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
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.