A forty minute flight from Yangon in Myanmar took me to a place I would never imagine existed, until I saw it with my own eyes. Hambantota, our famous sanctuary for white elephants, simply pales in comparison to Nay Pyi Taw, a city the Myanmar Government built as its administrative capital, ten plus years ago.
“We didn’t have a clue that a city was being developed in a complete hideout. It was a ‘top secret’ project. The construction was handled by those closest to the military regime at the time. Rumors about this ‘secret city’ started leaking out only around 2004 when the city was partially built” explained a colleague from Myanmar, Dr Min.
While driving around the city for a few hours, I was positive that our two ex-heads of state had extensive brainstorming sessions on how to put public money to best use! They could easily share these as regional best practices with other likeminded megalomaniacs who may never have dreamt of this kind of city development; not to mention the personal development angle.
Nay Pyi Taw, developed on 2,723.71 sq. miles has miles and miles of beautifully designed, perfectly carpeted, empty roads, leading to virtually ‘nowhere’. The long stretches of roads, interspersed with lonely bus shelters, circle around roundabouts that have hideous looking king-sized flowers. It was strange not to have seen a single bus travelling along these roads nor a commuter waiting at a single bus stop. One would randomly see a local couple riding a scooter, which was about all the traffic we encountered along these fancy roads. Apparently this was all jungle and paddy land that had got turned into this fancy city where Myanmar’s public administration is now housed.
I was totally aghast to see a ‘Bank Zone’ and a ‘Hotel Zone’ with over fifty hotels built to a cookie-cutter design. Apparently these were built to host the dignitaries who visited the ASEAN conference in 2013 and the government didn’t want to make a distinction between one look of a hotel from the other fearing the dignitaries would feel discriminated!
I was wondering who would patronize more than a dozen banks that had been opened in this ghost city, where a few hundred thousand Burmese had been resettled under duress, in order to run the administration. We dropped in at the Hilton to grab some lunch and it truly was another one of a kind experience! The hotel lobby was in total darkness and permeated a musty scent which made us make a hasty retreat. I wonder what message a global brand such as Hilton sends to its loyal customers who would visit the Hilton of Nay Pyi Taw!
The highlight for me was experiencing the International airport that had only one International flight landing. Sounded very familiar and amusing, to say the least. This for me was Mattala’s very wealthy and opulent big brother. And what’s more surprising was to learn about the friendly financier of the project. No prizes for guessing who it was, since a plaque at the entrance firmly confirms the invisible hand that financed this airport too.
Here’s the thing though. Some of my colleagues were discussing the fact that that they would not mind relocating to Nay Pyi Taw because of its unbelievable facilities, ( “Nay Pyi Taw has much faster internet” said one!) clean air, and zero traffic, better land prices, much better comforts .. the list went on. Seriously? I asked myself in disbelief.
This left me thinking that Nay Pyi Taw may not be a ghost city for long, if more people began to think like my colleague did and started moving in lock stock and barrel!