Mar 21, 2013

Visiting Myanmar's capital - Nay Pyi Taw

I had read and heard about the new Myanmar capital of Nay Pyi Taw where construction started in 2002 but had been told that it was in a restricted zone so tourists were not permitted to visit.  That has changed. Information on travel to Nay Pyi Taw, referred to as NPT, is often out-dated, sketchy and misleading.  Many travel agents still claim that visiting NPT is not allowed.  Before I left the United States I called the Myanmar embassy in Washington and learned that tourists are now permitted to visit NPT.

We hired a car and driver to get to NPT which is about 200 miles north of Yangon.  The excellent, four-lane, arrow-straight, divided highway was virtually empty of vehicles so we were surprised to find a multi-restaurant service area midway.  The glow on the horizon was the first indication we were getting close to our destination. The city of Nay Pyi Taw is ablaze with lights in the evening with beautiful roundabouts centered with huge flower sculptures and colorful twinkle lights. We stayed at the Aureum Hotel in the Hotel Zone where, like the rest of the city, there is a building frenzy. 

Most streets are multi-lanes with the dividers nicely planted with flowers and trees – and virtually empty. No traffic jams here – yet. However, it is said to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The city is huge and hot. The Gem Museum and Gems Mart was very close to the hotel so it was our first stop where gems from Myanmar are on display. The “jewel” of the city is the Uppatasanti Pagoda which is nearly as tall as the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Luckily, for me, there are four elevators to reach the top so there was no need to climb the steps in the blistering sun. The inside of the pagoda is stunning with four Buddha statures facing the cardinal directions and circling the dome are the plaques stating the Noble Truths while on the floor level large stone reliefs tell the story of Buddha.  The city may not be restricted any more but getting near the governmental buildings is. The road leading to the complex is extremely wide without a divider leading me to believe that it was designed to accommodate massive parades. Viewed from afar the complex looks huge and architecturally pleasing. 

Although it is within the city, it was a 40 minute ride (no traffic) to the National Landmark Garden. The $10 admission included a one-hour golf cart ride with a guide. While it is not 100% completed it highlights all eight main ethnic groups in Myanmar with reproductions of their most notable tourist attraction, plus there is a hotel and several areas with amusement rides. In the “cool” of the evening we went to the Water Fountain Garden with many ponds, fountains, and gardens all colorfully displayed.  One large water fountain had music videos projected on it to the enjoyment of the people who sat and listened. I think we were the most memorable moments for many of the visiting locals because several wanted to have their picture taken with us.

 The car we hired broke down causing some concern about how we were going to return to Yangon so we booked a flight back to Yangon. The airport is state-of-the-art and empty. It, along with the city, was certainly built with the future in mind.