Naypyidaw is the official capital city of Myanmar and has been so since 2005, when it inherited the title from colorful, crowded and historic Yangon. Constructed between 2002 and 2012, the sprawling space cost between four and five billion dollars to build and is approximately six times the size of New York City with only 10% of the population (although many are skeptical of official population numbers and estimate the real figures to be even lower). Parliamentary buildings, government housing and high-rise hotels are vast in scale, yet eerily quiet. The designated districts are set far apart by 20-lane highways, which see little to no traffic and are rumored to be quick-escape runways in disguise.
So, why visit? For the Orwellian obscurity, of course. Curious travelers who err on the side of the esoteric will find intrigue in the purpose-built ghost-metropolis and the mind-boggling egocentricity of those in power.
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This gilded pagoda is a replica of Yangon’s famous Schwedagon Paya, though stands precisely a foot shorter. Much like the comparison between the former and current capital cities, Naypyidaw’s version is a poor imitation – hastily constructed, featureless and lacking any kind of atmosphere. Still, it makes for a poignant visit if not just for the stark contrast and is still very impressive when viewed from afar (the paya is also illuminated at night).
Large and sparsely filled, Naypyidaw’s National Museum actually contains some truly beautiful historic artifacts, such as jewelry dating back to the 11th century and the Bagan period, to significant 40-million-year-old fossil finds, to 20th-century paintings by Burmese artists.
In the heart of the capital, you’ll find the Water Fountain Garden, which covers 165 acres. The grassy park includes ponds, swinging bridges, sculptures, a playground and even a water slide. The garish fountains are illuminated in the evening, which is the best time to visit, as locals comes to picnic, drink and dance into the night.
The size of this museum complex is so immense, it’s worth a trip just to be taken aback by the sheer scale and how disproportionate that is to the number of visitors. Five giant exhibition halls contain displays on the history of defense in Myanmar, old military equipment and the three divisions of the Burmese military forces: army, navy and air force. As almost all exhibits are exclusively in Burmese and focus on the independence movement, this may lead you to (rightly) believe that the museum is a prime example of propaganda.
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