Take a Tour of Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s Ghost Town Capital City

PHOTO: Few people can be seen in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.PlayMary Bruce
WATCH A Drive Through Burma's Ghost Town Capital City

As President Obama spends the day pushing for further democratic reforms in Myanmar, he is doing so in a place that stands as a constant reminder of the challenges facing this fledgling democracy: the newly-built capital city of Naypyidaw.

Commissioned by the then-ruling military junta in 2002, the city seems to have everything: sparkling government buildings, beautifully manicured parks, large housing developments, golf courses and a massive sports stadium.

The only thing missing is people.

PHOTO: Yaks outnumber highway cars in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.Mary Bruce
Yaks outnumber highway cars in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

There are more water buffalo on the side of the massive 20-lane highway leading to the parliament building than cars on the road.

Naypyidaw is a modern-day ghost town.

The few people that you do see out and about here seem to be those keeping it up, tending to the precisely planted flowers that line the glistening streets or hammering away at the nearly-completed Golden Pagoda.

In a country where poverty is rampant, the military reportedly spent billions to relocate the capital, claiming logistical necessity. The seat of power had to escape the cramped confines of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, the then-government claimed, and needed more room to grow.

PHOTO: The newly-built capital city of Naypyidaw, Myanmar was commissioned in 2002.Mary Bruce
The newly-built capital city of Naypyidaw, Myanmar was commissioned in 2002.

But you don’t see a lot of growth here. Just a 10-minute drive from the shiny government buildings, you get a glimpse of the real Myanmar.

Narrow dirt roads quickly take the place of the vast avenues of Naypyidaw. Residents zip past on dusty bikes and the streets are packed with makeshift shops and stalls. It’s a small glimpse of the real Myanmar.

Obama is making his second visit to Myanmar as president. Just two years ago, he came here with high hopes as the country emerged from a long military dictatorship. Now, his visit comes as democratic reforms are stalling.

"Progress has not come as fast as many had hoped when the transition began four years ago," Obama said in an interview with the local Irrawaddy News. "In some areas there has been a slowdown in reforms, and even some steps backward.”

Now, Obama is walking a fine line, trying to show support for the new government while also pressing President Thein Sein to speed up the pace of reforms and address urgent human rights issues.

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at an U.S.-ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations East Asia) session at the Myanmar International Convention Center, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ AP Photo
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at an U.S.-ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations East Asia) session at the Myanmar International Convention Center, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.