'Turn Around and Go Back to Yangon'

The following dispatch was written for ABC News by a journalist who has been inside Myanmar. Out of concern for the reporter's safety, we are not revealing the reporter's name.

"No, no, no," says the military guard. He is sitting next to a roadblock with five other soldiers at his side. "You cannot go there. Foreigners cannot go there."

He looks at me, shakes his head and gestures at the road on the other side of the barricade. "You must have permission to go. Turn around and go back to Yangon."

Myanmar, also known as Burma, was hammered by Cylone Nargis some five weeks ago. The reclusive junta that governs this impoverished nation has been criticized by the international community for not doing more to help its own people recover.

More than 134,000 people are estimated to have perished in the storm, and there are, aid groups say, close to 2 million survivors.

The vast majority of these refugees are located in an area of the country where outsiders not attached to aid groups and foreign journalists are expressly forbidden.

More than a month after the cyclone struck, the government is still not allowing full access to international aid groups trying to bring supplies to those whose lives are still threatened.

Human rights groups say more and more of Myanmar's desperate citizens are now receiving aid, but that the plight of many has been met with a slow response from the junta.

The newest estimates suggest that as many as 35,000 pregnant women are at risk, and early estimates show that up to 40 percent of the storm's victims are children. And yet, despite an outpouring of aid from nations around the world, relief workers must battle mountains of red tape.

This roadblock illustrates the core problem: The government is wary of outside influences. Even traveling as a tourist, my appearance as a Westerner has doomed my attempts to move freely in Myanmar.

I am trying to get from Yangon, the nation's largest city, to the delta region in the south, home to the most serious suffering.

Earlier in the day, I asked several travel agencies if they could help me book passage to the affected region. But nervous Burmese travel agents tried to steer me toward more traditional sights in the north of the country before finally admitting that foreigners aren't permitted to venture to the south.

"I am sorry, I cannot help you," said one. "If you try to go on your own, there's nothing I can do for you."

Next I try crossing the Yangon River on my own, which is the gateway to the delta region. But when I get to Yangon's port, a public ferry official tells me that I can't board the boat because I'm an outsider.

Then I try chartering a smaller, private boat farther down the river. The captain agrees to take me, but then, as I approach his boat, a police officer appears and blocks my path, telling me to turn back. The officer says I must receive permission from the police headquarters nearby.

So I walk down the road to inquire there. But I am rebuffed once again.

In broken English, the police -- whose well-maintained headquarters stand in stark contrast to the rundown residential buildings elsewhere in the city -- explain to me that because I'm not traveling with an aid group, I cannot go.

"But I'm just a tourist, and I want to see what's on the other side of the river," I say. The officer's reply, which he repeats several times while leveling his steady gaze at me: "No."

Next, I hire a tour guide to take me to a region in the north of the city, so that I can take in the damage there. I will abandon, for now, my attempts to reach the delta.

Kyaw Win (not his real name), 30 years old, short and stout, says he'll take me. He says that the area to which we'll travel, while not as demolished as Myanmar's south, is still in sorry shape.

In many neighborhoods, homes have been ravaged by the storm, and while several dwellings have been patched up by their owners, trees have been swept to the ground, and residents are living with plastic sheeting as their only shelter from the frequent monsoon rains.

After a 45-minute taxi ride, we approach a village, and I get out of the car. One man is standing in front of a house that seems in relatively good shape, while what used to be a home on a plot of land next door is simply muddy water. He is fortunate to have a home; his neighbor, whose whereabouts are unclear, has lost everything.

The man is 35 years old. He works as a construction laborer. His house and his family survived the cyclone intact, he says, and he's still able to purchase food and water for his family.

I ask him if the government has done anything to help him. He says something in Burmese to Kyaw Win and then turns around and walks away.

"He doesn't want to talk about the government," Kyaw Win says.

Just then, a young man, perhaps 25 and dressed in a white button-down shirt and tan slacks, approaches us on a bicycle. He has a walkie-talkie dangling from his waist; the radio sticks out in a poor country where only a tiny minority of residents own mobile phones. He is a member of Myanmar's secret police.

"What is he doing here?" the man asks Kyaw Win, pointing at me. "He's just a tourist taking pictures of the houses after the cyclone," Kyaw Win says. I explain that I've already seen the pagodas and the other tourist attractions in the city, and that I'm simply curious about the countryside.

"But why are you taking pictures? Why aren't you in downtown Yangon? Where else have you gone?" I tell him, again, that I'm merely inquisitive.

Before we can walk away, the man produces an official-looking notepad. He demands my name, but I'm not carrying my passport or any other identification. He asks me the name of my hotel. And then, more distressingly in a country where citizens can be jailed for speaking with the media, he records Kyaw Win's name and address.

We learn that the police officer has already recorded the license plate number of the taxi we've taken to the village, even though our driver has parked it several hundred yards away. We return to the car and drive away. Kyaw Win speculates that as we were entering the village, another undercover police officer may have noticed us and radioed his cohort up ahead.

The secret police are a fact of life in military-ruled Myanmar. When local people who are bold enough to speak about political matters talk to foreigners, they do so in hushed tones, first glancing around to make sure their fellow citizens -- strangers who could be undercover police -- aren't listening.

I have told Kyaw Win that I'm merely a tourist, and he seems to believe me. But there are still risks in associating with Westerners in the storm-ravaged regions of the country, where few outsiders venture.

As we drive away from the dilapidated village, Kyaw Win and the taxi driver draw their heads together and confer for several minutes in Burmese. Kyaw Win sits back in his seat and turns to me.

"This could be dangerous for us," he says. "The police might come to our houses and ask us what we were doing with you."

I tell them I'm sorry. "It's OK. Don't be sorry," Kyaw Win says, smiling. "This is just how things are in Myanmar."