Myanmar's weirdest Attractions with a twist
Whether you're an expat trying to find a way to spend a Saturday afternoon or a tourist on the lookout for an attraction combining education and entertainment, Myanmar has just what you need. There are many such attractions, including museums, and Mizzima ranked the five weirdest.
1. Mong La Drugs Museum
Apparently, the original drugs museum in Myanmar was at Mong La (see below for description of its Yangon counterpart), a town in the largely autonomous Special Region No. 4 in eastern Shan State notorious for its casinos, transvestite cabarets and markets selling illegal animal parts.
Many of the exhibits in the museum are dusty, old photos of stern-faced members of the previous military government torching drug stockpiles or taking measures to tackle the narcotics trade. If the photos are meant to convey the message that the junta was serious about eradicating narcotics they are difficult to take seriously because Myanmar has remained one of the world's biggest producers of opium and is the world's second largest producer of heroin in the world after Afghanistan.
The highlight (if it can be called that) of the museum is a diorama that uses mannequins in an attempt to warn against any temptation to dabble in heroin. The
first scene shows two filthy young men injecting themselves with heroin. Predictably, they are wearing Western jeans and matching “Bad to the Bone” T-shirts. The next scene shows one of the duo having succumbed to the drug and the other being led away by police. We then see the survivor recovering in hospital, before the final scene shows a happy, healthy young man who has got his act together, as well as getting a haircut and wearing a longyi.
2. Drugs Elimination Museum
The Drugs Elimination Museum in Yangon is much bigger than its Mong La counterpart and offers insights into the propaganda techniques of the former military government. Visitors to the three-storey building are greeted by portraits of the junta's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, surrounded by a cheering crowd of citizens, including members of the national races. It's an image reminiscent of those released by North Korea for decades showing a leader as an object of adulation.
The museum also uses mannequins to warn against drug abuse. Notices posted around the museum suggest that narcotics were a foreign invention and that Myanmar will “fight the drug menace”, if necessary without assistance.
The overall highlight, however, is in a dark room where you push a button and a mechanical hand protrudes suddenly from the floor, reaching for the nearest thing to grasp. “What is this?” I asked the museum guide. “What happens when you take drugs,” he said.
Narcotics abuse is no laughing matter in Myanmar (or anywhere else), where addiction to heroin, yaba or ice are damaging minds and bodies at all levels of society. But it's hard to take too seriously the government's claim to be doing all it can to deal with the problem, when opium poppy fields can be found within a day's drive from Nay Pyi Taw. Still, both the museums make for a unique day out.
3. National Races Village
Spoken aloud, the National Races Village might sound like an invention of the Klu Klux Klan, but this sprawling attraction on the west bank of the Bago River is a pleasant diversion that showcases the diversity of the nation's indigenous people.
Essentially a condensed version of what Myanmar has to offer, the village is arranged according to the states and regions and includes well-known but scaled-down features, such as mountain ranges, pagodas and lakes. Each area features a traditional house, and the garments, tools and products from the respective state or region.
The village is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Yangon, depending on the traffic, and it makes for a worthwhile day out.
4. The Crocodile Farm
Hidden away in the depths of the Thaketa Industrial Estate, this quirky site is not for those with a weak heart. The farm houses a few hundred crocodiles, ranging from babies to adults, and the most unnerving experience comes when you negotiate a rickety bridge, with crocodiles waiting in the waters below, mouths agape.
Visitors can feed the crocs, buy crocodile teeth, or watch an aged handler who teases the crocodiles and then puts his head in their mouth, removing it just in time to prevent him from losing it entirely. He's easy to find: look for the man with bite marks on his arms.
5. Nay Pyi Taw
Let's face it, the national capital is more a museum than any sort of functioning town. It may be where the country's key decisions are made, but it shares the distinction of being a purpose-built capital with only a few other cities in the world, such as Canberra and Brasilia.
Street-life is practically non-existent, nightlife takes place only in hotel lobbies and even the attractions built outside government areas seem to have a surreal quality to them.
The penguins at the zoo have apparently died from the heat, the Uppatasanti Pagoda is a copy of the Shwedagon and where else in the world can you find roads twenty lanes wide that are empty except for the few state visits that take place each year?