Naypyidaw. This is the capital city of Myanmar. A city that hardly anybody would be able to rattle off in a game of trivial pursuit. The reason being is that it’s a relatively new capital, the name is hard to spell (many variations) and pronounce and also the fact that there is nothing there except for the military junta’s bureaucracy. Most Embassies and High Commissions don’t even recognise it and have therefore kept their presence in the more suitable city of Yangon.
As I’ve stated more times that I care to remember, Myanmar’s roads are in the main terrible. Goat tracks. But there is one stunning exception to this. The Government has built a road from Yangon to Naypyidaw strectching over 300km – and it’s almost dead straight. They just simply ploughed this road straight North to the captial and spared no expense. It’s massive. It actually makes this part of any bus journey relatively easy. But when you see some of the poverty in the country, the extravagance of this road is bewildering.
If the road is bewildering, the actual capital blows the mind. It is spread over many kilometres, complete with its own Shwedagon Paya replica. Sprawling boulevards capable of handling Los Angeles style traffic volumes, luxurious manicured garden roundabouts protected by armed military personnel, enormous shopping complexes. It is just staggering to see. Especially when it is populated by a reported 20,000 people. The apparent cost of construction of the capital is US$500m. And every citizen that travels from Yangon to Mandalay has to witness this act of sheer lunacy. Everyone cranes their necks to get a better look at the extravagance and mouths hang open.
How can a Government afford such oppulence when the people are so poor? The people aren’t stupid and I think it just heightens their discontent with the current political situation.
Why the Relocation?
No one really knows why the Government moved to Naypyidaw. Rumours abound of the junta’s fear of a sea-bourne invasion of Yangon. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. But there could be countless reasons for the them to make the move and at the end of the day, no answer will seem rational. One thing we can be sure of is that a large amount of self-interest will be at the heart of the decision as is seemingly always the case with these sorts of things.
Naypyidaw is not a tourist destination. It is a source of deep resentment for the locals, however, and you can expect plenty of discussion around it.
(just quietly, every time I think of Naypyidaw, I can’t help but thinking of Canberra, Washington DC and Ottawa!)
There were plenty of military types with weapons in Naypyidaw and consequently I opted not to take photos. What a wimp! If you’ve been there, let me know what you think!