Naypyidaw-Pyinmana, Myanmar: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Short history of Naypyidaw
A huge, enormous new capital of Myanmar, Naypyidaw, or Naypyitaw (spelled Nay Pyi Taw in Burmese), was built in just a few years and is still in construction. Even now, it is 5 times bigger than Berlin, but is home to only around 1 million residents. The government, which built the city in total secrecy, claims to have built this mega-city because that was necessary in order to build a completely urbanized and planned capital in a country that has never had one such city. The closest they’ve had is Yangon, but there was just not enough space to build a new part of the city within Yangon. This also explains why the government is not in a hurry to populate the new capital; they want to avoid over-crowding and traffic chaos which are present in almost every bigger city in this ancient, resource-rich country, with one of the lowest living standards in the world. Admittedly, accommodation and other tourist-related prices are notably cheaper in Naypyidaw compared to those of Yangon.
The then-ruling regime literally forced military officers and civilians to move from Yangon to the new city over night. It is estimated that more than 1000 military convoys have relocated people from Yangon to Naypyidaw on November 6th, 2005, at exactly 6:37 am. Perhaps even more interesting story is why precisely on this date and in this time: it is believed that a fortune-teller had warned the government officials that foreign military will strike the then Burmese capital of Yangon, and that a new capital will rise exactly at this time. It is not uncommon in countries as poor as Myanmar for fortune-tellers to have great impact on decision making, especially over a paranoid ruling military juntas.
The city is sometimes referred by foreigners and locals alike as “the ghost city’, due to its almost eerily emptiness. Some of the city’s landmarks, such as the Statues of Three Old Kings, or government and military edifices, such as the Military Housing Complex, which are equally impressive in its grandness, but forbidden, or off-limits, to tourists and even civilian residents.
Getting around Naypyidaw
Getting around Naypyidaw, a really big city, is most easily done by hiring a motorbike or a renting a car. Taxi is also an option, but the city only has one taxi company, and it’s operated by the military. The only public transportation system in this city includes buses that are reserved for driving to and from work the government and military workers. Tuk tuks are popular here as much as in any other city in Myanmar. Although there is really no traffic jam in Naypyidaw, its size requires some mode of transportation.
Naypyidaw International Airport is located 16 kilometers southeast of the city. The airport is designed to handle 3.5 million passengers a year, and is a very modern airport, servicing flights from and to every bigger city in Myanmar and international flights. The only way to get from the airport to Naypyidaw is by taxi, which is pretty cheap, around $30, but can be bargained down to an even lower price.
The capital also has a new and modern Railway Station, with trains arrivals and departures from and to every city in Myanmar.
The city is divided into four zones: Military Zone, Civil (Residential) Zone, Ministry Zone, and Hotel Zone. Each of these zones is further divided into smaller zones. To clarify this: the military complex houses military officers, and the civilian complex houses civilian government officials and workers and their families. Those who come here single are housed separately, and single women are housed separately from the single men. To be fair, Naypyidaw is the only city in Myanmar that has no problems with power-supply and housing units are spacious and well equipped.
Naypyidaw houses a number of enormous buildings, most notably the new Parliament building, or Huttlaw, which consists of 31 buildings, and was built in post-soviet and partly Burmese traditional style. The new capital also houses some replicas of famous sites, such as a 100-meter high Uppatasanti Pagoda or Peace Pagoda, an almost perfect replica of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. This pagoda can be entered, and its hollow interior contains a number of religious items and artifacts brought from all over Myanmar and foreign countries, such as India and Sri Lanka. The cave of the Pagoda also houses the four jade Buddha statues, and walls carved with stories from Jataka, the Buddhist holly book. The huge stupa of this pagoda is lit in nights, and can be seen from a great distance. Another great pagoda in Naypyidaw is Thatta Thattaha Maha Bawdi Pagoda, which is a perfect replica of the Maha Bodhi Temple.
There are two prominent museums in Naypyidaw. One is the Gems Museum. As the name hints, it is home to a large collection of Burmese minerals: stones, gems, diamonds, gold and rare earths representing the country's past and present. The second is also one of the newest buildings completed in 2015, the National Museum. It takes great pride in showcasing Myanmar's rich cultural history and heritage from ancient temples, palaces, language, arts and music to today's modern and grand Myanmar. The National Museum is of particular pride for the Myanmar government for patriotic reasons.
Everything was done huge here, so no one is really surprised by the almost entirely empty 20-lane Yangon- Mandalay Expressway passing through the city. Although, one will probably see more animals, such as water buffalos, by the road than cars driving on it. There are also two huge stadium complexes under construction currently in the city; a 30,000-seat Wunna Theikdi Stadium, that has already hosted Southeast Asian Games and other events, Naypyidaw Sport Village, etc.
That is not all when it comes to sports- the new capital has 4 18-hole golf courses. The most famous spreads over 6600 meters and is called Royal Myanmar Golf Club’s course. It also features pro-shops, bar, lounge, etc. In addition to the 18-hole course, most resorts and high-end hotels (and the vast majority are such in Naypyidaw) have their own mini-course. They also own private spas, gyms, pools, etc.
Myanmar International Conference Centers, or MICC 1 and 2, are also a huge complex in Naypyidaw, occupying 16 acres of land, and have hosted some very important conferences already. Speaking of huge building in the city, one should also visit the Naypyidaw City Hall, where the local government has its sessions.
Designed as a modern city, the new capital hosts a number of parks, some of them really huge, which also include amusement parks, zoos, herbal gardens, restaurants, shops, etc. Such parks are, for instance, the National Landmarks Garden, which hosts a display of scale models of landmarks from each city and region in Myanmar. Also worth visiting are the Zoological Garden, with many domestic and exotic wildlife species, the Herbal Garden, the Jade Garden, and the Water Fountain Garden. The last one features fountains that eject colored water beams, with music playing in the background at nights. Due to the lack of nightlife venues in the city, this is a popular place to get out by night in Naypyidaw.
Staying in Naypyidaw
When it comes to accommodation, Naypyidaw is divided into hotel zones. Currently, the city has around 60 hotels and resorts, but the number keeps getting larger. Accommodation is of a really quality, and surprisingly low prices. Of course, great competition is one of the reasons why Naypyidaw hotels and resorts are so cheap. Some famous hotel chains, such as domestic Junction Centre, or Hilton Resort, have their establishments in Myanmar’s capital.
Speaking of Junction centre, it also represents one of the very few privately owned shopping and entertainment venues in the city. Junction Centre shopping mall also includes a Cineplex, many restaurants, bars, gyms, etc. For typical Burmese shopping experience, Naypyidaw features a number of markets, the biggest one being the Myoma Market.
Many other hotels and resorts are scattered around the city, and are easily accessible from it. Each township constituting the capital has its hotels, and resorts located near the nearby attractions.
Although it is now a township within the new capital, Pyinmana can pride itself as being one of the most important cities for the history of Myanmar. The Burmese National Army was stationed in this town during World War II, and many monuments stand as witnesses to the glory days. It is widely believed that this is the reason why the new capital was built so near to Pyinmana.
One such monument is the statue of General Aung San, the leader of the Burmese National Army, and a man still considered the founding father of the modern Myanmar. This general is also credited for liberating Burma from British colonial rule, although he didn’t actually live to see the liberation, dying only a few years prior to it. The monument is located by the Mingalar Lake, which stands in the centre of the town.
Pyinmana is now a mostly agricultural and logging town, but remains an important religious spot for most of the Burmese Buddhists. Many festivals are held in the town every year, by the Mingalar Lake and in one of its pagodas.
Pa-Ya-Koe Suu Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Pyinmana, and generally among the oldest ones in Myanmar. It was built in 1305 AD, and its most famous feature is the seating Buddha statue in its centre. Around the Pagoda are 264 Buddha paintings, depicting his former life. Another famous sanctuary in this town is Lawka Yan Hnein Monastery, a complex consisting of teak wood buildings.
Although the city was harshly criticized in the first few years by both Burmese opposition and foreign tourists as “testament to the illusion of grandeur” of the ruling military junta, this critics are starting to turn into positive remarks of building a city with good infrastructure in one of the worlds poorest countries, where infrastructure is very outdated and unreliable. Time will tell, but Naypyidaw certainly seems as unexplored and very intriguing territory for tourists and adventure seekers alike.