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Published: April 12th 2018
Many people think Yangon/Rangoon is the capital of Myanmar/Burma. Well, it used to be but in 2005 the administrative capital of the country was moved to a brand new city, Nay Pyi Taw.
But for our friend Joe, who is working there at the moment, we probably wouldn't have bothered visiting. This is especially so after reading the handful of blogs that are out there where the bloggers found a deserted city devoid of much interest to the casual traveller. After spending 4 nights there, we beg to differ! It's not difficult to see where the myth of an empty city comes from as it is incredibly vast in relation to its population, and many government and military workers divide their time between work here and family elsewhere. When you stand in the middle of a 20 lane motorway and are not threatened by a single vehicle, the illusion is complete.
Nay Pyi Taw is not an easy city to negotiate as there is no public transport. You essentially have three options: rent a bike, rent a car, or take taxis. There is, of course, a fourth way and it was our good fortune to have a friend with a car. The city
is divided into various zones and the hotel zone does not appear to have any restaurants so you either have to eat in the expensive hotel restaurants or travel some way to find the cheap, delicious and popular local ones. They do exist, but finding them without local information would be quite a challenge. If you are going to seek out one place, go to Shwe Si Taw.
How anyone could just stumble across this place is beyond us, but luckily Joe knew where he was going and we feasted on a vast array of Myanmar dishes which were immediately replenished once a dish was emptied. There was an embarrassment of riches in front of us, and we have no idea what or how much we ate!
With Joe as our guide we were able to get around and see many different things which, in our opinion, make the city a worthwhile destination. We began with a tour of the city zones and marvelled at the vastness of the place and its impressive governmental buildings. Then we went way out of town to the Defence Services Museum.
This was the number one place on our list and it didn't disappoint. It is set
on an enormous 603 acre site and could well be the largest museum in the world. You'll need your passport to get in, and owing to the size of the museum, you'll need some transport to take you around too. Outside is a huge collection of aircraft. Seeing a Spitfire armed with missiles was a bit odd, and to the many young kids on a school visit the sight of foreigners in their midst was just as exciting as any old fighter jet or helicopter! Inside the museum is truly cavernous. Its corridors stretch on for ever. There are three zones and we concentrated mostly on the Air Force zone. To us it was incredibly interesting but perhaps not quite so for Joe. We gave the Army section a cursory glance and were then escorted round the Navy section by an old sailor desperate to practice his English. We were well and truly "museumed out" by the time we met him that we don't really feel we gave him the attention his enthusiasm deserved. Before leaving we had a look at the large collection of tanks and cannons on display, and of course posed for photos with the gigantic military
Next Joe took us out to a nearby village. This was the real Myanmar without a shadow of a doubt. We had a wonderful lunch overlooking the river and admiring the discipline of the people getting off their motorbikes and walking across the wooden footbridge. On the far side there were oxen cooling off in the water and several village women doing their weekly wash in the not-so-clear water. Later we crossed the bridge ourselves and had a walk around the dusty streets. We got chased by dogs in the grounds of the temple and we were wowed by the old teak houses on stilts which are still the family homes today. It was a bit bizarre to see a Stoke City shirt hanging up on one washing line!
The next day we had the opportunity to visit Myanmar's parliament. We know that Joe had jumped through a good number of hoops to arrange this and we really appreciate that. In theory a tour agency would be able to make similar arrangements but we can't imagine it would be easy or quick. Wherever we went we had quite an entourage accompanying us. At one stage we
worked out from the answers to some of our questions that a whole 10% of the workforce were following our every move! We saw various chambers where matters are debated and voted on, a display of every type of wood from around Myanmar, an incredible art collection, and examples of every traditional costume that the different peoples of the country wear. Indeed, as the politicians left the chamber, some were wearing their regional dress. The exception to the regional representatives are the green clad military who still make up more than 25% of the political landscape and wield most of the power. We got to see the lower and the upper houses and if you ever get the chance, go for a tour. Quite what this set-up cost to build we can not imagine, but it seems somewhat out of place considering the lack of infrastructure and development we have seen elsewhere - but that's another story!
No city in Myanmar would be complete without a giant pagoda. The one in Nay Pyi Taw is massive and stands on a hill overlooking the surrounding area. It is so high that there are lifts to get to its base, but
we walked up the gleaming marble steps instead. It is a copy of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon but a little shorter, and the general public have access to its interior. The marble carvings inside are amazing. At the foot of the hill is a fish pond where hungry mouths wait to be fed. They thrash around in the water as soon as footsteps are heard on the bridge which makes it a bit weird. The fish then swim over towards you regardless of whether you come with treats for them or not. Strange.
In the evenings many people go to Fountain Park. As its name suggests there are a number of fountains, and waterfalls too, set in a park which spreads out before you. Lights and music are used to provide extra ambience as darkness falls. Yet again it seemed a bit on the odd side, but a nice addition to everything else that we saw.
So that was our experience of Nay Pyi Taw. It is a showpiece for the country and a most bizarre place to visit, but worthwhile nonetheless as long as you have a way of getting around. There's plenty we didn't
do too, such as the National Museum, the Gems Museum, and doubtless many more hidden treasures if you stay longer.
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