I get from Yangon to Naypyidaw by bus and reach the capital of Myanmar at night, about 10 pm. As usual, I am the only foreigner on that bus, but that was expectable as not many travelers visit this city. I will be exploring Naypyidaw by motorbike.
The city looked so empty that I was afraid that no one would be at the bus station to take me to my hotel. There is no such thing as hostels here. There are no low budget options. The hotels look very big, and I’m sure they are, just like mine, the cheapest one. Just by arriving at the hotel you start feeling the creepiness of the city. It is very silent. The two young men at the reception were looking quite bored and the restaurant just next door that I could see through the glass wall was empty, but it wasn’t that small. The furniture looks expensive and the hotel looks great for the price.
Once I check-in, the receptionist tells me to wait, and at the front door, I see a hotel buggy cart. This will actually be the first time I am on one of these, and it was all for myself besides having at least a place for 10 people. After 2 minutes on that cart, I understand why am I going to my room on it. The rooms are kinda far from the reception as you need to walk about 4 minutes to get there, having in mind that usually I just need to walk a few seconds to be at the reception, this distance was huge to me. The area where the hotel is placed is huge! It includes a lake inside and a fruit farm with many trees- However, all the people I see are actually workers, receptionists, restaurant waitresses, people working in the garden, that’s all the living souls I see. Exploring Naypyidaw wasn’t so different.
I find myself in a huge Hotel, so empty that it turned it creepy and awkward to walk on the halls. I can assure you there were a lot of rooms, I would say more than 50, but no one else besides me appears to be there. Maybe if the place wasn’t that big, it wouldn’t feel so strange. I have no other option but to dine at the hotel’s restaurant all by myself. I think the waitress on the other side of the restaurant could hear me chewing my food, so loud the silence was. And that was definitely weird. Maybe I don’t know exactly how to describe the creepiness of the moment, but I haven’t felt so weird while having a meal before, although I’m in the proper place to do so.
The distances in the city are big, so I know the only solution for exploring Naypyidaw is hiring a motorbike, well I mean, the cheapest one too, as hiring a car for myself would be out of my budget. The motorbike rental service is available at the Hotel at a rate of 4000 kyats per hour. Yeah, nothing is cheap around here. If you don’t know prices in Myanmar, I can tell you that usually, you hire a motorbike for 1500 kyats per hour. I’m very afraid of exploring the city on my own by motorbike, as the last time I tried to ride one I ended up twisting my ankle and swearing I would not rent another motorcycle again while traveling. I’m sure the men in the hotel could notice how nervous I am with that thing, I think even they were scared by letting me go on the motorbike after all. They spent a few minutes explaining to me how to make it work, and at the same time, I am trying to focus on the idea that the streets in Naypyidaw are too wide for me to mess things up. And here I go bearing this idea in mind (by the end of this trip I’m riding a motorbike way too confidently)
The streets have always at least 4 lanes each direction. There are not many other vehicles around, so I finally get more confident about this day. It doesn’t take long to start feeling why people call it the ghost city. Well, I have felt it already the night before… but I haven’t seen what the city was looking like.
Everything looks very well arranged, the trees along the street, the empty sidewalks look good and freshly painted. Everything looks big which makes me feel even smaller. Distances are a thing. Kilometers and kilometers away is my first stop. I took a long time to reach it also because I was stopping for pictures of the emptiness of the city. My first and only serious stop was actually the main pagoda in town: Uppatasanti Pagoda. They say it is a replica of the Shwedagon in Yangon, but the vivacity of the Yangon’s one with nothing compares to this one that has so much empty area that it looks more empty than it actually is. This is definitely the widest area of empty pagoda I have ever visited. The pagoda seems relatively new and the inside looks very luxurious. It is, in fact, a beautiful pagoda. You can have some pretty enjoyable view around as the area is super flat and you can have a wide view.
Next to the pagoda is a place with white elephants that I didn’t bother visiting. I have visited a similar place with white elephants in Yangon and didn’t enjoy to see how stressed the animals look. After some pictures with locals- I actually think there is no other country in the world, besides mine, where locals have so many pictures of me- I decided to move on. You will spend a while here as the area is big, but there is not that much to see.
My next destination was the widest street in Naypyidaw with 20 lanes. Yes, 20 lanes, 10 each side. I didn’t bother counting as I trust the internet and I also lost the counting a few times. I have heard about it, I know top Gear was filmed here– I don’t see a better place for a race, and I know that the hugeness of the street is called surreal, but only once you see it you can be fully aware of what people mean when they describe it. I saw a maximum of 4 cars crossing it at the same time. They look so small having in mind the empty large area around them. This is truly impressive and overwhelming.
I found myself wondering many times why does this city exists with such dimensions. It doesn’t make any sense, and that was the main thought in my mind while riding those 4 hours around the ghost city. This is ridiculous, what is this for, and what Burmese people actually think about it, were questions flooding up my mind. It makes even less sense as this is a poor country and many people still live in it without electricity or sanitary conditions. The streets in Myanmar are in general so bad and bumpy, but these ones here are perfect, but for no one.
Myanmar is my favorite, but it is a weird country, and I can’t imagine how it is to live in it, but I’m sure it is not that great. The capital Naypyidaw was built in secret while the military was ruling this country on its own. The street with 20 lanes was made so an airplane could land there. This wide street is around the parliament that is so huge that I didn’t bother going all around it. Once I find myself in front of the parliament, I stop for a picture. Actually the pictures shouldn’t be of an empty street as that way you don’t realize how small does a car look. Just like in the other streets of the city, not many other vehicles are around, but once I stop, not much later, there is a sir in a motorbike that stops beside me. In his little English, he passed to me the message that I shouldn’t stop there. No pictures. As there is a police officer not that far, I do as he says and proceed my way laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. I remember that I had this stupid incredulous smile in my face most of the time while riding the rented motorbike. I’m not scared of riding it anymore. I can’t possibly hit anything here…
All the people I saw here, besides vehicle drivers, were public workers. I mean, people taking care of how the city looks: watering the plants, cutting them, cleaning the edges of the street, taking care of trees… I eventually saw 2 farmers with a group of water buffalos.
One thing I have to say, this city is really empty, it is creepy and you can only get it once you are there. The ambiance around you creates all the weirdness about it, the silence, the absence of people, how big things are, how far they are from each other, anyway, I think the Ghost city is a very appropriate name, and bizarre also goes along. So, if you are willing to experience something that I doubt you can see anywhere else in the world, don’t hesitate to visit Myanmar’s capital. Yes, Naypyidaw, not Yangon! And make sure you will be exploring Naypyidaw by motorbike.