Pathein is a bustling riverside town located about 190 kilometres to the west of Yangon, and a convenient side-trip on your way from Yangon to either Chaung Tha or Ngwe Saung. Boasting a scenic riverfront, a series of impressive pagodas, riverside night market and local hand-made umbrellas known as parasols, Pathein is worthy of a night or two on your Burma itinerary.
Capital of the Ayeyarwady Region, Pathein is a large trading centre because of its deep water ports and proximity to Yangon. Rice is its main export and paddy dominates much of the region's landscape. The city is home to Pathein University, one of the largest in the region, sitting next to Kanthonzin Lake in the northeastern part of town.
Pathein and the surrounding Ayeyarwady Delta were among the hardest hit areas during Cyclone Nargis in 2008. The cyclone is now just a sad memory, and the city, like many other places in Burma, is hopeful that recent government reforms will result in increased foreign tourism. Foreign visitors can still be few and far between and don't be surprised if you're one of the only foreign faces around. It's apparent that of the few travellers who visit Burma, very few visit Pathein, a town with huge potential that remains well off the beaten path.
To foreign travellers, Pathein is best known for its hand-made parasols, which truly are beautiful. A visit to a local workshop can be done easily from town, and will surely be the highlight of your visit. Colours, shapes, sizes and hand-painted designs vary and if you decide to buy one, it'll serve as an excellent memento of your travels through Burma.
Pathein is reached easily by bus from Yangon, Ngwe Saung or Chaung Tha, with the roads linking all three destinations in good condition.
By Matt French.