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Magic, not misery, in Myanmar

March 28, 2004

Having recently returned from a cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, I feel compelled to respond to "By Riverboat to Age-Old Asia" [March 14] and the remarks by a passenger that the people that she encountered were suffering from an oppressive military government, massacres and forced labor. She could not have witnessed such activity on her tour. I advise her to read newspapers before she selects her tours and not visit countries that she is predisposed against.

Although it is true that Myanmar is administered by a military junta, I could not detect any unhappiness in the populace and saw no evidence of a military presence. Policemen were not to be seen on the streets either, only occasionally in police cars, and I saw no soldiers. It was true, however, that our guides were hesitant to comment on or affirm the existence of dissidents or the suppression of freedoms.

We found people to be genuinely friendly on the streets, in the hotels and markets and certainly among the ubiquitous souvenir sellers, with whom we were not able to communicate verbally. Sign language and the almighty dollar were sufficient to achieve one's purpose.

Paul S. McCaig

Dana Point


My husband and I are just back from a wonderful 10-day trip to Myanmar. Yes, Myanmar can be a difficult place to visit, but it doesn't have to be. It is exciting, magical and filled with the kindest, most genuine people we have encountered in a long time. Believe me, the overpriced and over-privileged "Road to Mandalay" cruise ship is not the only game in town.

We booked our trip through Gold Backed Travels & Tours,, a travel agency in Yangon. The manager of the company and I corresponded with each other via e-mail for several months before our departure. We stayed at wonderful five-star hotels and resorts. We had an adorable English-speaking guide who was with us every day, plus a car and driver. We ate delicious, fresh, trouble-free food in the hotels and at local restaurants.

We, too, took a cruise from Bagan to Mandalay on the Irrawaddy Princess, which was comfortable and charming, if a little down at the heels. But the service was heartfelt and although we didn't dine on eggs Benedict and lobster like author Barry Zwick, the food was fine. The crew welcomed us into their world at a fraction of the $2,500 per-person price of the Orient-Express. In fact, our entire trip, including hotels, meals, internal airfare, the cruise and a flight to Bangkok, was only about $2,600.

Joan Tucker

Los Angeles

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