If there were a prize for the world’s weirdest city, Naypyidaw would win hands down.
Little more than a decade old, the city was unveiled as Myanmar’s new capital in 2005, after the government unexpectedly decided to move it from Yangon. The reason for the move remains a mystery: some believe the new capital was a government vanity project, while others speculate that the nation’s then leader, Than Shwe, was following the advice of an astrologer.
Curious visitors will find no shortage of eccentricities in the capital, which boats vast, twenty-lane highways, glitzy shopping malls, a Vegas-inspired hotel zone, and no fewer than four golf courses – all plonked in the middle of the jungle. Attractions may be few and far between, but the sheer absurdity of the place makes for a fascinating, if unconventional visit.
When it comes to experiencing local life, there’s no better place than a bustling capital city, right? Except Naypyidaw, that is, which is less bustling capital and more empty ghost town.
Officially, the city’s population is around one million, but many doubt this is anywhere close to the real figure. The vast highways are so quiet that you could easily go for hours without encountering any life at all – aside from a few lonely street sweepers and the odd buffalo wandering outside the sprawling government buildings.
When it comes to recreational activities, Naypyidaw has little to offer except for a deserted gemstone museum, and the colossal Defence Services Museum – simultaneously the emptiest and most well cared for museum in the country.
It’s worth hiring a driver for the 45-minute journey to the Disney-esque Naypyidaw Zoo, where you can hop on a safari tour bus and hang out with the locals. Bizarrely, the zoo used to be home to a group of penguins – sadly, the air-conditioned enclosure that was built for them wasn’t enough to protect them from Naypyidaw’s blistering heat.
In the evening, locals congregate at the water gardens in the center of the city, a water fountain complex which hosts a musical light show each night. The park itself is characteristically garish, but it’s a good place to meet local people – though expect to pose for a lot of selfies.
Few visitors to Naypyidaw know that it has its very own man-made beach. Ngalaik Lake Gardens is a 165-acre recreational park that includes an eco-resort with water slides, a spa and a beach on the shores of the lake.
Feeling peckish? Cafe Flight is a restaurant built inside a salvaged passenger jet, which was written off in an accident and brought to Naypyidaw as an attraction for visitors. The food may be more budget-airline fare than fine dining, but eating in a plane is a great way to top off the bizarre Naypyidaw experience.
As Yangon’s popularity among expatriates and tourists continues to grow, so do the city’s offerings. From street food to upscale dining, how modern is Yangon becoming?
Take a hike up Mandalay Hill, see the pagodas, explore the night markets, and see a marionette show on your trip to Myanmar’s last royal capital.