Timor-Leste – better known as East Timor, a place where you can see endless mountains and winding roads, and so many young people under eight years old, who will smile in their young age even they still do not fully understand the recent struggle getting of independence and their place in the world. That’s how I picture this country, after I visited last time I left the Philippines. I really had no idea about this country until I stepped into it and experienced its unique beauty and charm. As they say, it does not matter where you are, but what you feel or see on your journey.

This country may not be known worldwide, but it also has the right to be recognized and valued. It is also considered as one of the least visited country by travelers. I am very fortunate to see this wonderful gem from the East.

Let me give you a brief introduction to this country.  It is just beginning as a country, and tourism is in its infancy. They acquired their independence from Indonesia only in 2002. Prior to this, they had been occupied by the Portuguese for a long time. This is like the Philippines in the occupation of Spaniards. Portuguese is the language they speak here, in addition to Tetun which is their native language. The thing that amazes me is that when you look at how far the country is from other Portuguese-speaking countries – totally opposite side of the world, but bind and has same language. Timorese, their local citizens with dark skin and are of medium stature like the Filipinos. They also have a cheerful personality that you will love on your trip to this country.

Getting a visa:

Filipinos have a really hard time getting a visa and we can’t deny that. At first, I thought I would not be able to go to this country, and that visa would be the reason for stopping that plan. Filipinos can obtain Visa Authorization at the Timor-Leste embassy based in Metro Manila. This is required before you can enter their country and be granted a visa on arrival. The cost of their tourist visa is $30 for a 30 day trip to the country – payable on arrival. Here are the necessary documents you need to prepare before obtaining Visa Authorization for Filipino nationals:

  1. Invitation Letter Address to: (with address and contact number of the inviter)

Mr. Pankrasio Silveiro, L.Ec

Immigration Attaché

  1. Photocopy of the passport of the applicant (valid not less than six months from the date entry in Timor-Leste)
  2. Photocopy of passport of the inviter
  3. Photocopy of Visa of the inviter (except Timorese)
  4. Photocopy of valid ID of the applicant and of the inviter
  5. Copy of round trip ticket
  6. Two pieces of passport size picture with colored background
  7. Copy of bank statement letter (if without invitation)
  8. Visa authorization form (A4 size)

Note: All submitted documents in long folder

Since I was going to travel to the country with a friend and I had no one in Timor-Leste who could act as an inviter, I told the local agent who arranged our tour that they were the only one who can give the invitation letter for me. They were very helpful with everything I needed. Finally, I was granted a visa authorization. It’s free of charge, just be ready your dollars for visa on arrival at the airport in Timor-Leste when you get there. Big shout-out to Timor Adventure. Know more about them here.

Pousada Maubisse

How to get there:

As a country considered untouched and accessible to many tourists, traveling to Timor-Leste is not difficult. Flying is easier if you are passing through Bali, Indonesia as it is the closest place to it and the easiest. During this trip, Bali was one of my destinations, and I decided to explore the country of Timor-Leste before Bali. You can choose between Citilink and Sriwijaya Air that both fly to the country from Denpasar, Bali. The fare to and from this country can be considerably expensive. I was once shocked at the rate of $500 flying to this country. I would say, it was one of the most expensive airfares I have ever experienced. And I am not really sure the reason behind it.

Travel to Timor-Leste: The Truth

Traveling to a country or place, especially for us Filipinos – we want to see beautiful sights, majestic and magnificent buildings, glittering open lights at night, cheap markets for shopping lovers and endless listings. However, if you visit the country of Timor-Leste and this is what you want to see, you may be mistaken. Visiting this country is the opposite of your expectations; chaotic markets, unpaved and bumpy roads that makes about half of your road trips, lack of road signs, and rubbish everywhere. Local people seem to do nothing but watch all day long for it to pass. Nevertheless, my heart was touched by the things I’ve seen here, especially the street kids, who never seemed to experience stepping into a school. In my opinion, almost half of the country’s population lives below normal poverty line.

If you are a traveler who has no interest in exploring the depths of a destination, this country may not be for you. In spite of some negative things I noticed in this country, there are also reasons that makes it stand out.  These are the positivity of the people I met in spite of their hardships: the smiles,  the warm hugs and goodbyes, and the hearts that are open to other people or foreigners like us. In the end, what makes the country more delightful – the beautiful ocean, and the rich forests.

Things you must do and visit:

Sometimes, it takes more and more time for me to be excited in one specific destination. Over time, I have learned to just wait to see what will happen. Recently, this was the case when I decided to travel to Timor-Leste, the least traveled country in Southeast Asia. Stepping into the capital – Dili is the first place you will see, since they only have one international airport. Our itinerary was to see a little of Dili, drive miles away from the capital, then across to the opposite side of the island, and then return to capital.

Let’s start the list of the things you can do in the country:

1. Pack light and walk around Balibó. Discover the memories behind the small town of Balibo. We spent the night at Balibo Fort Hotel on our first day. Here, I experienced socializing with other foreigners who checked into the area. Though this hotel is pretty basic, it has a place for everyone. I actually really enjoyed it here because of the lovely sunsets as it is also located in the upper part of the mountain. Because of the altitude, it is a bit cold here every night. And the bonfire at night was perfect on a cold night as you drank a cold beer.

Best place to chill while waiting for the sunset.
Enough for the whole group
One of the best sunset from the whole trip.

We walked around this small town the next day. We witnessed how they lived here. We were happy to see the chickens and piglets walking in their yard. This is also the place where five Australian journalists were killed during the Indonesian invasion: their residence to this day serves as a memorial. They are known as the Balibo Five.

Too cute not to include. It’s everywhere. Sad to say, some dogs are not properly taking care of. I saw some that are almost dying from hunger walking around.

2. Wander at the Indonesian Border – Batugade. It was here when I first saw a border between the two countries. It links both countries commercially. The area is surrounded by security but it is also open to tourists who want to see it. Most of the people I saw were Indonesian residents. We arrived at just the right time to visit before the hourly opening of the border. This is also the way they import products from Indonesia and is the only land border between the countries.

Trucks are piling up. Waiting for the border to open.
Obligatory post to this landmark at the border.

3. Cross the Dutch Fort at Maubara. Along the way, just around the City of Liquica is this remnant of the old times. We stopped at this old fort that still stands today. Memories from their past give color to their history.

This old fort has only one souvenir shop inside with one person in it.

4. Stumbled across Aipelo Portuguese prison. It was built during the Portuguese colonial era. Here, you can see the old stone ruins and the only remains of the prison, which served as a detention for the exiled political prisoners and other races. Some of the details written on the signs here are almost fading out of time. We were given a tour by a local elder, who is said to know the history of the area. His word is pure Tetun, which our driver and tour guide patiently translated into English.

These small houses used to be the bathroom and kitchen for the prisoners.

5. Come to see Timor Global coffee factory and Bamboo Institute. These are two of the things I can say the country is proud of. This large coffee company is one of the main supplier of coffee throughout the country. It’s nice to see that the locals work here and, despite the hard work, they still enjoy working together to develop their own products.

Different types of coffee they have.
People are sorting out good coffee from the bad.
They are drying the coffee bean under the sun.

Bamboo grows widely in Timor-Leste so the government is making an effort to collaborate with local industry. The Bamboo Institute is a manufacturer of furniture and souvenirs for sale in the country.

Machine they use to put the processed bamboo altogether.
Some of the finish products

6. Check out the local market in Maubisse. I have seen how simple the life of the Timorese were through the market. Everything is basic and easy. You often find people selling food and crops in this market, and that is probably the only way they live. I’m also glad to see some of the locals happily greet us here and you can tell they had fun.

Most you’ll see in a typical market

This is the restaurant and lounge area of the lodge where I stayed in this small town.
I told you, mountains are everywhere and a good backdrops.
Just three of the six rooms available for anyone to stop overnight in Maubisee.

7. Visit the old church in the small town of Same and marvel at the beauty of Mount Kablak. I have been to church many times throughout my life and I have never lost the joy of seeing other churches elsewhere. Most people in Timor-Leste are Catholics like Filipinos, and cemeteries are commonplace. Furthermore, the whole country is very mountainous and Mount Kablak is just one representation of it. Why not spend extra time to see it from afar and mingle with locals around the area.

Standing still
The Mt. Kablak

8. Meet local warrior Dom Boa Ventura. Marvel at the beautiful sea in the town of Manufahi which is said to be almost the end of the country and close to Australia. Unfasten your seatbelt and stroll around the town of Manufahi and get the closer look of the town. The history of the Timorese hero Dom Boa Ventura during Portuguese colonial times is as good as what they are today. He was one of the leaders in the rebellion against Portuguese colonialism. This is why the statue can be seen in the town.

With our friend the entire trip, Timor Adventure 4×4
Wanted to swim but scared at the massive waves.

9. Take a glimpse of old traditional houses. Pass through the Lekitehi Village and access the sacred houses in the area. Also visit the Sarlala waterfall after a traditional welcome of the elders. Ancient households are found in this simple village. At the height of the mountain area are houses that are considered sacred. I also able to play with the children who lived here because they welcomed us into their homes. The locals in this area are happy and seems like they have no problems in life. Bom Dia, or Good morning, words you will hear from them most of the time.

A beautiful sight from afar.
Closer look of the village
Glad to see strawberries here. Weather is cool and perfect for these kind of crops, including lettuces.

Don’t miss the long winding walk on rough and rocky roads to the waterfall near their homes. The place is quiet and very calm. Or have a dip if you are brave enough and feel the water.

One of the kids we met and helped us to going around.

10. Repeat the day in Dili. This is probably one of the best things to do in a country as quiet as Timor-Leste. Take advantage of the last day in their capital Dili. Like most countries, it is the center of everything. Throughout my trip to the country, I only had time to connect to wifi here. I didn’t think I could handle it without wifi, but I did.

Here you can visit Christo Rei – one of the most popular destinations. It is said to have been offered by President Suharto of Indonesia in 1996, to the people of Timor-Leste, which was one of Indonesia’s provinces before. It is one of Indonesia’s demands for all their occupation in the country. This is also the proofs of their Catholicism because it has the stations of the cross uphill to the shrine. Remember to bring water as you will get tired walking uphill. Many of the locals here are also enjoying a morning jog – a good time to go to avoid the intense midday heat.

Majestic view from the top
With our best tour guide Armando

Areia Branca Beach is also a destination – one of the places where tourists can relax or spend the day with family. There are eateries if you happen to be starving. Also don’t forget to check out where one of the largest mass massacres occurred at a cemetery here, the Santa Cruz cemetery. This is an important place for them as they recall that event in their history during the Indonesian occupation in 1991.

Areia Branca Beach

If not, go to Motael Church, the oldest catholic church in the country or the Alola Shop, famous for making traditional products like handwoven cotton cloths unique to their country before heading out.

Traveling to Timor-Leste will give you an in-depth understanding where they came from and what their history is. Digging deeper is always important and should be in everyone’s itinerary. The country is not fully developed and needs more time, a reason for not being good for backpacking, unless you have a brave heart and are very adventurous in nature.

All of the places I’ve been was tailored-made by the local agent. If you are thinking of visiting the country, I would suggest to get a tour as well. It is a good idea to have a tour guide and have a private car for traveling around – public transportation is not so easy and some roads as what I’ve said are very hard to predict. We actually encountered stopping at some point and we can’t pass through because of landslide.

The country doesn’t have their own identity that much – from the food that is mostly influenced by Indonesia; language by Portuguese, the Tetun and some of Bahasa; the US dollars as main currency and only coins of their own; and products which mostly come from outside. However, I really enjoyed the trip and can definitely recommend it to people who are really want of off-beaten path travel.

Did you think of traveling to Timor-Leste? Any questions?

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