Into the void: Impressions from Naypyidaw

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Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital in the middle of nowhere

In the middle of Myanmar’s barren central plain with its occasional paddy fields but more of dusty land, 13 years ago a complete new city literally fell from the sky to become the country’s new capital: Naypyidaw.

It’s a place completely build from scratch, unbeknownst to most Burmese at the time of construction unless they were part of the huge, partly forced worker brigades that built seemingly endless series of giant detached government buildings, pompous villa-style hotels, residential compounds, shopping malls, golf courses, parks and enormous multi-lane highways and avenues.

The total cost of building Naypyidaw remains a mystery, but the consensus estimate of regional analysts is $4 billion to $5 billion. Little is known about its city planners and architects, but in the building stage the area has seen a lot of Chinese contractors and engineering teams from North Korea.

Today, the city is more or less completed, but what it lacks most being the capital of a country with more 53 than million people is life. Economic, government, residential and hotel zones are strictly segregated. The hotel district lies adjacent to the largely undeveloped and deserted-looking diplomatic housing compound, while the ministry area lies ten kilometers to the north.

This is a city without an easily discernible center, and there are just two markets with some food stalls and eateries – also kilometers apart from each others – which resemble a little bit of what a normal Myanmar city would look like. While there are actually ghostly looking bus stops lining the roads, there is no public transport. The city of less than one million people on a land size five times of New York is entirely designed for cars.

To the northwest, there is a huge compound exclusively designed for Myanmar’s former dictator Than Shwe, who was the mastermind behind building Naypyidaw in his twilight years. His villa is reportedly undermined by subterranean bunkers engineered by North Koreans, similar to Kim Jong-un’s home northeast of Pyongyang, to serve as a refuge in case of trouble.

This mind-boggling city is understandably fascinating most visitors, many of whom ended up in trying to find an appropriate metaphor for it, such as:

Ghost city capital
Post-apocalyptic suburbia
Deserted super city
Artificial city devoid of people
Dictatorship by cartography
Surreal urban space
Super-sized emptiness
Spectacular city-planning failure
Urban illusion of Than Shew’s dementia
The opium dream of a dictator’s capital

Below a few impressions (all photos by Arno Maierbrugger)

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital in the middle of nowhere

In the middle of Myanmar’s barren central plain with its occasional paddy fields but more of dusty land, 13 years ago a complete new city literally fell from the sky to become the country’s new capital: Naypyidaw.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital in the middle of nowhere

In the middle of Myanmar’s barren central plain with its occasional paddy fields but more of dusty land, 13 years ago a complete new city literally fell from the sky to become the country’s new capital: Naypyidaw.

It’s a place completely build from scratch, unbeknownst to most Burmese at the time of construction unless they were part of the huge, partly forced worker brigades that built seemingly endless series of giant detached government buildings, pompous villa-style hotels, residential compounds, shopping malls, golf courses, parks and enormous multi-lane highways and avenues.

The total cost of building Naypyidaw remains a mystery, but the consensus estimate of regional analysts is $4 billion to $5 billion. Little is known about its city planners and architects, but in the building stage the area has seen a lot of Chinese contractors and engineering teams from North Korea.

Today, the city is more or less completed, but what it lacks most being the capital of a country with more 53 than million people is life. Economic, government, residential and hotel zones are strictly segregated. The hotel district lies adjacent to the largely undeveloped and deserted-looking diplomatic housing compound, while the ministry area lies ten kilometers to the north.

This is a city without an easily discernible center, and there are just two markets with some food stalls and eateries – also kilometers apart from each others – which resemble a little bit of what a normal Myanmar city would look like. While there are actually ghostly looking bus stops lining the roads, there is no public transport. The city of less than one million people on a land size five times of New York is entirely designed for cars.

To the northwest, there is a huge compound exclusively designed for Myanmar’s former dictator Than Shwe, who was the mastermind behind building Naypyidaw in his twilight years. His villa is reportedly undermined by subterranean bunkers engineered by North Koreans, similar to Kim Jong-un’s home northeast of Pyongyang, to serve as a refuge in case of trouble.

This mind-boggling city is understandably fascinating most visitors, many of whom ended up in trying to find an appropriate metaphor for it, such as:

Ghost city capital
Post-apocalyptic suburbia
Deserted super city
Artificial city devoid of people
Dictatorship by cartography
Surreal urban space
Super-sized emptiness
Spectacular city-planning failure
Urban illusion of Than Shew’s dementia
The opium dream of a dictator’s capital

Below a few impressions (all photos by Arno Maierbrugger)

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid