Myanmar's Strange, Empty Capital City
Myanmar's tourism industry is growing. The number of international arrivals has more than doubled in just the past two years. In 2013, the country welcomed 2.1 million foreign travelers. This year, that statistic is projected to be 4.5 million.
What are these people coming to see? Some are probably just there so that they can say that they visited Myanmar, a country that was off-limits to most international tourists for so long. Others want to see the thousands of temples at Bagan, stroll the streets of Yangon, cruise the Irrawaddy River or visit often-romanticized Mandalay.
A new capital
There is one important place in modern-day Myanmar that is probably not on any tourist's to-visit list. The country's new capital, Naypyidaw, is a fully-planned city that replaced Yangon as the seat of government in 2005.
Naypyidaw, sometimes romanized as Nay Pyi Taw and referred to by the helpful acronym NPT, is roughly 250 miles from Yangon and 200 miles from Mandalay. One of the main reasons this place was chosen as the location for the new capital was because it was between the country's two main population centers.
Where are all the people?
Unlike every other Southeast Asian capital, NPT is not crowded... at all. That could be a great selling point for its tourism industry, except for one thing: it doesn't really have a tourism industry. In fact, even many of the government workers who are supposed to live here maintain their main residences in Yangon and only commute to the capital when parliament is in session.
When the military junta secretly built Naypyidaw in the early 2000s, they envisioned a modern suburb-like metropolis with all the trappings of Southeast Asia's other main cities. People who venture here will see all the requisite big-city elements as they drive down the wide, but empty, boulevards. Naypyidaw has shopping centers, nice hotels and even a replica of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.
A good place for some peace and quiet
If you want to take a break from the chaos of the day-long rush hours that are found in the region's other main cities, Naypyidaw might actually seem pleasant. Sure, it will probably be a little strange, maybe even spooky, to stay in a place that is almost completely empty, but you won't be breathing exhaust fumes, risking your life to cross the street or having to keep an eye out for pickpockets.
There are a few worthwhile sights in NPT. After visiting Uppatasanti Pagoda (the Shwedagon copy), you can ogle the architecture, including the undeniably impressive parliament building. Other tourist stops include a water fountain park with nightly lights shows, a zoo and the National Herbal Park, which has a collection of plants that are used in traditional medicinal practices.
It’s tee time
Sightseeing is far more interesting in Yangon or Mandalay, but there is one thing that Naypyidaw does better than any other place in Myanmar: golf. The city boasts some great fairways, and you will never struggle when it comes to reserving a tee time.
Maybe in the future, as Myanmar opens up even more and grows as a tourist and investment destination, Naypyidaw will become a better place to visit. For now, though, the only reason tourists would come to NPT (without their golf clubs) would be to make sure they experience this strangely empty city before it gets more crowded.
More by Josh Lew
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