The express train from Thazi set off on time, in 1950. It’s come down from Mandalay. We’re in Upper Class again, our tickets this time costing 1800 kyat, this journey should only last 3 hours, and it does. It’s dark. There’s nothing to see, fewer bugs than we found on the train we took to Hsipaw, over the Gokteik viaduct.
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Until we get to Naypyidaw that is..
Naypyidaw station is HUGE.
It’s like an airport. Massive. Acres of tiled floors. Column supported ceilings and no one here.
Apart from a taxi driver who attaches himself to us as soon as we get off the train. He wants 6,000 kyat to drive us to the hotel we have a booking at, the San Chain. It should take us 10 minutes to drive there, considering we’ve just paid 1,800 kyat for a three hour train it does seem a little ridiculous, but its past 2300, its dark and we have no desire to walk the 5km to the hotel. He gets an agreed 5,000 kyat.
The San Chain is the closest hotel that we could find to the train station and we figured we’d probably be in late, so it seemed like the best option. There are no convenient hotels in Naypyidaw, they’re all situated in Hotel Zone 1 or like the San Chain, in Hotel Zone 2. Miles from anything else.
Naypyidaw – Capital since 2005
Naypyidaw has been the capital of Myanmar since 2005, when the ruling General Than Shwe had it built in secret, a move away from Yangon, Naypyidaw is situated roughly half way between the old capital and Mandalay, 200 miles from Yangon. Naypyidaw means “abode of kings”. The rumour says that the General’s personal astrologer warned him of a potential invasion by sea, so he moved the capital. Government employees were given two days to move from Yangon, but had to leave their families behind. The vast majority of foreign embassies remain in Yangon, with only Bangladesh having moved to the International Zone in the new city.
The city is huge. It’s split into zones. And all the zones are miles from each other, there’s no public transport. The hotels in zones 1 and 2. There’s a specific road on which the museums are built (but details as to their opening times are tough to find).
Taking a tour of Naypyidaw
Our only option to see Naypyidaw in the half day that we’ve got here is to get a taxi – and so we part with 40,000 kyat (US$31) for a half day tour of the city – with most of it simply being a drive by.
The roads are immaculate. The grass, the gardens, and the foliage is perfect. There are literally tens of people tending it all.
The roundabouts – because, yes, there are roundabouts, that appear to be used in the correct, British fashion, rather than the usual Asian “free for all, but like Paris” fashion – are gorgeous …
There’s a row of museums, including what looks like a new National Museum and on the same row is the Bank of Myanmar. Nothing looks particularly open. But it’s all immaculate.
We can’t get close to the Parliament building, but we can drive down the TEN LANE HIGHWAY that leads to it.
Actually we can stop the car in the middle of the road.
And get out and take a photo in the middle of the road. In the middle of a ten lane highway.
Because there is no traffic. None. Zero. Zip.
It’s kind of cool. Now this is why I came. Just to see what it’s like. So much better than just reading about it.
So where are the people then? Seems that they’re all at the market area. Along with the sewing machines.
This is not only the market area, but it’s the sewing centre of Naypyidaw. There are rows upon row of old Singer sewing machines (there are other brands as well). It appears that there is a lot of sewing to be done in this capital city and it’s all done here.
It’s close to here that the buses to Yangon go from too.
The real attraction, though, is the market. It’s not big, it’s not flashy,
it’s just a great market. Lots of superbly fresh fruit, vegetables.
Even the dried goods area looks great. This puts a lot of other Asian markets to shame.
And all around us, people are just getting on with their lives, there’s a little curiosity, but not much, which feels nice.
Our final location is the Uppatasani Pagoda. Built by the then ruling General Than Shwe and his wife, this is a copy of the Shwedagon in Yangon, although it’s 30 centimeters shorter than the original.
There’s no fee to get in, but there are rules.
Our shoes go to the show safe, it’s not good enough that my legs are covered up, I have to wear a longhi and it’s a brave woman who wraps it round my very sweaty waist.
There are stairs up, but we’re directed to the lift, although the lack of air conditioning probably makes us just as sweaty as if we’d taken the steps.
The pagoda is shiny. It’s empty.
It’s 99 metres tall. Although it does house a Buddha tooth relic from China. There are perhaps 20 people here.
It’s on a huge platform.
Inside it’s just as empty. And vast. That’s different to the Shwedagon in Yangon, which isn’t hollow.
And what’s great about being up here is that there are fabulous views of the city.
Or the countryside. It’s hard to tell that this is a city.
The White Elephants of Naypyidaw
We’re also here to see the elephants. These are the auspicious white elephants of Naypyidaw, in this some say, white elephant of a capital city, here in a VERY SMALL compound.
The elephants are here because the Burmese people believe that they bring peace, stability and prosperity.
Naypyidaw to Yangon
We’ve been wavering between catching a train out (5km from our hotel) or taking a bus to Yangon our next destination. The bus leaves from the market area and while they both leave at around the same time, the bus takes a few hours less, but does arrive 45 minutes outside the centre of Yangon, while the train station is central. We opt for the train and so get dropped at the station again. Our driver has had a seriously easy half day, but then we’ve seen everything we come here to see.
All that remains is to buy a train ticket (done, we end up in Upper Class again, although there was a five minute window when we were in Ordinary, solid hard wood seat Class).
It’s interesting to see the handwritten reservation charts. They had to ring the conductor on the train to see if there we seats available!
Naypyidaw Railway Station is not only vast and new and clean, there’s also a free mobile phone charging area AND free wifi, (which works better than the wifi we’ve had in some guest houses here!) which is cool for the 30 minutes we have before joining the (currently on time) train to Yangon.
- Where to stay in Naypyidaw – we stayed at the San Chain
- Myanmar Trains from the Man in Seat 61
- What to Eat in Myanmar < especially the tomatoes. You’ve got to eat the tomatoes
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