Departures

Myanmar’s most interesting museum to visit for free

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War planes on display at Myanmar's Defense Services Museum, a lavish monument to Myanmar's military blasted from the hills of the nation's capital, Nay Pyi Taw. © Minzayar Oo

The Defense Services Museum, nestled in Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital of Myanmar, is housed in the entire lot of 603 acres, with 11 buildings in total accommodating things such as old air planes back to World War II and old cars used by consecutive late Presidents.

Being fortunate enough to have a chance to visit the fur-flung Museum, some 200 miles (320 km) north of the commercial city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon), I was definitely going to pay a visit to a retirement home for antiquated automobiles. With my friend managing to pique my interest about a museum, how fortunate I was then!

Not exactly considered one of “typical” tourist hot spots, people commonly travel to Nay Pyi Taw to take care of official government business.

The Museum is about a 30-60-minute drive from downtown Nay Pyi Taw, depending on how lost one get on the roads, unfamiliar signs, and buildings that essentially all look the same.

When I arrived at the main gate, I was required to leave my ID card or passport there, with no admission fee. I had less than one hour to spare before leaving the city. To be honest optimistically, it didn't dawn on me how big this place was until I got inside.

This is most likely the largest museum in the world, and it should be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

So big, one would need a car to get from one building to another, or at least using a golf cart. The ‘Grand Daddy’ of museums indeed!

The buildings are designated for Army, Navy, and Air Force sections. Heading out to the museum buildings, I passed by a field of old airplanes including WWII Spitfire planes, feeling being saluted by old fighter jets and helicopters in a row after a row.

Right! I got into one building that houses the old cars for consecutive presidents. It is square-shaped with a football field sized lawn in the middle. Guards were present, and they seemed to know exactly where things are. They are very helpful with directions if you can describe appropriately.

The entrance of the massive building welcomed me with a small plane. Fierce looking dogs were running along the corridors, and some were waiting, looking like they were guarding the doorway. The place is grand. The flooring of walk way and corridors is made of marble or granite slabs. The corridors are about 15 feet wide. The building reminds me of buildings designed by Russian architects in the mid-1950s, resembling the Yangon Technology University, University of Medicine-1 and Inya Lake hotel in Yangon.

I really did not have much time. At this point I was literally running down the corridor looking for the right door to get to my expected destination. I saw “No Smoking” signs as a uniformed person walked passed me with a cigarette in his hand, wearing a fake gold watch and talking loudly on his mobile phone. It must have been lunch time. Cleaning staff came out of a storage room with their lunch boxes and their children. I wondered if they actually lived in these storage rooms. Some women were holding young children in their arms, being followed by several dogs hoping for scraps.

I finally arrived at the Directorate of Supply and Transport Showroom. I quickly passed by an old military medical vehicle from the 1950s. Old medical supplies and radiation equipment were displayed in series of glass cabinets. Also in display were photographs of military personnel of different ranks along with artillery shells of different sizes and shapes. There also was a collection of yarn for military clothing and blankets, a strange addition to a defense museum, but I can understand that fabric can be an important factor during the times of war.

Looking at shelves after shelves of little miniature military cars and trucks, various uniforms, hats and boots on display along the hallway, I had found what I came to see at the far end: A 1938 Rolls Royce Phantom III and a bullet proof Packard, parked side by side. That British luxury Rolls Royce was the car of Myanmar’s first president Sao Shwe Thaik.

An incredible thing about this museum is that you can touch almost anything on display! Unlike in other museums, I can pose for pictures next to the car as I ran my fingers across the hood of the car. I was truly beginning to love this place in all its strangeness, and I wish I had a couple more days to explore the other 10 buildings.

Later, I’ve learned that there are displays of ships at the Navy sector and military tanks that one can climb into. It will literally take two days to cover all the buildings.  

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By Yu Yu

Yuyu is an avid traveler, freelance travel writer and photographer. Born and raised in Yangon, she has travelled parts of Myanmar, as well as Europe and the Americas. When at home, she enjoys reading, gardening, and playing with her dogs. She currently resides in San Diego, California.  

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