As per our tradition when I’m in Mandalay, I took a group of kids from the 90th Street neighborhood on a trip. We started these excursions about seven years ago, usually visiting places in around Mandalay, such as the famous U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, the snake pagoda and ruins in Paleik, the Sagaing hills, and sites further away in Monywa and Pyin U Lwin.
Two years we took our first overnight trip, going to Bagan, Mt. Popa, and a distant national park. Last year was another multi-day trip, travelling to Shan State towns such as Taunggyi and Nyaungshwe. When I visited Mandalay back in March I didn’t have the time, energy or money for a big trip, so we made a half-day visit to Sagaing and Mingun. Last month, however, I wanted to make it up to the kids and take them someplace new. Their choice: Nay Pyi Daw.
In case you aren’t aware, Nay Pyi Daw is Myanmar’s brand-spanking new capitol. So new that it didn’t even exist a decade ago. Really! Construction on this city — fully designed to be the country’s capitol, main government and administrative center — didn’t begin until 2002, the first government offices weren’t moved there until late 2005, and the official new name wasn’t announced until 2006. The dust hasn’t settled yet.
Now that the city has been built — or rather, is still in the process of being constructed — and the government is in place, it’s been decided by the powers-that-be that Nay Pyi Daw should be one of Myanmar’s main tourist attractions. To help accomplish this lofty goal, they’ve built a huge zoo (zoological gardens), a giant sports stadium (the SEA games were held here a few years ago), and a bunch of gaudy replicas of other famous temples in the country.
Nay Pyi Daw is certainly drawing plenty of Burmese visitors, but during the one day I spent there I didn’t see any other foreign tourists. And frankly, after my initial visit, I have no desire for a return trip. To call the attractions a disappointment and boring would be an understatement. Even the most interesting place, the zoological gardens, is already looking a bit worn around the edges and poorly maintained.
But the main thing about these trips, at least from my viewpoint, is making sure that the kids have a good time and get to see something new. So, in that respect, the trip was a success. The crew all seemed to enjoy themselves, and as usual, they spent most of the time buying all sorts of snacks and sweets and other junk food to eat in between meals and seeing the sights. And now that most of them have smart phones, they can take turns snapping photos of one another, saving wear and tear on my own camera!
As other journalists have already reported, Nay Pyi Daw is a very quiet city. Spookily, quiet. Hell, I’m not even sure if it actually qualifies as a city yet, either in geographic size or population numbers. Honestly, the roads have hardly any vehicles using them, you don’t see many people walking around, and the place just has a weird, eerie vibe. I always thought that Vientiane in Laos was the sleepiest capitol city I had ever visited, but Nay Pyi Daw beats that, ranking as comatose!