This travel piece, adapted from my original full-length journals, was featured in Hong Kong Time Out Magazine on 10.10.12. Videos here, more photos here and the original article below…
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Isolated and near inaccessible, Asia’s newest nation is home to the largest UN peacekeeping mission on Earth, located in the poorest and most overlooked corner of the region. Emerging from decades of bloodshed and occupation with scarcely any infrastructure intact, war-ravaged Timor-Leste attracts just a few thousand tourists per year. Roads are amongst the world’s worst (where they exist), the airmail service is rumoured to take one-and-a-half years, the humidity is oppressive, healthcare minimal, poverty rampant and the dinky shot-up capital, Dili, makes Beirut look refined. So why would anyone care to visit?
Because travellers will discover in Timor-Leste what everyone else in Southeast Asia is hopelessly searching for. All your dreamy paradise island clichés can be found within – pristine white beaches, crystal clear azure seas, some of the richest and most diverse sea life on the planet and a queue of welcoming, unjaded locals to show you the way. Adventurous tourists will come across incredible hiking routes, thick rainforest, untouched lagoons and delicious seafood – and more often than not, you’ll be the only traveller in town.
My trip began much how it ended, with a half-serious enquiry as to whether I was going to die. “I’m not sure yet” was the less-than-welcome response from the attendant aboard my terribly turbulent Garuda Airlines flight. I was en route to Timor-Leste (located here), having encountered what the Germans might call a ‘luxury problem’ in that I’d seen just about everywhere else in Asia. This was the continent’s newest and poorest nation, the world’s most oil-dependent economy and home to the largest UN peacekeeping mission on Earth. Emerging from decades of bloodshed and occupation with barely any infrastructure intact, war-ravaged Timor attracts just 1,500 tourists per year. Roads are amongst the world’s worst (where they exist) the postal service is rumoured to take one-and-a-half years, the humidity is oppressive, healthcare minimal, poverty rampant and the dinky shot-up capital, Dili, would make even the most modest of British towns look like a megalopolis. It is isolated and inaccessible with just 3 ports of entry (Bali, Singapore and Darwin, Australia), so why would anyone care to visit?