NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar -- 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.
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.
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.”