It didn’t take long for Burma’s new capital, Naypyidaw, to develop a red light district, where sex can be bought at brothels masquerading as beauty salons, massage parlors, karaoke lounges and even restaurants.
The seamy district, Paung Laung, is on the main road leading into the city. Nearly 100 establishments where girls can be bought by the hour or the night line the road. But sex comes at a high price—between 100,000 kyat (US $100) and 200,000 kyat ($200).
Such prices can only be afforded by well-heeled businessmen and members of Naypyidaw’s top brass, who not only patronize the brothels but are said to have invested in many of them.
Business is brisk, spawning the development of a cheaper red light zone along the 30 mile stretch of highway between Naypyidaw and the next town. Before Burma’s new capital moved to Naypyidaw, less than half a dozen brothels were in business along the roadside—today there are more than 70.
Most are just makeshift tents and bamboo huts, where 20 minutes with a sex worker costs 6,000 kyat ($6). Young boys working on commission tout for trade from passing motorists and motorcyclists.
One sex worker, from Lewe, near Naypyidaw, told me she resorted to prostitution because her family’s land was expropriated by the authorities when the new capital was built. Her mother contributed to the household budget by selling rice at a local market.
The girl said her meager earnings have to cover a daily “fee” of 7,000 kyat ($7) demanded by police, who are at the bottom end of a systematic racket.
One sergeant serving at Naypyidaw’s military headquarters accused the capital’s commander, Maj-Gen Wai Lwin of encouraging the spread of prostitution in and around the city.
“He told his men to avoid brothels but then allowed them to get involved in the beauty parlor business,” the sergeant told me on condition of anonymity.
“All understood what he meant and that he was giving a green light to running massage businesses.”
Senior military officers and high-ranking officials reportedly own buildings in which massage parlors and beauty salons operate and where sex is also sold.
One top officer close to junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe was granted ownership of a share in a hotel, the Myint-Moe-Nan Motel, which was built on Naypydaw’s main street despite a ban on hotels within the city. Brig-Gen Soe Shein’s involvement in the hotel project was regarded as a way for the consortium of owners to get official protection.