Monday, November 11, 2013

Travel: Betano, East Timor

     Betano is a village located in the southwest of Manufahi District in East Timor. During the former times, Betano was a traditional Timorese kingdom. Local language is Tetum but most locals can understand and speak Bahasa (Indonesian language) as well as Portuguese. Only few locals understand English in Betano area so it is wise to learn a few conversational phrases or better yet bring a local colleague with you.
     Local currency being used is the United States Dollar (USD) but they have their own coins. It would be practical to break your hundreds into smaller bills while you are in the capital (Dili) to make it easier to transact while in Betano. No ATM machines are available in Betano as well as in Same, the capital of Manufahi District.
     Cellular phone communication is possible as the local provider has roaming agreements with most major cellular phone company of other countries. Because this will cost you much, it is advisable to purchase a local SIM or phone. As of this writing major player is Timor Telecom but there is two new mobile networks coming in to the market, one of which is telkomcel. Internet connection is not available also, but you can go to Timor Telecom sales center in Same where they have wifi connectivity and computer terminals that you can rent. Additionally, you can purchase a USB modem from them to get mobile connectivity. Local time is TLST (UTC +9:00).

     Primary point of entry to East Timor is trough the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport (IATA Airport Code: DIL). This is located in Dili, the capital of East Timor. Formerly, this airport was known as Comoro International Airport. This airport serves the following airlines: Airnorth (Darwin, Australia - Dili), Air Timor which is being operated by Silk Air (Singapore - Dili), Merpati (Jakarta, Indonesia - Dili) and Sriwijaya Air (Jakarta, Indonesi - Dili).
     From Dili it is a six to eight hours of road trip. It is about 140 kilometer of travel up and around the mountains. Travel time mostly depends on weather, road conditions and driver's ability. There is also an airstrip near Same about 24 kilometers from Betano. But there are no regular flights to this airstrip. You have to arranged chartered flight from Dili on which availability will depend also on the weather conditions.
Marker of the Dili International Airport
Beach Side Hotel, Dili
Location: 8° 31' 58.96" S, 125° 36' 55.15" E
     This hotel is about thirteen kilometers from the airport. It is located right on the beach front of Branca beach hence its name. Facilities are okay and you can always have a relaxing drink by the beach or take a swim at the warm water. They don't have wifi or wired internet connection so it's good if you have the local USB modem.
     The Christo Rei, quite similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro is just a walking distance from this hotel. It is very nice to go jogging to the statue during the morning. For more information about this hotel, visit their website here.

Room of Beach Side Hotel


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Travel: Jaffna, Sri Lanka

     Jaffna is the capital city of Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Amusingly, the city is located within the district of Jaffna which is located in Jaffna Peninsula. As of today, the city is 12th largest in the country. The civil war in this area has ended just in 2009 but the city is recovering so fast. Most infrastructure has already been rebuilt and continually improved by the government.
     Majority of Jaffna population are Sri Lankan Tamils thus, the common language used in the area is Tamil which is different from Sinhala used in the rest of the country. But Tamil as well as Sinhala are the official languages of Sri Lanka.
     Local currency is Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR), 1 USD is approximately equal to 127.25 LKR as of the time of this writing. The place is also tourist friendly as there are many money exchange shops and banks with ATM which accepts international cards. American Express credit card is also widely accepted, but it is advisable to take extra caution when using credit cards as some foreign scammers have been caught operating in Sri Lanka recently. Timezone is SLST (UTC +5:30).

     Though there is an international airport located in Jaffna, the Jaffna International Airport (IATA Airport Code: JAF), it is not serving any international flight as of the moment. The entrypoint to the country is the Bandaranaike International Airport (IATA Airport Code: CMB). Many international airlines are operating from this airport. This airport is located about 35 km north of Colombo. 
     By March 18, a new international airport will open in Hambantota, the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (IATA Airport Code: HRI). This is also known as Hambantota International Airport.

Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel, Colombo
Location: 6° 55' 44.72" N, 79° 50' 58.28" E
     The location of the hotel which is within the central business district of Colombo is quite an advantage. Being at the side of the Beira lake also offers a fresh breeze whenever you are relaxing in the poolside. They have a lot of facilities and many different room category to choose from. For more details, visit the hotel's website.
     From Cinnamon Lakeside, the approximately 400 km travel to Jaffna by car will take about 10 hours, taking into consideration the rest stops and the speed limits. In Colombo and main towns maximum speed for cars is 50 kph and 70 kph on rural areas.

My comfortable room in Cinnamon
View from my room
Tilko Jaffna City Hotel, Jaffna
Location: 9° 39' 55.82" N, 80° 0' 38.60" E
     This hotel is located near the central business area of Jaffna. Sitting right next to the post office, the hotel is easy to find. Another advantage is that the Jaffna Fort is just a walking distance from the hotel. Rooms are spacious and they have a standby generator to give continuous power in case of utility outage which is still common to the area. Visit the hotel's website to view the room rates and preview their rooms.

The hotel's facade at night
With one of the hotel's friendly staff
     There are a lot of beautiful places and beaches to visit in Jaffna, but due to time constraints I only managed to visit one. Actually, the Tilko city hotel offers a Jaffna day tour, just inquire on the hotel lobby if you want to avail of this. And also, the travel to Jaffna by car from Colombo is also a rewarding experience. We pass by the national reserve and you can also see many temples and historical monuments along the way.

A monument along the way