Crossing the Veil in Rangon's Abandoned Amusement Park

by Benjamin Hollihan (Canada)

A leap into the unknown Myanmar


It was our fourth day in Yangon, at the tail-end of a three-month trip covering seven countries. By now, our rising time had slowly slipped later as the sloth sank its claws into us. My partner, Kali, and I were sitting in the lobby of the hostel. We had planned to go to Old Bagan, but we were there in 2107- at the height of the prosecution of the Rohingya Muslims, and we were under advisory not to leave Yangon. In the capital of Myanmar, one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, only opened to tourism a few years earlier- we had nothing to do. “What about that amusement park?” Kali asked me. It was something she had mentioned once before, but I had brushed it off as too dangerous, too difficult, or both. “Excuse me, but can you tell us about that abandoned amusement park?” She asked the Hostel owner. I never got the Hostel owner’s name. Too many names during a transient period. After some hesitation, the Hostel owner gave us directions to the abandoned park. However, she warned us, be careful. We would be trespassing on grounds formerly owned by the Burmese government, in the 1990s when the country was effectively a dictatorship. Not anyone you want to challenge. We departed, rejuvenated. We had to take a taxi to an unlisted area, at the back end of the Yangon Zoo. After climbing through a hole in a fence and shimmying over some empty oil drums, we entered the Yangon Amusement Park. Nature has reclaimed the park, as the endless concrete of the city sharply gives way to the rich foliage, forming an implied perimeter, deterring intruders. As we ventured further amongst the rusted-out behemoths, the empty roller coaster track, the cobwebbed bumper cars with a family of cats living in it, the feeling that we were unwanted invaders grew more intense. It’s unknown why the park was abandoned. It was built in 1997 and abruptly closed about 15 years later. The owner of the Hostel told us the park was closed down after a series of children died on a ride. The company that was contracted to build the park was supposedly dissolved by the government. Nothing but rumours surround the park, tangled with the facts and fictions that spread amongst an urban mystery like this. Whether or not the park is truly haunted, the park is dense with the ghostly memories of happy children. Then, out of the brush, a child darted by us, ball in hand. We stopped dead, frozen at the feet of a pirate with rust stubble, missing his sword. Was that a real child, or had we seen through the veil, something that once was? We were terrified. It was time to turn back. On our way out, we took a different route, a more direct one to the overturned oil drums. We had to walk by a series of abandoned shops, old cafes and restaurants within the park grounds. Shadows moved inside. We ran. Right into an old man and a child, sitting down. “Uh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know we’re not supposed to be here but—” They didn’t care. To them, this was like running into someone on a street, at the park. But it was their park. Their English was broken, but we eventually managed to understand that they lived in these abandoned buildings. The café behind them was abruptly closed when the park was, the Unnamed Park (at least no name was visual), and they were left there. The livelihoods of all the people that owned businesses in the park were destroyed, leaving them with nothing more than a structure to live in. This is how they lived: children went to school, and they got by fine without electricity, using manual labour in place of the conveniences we take for granted. For all the striking differences, they were not urban hermits. Life was going on for them. They managed to fight off the encroaching wildlife and stake out a claim for themselves. Shortly after, we left the Yangon Amusement Park, and didn’t speak much about it afterwards. But we stopped sleeping in.