NAYPYIDAW - The SEA Games returned to Myanmar last night after a 44-year wait, as Naypyidaw celebrated with an opening ceremony that both showcased the nation's rich 900-year heritage and transformation from reclusive state to an emerging nation.
As 6,000 of ASEAN's best athletes strode into the spanking-new Wunna Theikdi Stadium, Myanmar let out a roaring welcome as the cheers of a 30,000-strong crowd reverberated around the arena.
More than 8,000 performers turned the stadium into a spectacle of lights and colour.
But the loudest cheers were saved for Myanmar archer Maung Wai Lin Tun, who, with a flaming arrow, lit the Games cauldron and shot his country into a new and exciting chapter. It echoed the common sentiment that this Games represent Myanmar's "coming-out" party as it moves out of a decades-long junta rule.
Last night, in front of President Thein Sein, who has led Myanmar's reform, Vice-Premier Nyan Tun declared the Games open, the first time it has hosted a sports event of such scale since 1969, when the Games were still known as the South-east Asian Peninsular Games.
Hosting this time round has proved to be a massive undertaking. The government had reportedly approved about US$400 million (S$500 million) in spending for the multi-sports event.
It has sought the help of close political ally China, which had also capped its own international re-emergence with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The Asian superpower has offered nearly US$33 million in technical assistance. It included construction of the massive Wunna Theikdi sports complex - which comprises an outdoor stadium, three indoor arenas and an aquatic complex - as well as organisation of the opening and closing ceremonies.