Myanmar might be on a number of travellers radar this year, but the destination is still very raw and undiscovered.
Mention Myanmar’s sprawling capital Nay Pyi Taw in a conversation, and you may get blank stares.
Nay Pyi Taw (or Naypyidaw) means “abode of kings” and has been described in the international press as a “super-sized slice of post-apocalypse suburbia” with roads stretching up to 20 lanes wide.
Hailed by officials as a project of the future when Myanmar’s capital shifted from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw in 2005, the new capital boasts extensive monumental architecture and stands as a precursor of a new era of rapid development and growth for the country.
A visit to Nay Pyi Taw might prove to be an unusual experience but it is also home to some extraordinary facts and finds. Here, the PARKROYAL Hotels team brings you 7 surprising facts you never knew about Myanmar’s capital city.
It has bagged the title of the most bizarre capital city in the world
Myanmar has a penchant for shifting its capital city. Formerly known as Burma, some commentators have proclaimed that the Southeast Asian country should also grab the moniker: “the country with the most number of (former) capitals.”
This latest one, situated about five hours north of Yangon and mid-way between Yangon and Mandalay, was carved in its entirety out of the tropical jungle. It was built-to-order in the past to cater to the country’s growing aspirations.
What makes it the most bizarre capital of the world? The fact that it has sprawling government complexes, lush villa-style developments, and 20-lane boulevards, but few residents.
It is 8 times the size of New York City
Nay Pyi Taw is estimated by The Independent to be around 7,000 square kilometres large, which is about eight times the size of New York City and more than four times the size of London.
In spite of its size, Nay Pyi Taw’s population figures stand in stark contrast; with official figures pegging the number at 920,000, it is a mere fraction of London’s population size of 8.6 million.
The perks of visiting a city with such a low population density are that you probably never have to queue for food, visiting attractions, or booking activities. No rush hour human or vehicular traffic, plus you’ll probably be given a royal welcome by your warm Myanmar hosts.
It played host to the 2013 Southeast Asian Games
Held in December 2013, the 27th SEA games in Nay Pyi Taw saw some 4730 athletes from 11 nations participating, and featured 460 events in 34 sports.
It was the third time Myanmar hosted the Southeast Asian Games; the 1961 and 1969 SEA games were held in Yangon, then capital of the country. As Singapore withdrew its hosting rights due to delays in the completion of its new national stadium, Nay Pyi Taw became the second city in Myanmar to host the SEA Games.
During your visit, make it a point to tour some of the sports facilities which hosted the games, and relive Myanmar’s sporting glory—the country walked away with a total of 233 medals that year, second only to Thailand.
Its most visited attraction is Uppatasanti Pagoda
Uppatasanti Pagoda in Nay Pyi Taw is a replica of Yangon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda, and its name, which roughly translates to “protection against calamity,” may give some insight as to the political motivations behind shifting the capital city up north.
Also known as the Peace Pagoda, the spectacular Uppatasanti is certainly worth a visit. Its magnificently domed interior features four jade Buddha images sitting on golden thrones facing the cardinal directions. It also houses a Buddhist tooth relic from China.
Parliament is a vast complex of 31 buildings
The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Assembly of the Union) is a massive 31-building cream and magenta complex, believed to represent the 31 planes of existence in Buddhist cosmology. The entire complex, spanning some 800 acres of land, even has a moat surrounding it and is accessible only via a drawbridge.
Myanmar’s is a bicameral parliament, consisting of the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities), a 224-seat upper house as well as the Pyithu Hluttaw, a 440-seat lower house (House of Representatives).
Journalists, both foreign and domestic, have been allowed to attend parliamentary sessions in recent years. It may be tough for tourists to gain entry into the complex, but it is quite an experience to drive down the empty 20-lane highway leading to the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw, and stop in the middle of the road for a selfie.
Its dining scene is flourishing
Nay Pyi Taw’s restaurant scene has been quietly booming to cater to the growing number of business and leisure visitors. Here, there is little more comforting than a bowl of noodles and YKKO, Yangon’s famous kyay-oh (Burmese for hot pot) chain, offers a good selection. It is located at Capital Hypermarket on Yaza Thingaha Road.
Or hit up Maw Khan Nong 2, situated on a small hill above the well-known Thabyegone (Tha Pyay Kone) Market. At this lively beer station, you can tuck into piping hot bowls of savoury Shan noodles, traditional Thai delights, and a glass of cold draft beer.
Also serving up a variety of local delights is Taw Win Brasserie (pictured above), located within the immaculately landscaped PARKROYAL Nay Pyi Taw. Here, you can savour Myanmar’s unique flavours, ranging from the familiar to the more exotic. They include the VVIP-approved traditional fish paste noodles (Mohin Gar), Spring Chicken served with garlic mash, carrot puree, confit vegetables and red wine foie gras sauce, and the ever-popular Thursday night BBQ buffet.
Gems Museum houses the largest pearl in Myanmar
One of Nay Pyi Taw’s main tourist attractions, the Gems Museum is filled with all manner of Burmese baubles, from intense fire-red rubies, to jade and sapphire. Here, you’ll also be able to gawk at the largest pearl in Myanmar.