Our decision to visit the capital, Naypyidaw (also spelled Nay Pyi Taw and Nay Pyi Daw), was inspired by conversations we had with two travelers we met in Bagan. They had taken a bus from Taungoo to the new capital without any trouble. International news stressed that the city was still off-limits to foreigners.
We decided to try staying in Pyinmana, a town only eight miles from Naypyidaw. Upon arrival a guesthouse manager told us foreigners could only stay in the specially designated “Hotel Zone” in the capital. This strip of five or six extravagant resorts was spread along roughly three kilometers of deserted freeway. From afar they looked postcard-perfect, with manicured gardens and villa bungalows, but upon closer scrutiny sloppy imperfections showed themselves. With our particular bungalow the builders spaced the front door improperly and a small piece of wood was jammed into the gap to allow it to close. The bathroom was also designed in a strange fashion, with the adjoining toilet room barely large enough for toilet itself and too small to sit comfortably in. Privacy didn’t seem to be a priority either, the door to the bathroom having curtain-less windows.
We were checked in by 7:00PM and decided to explore the town a little. Leaving the hotel, a friendly group of guys ushered us into their water truck and gave us a lift into town. The “city center,” a five-spoked traffic circle, can only be called so as it is in the center of town. Not too much goes on here though.
We were surprised, however, at how lively the rest of the city can be. Restaurants were packed and people were walking the streets, enjoying the night. Now that government workers are allowed to bring their families to Naypyidaw, it seems more like a city than the vacant shell of one it may have been a few months before. Despite this, it is still a strange place: slums and local markets right next to sparkling new malls and colourful apartments.
Our second day there we awoke early hoping to pack in as much time exploring before our bus left that night. Instead of walking the five kilometers to the traffic circle, we flagged down two motorcycle taxis who took us to a new mall still under construction. Most shops were sparsely supplied at best. One computer shop, roughly three meters from wall to wall, was barren save for one lonely shelf with a few spindles of DVDs and a couple other products. There were labourers everywhere, men and women.
We took a city bus to Myowma, which seemed to be the real center of the city. Here, crowds of people came together to buy and sell goods, chow down, or wait in line for buses to Yangon.
After spending some time there we decided to get a better view of the city and climbed the road going up to one of the larger pagodas in town. We were stopped by two plain-clothed police officers who eyed our cameras while taking down passport information. This was the only time we came in contact with the law. On some occasions we did feel as if we were being followed. Later on the second day a man stopped his motorbike in front of us, started talking on his walkie-talkie, then drove off. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but he looked like someone I had seen earlier that day.
From the pagoda we were afforded a better view of this expansive city. Far in the distance we could see the red- and blue-topped apartment complexes under construction. A combination of dying camera batteries and heavy rains kept us from doing much else so we made our way to Myowma market to wait for our bus.
Here are some photos from our time in Naypyidaw.
The stretch of road along the "Hotel Zone."
The colourful apartment buildings of Naypyidaw.
A massive new structure looms behind vast slums.
Photo credit: Austin Andrews
Men, women and children construct the grand resorts of"Hotel Zone". Many building sites have guards keeping watch on the labourers. It's hard to tell whether any of this is forced labour. What we do know is that the Tatmadaw government has in the past used forced labour to build infrastructure. We spoke with a local who told us that when he was a child the military rounded up people in his village to build a bridge, without pay or food.