This is my last full day in Dili and I don’t have much to do so I thought I’d rattle off a few of the things I’ve found out and some of the places I’ve been. It’s been a great stay and, allowing for the peace holding out here, I definitely recommend it as a place to visit.
Several times I have been asked who I’m working for here and the response to “nobody – I’m a tourist” is still interesting, and usually incredulous. I don’t think the people here realise what a beautiful country they have. It just needs time and care to become an excellent holiday destination. Right now, it’s ripe for backpacking and not as expensive as has been made out as long as you know where to look.
The cheapest place to stay at $10 for a dorm bunk is the Dili Backpackers. They can be contacted on +670 7238121. As far as I’m aware they have no email address. If you happen to visit the Lavalon Bar in Kupang on your way here, the owner there can send a text message to Rita to let her know you’re after a room. It’s well worth booking in advance as it can fill up. You could then be looking at $40 upwards elsewhere.
There is an ANZ ATM at the Tiger garage down the road from the backpackers which does not charge a fee for withdrawals and accepts foreign ATM cards. It’s the only one I spotted which will take non-East Timorese cards, but it does run dry on occasion as a result.
There’s a Western Union down Albeaqueque – come out of the hostel, turn left and walk past the roundabout. Take the next street down on the right and it’s on the next corner you come to after lots of shops.
I found the Post Office this morning, but it was closed – I was told to go back either in two hours or at 2:00. My Portuguese isn’t too good! Katherine used them to send a package home and said the staff were very helpful. To find it, walk east along the main coast road past the Hotel Timor and the government building with the flags all around the courtyard. Just after this, take a right and then your first left. The PO is in the building on the corner – it’s name is in Portuguese but the symbol is of a bull’s horns and eyes. To send a postcard costs 75c.
You’ll need these if you’re getting a visa here. Don’t forget that the Indonesia application requires a photograph with a RED background.
There are two Fuji shops that I found. One just along from the Post Office (see above), one along the road from the Western Union – if you’re heading south to the WU, take a left at that corner. Look for the big circular sign.
$4 will get you the pics within minutes, $2 if you can wait a couple of days.
The backpackers’ rents motorcycles for $25 per day, though I used the Tiger garage as their bikes are apparently better maintained. Also, if something goes wrong (like the burst tyre I had), Tiger will generally fix it for free. I’d assume this isn’t the case if you ram it into a tree, though. They’re also $25 for a fully-fledged motorbike or around 1600cc, or $20 for a smaller automatic scooter. Yes, they also include a good helmet. All you need is the cash and a passport (or a photocopy of one).
Taxis are cheap, but don’t have meters. Generally, the drivers are pretty nice and don’t rip you off. To get to Dili Rock, around 15 minutes to the west of town, was $3. Little Pattaya to the east was $2. There aren’t any motos (flag-downable motorcycles as in Vietnam and Bangkok) as far as I could tell, just cars.
For longer distances, mikrolets seem to be the way to go. I didn’t use one, but they run regularly along major routes and are very cheap as they’re usually crammed full.
Getting in and out of East Timor is either very expensive (currently $230+ for a one-way flight to Denpasar in Bali) or pretty cheap ($20 gets you a bus to Kupang from Timor Travel). Note that if you leave by bus you MUST get an Indonesian visa here first as they don’t issue them on the border.
Timor Travel is not easy to find and it’s on a one-way street which makes it more awkward if you’re getting there by motorbike or taxi. Locate the stadium. You want to drive east along the south end of the stadium until you reach the shops. Look on your right hand side for a SMALL yellow sign, just on one corner, I think the second right. They’re very friendly and helpful and will pick you up from the hostel on the way out of town. The bus leaves their office at 8am and usually gets to the backpackers’ between 8:30am and 9:00am.
Book your flight from Kupang to Denpasar at the Merpati office just outside of town. Head west about 1.5km and there’s a “mall” – basically a restaurant, the airline, and a supermarket. They’ll charge you the exact price of the ticket you see quoted online plus 20,000 Rupiah ($2) booking fee. You don’t pay at the counter, but take your confirmation to the office at the airport in Kupang at least 3 hours before flying, and pay in Rupiah.
Of course, you can also get the ferry from Kupang to Bali, Flores or other islands if you’re continuing your journey that way. They are infrequent and packed to the rafters from what I gather, so don’t expect to travel in comfort.
It is possible to leave East Timor by boat – but very difficult and likely very expensive. Only cargo ships make the trip to Australia and it is very hard to book passage on these. Good luck if you’re trying.
Diving in East Timor is comparatively expensive if you’re used to the prices in Thailand, Borneo and so forth.
There are a few dive shops in Dili, though I dived privately with Andrew Zeelie who’s generally available on weekends and public holidays. He can sometimes swing weekdays, as well. Andy’s by far the cheapest option at $30 per dive, all in. If you do two dives, he even includes a light lunch. As a certified PADI Instructor, he can also put you through any basic courses you’re after.
Andrew can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 7405266 until May 2010 or thereabouts.
Of the dive shops, Dive Timor Larosae is the one Andrew recommended. If you want to do anything off a boat, they’re worth the effort but do check prices as they vary depending on size of party, day of week, time of year and so on.
One person told me they had an issue with Free Flow and that as such they would not recommend them (but see FF’s comments below, for completeness and both points of view, and the new post that Wayne from Free Flow insisted I put up – I have also reworded the non-bracketed part of this paragraph. Good grief).
The cheapest internet I found was across the road and a little ways east (about 50m) from the hostel. It’s inside a college, but has a huge banner on the outside wall. It’s just before the Sands Motel. $1 per hour (actually 25c per 15 mins or part thereof) for the cheaper machines near the door, more for the ones at the back. Speed varies depending on how many people are there and what way the wind’s blowing, but I found it generally good around 8-10pm when it was quiet. They have a very cold fridge as well and the drinks are reasonably priced. There is a “high speed” place at the Tiger garage, but it’s $6 per hour.
At present, the printer at the cheap place isn’t working. I used Global Net on Rua Jacinto Candido Caicoli who charged me 25c per black and white sheet. Locate the north west corner of the stadium. Head west from here and you’ll see it on your left after about 100m.
I don’t know about anyone else, but my “3” phone from the UK won’t attach to a network here. I don’t know if it’s the lack of 3G or no compatible network, but it simply can’t find something to connect to.
SIM cards (and indeed phones) can be bought from Timor Telecom shops and topup vouchers from many street traders. The SIM is only around $2, but you need a passport or ID card to purchase and register it. One volunteer told me that he was receiving update messages from the UN (not a bad idea) and thinks it’s as a result of registering the SIM with a foreign passport – Timor Telecom passed his details to the UN who add him to the list to be informed of goings-on.
Where do you eat? Well, what do you want? There’s an Indian across the road and about 50m to your right as you exit the hostel which was very good. A small main with a nan bread and Coke will set you back about $5. The Indian at the front of the hostel apparently isn’t up to much but is fine if you don’t want to walk.
Wilton Bakeshoppe on Rua Jacinto Candido Caicoli (see directions to Global Net above) is excellent. The food’s good, the chap who runs it is super friendly and the prices are low enough. Eat in or take away. Do note that the drinks cost more than any of the food. They also do custom birthday cakes!
There’s another bakery right at the top of Albequeque, which is much nearer the hostel. A lot of other general stores also do pastries and the like and can be a little cheaper though have less variety. A good example is down Rua Colmera where you’ll see a few.
Fancy going western? Tiger Garage has a pizza place at the back with prices from $8. They’re good, too. Or Brothers Hamburger about 200m towards town from the hostel on your right do pretty darn good burgers, wraps, dippers and so on. $3.50 gets you a regular meal, $4.50 for a large. Watch them pour the Coke into your cup from cans out of the fridge! They also do rice and noodles for $2 or so.
There are some lovely restaurants around and the one we went to was Little Pattaya. Head east out of town along the coast. And keep going. There are about four restaurants in a row and Little Pattaya is the third, I think. Sai Gon is the next one. As the name suggests LP specialises in Thai, but it also has Lebanese and traditional western dishes like fish and chips, steaks and the like. The prices look steep, but the portions are very generous indeed, and the quality superb. It’s a beautiful place to sit and eat as the sun goes down. I’m sure the neighbouring eateries are worth a visit also.
I didn’t go there, but the Dili Beach Bar seems to do cheap food deals on occasion. Head out the hostel to the right and past Tiger. Turn right and walk right down to the beach, then left and keep going. $8 eat all you can for pizza and pasta sounds good.
Of course, there are many warung around which sell Indonesian food at very low prices. And there’s a Japanese restaurant called Wasabie about a block closer to town than the hostel. You’re not short of options!
On the whole, I’ve found Dili to both feel and be very safe, even late at night. All this nonsense on government websites about “only visit if strictly necessary” is nonsense right now. However, the UN are set to withdraw in 2012, I believe. That will be a tricky time for East Timor – it could either settle or just blow right up again. Do check for recent news, though. It is a changeable country.
Petty crime is rare, but heard of. One volunteer was the victim of an attempted bag snatch a week or so ago, but this was the first time anyone in her circle had heard of such a thing and some of them have been here for months. As a general rule, as anywhere, always carry shoulder bags with the strap over your head so that it can’t simply be snatched. Keep purses at the bottom of bags, watch your backpacks, keep a hand on your wallet. It’s safer than Thailand or Vietnam as far as I can ascertain, but where there are people there are dishonest people.
If you do see a large political or agitated gathering, steer clear. If you happen to be near the park on a Friday night and hear music – this is not a “gathering” this is a weekly concert. Go and enjoy it! Chances are you’ll end up chatting to some locals who want to improve their English.