“Why do you want to go to Naypyidaw? There is nothing to do there” Myanma people said when we tried to book our bus ticket. Naypyidaw is the capital city of Myanmar also known as the ghost town. Despite the government’s effort to make Naypyidaw a new tourist town, it is still an unknown territory and barely visited by tourists. What is there in Naypyidaw? And should this place be included in your Myanmar itinerary?
The size of Naypyidaw is almost unbelievable: 7.054 square kilometers. To put that in perspective, that is four times the size of London. According to the Guardian in 2015 the costs of building the new capital were more than 4 billion dollars. To make this story even sound more bizarre, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia with a GDP of $1275.
Home to a paranoid and concealed government
Some would wonder: I thought Yangon was the capital of Myanmar. You were not totally wrong. Yangon was the capital city since the British colonized the country in 1824 and named it Burma. Naypyidaw became the new capital in November 2005, but the commercial center is still in Yangon.
The meaning of Naypyidaw is: ‘seat of the king,’ named by the former military leader of the country Than Shwe. The military regime ruled Myanmar since the military coup in 1962 and fell as result of demonstrations and international pressure in 2011. Why did Myanmar replace their capital in 2005?
Former leader Than Swe declared Naypyidaw as a new administrative capital away from the traffic jams and overpopulation of Yangon. Although, rumors tell us that the paranoid government moved the capital to Naypyidaw to shelter away from any possible uprisings or invasions.
The government of Myanmar is concealed in the parliament existing of 31 buildings spread over 3 square kilometers. An enormous amount of space where one can only speculate about what is happening inside. Many stories and rumors about the parliament go around the globe. For example, according to Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, Naypyidaw has a completed underground construction aided by North Korea.
Is there a tourism potential in Naypyidaw?
When you arrive in Naypyidaw, you will be greeted by the hotel strip full of luxury hotels. Tremendous hotels with neon light along the road welcomed us. Booking.com alone offers a selection of 31 hotels in Naypyidaw. There is even a Hilton hotel. We wondered why it has so many hotels. We only met two tourists in our hotel and during our tour through the city none. Most hotels are empty, waiting for the tourist rise which may never happen.
Naypyidaw is slightly more expensive compared to the rest of Myanmar. Lucky for us, the budget backpacker, there was an affordable hotel for $20 a night: Golden Lake Hotel. It sounds fancier than it was, though was clean and breakfast included. Good detail, the Golden Lake Hotel offers rental scooters. The scooter rental prices are high, but going around by taxi costs a fortune and public transport is not available.
Driving around on empty roads
Official numbers reveal a population of 924,608 people in Naypyidaw. However, a population number of nearly a million is a suspicious demographic amount since merely people have been seen or photographed. I wouldn’t, however, define Naypyidaw as a ghost town since there were people. Not a lot but some.
Driving around by scooter on nearly empty roads is the number one thing to do in the 12-year-old town. The roads in Naypyidaw are the best you will see in Myanmar. But at some places, the highways were more crowded with various scooters, cars, and people sweeping the streets. But the 8 till 20-lanes highways are not necessary since no congested traffic appear in Naypyidaw.
Most of the people living in Naypyidaw are officials working for military or government-related jobs. For them, the government built an American looking neighborhood which is still under construction. Most houses were not finished or leaving behind maintenance. We drove around to see if people were living in the area. We barely noticed any life. Some street dogs, trash, and abandoned houses. Maybe one or two houses were occupied. The neighborhood felt peculiar.
Where are the rest of the 900 thousand people living?
Continuing the almost deserted road, we encountered a primitive camp where people lived in improvised tents or broken tents where feet peaked out. We set the scooter aside and walked between tents, food stalls and even an edgy looking rollercoaster and big wheel. People stared at us, wondering what we were doing. One woman kindly invited us in sign language to visit her local temple. I was wondering; what are they doing here? Possible doing dirty government jobs like gardening golf courses or sweeping empty roads. Or perhaps working in one of the left rice paddies around Naypyidaw? I can only speculate.
Tourist sights of interest
According to the website of the ministry of tourism, there are many things to do in Naypyitaw. The Myanma government did their best to built touristic attractions. National museums, shopping malls, golf courses, water parks, golden pagodas, a safari zoo and much more. But without tourists, museum, malls, and parks are left with emptiness. It seems like the touristic attractions are only there to create an illusion to the outside world.
Besides driving around (not mentioned on the website), Uppatasanti Pagoda is worth a visit. If you think the Pagoda looks familiar, you are right, it is a copy of the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon. The pagoda was the most crowded place we visited in Naypyidaw. There was a tour bus in front of the tall stairs leading to the golden construction. The Pagoda is huge and beautiful inside including English information.
On the other side of the road, I noticed a group of white elephants. Chained up for the few tourists to worship. White elephants are albino elephants and symbol for power and good fortune in Myanmar.
Much time we didn’t have in Naypyidaw. And to be honest, one day was enough of crazy town. It is impossible to see everything in Naypyidaw in one day because of the long distance between destinations.
Should you visit Naypyidaw?
Naypyidaw is worth a visit. Not because it is beautiful or a capital city with many things to do. Naypyidaw is a once in a lifetime experience. Go and wander around on the empty highways and explore the bizarre, almost empty, and four times bigger than London capital city.
However, some would wonder if it is right to visit Naypyidaw. The city in Myanmar with the best roads, hotels, and houses, while numbers of people in Myanmar suffer from poverty? Should you go to a city with a government which is guilty of ethnical cleansing? There is no right or wrong answer if you should go or not. One thing I am sure of; a visit to bizarre Naypyidaw will not be boring.