The capital of Myanmar has a very particular and quite amusing history. It was built by the current government from scratch in absolute secrecy, and when it opened in 2005, the government officials were given two weeks notice for them and their families to reallocate to the new administrative centre. I guess the idea was to decongestionate Yangon, so they built this city with a huge population in mind. They even built a very similar setup to Shwedagon and moved a bunch of animals from the zoo into the new place. However, I would not say the place was built very efficiently. I would better describe it as the work of a 12-year-old playing Sim City. So yeah, they built it from nothing, yet the train station is about 20km from town, and there are two separate bus stations (15 km apart) with no distintion on what parts of the country they cover. There is also no public transport, except what is reserved for the military and their families. Judging from my conversation with a local, the army and the other few souls that inhabit the place are not encouraged to mingle at all.
We arrived in NPD after spending the night on a train with wooden benches. It was not as bad as it sounds, though the train jumps so much you get woken up quite a bit. In front of us sat the cutest couple in the whole of Myanmar; they folded into each other arms like kittens in winter and slept in all sorts of crazy and umcomfortable looking possitions, all the while smiling and being absolutely lovely to each other. At one point she folded a mat below the seat, but was awoken by hitting her head at a particular bumpy part of the track. It is very likely that most of the country’s rail infrastructure was constructed by the Japanese during WW2 and never maintained afterwards – an unique experience on its own.
The train station is enourmous. Bigger than any other I have ever been to, including both North and South stations in Buenos Aires. However, there is only one train that arrives and departs to and from daily, which means it is huge but utterly empty, giving it a kinda haunted feeling. We were the only white people getting off the train, and we had no idea how far from town we were. A man approached us wanting to help (and be our taxi), showing us pictures of himself with other westerns at a pub, in an attempt to by friendly. We decided to check out the station first and see if we had any other alternative, but we soon realized we would need help to get to the bus station.
When the city was built, a ‘hotel’ district was created, and permits to set up given to major hotel chains. The result being, there is no cheap accommodation in town at all, so the plan was to spend a couple of hours there and then move on and go to Inle Lake. We took two motorbike taxis into the bus station. The sun was coming up, and we got a glimpse of the place. It is as surreal as you might have imagined after my description above. Most avenues have at least 4 lanes going each way, but there are no cars anywhere to be seen. Huge mansions on the side of the road, looking empty. Everything is grand and new, while showing no signs of inhabitance and already starting to deteriorate due to poor construction. All in all, an awe inspiring place but not somewhere you would want to spend a long time in.
We eventually made it to the station to find out a van was leaving to our destination an hour later, and having seen what we had so far, we were quite happy to carry on with our journey. On the way out we again passed a bunch of vacant streets and huge roundabouts with ornaments to direct the non existent traffic. For certain a place worth visiting because I don’t know if there is anything alike anywhere else in the world… Less than a week in and this country was already blowing our minds – and we didn’t even know what other surprises we were in for…