Just by stepping out of your plane and into the airport, you can probably sense that something is different about Naypyidaw. And once you leave the airport, your suspicion is correct — there’s barely anyone out on the streets of the city of Naypyidaw.
At around 4,800 square kilometres in land size, Naypyidaw is the new capital of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Official records state that the population of the city sits at around 1million. However, in truth, there’s probably less than that.
Naypyidaw, The Ghost City
Probably one of the most surprising things about Naypyidaw is that despite being a capital city, with great modern infrastructures to boot, the population is rather… lacking.
Given its sparse population, Naypyidaw produces an image of an abandoned city filled with empty highways and roads — reminiscent of a ghost city. The silent capital is almost eerily vacant despite its large malls, iconic landmarks, and brightly lit hotels.
It certainly is a strange city, and for the most part, you’ll probably see a one or two figures on the streets sweeping away at almost nothing, or a few local people walking to or back from work. Yet it’s also this unprecedented weirdness that has caught the attention of the world.
Naypyidaw means “Abode of the King” and correspondingly, this capital city is where all the government buildings and ministries gather. It’s more prominently a place where diplomatic matters happen, although tourists are still very much welcome in the city.
There doesn’t seem much to do around the city, although the locals living in the mysterious Naypyidaw do have to occupy themselves on their off days. There’s nightlife in Naypyidaw, with its night markets and bars. Most of the locals tend to gather in the local market and it’s likely that this is the only place that resembles a capital city with its rare crowds.
With the unproportionate number of population in the city in comparison to its large land size, it’s as if Naypyidaw is a city that came too early for its time — a dream city for the future.
How Did Myanmar’s Ghost City Come About?
During the military regime in Myanmar, the government constructed and planned the city in secret. The constructions started in 2002 and formally announced in 2006 as the replacement for Yangon (former capital of Myanmar).
The official reason for the shift is that Yangon’s extreme congestion and over-crowding. Therefore, there is a need for the move. However, there are other speculations and theories floating around as well (unsurprisingly).
Where Is It?
Nestled between two of Myanmar’s largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, Naypyidaw is located in the Naypyidaw Union Territory. The capital city consists of 8 townships, and it’s one of the largest cities in the world.
City Layout: What Does It Look Like?
The city is organised and methodologically split into 6 self-defining zones. They are: Residential Zone, Ministry Zone, Hotel Zone, Shopping Zone, Military Zone, and International Zone
The Residential Zone is where the locals live and civil servants live. They live in buildings that are colour-coded by the ministry they’re working in.
The Hotel Zone hosts many, many, hotels sprawled over a wide area. It’s literally a maze of hotels from luxury hotels to backpacker hotels. As you zip down the boulevards, you’ll be amazed by the colourful sights of the grand hotels around you.
Exploring The Vast City
True as it might be that Naypyidaw is relatively bare and desolate, there are still landmarks and places you can explore.
Buses are available from Yangon or Mandalay to the capital. However, public transport is almost non-existent in Naypyidaw. You can either rent a motorbike or take a taxi to get around the capital.
If you find yourself curious enough to visit Naypyidaw, here are 6 things you can do there!
1. Drive Down The 20 Lane Highway
This is the epitome of how an abandoned city would feel like. Along the 20 lanes of highway (10 in each direction), the roads are void of any vehicles during any time of the day.
As you ride or drive down the vast highway, you can even stop in the middle of the road to take a picture. It’s probably the only capital in the world that isn’t choked in traffic or smoke from vehicle exhaust pipes.
Alternatively, you can call it a car heaven. It’s ironically iconic in a sense that it represents the emptiness of Naypyidaw, where the roads are largely unoccupied despite being built to accommodate heavy traffic (that’s non-existent). There’s barely any sign of life in sight, and it definitely strikes down on you on the reality of just how deserted Naypyidaw seems to be.
2. Visit The Iconic Uppatasanti Pagoda
Opened in 2009, the golden Uppatasanti Pagoda is a massive Buddhist Pagoda. It is replica of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. It stands at 99 metres in height, an impressive and majestic sight to behold from afar, especially at night. It’s an iconic landmark not to be missed when you’re in Naypyidaw.
You’re free to enter the premise as well. Check out the beautiful and intricately patterned ceilings, as well as the scriptures and carvings by its side. Due to the lack of crowds, it’s a great way to spend a quiet evening or night and be awed by the structures around you.
If you have some time on hand, watch the sunset with the Uppatasanti Pagoda! It can be a breathtaking experience, too!
3. Discover A Mini-Myanmar In National Landmark Garden
The National Landmark Garden boasts a miniature Myanmar. The country’s famous sights and landmarks have replicas there. It is ndoubtedly one of the more distinctive attractions in Naypyidaw.
The entire garden is huge, and you can easily spend a few hours going around the different sights. With scale models of splendid hills, pagodas, gardens, palaces and other famous architecture, it’s a place where you can learn about the country’s culture and natural beauty.
You can also compare the scaled structures with the actual attractions, or tour around (mini) Myanmar in a buggy for around 35 minutes. Either way, it’s a perfect place for all your photography and selfie needs due to its picturesque scenery and views.
4. Check Out The Gem Museum
A gem (pun intended) among the attractions in Naypyidaw, the Gem Museum, as its name implies, is a Museum that exhibits a large variety of priceless gems.
If you’re a stone collector or just simply a fan of all things shiny, the Gem Museum is worth a visit. From jades, pearls and marbles to gems such as sapphire, there’s plenty to see, even gems that you have probably not heard of before.
Furthermore, you can also purchase authentic gems and stones from the market at the ground floor. It’s also a great option for souvenirs to bring home for your family or friends!
5. Immerse Yourself In The Local Culture At The Myoma Market
The Myoma Market is the focal and commercial point of Naypyidaw. It’s where most residents of this capital city gather, being near the Residential Zone. Markets, restaurants, clothing stalls, hardware stores, and more — there’s plenty of shops around that could keep you occupied and for the locals to purchase their daily necessities.
The Myoma Market is often full, especially in the evenings after work hours. This is the time locals do their grocery shopping after work. It’s also a place where you can enjoy local food and enjoy the bustling atmosphere that’s rare in other parts of Naypyidaw.
You can experience the lively local culture here, a stark contrast to the vast and almost abandoned city out of this area. Additionally, if you stay longer in the evening, you’ll be able to catch the night market here too.
6. Spend Some Time At The Water Fountain Garden
Besides Myoma Market, chill out at the Water Fountain Garden. You can catch yet another glimpse of the local life in Naypyidaw.
It’s easy to spot the entrance to the garden, with its humongous steel arch-ways. The arches will also be lit up if you visit the garden at night.
Inside, you’ll also be treated with stunning light shows where vibrant colours splash vividly along with bursts of water from the fountains. There are several ponds and fountains, bridges, and also a massive water slide in the garden itself.
Stepping foot into the garden, you’ll be greeted with a local buzz and music blaring from loudspeakers among the array of lights. It’s an interesting and captivating experience, one that will definitely make a mark in your travel to Naypyidaw due to different atmosphere in comparison with the deserted roads during the day time.
Pro-Tip: Visit the garden when it turns dark for the light shows. Additionally, the fountains only operate after 6.30 pm.
Naypyidaw, A Unique Tourist Destination
While Naypyidaw may not be a world-class tourist destination, it’s unquestionably one of the most unique cities to explore. What sets it apart is in its odd and curiously empty roads, a bizarre phenomenon for a new capital, especially when Yangon is still overpopulated and crowded.