Friday, June 15, 2007

Inside Naypyidaw

In November 2005, the ruling military junta of Burma surprised the world by announcing it was moving its capital city from Yangon to a new location 460km north. Construction of the new city started in 2004 and, from what we saw, hasn’t slowed since. The official line is that Yangon was too crowded and busy for the government to expand, however some groups believe the move inland was made because of fears of a US-led invasion. China, the junta’s largest supporter and trading partner, criticized the move, questioning the logic behind spending millions on a new capital when the economy is in shambles and thousands of citizens are starving.

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.

Myowma market.

A massive new structure looms behind vast slums.
Photo credit: Austin Andrews

Construction is everywhere.

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.

A man looks out over Myowma market at night.
Photo credit: Austin Andrews

-- Will


ajve said...

Fascinant mon fils! C'est l'anniversiare aujourd'hui de Aung San Sui Kui. Je pense elle aura 61 ans.

Enjoy your last few days in Malaysia!!

Deine Mutter

Neal said...

This is insane.

Anonymous said...

your experience is amazing Will, People here don't realize how other people live, your story and the pictures touched me...

ajve said...


Aung Kyaw said...

These are such unbelievably up-close pictures of Naypyidaw. Absolutely astonishing, considering when I went into the Rangoon General Hospital campus and took a few shots of the colonial facade, a guard shooed me away, even though I spoke Burmese to him.

Le Mon K. Rice said...

You guys did so great. I don't know if you realised that you guys did a lot of Burmese a favour by getting these amazing(!!) pictures out for the whole world to see... All the pictures from your trip to Burma were fascinating and eye-opening..even for a burmese like me... Makes me feel ashamed that I don't have to go through what some of them have to.

I absolutely enjoyed all the pictures.. Thank you for taking such beautiful and incredible pictures of my country.

tjh said...

Another injustice against the burmese people. Thanks for your courage in bringing this to the worlds attention.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant pics of Nay Pyi Taw! You're one of only a tiny handful of tourists ever to go there, and even fewer to post pictures, especially of the "volunteer" labourers. I was there for work two months after you, and was warned NOT to take pictures. Also heard of a journalist being jailed last year (for 2 years) for taking unauthorized pics in Nay Pyi Taw. GREAT Blog!

Don said...

Hello Will,
I really like your blogs, you spread the truth about Burma, even I'm not in Burma and I'm not came from Burma.
You're really brave sorting out this kind of pictures cause I heard it's not allowed to take picture.
I want to trade a link with you if you don't mind.
Please contact me on

Thank you much.

Will said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! I appreciate your readership.

- Will

Tun Teddy said...

thanks for ur posting man, u have bring up that hermit kingdom to the world

Anonymous said...

I lived and taught English in Burma for 11 years but never saw this new capital. Well done for telling the world about it.

Zwegabinthar said...

Nice job, Will! These pictures relief my craving of how the inexpensive new capital of my country looks like. You help the world know the craziness of the military junta. Even though I can see the new city from above using Google Earth, your pics are the best 3D's for me. Thanks again, Will. (Merci beaucoup!)

Intersection Magazine said...

Hi Will,
I am contacting you on behalf of Intersection Magazine, a transport fashion and lifestyle magazine based in London, UK. Sorry to contact you through a blog comment but I couldn't find any other method. We are working on a feature about Naypyidaw and are looking for photos to accompany the piece. Please get back to us if your are interested in contributing any photos. Let me know if there is any other info I can provide you with.
Also, please feel free to check out our magazine at
Many thanks! I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Liz Plunkett

Photography Desk
Intersection Magazine
112-116 Old Street
+(44) 207 608 1166 phone
+(44) 207 608 1090 fax

Jarrett said...

Hey. Nice blog.

I've been exploring NPD on Google Earth, and your post has been helpful. Just north of the city, scattered across a large area, are a number of identical large rather crab-shaped buildings. Each is at the end of its own little access road. They look rather evil, but perhaps I'm just projecting my opinions of Burma onto them.

Any idea what they are?

h said...

Thanks you very much for Flying Dutchman to give us true view of points whats happening in Naypyidaw. We hear and listen from many various news paper and radio station regarding new captial city we still have doubtful thinking . Now we know what are they busy with their new city. Hope Naypyidaw authority should allow positive news reporter to visit and do their work without disturbance. If I may have a chance I will go and get more information about new capital of Myanmar.

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John Fox said...

What a fascinating visit it must have been for you. Thank you for sharing your experience with a global audience. It will be interesting to see how the city now develops as the government increasingly opens up to diverse views and interests.

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