Posted by: David Stewart | April 5, 2009

Pathein – Myanmar’s parasol paradise

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma)

The road to the beach would take us through Pathein, which is Myanmar’s fourth largest city and is famous for paper cotton parasols. So we arranged in advance to visit with the child we are supporting through World Vision, whose family lives in a village just outside of Pathein. The road to Pathein is considered good by Myanmar standards. This means that an experienced driver can navigate along at about 40 miles per hour or so, with only periodic slowdowns for road construction or the odd cow crossing the road. We were counting on potentially up to 6 hours to get there, so we left Yangon at around 6AM to make sure we were on time for a lunchtime meeting.

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma)

But even with a 40 minute stop at a roadside tea shop, we made it into Pathein at around 10AM, excellent time. To maximize the comfort level and our ability to talk on a road of unknown quality, we rented a full-size van with working air conditioning, which allowed us bigger guys plenty of leg room.

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma)

The meet with our sponsor child was delightful. I was frankly a little uncomfortable with the concept of meeting the child, because I didn’t want there to be some weird patronization going on, like we’re the big rich white Americans, ain’t we great? But as it turned out, the model for sponsorship is that our funds go to development projects in our child’s village rather than to the child or to their family. So our child and the letters we exchange are just to build relationship and put a face on the development work.

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma)

So it was nice – we were accompanied by two World Vision representatives and the child’s parents, who are poor Buddhist rice farmers. Our sponsored child is an incredibly adorable little 2nd grade girl with a great smile. Deb brought photos and a picture calendar from Oregon, some coloring books and markers, stickers. We got gifts of some parasols, a couple of birds made of palm leaves made by the child’s aunt, and a bag of “jaggery”, which is palm sugar candy.

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma) After our lunch with the sponsor child, we stopped at a parasol workshop. As I said, this is something that Pathein is famous for – hand-painted paper cotton umbrellas which are lacquered so that they can stand up to rain or shine. The particular workshop we stopped at is a family-run operation – mom and dad were still in the front room of the grass house on stilts where the workshop was located. When we came into the main work area in back, the staff of about 6 to 8 sprung into action, setting up a broad selection of their works, from table umbrellas to personal size to little “mini’s”. And of course, provided us with cold soft drinks.

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma) Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma)

Susan and Court are in a new house in Yangon with a back yard which can have a couple of tables, so they thought they might buy a couple of the table-sized parasols. They chose two with a square shape rather than round in a couple of colors. The owner took our orders and said they would be ready when we returned in a few days from the beach. These incredible umbrellas are totally hand made – cut and stiched together and the design is painstakingly hand-painted. Then coats of preservative are applied and allowed to dry. They also sewed carrying bags for the ‘brollis out of rip stop nylon. Cost was $70 per umbrella! We tried to speculate how much a comperable hand-made umbrella would cost and suspect it might be up to $1000 in the US.

Trip to Pathein, Myanmar (Burma)

Before we left Pathein, we took a drive through the town, past the center and up the waterfront. Pathein is actually a port city in the Ayerwaddy Delta of Myanmar. It’s actually possible to take a boat from Yangon to Pathein instead of drive. In the center of town, there was a massive pagoda with an attendant collection of temples, meeting halls and vendor booths for folks selling Buddhist items.



  1. Actually the Pathein umbrellas are made of cotton. The ones we saw in Chiang Mai and at Inle Lake are made of paper….

  2. Thanks for putting the pictures up! The parasols are amazing!
    Delighted to read that you were able to meet your sponsored child!

  3. Thanks for the clarification. I’m always confused about the paper vs cotton thing. Paper though in this case comes from tree fibers and cotton comes from cotton fibers.

  4. Dear David,

    I did not find a email adress, so I will write here.

    Your pictures are really great. I have also been to Pathein and saw these nice parasols.

    I want to sell these parasols in Germany and help the people in Pathein.

    Would it be possible to use some of your pictures from your parasols for my homeapge?

    Best wishes, John

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