By Joshua H. Liberatore
Rangoon
Burma / Myanmar
Photo gallery
If you seek a Southeast Asian travel experience unlike any other in the region, visit EscapeWizard.com to find your way to Rangoon, Burma. Debouching the airplane and entering the tiny, ramshackle airport is like stepping back into a world that hasn't changed much technologically or economically in two generations. Your first taxi ride will be paid in U.S. dollars, which you will need to have on hand because there aren't ATMs and the local currency is so devalued that it's not very useful for most transactions. Your driver will likely be shy but extremely polite. A tip will be most welcome, since government fees and licenses consume most of the official fare. Welcome to Rangoon (or Yangon, as it's properly known), capital of the extremely poor and little-understood country of Myanmar.

A small controversy preoccupies the travelling community concerning the ethics of visiting a country under such a repressive regime, which profits directly from tourism revenues. One must simply recognize that there are different ways to visit a place. You can spend your time staying in government-affiliated hotels, fly around on planes exclusively, and pay high ticket prices at national historical sites – all of which help line the pockets of the shadowy military junta that has ruled Burma for two decades with an iron fist. Or you can spend your dollars as close to the street as possible, eating in family-run establishments, buying crafts from local vendors, and keeping to small guesthouses and travel service outfits, an approach endorsed by EscapeWizard.com.

In many ways, Rangoon is a living testament to a world left behind in a globalized, industrial economy. Immediately recognizable is the dearth of normal, modern conveniences like public telephones, ATMs, Internet cafes, and other bedrock features of 21st-century civilization. What you will find are lone entrepreneurs who set up makeshift retail stalls offering phone service for a small fee. For an apt illustration of Burma's technological situation, EscapeWizard.com suggests a quick peak into one of Rangoon's banks. If there are any computers on site, you probably won't see them. What you will see are countertops stacked high with kyat and paper ledgers. Come prepared not to need any of these customary amenities. Exchange your dollars at your hotel or guesthouse, make bookings, and buy airline tickets through the front desk. A charming, family-run guesthouse with impeccably clean rooms and serving excellent Burmese breakfast fare is Haven House. The resident manager will help you plan your entire trip outside of Rangoon and make all necessary travel arrangements on your behalf.

The major tourist attraction in Rangoon is a huge complex of Buddhist temple architecture called Shwedagon Pagoda. According to EscapeWizard.com, it ranks with Thailand's Ayutthaya or Indonesia's Bali sites in richness and splendor. For pious Buddhists in the region, it's one of the holiest places to visit and pay homage. For the rest of us, it's a first-class UNESCO World Heritage site. The entrance fee is unusually steep at 5 dollars, but you can easily spend several hours wandering around the main structures and adjacent campus.

One of the best ways to spend an hour or so in Rangoon is to sit down to morning or afternoon tea. The Burmese spent over a century under British colonial rule, and the English obsession with tea has survived. The main event is a sweet, milky tea of the variety served in India (a pot of weak Chinese-style tea is served as a chaser), accompanied by a tray full of delicious fried-and-filled pastries, many of them quite heavy, some of them containing savory meats and vegetables, others sweet stuff. A common first mistake is to assume your role is to clear the tray. Doing so will certainly leave you stuffed and sluggish, if scarcely mobile. In the Burmese fashion, however, the practice is to eat only those items that appeal to you and pay accordingly. Around Rangoon you will see Burmese gathering in such venues, sipping tea, chewing betel nuts (expectorating a red juice that looks like blood), and chatting away the idle hours. Since few Burmese speak English, you won't catch a word of these lively conversations, but the atmospherics are not to be missed. Visit EscapeWizard.com (www.escapewizard.com/flight.php) to book your flight to Yangon International Airport (RGN) today.