In a bygone era, the capital of Myanmar was Mandalay. This was an extremely practical and sensible location for a capital as it is geographically central and lies on a cocking big river. The Irrawaddy river starts in the Himalayan foothills and runs north to south to the Andaman sea. This river begins and ends in Myanmar which makes it a transport backbone for the whole country and its name, translates appropriately to Elephant River.
In colonial times, the British masters preferred a more ocean-based outlook for their shipping trade, so they moved the capital to Yangon in the south (Rangoon back then). At some point after the Brits went home, the military government decided that they wanted the capital to be elsewhere again. Seeing as they had the country’s assets and workforce at their beck and call, they thought that it might be a good idea to build a brand new city. Never mind that most of the country had no electricity or basic infrastructure.
In 2006 the city of Naypyitaw was created and, because it was purely to house politicians, government staff and their families, they decided to go BIG on everything. Laid out spaciously but with many shells of hotels abandoned, never to be finished, the city has the aura of a Ballard novel. An immaculate, dystopic ghost town circled by empty 20-lane highways. In the centre of it all is a 800 acre parliament complex with its 31 buildings secure behind gradiose gates and across a moat.
It had been a long trip for us to get to Naypyitaw that day. Originally our plan was to stop about 100km before the new city, but we decided that if things were going well, we might push on to make the following day more pleasant. However things didn’t go that well. When we pulled in to a petrol station to avoid the rain after lunch, we lost our pilot van. We were pretty sure it had carried on ahead of us, so we filled up with fuel and carried on as the rain eased. We got 12km up the road but couldn’t find them. Without a phone or any way of contacting them, we decided we should go back to where we had last seen them; the petrol station. Alas, once again, the rain had tricked us and the monsoon downpour went straight to max. Max rain, zero visibility. We were drenched as we limped onto the forecourt to see the confused faces of the crowd that worked there. Just as Nickiy was trying to mime “can I borrow your phone?” the van trundled in and we were reunited with Soe, Htoo and Zaw once more. We never really figured out how we had missed each other on that stretch of road, but we learnt that Soe was known by all the local police and was able to track our every move if we managed to get lost again.
Our little cock up meant we were running even later than planned but we managed to cruise into Naypyitaw at dusk just before the rain began again. We’d been 9 hours on the road and covered 390km. We were put up in a huge, empty hotel with dozens of scurrying staff tending to our every whimper. The hotel even had its own ATM and swimming pool. When we investigated the swimming pool (at night in the rain) we were surprised to find a couple already enjoying it. So the hotel wasn’t empty after all!