Overland through Indonesia – bagus or bonkers? Part 2 – Bali to Timor
Hellooooo. Helloooooooooooo……. *pat on the cheek* Hellooooo? Ah, hello! How are you feeling today? Good? Yes, of course you’re feeling good, you’re chilling on Bali! Whether you’ve just emerged from your washed-up-and-partied-out Kuta haze or have been finding and unwinding yourself in one of Ubud’s yoga sanctuaries (or have even chased the ultimate ride or giant manta rays on Nusa Lembongan), you are going to have had the time of your life on this amazing island. We don’t blame you, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed this rather unique and crazy little spot in the middle of the deep blue sea ourselves. But sooner or later, there comes a time where you may be starting to feel that little niggling urge to explore further afield once more.
You may also have just arrived in Bali, seen the massed and thought “well, f*ck that”. There are, of course, plenty of untouched and wonderful places to enjoy on the island of the Gods (hang on, wasn’t that a place in Greece too?), but if you’re ready to cross a little piece of ocean to Indonesia’a many other islands, there is a very cool overland alternative to sticking yourself in a tin can with wings and 50 other jabbering people: get the ferry (with 5000 other jabbering people you might otherwise never get the chance to meet)!
You can read up on our overland travel from Singapore to Bali in “Bagus or Bonkers? PART 1“, where you’ll find a beginner’s guide to Pelni, Indonesia’s premium public ferry operator. Check out all sorts of very useful overland travel info elsewhere on Seat 61. Alternatively, dive straight into the Rat & Dragon step-by-step guide to travelling overland in central Indonesia. All prices at time of writing, i.e. June/July 2014. DISCLAIMER: We would love you to have the best holiday in the world, so please always check these details locally as embarkation locations may change randomly (this is Indonesia, remember!). Otherwise, enjoy!
Bali to Timor: Ferry
1) Pelni Ferry from Bali (Benoa) to Kupang, via Bima, Waingapu, Ende, Sabu and Rote, 73 hours, 1st class: IDR 1’304’000 pp
That’s quite a mouthful of a ferry journey already, we know. But in addition to the short distance inter-island day ferries, the Pelni service offers a great way of covering longer distances and takes you from city to city, as opposed to travelling from muddy beach with one boat ramp to river-mouth mini harbour 8 hours drive from the nearest town. This route is relatively infrequent at once every 3 weeks, but if you have the time or just want to stop off in one or two places, then this is a great way of seeing authentic Indonesia because, well, you’ll be doing exactly what the other thousands of Indonesians on your boat will be doing with you. Being all Indonesian ‘n stuff.
Getting information and tickets was quite a bit of a handful as everyone seemed to know where the Bali Pelni ferry office was, but no one could actually get us there. There are a few strewn across the island: Benoa harbour’s branch was always closed, the travel agent on the way to the pier had no idea what was going on, and everyone we asked were keen to convince us that their version of geography that happened to contradict all others including a map was in fact the one to take note of. “Oh, yes, it’s right across the road from Supernova shopping centre (a TINY crumbling mall with next to no outside signs, why would you need those?), you can’t miss it” actually means ‘nowhere near Supernova shopping centre but 15 mins walk in the opposite direction to where your new friend is pointing’.
After researching for ages we found the following address for the Pelni Bali head office: JL. Raya Kuta, No 299, Tuban, Denpasar (+62 361 765758) but there are as usual several Raya Kuta roads, no visible house numbers, google maps shows this place as being another abandoned shopping mall and no one picked up the phone. Several trips and detective work on our little scooter landed us at this place further up the road – finally we had found it! Please enjoy a map and photo of the building for your viewing pleasure.
Buying tickets in advance this time (due to, you know, the whole Ramadan thing), we had the choice of economy (mattress spaces on the floor in a huge room, see this blog for pics of the equivalent class on the Batam – Jakarta service) at IDR 428’000 per person, 2nd class (gender segregated 8 bed dorm rooms, see our pics in Part 1) at IDR 1’221’500 per person or our private 1st class room for IDR 1’304’000 per person. Due to our kit needing to be secure, it was all a bit of a no-brainer. An hour later, minus a wad of cash (no cards again!), we left Pelni head office with a pocket full of rainbows, namely our first ever first class tickets to anywhere.
Chill in Bali for the required amount of time to get all excited about getting on a ferry into the darkness. Check out some surfers; don’t get mugged by the monkeys at Uluwatu temple (unless you’re into that kind of thing).
On the designated departure date, take a Blue Bird taxi to Benoa Harbour, check whether the boat is there yet and if not, grab a bakso from one of the shops by the carpark. Our boat, just as our previous one from Batam ended up arriving more or less on schedule at our final destination, but was 5 hours late leaving. We had heard rumours that being as early as possible is imperative as even if you have a ticket, you’re not guaranteed a place. No pressure then – chill with everyone else and sitting on the pier.
OUR BOAT TO TIMOR! (at the end of the pier)
If you thought getting on the boat in Jakarta was fun, you’re in for a treat. As thousands push their way onto one tiny one-person-wide gangplank with no sense of queuing, be prepared to have boxes, kids bicycles and bags of chickens rubbed in your face from all directions. There are a few guards peeling off people climbing the outside of the gangplank to queue jump, but we were separated just before getting onto it which meant Nicola was waiting just inside the heavy metal doors of the boat for 45 mins before Saxon managed to make it.
Make friends with the angry guy in uniform blowing his whistle aggressively and shouting at everyone. For good reason – getting on the ferry seems to be a nostalgic extension of the mosh pit that was queueing for the kiosk in primary school. The moment everyone finally gets into the ferry, they don’t move to their berths but block the entrance whilst shouting at their particular friends to catch up. Lots of laughter again, we learned later this was all part of ‘national tradition’.
Maybe the ‘no space for late comers’ rumour had been going around. Maybe everyone was keen to celebrate Pelni’s 62th anniversary. Either way, join the party.
Our cabin was fantastic, we even had blankets, electrical sockets (bring a multi-plug!) a little desk and a TV that showed an exciting feed of the empty the dining area. It was rather hot but the group of rowdy teenagers camped on deck outside our window playing Angry Birds Star Wars Edition on their Samsung tablet was a little windswept and cold, so choose a location to suit your personal climate preferences. Outside may also have been a little bit too loud to hear the rooster crowing on one of the lower indoor decks. The metal hull reverberated perfectly every morning in a glorious unison of machine and beast. Who would have thought.
This particular ferry did suffer from a recent invasion of toilet-seat stealing elves. To compensate, there was small cold water shower and sink – all very shabby but a real upgrade for us so we were over the moon.
Cone-hair lady disapproves of you standing on the bed.
If you are travelling 1st or 2nd class, enjoy free of charge breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining and entertainment area at the rather odd times of 7am, 10:30am and 4:30pm. Fish, chicken, rice, unidentifiable vege and some fruit for dinner desert. Alternatively (or additionally) ask the kitchen for a flask of boiling water and cook your own pot noodle but note the dining area is used for other events such as Christian sermons and group talks at non-feeding times. Muslim prayer times are announced throughout the day via the ferry’s loudspeaker system as a room large enough to hold all devotee passengers would be the size of the boat. So they use the boat instead.
Note also that the price of food and drinks brought from the shop may vary depending on the level of your tan and Indonesian language proficiency. Smiling and politeness always help, even if it means an enthusiastic fellow passenger offers to take your coins and buy things for you. Friendly banter is a big part of the trip, so don’t be shy, dive in and get involved – you won’t regret the enthusiastic mass movement you’ll become part of within minutes. Loading and unloading times are always especially exciting.
Jump off in Bima to access the Komodo Islands or sail past them down to Waingapu. Yes, this is a real name of a real place. So is Cockfosters on the Picadilly Line. Enjoy the view of the sunrise with everyone else, especially those with pole position having set up camp inside the lifeboats. Be proudly told by said pole positioners that it is far less breezy than on deck, so they push one person up the gangplank early to reserve lifeboat 17F (visible in the top left above Saxon’s head) every year.
Jump off in Waingapu to explore the Island of Sumba at your leisure. We have it on good authority that the local horses are pretty special.
Wear the same T-Shirt as on every other photo during this month and enjoy the view of Flores Island on the way to Ende. Double volcano action, dudes.
Disembark in Ende for the Flores volcano experience. Marvel at the harbour authorities’ incredible talent to make everyone wait and let people get OFF the boat before they try getting ON. Three cheers to the crowd for remembering to wear their motorcycle helmets whilst boarding. Safety first. Especially when climbing up the side of the gangplank with a security guard clinging to one of your legs whilst your friends and other guards point and laugh. Tradition, remember?
Join one of the now melancholy teenagers camped outside your window and enjoy the view of flat, non-volcanic Sabu together. Exchange Instagram details. Take pictures with everyone in various combinations. Don’t forget lunch at 10:30am.
Go nuts on Sabu for the desired amount of time. Possibly for at least 3 weeks as there don’t seem to be many other boats coming and going. Some good surf and an airplane connection to Kupang as well as being very much off the beaten track (you did ask for it!). Or keep going till Rote and surf the well known breaks as it has many more frequent connections via boat and plane to Timor Island.
If you’ve come all the way with us keenos to Kupang – 73 hours later you can give yourself a huge slap on the back as you have made it! Welcome to Timor, welcome to Kupang, congratulations, you’ve survived three days straight on the ferry. Double congratulations if you chose economy class and an extra gold star if you got to sleep in the lifeboat.
Timor to Timor Leste: Minivan
1) Apply and receive Timor Leste Visa Application Authorisation, allow 3 days, free
In order to travel to East Timor, you must first acquire a ‘Visa Application Authorisation’ letter from your nearest Timor Leste Consulate. YOU CANNOT JUST ROCK UP AT THE BORDER. Find full information on the official Timor Leste Immigration Authorities website, but in a nutshell, download the application form, fill it in, get copies of all supporting documents (passport copy, bank statement, return or onwards ticket etc) and take a bemo to the Consulate of Timor Leste, Jl. Eltari II, Phone: + 62 8133 9367 558 / 8133 9137 755 (neither of these numbers worked though). Here is a handy map as taking pictures of the yellow building was prohibited by one of the more Rimmer-like guards.
For those now scratching their heads with a ‘WTF Mate?’ look upon their face, a ‘bemo’ is a shared minivan-taxi-public-bus-hybrid popular in Timor. Those lucky enough to have visited Bali 10 years ago will have seen them shipping rowdy tourists from bar to bar, but they seem to have disappeared this time around. Possibly due to something accident related. Taxis are often private (Blue Bird has unfortunately not made the leap to Timor yet) and charge a minimum flat fee of 50’000, even for 2 minutes down the road, so cuddling up to smiling local youths, business men and a nun or two for 2’000 pp is a lot more fun. Plus Kupang’s bemos are fully pimped out with Avril Lavigne stickers, Jesus slogans and more cuddly toys you could ever imagine. Not to mention the impressive sound systems pumping out Vengaboys giving all passengers free tinnitus.
Wanna see what ‘Pimp my Ride’ Indo-style looks like? Check out our Bemo Boys Place Cake:
Submit your application to the friendly man at the window, and if you’re friendly back the office may be inclined to speed up your application process (expect nothing, ask politely but be prepared to wait). Once approved, you’ll be able to pick up a document like this from the same window a few days later:
HURRAY! Don your ‘I’m all official now’ t-shirt. Only now can you go to the boarder and get a visa. To do so, book your minibus and stop…. *beat* Hammertime.
2) Minibus from Kupang to Dili, 14 hours, IDR 200’000 pp
There are several public transport options you can piece together a route from, but they will most likely require an overnight stop off in Atambua. If you have the time, great! The landscape is stunning, especially starting from Soe. If you don’t have the time, take the designated minibus service all the way.
Challenge of the day: Find the Timor Travel Minibus office. You know the drill – no discerable house numbers, no one picks up the phone, about 5 different road names to chose from when naming hundreds of roads around the city… here’s the address for completeness’ sake: JL Timor Raya No. 8, Tel: 0380-881543, 882125, 8080345, 8080850. You may have more luck than we did. If not, despair not. Here are more pretty pictures.
Take a bemo along Jalan Timor Raya away from the old centre of town until you cross this bridge. Then keep your eyes peeled for what most certainly is…
… the most unnecessarily coloured building of questionable purpose this side of the river.
Right next to it you will find this un-assuming little car park.
In the back on the right there is an office. Go in. Say hello. Don’t be shy, this ain’t Corleone’s.
Purchase Timor Travel Minivan tickets on your preferred date (at least 24 hours in advance as busses leave at 6am before the office opens for the day). Motorcycle helmet is optional.
On the day of your travel, you will be picked up by a nice gentleman from your hotel about 2 hours before you actually have to go. Bring copious reading material. Once everyone has been rounded up, you will be transferred to this minivan. Receive a muffin and water in a cute little pink cardboard box with flowers on it for breakfast (subject to availability). Your journey has officially begun.
Make yourself comfortable in the minibus but note they often sell out so stick to one seat as people are picked up along the way. Only take front seat if you are in a particularly chatty mood or a big fan of the local radio station that exclusively plays twinkly love songs.
Enjoy the decent roads on the way to Atambua via Soe. Some may make you feel a little like you’re on a roller-coaster but in comparison to what’s ahead they are magic. Beware of google earth’s road layout. It may seem like the roads in East Timor are bigger than West. They are not. Check out the landscape, it’s pretty spectacular.
Get a glimpse of what lies ahead in some of the minor road works on the way to Atambua.
Stop off at this hotel for 20 mins for no apparent reason.
Soon after, arrive at the border.
Borrow pen off rock-n-roll nun to fill in your departure card. Don’t mind border crossing feral pig in the background. No one is the boss of him.
Hand in your Visa Application Authorisation. Have your photo taken with various Indonesian emigration officers. Last chance for authorities selfie time.
Cross the border, old school style. Don’t mind the feral pig following you. He owns this sh*t.
On the Timor Leste side, go to the little counter before you get to immigration and pre-pay for your visa – 30 US Dollars, make sure you have at least $50 in case officials change their mind on the day, or someone is in need of some extra cash. Karma and all that. Proceed through immigration, have your bag scanned and searched for pigs. If all runs smoothly you will have successfully made it to East Timor. Congratulations, you can now count yourself to the tiny and very special percentage of backpackers who have made it here.
This wonderful country welcomes you first with a windy road through the hills down to the coast. Gawp at the incredible skill of lorry driver after lorry driver squeezing past your minivan and avoiding a cliff face. We counted a total of 8 in one row (currently signalling there are two left to go).
The road has been under construction for nearly a decade. No builders in sight.
Which means lots of dust.
A quick stop off for snack lunch, aka a smoke for the driver.
Then for some more dust.
Outside the van and inside the van.
Make sure your bags are all well zipped up. The one on the right is usually very dark green and black. The left one has been cleaned and is waiting for round two.
And so, dear reader, if you can see the statue of Nicolau Lobato, you have made it to Dili. In case you were wondering (as we often did upon arrival) what the local currency is and how much it’s worth, have a bit of a surprise. Timor Leste deals in US dollars, with their own little centavo coins mixed in. There are some awesome places to explore, including ‘Jesus Backside Beach’, ‘Jim’s Crack’ and ‘Ramelau’s Bottom’, go crazy.
We hope you have found our account useful, feel free to get in touch if you have any further questions. And do let us know in the comments how things went!