A quick guide to Dili
Contents: getting there, getting to your accommodation, prices of consumables, consular services, internet, banks, supermarkets, post, attractions in and around Dili, overland travel to West Timor
by Matt Kemp
Other than crossing the border from West Timor into East Timor at Mutain, the only other way for most people who don't own a yacht is to take an Air North flight from Darwin , Australia . Air North flies to Dili twice a day ( 7am and 4pm ). The flight takes 90 minutes and costs $350 Australian.
On arrival at Lobatu International airport you walk across the tarmac and queue to get your visa. Although you should check, I believe that holders of Portuguese passports do not have to pay for a visa. All others are eligible for a visa on arrival at a cost of $30US. It is possible to use Australian currency to buy your visa, but you will be given a pretty crappy rate of exchange.
Once you have your visa you clear immigration and collect your bags before clearing customs. On the customs form there is a question stating something like "are you in possession of more than $300US in goods or currency". The question really should read "are you in possession of more than $300US in goods or currency that are gifts or for commercial purposes". That is what the customs guys think the question means.
(I found this out the hard way and spent nearly 2 hours in a shitty office at the back of the airport convincing the customs guys that I wasn't going to sell my camera and shoes in Dili so they wouldn't tax me $200US on my stuff).
The simple message here is don't tick the box, don't declare anything.
Getting to your accommodation
Once you are outside the terminal your next task is to get into town, which is about a 10 minute ride in a car. There are two ways to do this, the cheap way and the expensive way.
Expensive way : Follow the instructions for the cheap way but take a taxi from the rank. The fare into the city (anywhere in the city) is $5US and taxis aren't metered. As for below try to have the correct fare.
Cheap way : Saddle up your stuff and follow the road away from the airport out to the main road until you get to the roundabout with the big monument thing in the middle. Turn left and start walking. Once you are about 50m clear of the roundabout drop your bags and wait for a mikrolet. The mikrolet is the Dili version of the Indonesian bemo. In Dili the mikrolets follow prescribed routes. A number 10 mikrolet is the one you want. You shouldn't have to wait more than about 2 minutes for one to turn up, although they are much less common after 6pm .
Your next move depends on where you want to stay. There are two guesthouses catering for backpackers in Dili at the moment. One is very good. The other is very good if the former is full and you like being serenaded by rats as you go to sleep.
East Timor Backpackers is run by a friendly, chain-smoking Aussie electrician named Henry who turned up in Dili in 2000 to make some bucks when the NGO's were throwing a lot of cash around and hasn't left since.
East Timor Backpackers used to be at 231 Estrada De Balide in Matadouro, but due to problems with the landlord it is now located next to the old Malaysian embassy on Rua Almiranta Americo Thomas, Maudarin. Conveniently, Rua Almiranta Americo is the road that mikrolet 10 takes to get from the airport to the city. When you see the Tiger Petroleum Station on the left hand side of the road bang your hand (or a coin) against the bar on the ceiling of the mikrolet and the driver will stop and let you out. The standard fare in September 2005 for a mikrolet trip anywhere in the city is 10 centavos per person, which is exactly the same as 10 US cents (and you can use either centavos or US coins). However as you have some luggage 20 centavos is probably fair. Don't expect the door guy to be able to break a $50 note either....bring some $1US notes.
There was a rumour that the Tiger Station was going to be closed in the near future, but it should be pretty obvious for the next while at least. From here keep walking into town until you come to a house just before the next corner with a bright pink fence and about 8 motor bikes in varying states of repair parked along the drive. This is East Timor Backpackers. If you come late at night and the gate is padlocked, vault the fence and ignore Bossy (the loud but harmless dog) and go looking for Henry or Lisa.
Depending on what is available you can get a bed from $8US a night per person, which in Dili is a bargain, especially when you take into account East Timor Backpackers has free washing machines, TV, DVD, bbq, kitted out kitchen, garden, flush toilets and HOT WATER.
Henry also has motorbikes you can hire, assuming that Henry's local help guy Manuel (who has a number of similarities with the Fawlty Towers character of the same name) has got his act together and fixed some of the bikes up. If you want to book ahead you can call Henry on +6707238121.
Accommodation option number two is the Dili Guest House. This is located on Avenda Bispo de Medeiros, just past the roundabout on the left hand side of the road.
To get here stay on the mikrolet, which will continue along the waterfront. Get off the mikrolet when you see the very large government building on Avenda Alves Aldeia, and pay the same fare as for East Timor Backpackers. At the far end of the building turn right away from the harbour and walk along the leafy Avenda Bispo de Medeiros, past the stadium on your left and straight across the roundabout. Continue along about 80 metres (the pavement is in really bad condition and there are some pylon obstacles for you to dodge, so do like the locals and walk along the side of the road) until you see the Dili Guesthouse sign on your left and go up the driveway where you will be met by John or one of his many children who run the place when he isn't there.
Dili Guesthouse has seen better days, although a room is $6US per person per night with breakfast thrown in. The bathrooms are pretty grim, but we survived there for our first couple of days in Dili. If you stay for 4 - 5 days you can negotiate a discount and John is happy to store your bags for you if you want to do trips out to somewhere like Jako Island .
There are a number of other hotels in Dili but they generally start at about $30US per night and move rapidly upwards.
Prices of Consumables
Water : (large bottle) $0.50
Coke : (335mL can) $1.35 (Diet Coke is about $2 for a 335mL can)
Beer (Tiger, Can) : $1.35 (NB, although the 650mL bottles of Buffalo and Lion Beer at the Lida Supermarket may look tempting at $1.50, there is a reason it's cheap...you do get a banging headache with each glass).
Cigarettes (LA / Sampoerna / Gudang Garam International) : $1US per packet, although less at the traditional market. Marlboro's etc are more expensive.
Sunscreen : (Bi-Lo SPF 30+) $7US. Classier brands like Nivea and Banana Boat are about twice the price.
Mosquito Coils (Tiger Roda) : $0.25
750mL bottle of Jim Beam : $19 (from the supermarket opposite the stadium, about $21 at the Lida. If you want to drink spirits in Indonesia then buy them here, as they are both difficult to find and stupidly expensive in Indonesia )
Food : In a warung like Depot Mie Ayam (opposite the stadium) you can get Nasi, a small fish and some vegetable for about $1. City Cafe does an all you can eat buffet for about $6. Satay sticks from a hawker stall are $0.10 each. I'm not going to make a list of warung as they are all over the place and mostly offer the same food for the same price. That said, Depot Mie Ayam is a good starting point for warung dining if you are new to it as the lady owner is friendly, helpful and speaks good english.
The Lucky Cake House (just before the stadium on Avenda Bispo de Mederios) is the best bakery in town.
If you are after seafood head down past the lighthouse on Avenda de Portugal after dusk to where the seafood hawkers setup shop.
For a small country, East Timor has a large number of diplomatic missions including the USA , Australia , New Zealand , Britain , Brazil , Indonesia , Korea , China and Portugal . Most consulates / embassies are along the waterfront on Avenda de Portugal.
Internet is quite expensive and slow in East Timor . There is a pretty decent place about 100m along Rua Jacinto de Candido from the corner of Avenda Bispo de Medeiros. Cost is $6/hr and they have USB support.
The cheaper option (although it is best during the day as it is really slow at night) is the internet room at the back of the 'Timor Post' (as in newspaper, not postal service) Office. To get there start at East Timor Backpackers and walk across the park on the other side of the road where you will see the 'Timor Post' sign on a building. Walk down the rutted driveway to the left of the building (avoiding the coils of barbed wire along each side) and turn right. Internet costs $0.75/hr although it can be booked up with a class. If you are interested, the large building at the end of the driveway is a coffee packing and drying house and you can have a look around if you ask.
The ANZ has a branch and two ATM's in Dili. The branch and one of the ATM's is in a new location on Rua Presidente Nicolau Lobatu past city cafe (i.e. it is not where the guide books say it is). The second ANZ ATM is tucked away in the back of the large supermarket on the right hand side of the road as you drive out to the airport.
The Indonesian Bank Mandiri is also in town (Rue Presidente Nicolau Lobatu) and apparently also has an ATM. Unfortunately they only rarely have Rupiah to sell and then only if they like the look of you. Between 10am and noon appears (for some reason) to be the best time. Western Union has an office on the corner of Rua Presidente Nicolau Loabtu and Estrada Balide
There are a couple of smaller stores on Avenda Bispo de Medeiros, opposite the stadium. These places have a pretty good selection and, surprisingly, the cheapest prices in town.
The favourite expat supermarket in the central city is the Lida supermarket about 600 meters further along the waterfront past the large government building. Here the selection is better but the prices are higher.
The post office is located on the corner of Avenda Bispo de Mederios and Rue Presidente Nicolau Lobato. Post cards are about a $1US, as is postage.
Attractions in and Around Dili
1) The Santa Cruz Cemetary, Rua Santa Cruz , Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Cemetary was the site of a massacre at the hands of the Indonesian security forces in the early 1990's and marked the 'beginning of the end' for the Indonesian occupation, especially as the massacre was captured on film by a British journalist. Today it is a peaceful collection of large, ornate tombstones and crypts in varying states of repair.
2) The Jesus Statue, Cape Fatacuma
Apparently built by the Indonesians to impress Pope John Paul II when he visited about 10 years ago, the stations of the cross and the statue itself are starting to look a bit worn, but the view from the top is brilliant and it is very peaceful. Local school kids also appear to favour the statue as a good place to bunk school.
There are two beaches close to Dili, Aria Branca or Pasir Putih (also formerly known as dollar beach, the admission price the locals used to charge tourists before the practice was stamped out) and the Jesus Backside Beach .
To get there flag a taxi and ask for Pasir Putih. The standard fare is $2US each way for the 10 minute trip. Pasir Putih is good for swimming and has fair snorkeling further out. It is best to visit at high tide.
To get to the Jesus Backside Beach walk up the stairs to the statue. When you get to the final station of the cross follow the track down the side of the hill. This beach also has fair snorkeling and is less affected by tide, but can also be rougher when the wind comes up in the afternoon.
To get back to Dili start walking along the road and a taxi will usually turn up before you've gone much more than 500 metres.
4) The Xanana Reading Room
An interesting place to spend an afternoon reading books about the recent history of East Timor . The also have a collection of videos with a very good '60 minutes' type documentary filmed during the violent days after the independence vote in 1999 / 2000. The reading room also has internet and a selection of foreign newspapers and magazines.
The traditional market on Avenda Almirante Americo Thomas (out past the Tiger Petroleum Station on the way to the airport) is a large sprawling open air / enclosed market selling pretty much everything from chickens to spark plugs. Of note here is cheap cigarettes, local coffee and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
6) Atauro Island
Atauro Island lies directly offshore from Dili and was the final home of the Portuguese Colonial Administration when the East Timorese had their first shot at independence in 1975 (the Indonesians subsequently invaded about 30 days later and stayed until 1999).
Atauro is supposed to be quite scenic with bush walks, a couple of villages and a small mountain you can climb. For accommodation there is an eco-lodge and several other smaller options. Getting there (and back) is currently a little problematic as the ferry runs once a week, or rather is supposed to run once a week assuming the government doesn't commandeer it. It is possible to get a ride out on a dive boat for about $50US per person each way, and you can charter a boat (for upwards of $250 each way) from the Harbour View Cafe.
7) Day Trips to Aileu and Maubisse
This is a great day trip on a motor bike (assuming you can get a bike that actually works properly). The hill climb out of Dili is quite steep and winding (with lots of fun obstacles like snakes, chickens, dog sleeping on the road and the odd lorry) but affords fantastic views of the city, the coast and the interior of the island. Make sure you get a bike with plenty of power (200cc for two people is ok) and make sure there is enough gas in the tank to get you through to Aileu, which is about 50km away.
Maubisse (we didn't make it all the way there as we had the Manuel factor to contend with) is supposed to be a good place to look at coffee plantations and by repute is quite pretty.
If you are going to make a day of it get up and go early as playing 'find the pothole / goat' with your bike at 60km/hr in the dark on a cliff-side road isn't a recipe for a good time.
Overland travel to West Timor
(NB there are plenty of ways of doing a single trip. For accuracy I will only detail the methods we actually used, although if we investigated an option and chose another I will mention it as a possibility)
We used a company called Lifau Travel who have an office at the Avenda Bispo de Medeiros end of Jl. Bemori (phone +677244314). The ticket costs $17US for a seat on a comfortable shuttle bus with air con and the stereo set at a surprisingly comfortable level. You also get a couple of snack boxes along the way.
The shuttle will pick you up from your guesthouse at 8.30am . From Dili it is a comfortable 90-minute drive out to the Indonesian border at Mutain. You get off the bus on the East Timor side and carry your bags over to the customs booth for a quick bag search and passport check. You then get back in the van and drive up to the immigration booth where you are stamped out of East Timor . Get back in the van again and you are driven up to the bridge which is a sort of 'no mans land' between East Timor and Indonesia . The border zone is refreshingly free of pickpockets and touts.
Walk acros the bridge to the first Indonesian building on the left where your passport will be examined and the soldiers might check your bag if they can be bothered. Next stop is the office next door to declare any medicines that you might be carrying.
From here walk about 100m to the Immigration Office, a small building with a couple of stalls next to it and a couple of guys who will change USD into Rupiah.
Note that visa's are NOT issued at this border. You can get one in Dili (it takes about 5 days, at a cost of $30US, although it is better to get one in your home country as the staff at this embassy don't have a terribly good reputation).
Fill in your immigration forms, smile nicely, give the guy your passport, $2 per passport processed as a 'gift' (you could complain but they'd probably just decline you entry and send you back to Dili) and you're done. The immigration office has a toilet that you can use.
After the processing is complete walk about 100m to the bus park on the right hand side of the road where you will be met by another Lifau bus.
The next stop is Atatumbua, about an hours drive where you stop for lunch at a warung. Grab some water because this is the last stop before Kupang which is about 6 - 7 hours away. All going well you should arrive in Kupang at about 8pm and the shuttle will drop you off at your hotel of choice.
In honesty I'm not overly keen on buying 'tourist bus' tickets in Asia (or paying for any sort of trasport before I actually arrive) as it usually involves a lot of waiting, messing around and being sold to half a dozen other drivers enroute. It's also good fun working out how to get there yourself. This time however, I unreservedly recommend taking a Lifau Bus. Especially as the Indonesia / East Timor border, whilst safe during the day time, is still not somewhere you want to have to hang around sorting onward transport.
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