190km and four hours from Yangon, Pathein sits in the Irrawaddy Delta, visited for centuries by Arabs, Bengalis, Portugese and more. Not so many foreigners visit these days, and those that do are often headed onwards to the beach.
The town of 250,000 shows many signs of Pathein’s importance as a trading post, both past and present. Barges, passenger ferries, long boats, fishing boats and freighters criss-cross the Pathein River, people and goods bound for the provinces or the local market and Chinese go-downs. In a country blessed with superb historic sites, this sleepy-busy town boasts….parasol workshops!
Pathein never feels like Burma's 5th largest city.
Trees shade the streets and pagodas, and the river of the same name matches the pace of life.
Boats come and go from the small but busy port in the middle of town.
It remains an important trading city for fishing, rice and other agricultural products, but, like much of the country, glory faded long ago.
The pleasant river front streets are perfect for watching life float by, goods and people bound for other parts.
In the evening, a colourful market unfolds on the esplanade.
Several dozen food stalls bolster the produce, clothing and other offerings.
Soups here. Fried chicken there. Samosas, chick peas, or a Burmese suki-yaki.
The ubiquitous Burmese skin care product, thanaka, powdered down from wood, also on sale.
Pathein makes most of Burma's bamboo and silk/cotton parasols, in small, cottage sized workshops.
Most of the workshops are in the same area a few kms north-east of town.
The staff and owners are used to nosy farang poking around. Cutting, fitting, glueing, waxing, framing....40 stages in all!
While the bulk of their business is for wholesale orders, as far as the EU and US, for a few dollars, the smaller ones make excellent souvenirs.
And the larger ones would really impress the neighbours.
Beaches are about 50km from Pathein, or there is a large lake on the edge of town, with some so-so birding, pleasant walks and food & bev options.
Walking around turns up all manner of surprises, like a soccer net covered in creepers. And how do you play soccer in a longyi?
Most of the town is a short walk from the water-front, where our hotel made a good perch.
The central mosque houses a number of commercial premises.
The central commercial district shows signs of both propsperity and decline.
Arab, Indian and Bengali traders have visited and stayed for centuries. Chinese-Burmese, Burmese, Karen and others have over time replaced the original Mon inhabitants.
Wagons, bicycles, spluttering trucks and hand carts come and go with local products.
There's no less action inside the market, either, with fresh produce galore.
One of the biggest sectors of both the market and town economy is also the most fragrant- seafood.
That versatile nut, the coconut is an important commodity too. We saw a backyard workshop spinning rope from its fibres.
Precious metals and stones are worked into jewelry on the market's upper floor.
Back on ground level, Indian style stuffed bread one of many lunch options.
And like much of the region, food has been coming to you since well before Uber and Dominos.
From our hotel's upstairs terrace, we watched the comings and goings of all manner of river craft.
Farmers and traders ferried goods. Others chartered a ride to the less developed west bank.
Others crowded in with bicycles and shopping on punts. So did we.
A random left down a shady village street led us to a supercool village festival.
Young and old alike gathered in the village square, some with more than a few drinks under their belt.
A sturdy bamboo pole was hoisted high above some inadequate crash matts, with teams challenged to climb four-man high.
And just for added fun, the pole was liberally coated in grease.
The burliest pair of lads formed the base.
Longyis were wound into support ropes, and served as foot holds for those clambering up.
The lighest and nimblest fellas reached the apex, and the challenge was to see who could hold the longest.....
....before the human tower inevitably collapsed, to the delight of the crowd.
Adding a potato to the basket on each length was the aim of the game for the Potato Shuttle Run, main event for the little villagers, and a hoot for the parents, too.
We had crossed over expecting to have a nice walk through some semi-rural scenes, but foruitously enjoyed a remarkable and joyous festival.
Pathein will always been shaded by the more famous names in Burma's tourism, but perhaps that is why I found it so likable and so genuine.