Day 7: Naypyidaw

by - May 04, 2014

The ridiculous highway at Naypyidaw 
Today was unfortunately assigned almost entirely to travelling, with a 10 hour journey between Inle Lake and Yangon awaiting us.  As we had the advantage of the minivan and were limited on time, we had a look at our maps to see if we could find a place of interest en-route where we could have our lunch or stretch our legs.  The natural resting point of the journey would come at Nay Pyi Daw, the capital of Myanmar since 2006 when the government decided to move it from Yangon in the south. 

Three kids walking an elephant
A pointlessly top quality road network
The motives for this move depend on who you ask.  The western literature that I have read overwhelmingly supports the idea that the move was part military strategy (to move the capital away from its traditionally vulnerable coast and to put it in a better position to control the country’s ethnic minorities), part vanity project (to give the ruling elite a flashy new symbol of their power) and part superstition (a prophecy apparently suggested that the capital needed moving).  On the other hand, the history books that I have read which come out of Burma itself suggest that the move was nothing more than common sense – Yangon was crowded, had little room to expand and was located at the southern tip of a country three times the size of the UK (just think if the UK was three times larger and had its capital at Portsmouth…).  These historians point to both Brazil and Australia who both built new capitals at Brasilia and Canberra, away from the traditional cultural or economic powerhouses, in order to take up a more strategic position for the whole country.

The Myanmar Parliament Building
Before we arrived in the city at lunchtime (having left Inle Lake at 7am), I hadn’t decided which of the historical interpretations for the move I supported.  Upon arrival however, it became clear in my mind that the new city was nothing more than a huge vanity project.  After spending the morning driving along dirt roads in the mountains through poverty-stricken rural villages, we were met in Nay Pyi Daw by fountains, grand hotels and vast highways with not a car in sight.  We grabbed some lunch at a local cafeteria-style restaurant and then drove around the city a little, stopping outside the new parliament for some pictures.  It was here that the new city was at its most obscenely ridiculous.  In front of the grand building that contains the parliament is a highway which is wider than the M25, but on which, in the 15 minutes we waited and took photos, one motorbike passed us.  The road was so quiet that we were able to walk around all of its sixteen (yes, sixteen) lanes without even looking out for incoming traffic.  From this surreal experience of Naypyidaw, we carried on driving for another four hours or so to what is still the spiritual and cultural capital, Yangon where we just about had enough time to head out for some street food for our dinner.

Street Food in Yangon

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