20 May 2008

The Burmese Rulers' Paranoid Home

"There aren't any," says the hotelier, with an embarrassed laugh when asked about the best tourist attractions in Burma's new capital. That's no surprise, really: Naypyidaw — the name translates as "Abode of Kings" — was built from scratch just three years ago, on 1,800 square miles of land carved out of scrubland on the orders of the ruling junta. Naypyidaw doesn't even exist in the Lonely Planet's latest Burma travel guide; there's not much tourist charm in a dusty bunker town that is little more than the wish-fulfillment of paranoid generals.

Naypyidaw is very big, and very empty. Even after cyclone Nargis devastated Rangoon, Burma's former capital, a metropolis of 5 million, still teemed with life. The authorities claim that Naypyidaw, untouched by the storm, is home to almost 1 million. But a recent visit found no more than a couple dozen people, outside of the gangs of manual labourers painting crosswalks and sweeping spotless boulevards. The 20-minute drive from the airport to the Hotel Zone finds just three other vehicles on the road, one of them a horse and buggy.

The Hotel Zone houses all six of Naypyidaw's hotels. Several more are planned — all sharing a bland rancho-chalet-villa aesthetic — although the eagerness and astonishment with which three hoteliers greet a guest doesn't portend well for their occupancy rates.

The Burmese Rulers' Paranoid Home - TIME

More on Naypyidaw: A Dusty Work in Progress - The Irrawaddy and see the pictures on The Flying Dutchman