The Ghost Capital / Naypyidaw, Burma

Which is your favorite pastime during long car trips? Perhaps you’re good at spotting license plates, counting red cars passing by, or at general knowledge games such as the one where you associate each country with its capital city. (Yes, that one you stop after ten minutes.) And you may have to be reminded one detail about Burma’s, since the south-eastern Asian country (which also goes by the name of Myanmar) changed the location of its capital in 2005, and switched it from Rangoon to Naypyidaw.

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Naypyidaw, a ghost city? (Photo credit: Vocativ/Arthur Nazaryan)

The odd thing is that the new capital, built from scratch in the heart of the jungle and as large as six times New York City (!) is likely to be a ghost town. These are usually the ones deprived of life following heavy war bombings or deadly epidemic events. But here, one does not face this kind of deserted, overgrown city in ruins: Naypyidaw is a brand new, clean and luxurious capital, shining as if it were polished twice a day (which it probably is).

Arriving there, one should not be annoyed by traffic jams – the twenty-lane highway is almost empty, if not crossed by farmers quietly leading their herds to a grazing place. On their way, they just pass by gardeners pampering plants on each side of the street, who seem to be the only living souls in the area.

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Rush hour on the highway. (Photo credit: SIPA via LesEchos.fr)

Here and there, however, everything seems like it’s ready to face a flood (a tsunami, more likely) of tourists: luxurious hotels, five-star complexes, a zoo (from which some imported penguins died – it needs to be said that the average temperature in Naypyidaw is 27°C, 80°F), a waterpark, palaces, numerous golf courses and movie theaters. Oh, and a local brand new airport with deserted gates, built ready for giving a warm welcome to some 3,5 million passengers. Even I don’t have so much imaginary friends.

It feels like an epidemic has spread over the city and made every person suddenly evaporate. The shining dome of the golden Pagoda, the exact replica of Rangoon’s, overlooks a world deserted by mankind.

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Uppatasanti Pagoda, Naypyidaw: tourism at its peak. (Credit: DiverDave via English Wikipedia)

Why did it occur at all? The Burma officials decided as early as 2005 to pack up their things and move out of Rangoon to settle in a new capital city. Was it for strategic, military reasons – the government soon hired a lot of companies to oversee the works, and the city was built up out of nowhere. Then it was time to inject life within: thus civil servants have been forced to leave their own families and consider Naypyidaw their new home.

It is said that even an astrologist contributed to hurry the decision to build up a new capital city. That may explain the astronomical costs incurred – estimated 4 billion dollars – in the 55th poorest country worldwide.


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