Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The ghost town of Nay Pyi Taw

Ask most people what the capital of Myanmar is, and they will probably say Yangon, or maybe its old name of Rangoon. That would have been true up until 2005, but since then there is a new capital, and its name is Nay Pyi Taw.

Not only is this the new capital, it is a brand new city. For reasons best known to themselves, the government decided to spend a large chunk of the country's money, not on schools, health or helpful things like that, but on building a completely new capital city.

It has a huge, beautifully landscaped swathe of land, with fancy buildings for all of the various ministries, and an enormous government building. Not that you can get anywhere close to the main building with all of its security; it has its own extensive grounds and there are well guarded roadblocks closing off the roads around it.

And talking of the roads. In this country where even the main roads between cities are terrible, Nay Pyi Taw has been given eight lane superhighways, with perfectly smooth surfaces. And there is absolutely no traffic! Why no traffic? Because there's no one here.

The foreign embassies have steadfastly refused to move from Yangon, and so has pretty much īanyone else who has the choice. They built homes for the government officers, but apparently even most of them only live here during the week and go back to Yangon at the weekends. There are people on the outskirts of town, who used to live in the villages that were absorbed when the city was built, but other than that, few people actually live here, and hardly anyone visits except for business reasons.

Foreigners like us have to stay in one of the big business hotels that have been built along one road. They are decent enough hotels, but they are definitely intended for business and conference use, rather than tourists. Not surprisingly really, as there is not really anything much here to see.

They have put in a water park, presumably to give the businessmen something to do in the evening, but it is fairly unimpressive.

The main sight here is Uppatasanti Paya, a somewhat unimaginative copy of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Why they would choose to make a poor imitation of an already popular place, rather than build something new and unique, I really don't understand.

And while we are on the subject of things I find strange, there is a real obsession with neon lighting here. Not just this temple, all over Myanmar, Buddha images are dressed up like Christmas trees in twinkling neon lights.

They do have elephants here though. And not just any elephants, but white elephants. I say white, but like white people, they are really a kind of pinky-beige colour. We use the phrase 'white elephant' to mean something useless and frivolous, and that comes from the way these creatures are treated in much of South East Asia.

But whereas we use the phrase in a negative way, a white elephant is in fact a revered animal, because Buddha's mother dreamed of one when she became pregnant with him. So they are costly, frivolous and fairly useless, because they have to be looked after without being put to work, but they are also a cherished symbol of status.

As to Nay Pyi Taw itself, it was interesting to come here to see this new ghost of a city, and how it contrasts with everything else we have seen in Myanmar, but to be honest, unless you have time to kill, I wouldn't bother.

On a separate note, today we said goodbye to our government friend Mr T, as he was heading home. We were sad to see him go, as he always had such a cheerful smile!

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