Naypyidaw – The empty capital of Myanmar

Naypyidaw Parliament Building

On November 5th 2005, Naypyidaw, a city erected on a greenfield site in the centre of the country became the capital of Myanmar for no apparent reason. Some speculations include that the former capital Yangon (Rangun) could easily be invaded by water. A lot of Burmese believe that an astrologer had informed the military about an upcoming foreign attack. Construction started in 2002 and finished in 2012. With an area of over 7000 km², the city is more than 7 times bigger than Berlin (900km²), or over 5 times bigger than New York (1200km²). With less than 1 million people living in the capital at the moment, the city is totally oversized. Or is the government hoping for a strong development of the region in the future?

The „Hotel Zone"

We successfully reached Naypyidaw from Yangon by hitchiking and after arriving in our three-star hotel, which was a bargain at 16€ per night, we noticed the rather high dinner costs. No problem – we will just go to a local restaurant! Shockingly, the distance from our hotel to the “city centre”, if there is even something like this in Naypyidaw, was a mere 13 kilometers! 13 kilometres! Is it because we took the cheapest hotel? No! There is apparently a “Hotel Zone”, where huge three to five star hotels are located one after the other on either side of the street from the express highway to the “city centre”. We still found ourselves checking out tripadvisor for some good local restaurants. Well, there aren’t any! Just more or less expensive western food places, also located along the Hotel Zone. “Screw that”, we thought. We investigated maps.me and actually found a small village area (Yan Aung Myim Village) with some basic local restaurants just 10 minutes away from the far end of the Hotel Zone.

To explore Naypyidaw, the only real possibility is to rent a scooter unless you want to spend ridiculous amounts on taxis (from the hotel to the city center was supposed to be 40.000 MMK ~ 25€). So we decided to rent a scooter for a still horrendous amount of 4.000 MMK per hour (or 30.000 MMK per day) at our hotel (Golden Lake Hotel).

Renting a scooter in Naypyidaw is essential, as taxis are even more pricey and less flexible.

The Defence Services Museum

Located about 40 kilometres away from the Hotel Zone is the Defence Services Museum. I believe it’s a one-of-its-kind museum. In a huge complex, one can drive around, see and even climb on some exhibits. These include airplanes and helicopters (not allowed to climb), tanks and artillery (climbable) as well as miniature ships. We spend roughly 1 ½ hours here, but there are apparently more exhibitions indoor, which we unfortunately didn’t have the time for.

Naypyidaw Airplane
Steffen admiring the rockets at this lovely airplane.
Naypyidaw Tank Museum
Sherman tank at Defence Services Museum

While all of the different exhibits are super interesting, the huge building complex is by it’s own already an interesting site!

One small part of the Defence Services Museum

In addition, there is a huge stadium just next door, which looks as if it was never used before.

Stadium next to the Defence Services Museum

Uppatasanti Pagoda

After travelling in Myanmar (and SEA) for a while, one may think: “Again a pagoda?” But trust me, this one is worth seeing! Located fairly central in the city, the Uppatasanti Pagoda is slightly elevated, offering a good view of the capital. On a huge terrace, the golden pagoda rises above you into the sky. While it looks stunning from the outside, the inside is just as golden and remarkable!

Uppatasanti Pagoda

No need to stay here for long, but it’s easy to spend 20-30 minutes walking around as well as having a look at the Albino elephants, which are just next to the pagoda entrance on the east. Personally, I haven’t enjoyed their sight as they are held in a small cage without much “nature” around, nothing compared to a proper zoo!

The 20-lane highway and the Parliament Building

Arriving in Naypyidaw and driving around in the scooter is simply breath-taking. The huge four lane highways in perfect condition, with either big hotels, ministry buildings or just empty land around is a sight of its own and definitely worth it. I can only emphasize how important it is to go around the city with a scooter, as distances are huge! To finish up our visit of Naypyidaw we had to see the 20-lane highway leading up to the parliament building. Let the picture speak for itself:

The completely empty 20 lane highway leading up to the Parliament Building.

Unfortunately, it’s hard or even impossible to take a proper picture of the parliament building. But this one should give you an idea of how “overkill” the whole city is.

Aerial view of the massive Parliament Building and the 20 lane highway in front. Source: https://www.facebook.com/ItsAseanSkyline/

The capital of Myanmar blew our mind. Maybe it was the shear vastness of this place. Or the great contrast to what you usually see and expect from Myanmar. Driving around this great, empty place seemed surreal. A place out of this world, definetely not fitting into this yet underdeveloped country.

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