East Timor (Portuguese: Timor Leste) (Tetum: Timor Lorosa'e) (Indonesian: Timor Timur) is a country in Southeast Asia. It lies northwest of Australia in the Lesser Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. East Timor includes the eastern half of the island of Timor, the Oecussi (Ambeno) region on the northwest portion of the island of Timor, and the small islands of Pulau Atauro and Pulau Jaco.
Tetum is an official language, and Indonesian is widely spoken in East Timor. Portuguese is an official language, spoken in government and its administration only.
East Timor consists of 13 Administrative districts.
The island of Timor is a former Portuguese colony that declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975. Nine days later, Indonesian forces invaded and occupied the former colony, without incurring the disapproval of the United States or Australia. By July 1976 the colony had been annexed as the province of Timor Timur.
Over the next two decades, Indonesia integrated the colony, with many significant positions of authority being occupied by Indonesians, rather than the Timorese. An estimated 100,000 to 250,000 individuals are believed to have lost their lives during a campaign of pacification during this time.
The United Nations supervised a popular referendum on 30 August 1999, in which the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. After the results were announced, gangs of independence opponents, supported by the Indonesian military, terrorised the population in a civil war that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. A United Nations peacekeeping force, led by Australian forces was sent in to re-establish a civil society and reconstruct the nation.
On 20 May 2002, East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent state and the world's newest democracy.
Indonesian citizens will get "visa on arrival" in the land border or airport. Portuguese passport holders do not need a visa for entry.
A 30 day travel permit is available to all other nationalities for US$30 on arrival. This permit can be extended for up to 90 days for US$1 per day.
The main land border crossing with Indonesia is at Mota'ain (or Motain), 115km west of Dili. The nearest East Timorese town is Batugade, 3km to 4km away. The nearest Indonesian town of consequence is the West Timorese town of Atambua.
For those arriving from Indonesia, East Timorese visas are issued on arrival.
However, for those going the other direction, Indonesian visas must be obtained beforehand as they are not issued at the border. Getting a visa at the Indonesian Embassy in Dili is possible - it takes one week to issue a 60day touris visa (return flight not needed!) and it costs US$35.
There is a direct bus service daily between Dili and Kupang in West Timor, Indonesia. Operated by Timor Travels and Leste Oeste Travel. Journey takes 12 hours.
From Dili, catch a bus to the border (US$3, three hours). Once you get off the bus, go through East Timorese customs and immigration, walk across the border into Indonesia, go through Indonesian immigration and catch another bus for your onward journey to Atambua or Kupang.
From Atambua, regular mikrolets (vans) or ojeks (motorcycle taxis) run to the border at Mota'ain.
Indonesia's Pelni ships no longer serve Dili.
Although there is an airport in Baucau, there are no domestic flights within East Timor.
Buses, mostly of the small variety found on remote Indonesian islands, run to most parts of the country and main cities like Dili, Baucau, Maliana, Los Palos and Suai are quite well linked. Indonesian-style "bemos" (vans) and "mikrolets" (minibuses) - legacies from its 24-year rule - run from these cities to nearby villages.
Most departures take place very early in the morning and drivers have a tendency of doing the "keliling" (Indonesian for "going round") where the spend considerable time combing the streets and scouting for passengers before actually departing.
Fares are about US$2 or US$3 for journeys over 100km. For example, Dili-Baucau (123km) costs US$2 while Dili-Mota'ain (115km) costs US$3.
Tetum and Portuguese are the official languages, but Indonesian and (limited) English are also widely spoken. There are also about 37 indigenous languages, of which Tetum, Galole, Mambae, and Kemak are spoken by significant numbers of people.
The main two things to bring home from Timor-Leste are coffee and traditional hand-woven cloths called Tais. The design of the Tais vary distinctively from region to region, and an expert can even tell which family they are from. Much like Scottish kilts, Tais for a given family should only be worn by that family. In Dili, the best place to find Tais is the Tais market, where you also can buy local silver jewelry. Many street sellers also deal in Tais.
Between Dili and the airport of Dili is the art center Arte Moris. From there you can buy Timorese paintings, often painted directly on Tais. Recurring themes are local symbols and the life (and death) during the Indonesian occupation.
There are also some wood carvings in a style similar to what you might see brought from trips to Africa sold here and there, but these are less easy to find. Closer to the eastern tip of Timor-Leste, you might find turtle shell bracelets on sale. While it might be slightly less unethical to buy them in a place where they kill turtles both for food and shell, your more ethically inclined peers and the customs officer may differ.
The coffee of East Timor is dark and excellent and can be found at reasonable prices in any convenience store, or even at some roadside stalls.
Sandal wood used to be one of the most important exports of Timor-Leste, but it might take an expert to buy it now.