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Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Motto"One Vision, One Identity, One Community"
"10 countries, 1 identity"
Anthem"The ASEAN Way"
Seat of Secretariat Indonesia Jakarta
Largest city Indonesia Jakarta
Working language
Demonym Southeast Asian
Member states
Government Regional organisation
 -  Secretary General Thailand Surin Pitsuwan
 -  Bangkok Declaration 8 August 1967 
 -  Charter 16 December 2008 
 -  Total 4,464,322 km2 
2,772,344 sq mi 
 -  2008 estimate 577 million 
 -  Density 129/km2 
208/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2007 estimate
 -  Total US$ 3,431.2 billion 
 -  Per capita US$ 5,962 
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total US$ 1,505.7 billion 
 -  Per capita $2,609 
HDI (2007) 0.742 (medium) (100th¹)
Time zone ASEAN (UTC+9 to +6:30)
Internet TLD
Calling code
1 If considered as a single entity.
2 Selected key basic ASEAN indicators
3 Annual growth 1.6%

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations,[1] commonly abbreviated ASEAN (generally pronounced /ˈɑːsi.ɑːn/ AH-see-ahn,[2] occasionally /ˈɑːzi.ɑːn/ AH-zee-ahn[3] in English, the official language of the bloc),[4] is a geo-political and economic organization of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia, which was formed on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.[5] Since then, membership has expanded to include Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Its aims include the acceleration of economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, the protection of the peace and stability of the region, and to provide opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.[6]

Unlike the European Union or CARICOM, ASEAN is a loose grouping of countries like the Commonwealth of nations.

In 2005, the bloc spanned over an area of 4.46 million km2 with a combined GDP (Nominal/PPP) of about USD$896.5 billion/$2,728 billion growing at an average rate of around 5.6% per annum. In 2008, its combined GDP had grown to more than USD $1.5 trillion with a population of approximately 580 million people (8.7% of the world population) [7]



ASEAN was preceded by an organisation called the Association of Southeast Asia, commonly called ASA, an alliance consisting of the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand that was formed in 1961. The bloc itself, however, was established on 8 August 1967, when foreign ministers of five countries– Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand– met at the Thai Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed the ASEAN Declaration, more commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration. The five foreign ministers– Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand– are considered as the organisation's Founding Fathers.[8]

The motivations for the birth of ASEAN were so that its members’ governing elite could concentrate on nation building, the common fear of communism, reduced faith in or mistrust of external powers in the 1960s, as well as a desire for economic development; not to mention Indonesia’s ambition to become a regional hegemon through regional cooperation and the hope on the part of Malaysia and Singapore to constrain Indonesia and bring it into a more cooperative framework.

In 1976, the Melanesian state of Papua New Guinea was accorded observer status.[9] Throughout the 1970s, the organisation embarked on a program of economic cooperation, following the Bali Summit of 1976. This floundered in the mid-1980s and was only revived around 1991 due to a Thai proposal for a regional free trade area. The bloc then grew when Brunei Darussalam became the sixth member after it joined on 8 January 1984, barely a week after the country became independent on 1 January.[10]

On 28 July 1995, Vietnam became the seventh member.[11] Laos and Burma (Myanmar) joined two years later in 23 July 1997.[12] Cambodia was to have joined together with Laos and Myanmar, but was deferred due to the country's internal political struggle. The country later joined on 30 April 1999, following the stabilisation of its government.[12][13]

During the 1990s, the bloc experienced an increase in both membership as well as in the drive for further integration. In 1990, Malaysia proposed the creation of an East Asia Economic Caucus[14] composing the then-members of ASEAN as well as the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea, with the intention of counterbalancing the growing influence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as well as in the Asian region as a whole.[15][16] This proposal, however, failed since it faced heavy opposition from Japan and the United States.[15][17] Despite this failure, member states continued to work for further integration. In 1992, the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme was signed as a schedule for phasing tariffs and as a goal to increase the region’s competitive advantage as a production base geared for the world market. This law would act as the framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. After the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, a revival of the Malaysian proposal was established in Chiang Mai, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, which calls for better integration between the economies of ASEAN as well as the ASEAN Plus Three countries (China, Japan, and South Korea).[18]

Aside from improving each member state's economies, the bloc also focused on peace and stability in the region. On 15 December 1995, the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was signed with the intention of turning Southeast Asia into a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. The treaty took effect on 28 March 1997 after all but one of the member states have ratified it. It became fully effective on 21 June 2001, after the Philippines ratified it, effectively banning all nuclear weapons in the region.[19]

Satellite image of the 2006 haze over Borneo

At the turn of the 21st century, issues shifted to involve a more environmental perspective. The organisation started to discuss environmental agreements. These included the signing of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 as an attempt to control haze pollution in Southeast Asia.[20] Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful due to the outbreaks of the 2005 Malaysian haze and the 2006 Southeast Asian haze. Other environmental treaties introduced by the organisation include the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security,[21] the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network in 2005,[22] and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, both of which are responses to the potential effects of climate change. Climate change is of current interest.

Through the Bali Concord II in 2003, ASEAN has subscribed to the notion of democratic peace, which means all member countries believe democratic processes will promote regional peace and stability. Also, the non-democratic members all agreed that it was something all member states should aspire to.[23]

The leaders of each country, particularly Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, also felt the need to further integrate the region. Beginning in 1997, the bloc began creating organisations within its framework with the intention of achieving this goal. ASEAN Plus Three was the first of these and was created to improve existing ties with the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea. This was followed by the even larger East Asia Summit, which included these countries as well as India, Australia, and New Zealand. This new grouping acted as a prerequisite for the planned East Asia Community, which was supposedly patterned after the now-defunct European Community. The ASEAN Eminent Persons Group was created to study the possible successes and failures of this policy as well as the possibility of drafting an ASEAN Charter.

In 2006, ASEAN was given observer status at the United Nations General Assembly.[24] As a response, the organisation awarded the status of "dialogue partner" to the United Nations.[25] Furthermore, on 23 July that year, José Ramos-Horta, then Prime Minister of East Timor, signed a formal request for membership and expected the accession process to last at least five years before the then-observer state became a full member.[26][27]

In 2007, ASEAN celebrated its 40th anniversary since its inception, and 30 years of diplomatic relations with the United States.[28] On 26 August 2007, ASEAN stated that it aims to complete all its free trade agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand by 2013, in line with the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.[29][30] In November 2007 the ASEAN members signed the ASEAN Charter, a constitution governing relations among the ASEAN members and establishing ASEAN itself as an international legal entity.[citation needed] During the same year, the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security in Cebu on 15 January 2007, by ASEAN and the other members of the EAS (Australia, People's Republic of China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea), which promotes energy security by finding energy alternatives to conventional fuels.[citation needed]

On February 27, 2009 a Free Trade Agreement with the ASEAN regional block of 10 countries and New Zealand and its close partner Australia was signed, it is estimated that this FTA would boost aggregate GDP across the 12 countries by more than US$48 billion over the period 2000-2020.[31][32]

The ASEAN way

In the 1960s, the push for decolonisation promoted the sovereignty of Indonesia and Malaysia among others. Since nation building is often messy and vulnerable to foreign intervention, the governing elite wanted to be free to implement independent policies with the knowledge that neighbours would refrain from interfering in their domestic affairs. Territorially small members such as Singapore and Brunei were consciously fearful of force and coercive measures from much bigger neighbours like Indonesia and Malaysia. "Through political dialogue and confidence building, no tension has escalated into armed confrontation among ASEAN member countries since its establishment more than three decades ago".[33]

The ASEAN way can be traced back to the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asian. "Fundamental principles adopted from this included: mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations;

the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;

non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;

settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner;

renunciation of the threat or use of force; and

effective cooperation among themselves".[34]

On the surface, the process of consultations and consensus is supposed to be a democratic approach to decision making, but the ASEAN process has been managed through close interpersonal contacts among the top leaders only, who often share a reluctance to institutionalise and legalise co-operation which can undermine their regime's control over the conduct of regional co-operation. Thus, the organisation is chaired by the secretariat.[35]

All of these features, namely non-interference, informality, minimal institutionalisation, consultation and consensus, non-use of force and non-confrontation have constituted what is called the ASEAN Way.

Since the late 1990s, many scholars have argued that the principle of non-interference has blunted ASEAN efforts in handling the problem of Myanmar, human rights abuses and haze pollution in the region. Meanwhile, with the consensus-based approach, every member in fact has a veto and decisions are usually reduced to the lowest common denominator. There has been a widespread belief that ASEAN members should have a less rigid view on these two cardinal principles when they wish to be seen as a cohesive and relevant community.



Apart from consultations and consensus, ASEAN’s agenda-setting and decision-making processes can be usefully understood in terms of the so-called Track I and Track II. Track I refers to the practice of diplomacy among government channels. The participants stand as representatives of their respective states and reflect the official positions of their governments during negotiations and discussions. All official decisions are made in Track I. Therefore, "Track I refers to intergovernmental processes".[36] Track II differs slightly from Track I, involving civil society groups and other individuals with various links who work alongside governments.[37] This track enables governments to discuss controversial issues and test new ideas without making official statements or binding commitments, and, if necessary, backtrack on positions.

Although Track II dialogues are sometimes cited as examples of the involvement of civil society in regional decision-making process by governments and other second track actors, NGOs have rarely got access to this track, meanwhile participants from the academic community are a dozen think-tanks. However, these think-tanks are, in most cases, very much linked to their respective governments, and dependent on government funding for their academic and policy-relevant activities, and many working in Track II have previous bureaucratic experience.[36] Their recommendations, especially in economic integration, are often closer to ASEAN’s decisions than the rest of civil society’s positions.

The track that acts as a forum for civil society in Southeast Asia is called Track III. Track III participants are generally civil society groups who represent a particular idea or brand.[38] Track III networks claim to represent communities and people who are largely marginalised from political power centres and unable to achieve positive change without outside assistance. This track tries to influence government policies indirectly by lobbying, generating pressure through the media. Third-track actors also organise and/or attend meetings as well as conferences to get access to Track I officials.

While Track II meetings and interactions with Track I actors have increased and intensified, rarely has the rest of civil society had the opportunity to interface with Track II. Those with Track I have been even rarer.

Looking at the three tracks, it is clear that until now, ASEAN has been run by government officials who, as far as ASEAN matters are concerned, are accountable only to their governments and not the people. In a lecture on the occasion of ASEAN’s 38th anniversary, the incumbent Indonesian President Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono admitted:

“All the decisions about treaties and free trade areas, about declarations and plans of action, are made by Heads of Government, ministers and senior officials. And the fact that among the masses, there is little knowledge, let alone appreciation, of the large initiatives that ASEAN is taking on their behalf.” [39]


ASEAN Summit

The organisation holds meetings, known as the ASEAN Summit, where heads of government of each member meet to discuss and resolve regional issues, as well as to conduct other meetings with other countries outside of the bloc with the intention of promoting external relations.

The ASEAN Leaders' Formal Summit was first held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976. Its third meeting was held in Manila in 1987 and during this meeting, it was decided that the leaders would meet every five years.[40] Consequently, the fourth meeting was held in Singapore in 1992 where the leaders again agreed to meet more frequently, deciding to hold the summit every three years.[40] In 2001, it was decided to meet annually to address urgent issues affecting the region. Member nations were assigned to be the summit host in alphabetical order except in the case of Myanmar which dropped its 2006 hosting rights in 2004 due to pressure from the United States and the European Union.[41]

By December 2008, the ASEAN Charter came into force and with it, the ASEAN Summit will be held twice in a year.

The formal summit meets for three days. The usual itinerary is as follows:

  • Leaders of member states would hold an internal organisation meeting.
  • Leaders of member states would hold a conference together with foreign ministers of the ASEAN Regional Forum.
  • A meeting, known as ASEAN Plus Three, is set for leaders of three Dialogue Partners (People's Republic of China, Japan, South Korea)
  • A separate meeting, known as ASEAN-CER, is set for another set of leaders of two Dialogue Partners (Australia, New Zealand).[citation needed]
ASEAN Formal Summits
Date Country Host
1st 23–24 February, 1976  Indonesia Bali
2nd 4–5 August, 1977  Malaysia Kuala Lumpur
3rd 14–15 December, 1987  Philippines Manila
4th 27‒29 January, 1992  Singapore Singapore
5th 14‒15 December, 1995  Thailand Bangkok
6th 15‒16 December, 1998  Vietnam Hanoi
7th 5‒6 November, 2001  Brunei Bandar Seri Begawan
8th 4‒5 November, 2002  Cambodia Phnom Penh
9th 7‒8 October, 2003  Indonesia Bali
10th 29‒30 November, 2004  Laos Vientiane
11th 12‒14 December, 2005  Malaysia Kuala Lumpur
12th 11‒14 January, 20071  Philippines2 Cebu
13th 18‒22 November, 2007  Singapore Singapore
14th3 27 February - 1 March, 2009
10-11 April 2009
 Thailand Cha Am, Hua Hin
15th 23 October 2009  Thailand Cha Am, Hua Hin
16th 2010  Vietnam Hanoi
1 Postponed from 10‒14 December, 2006 due to Typhoon Seniang.
2 hosted the summit because Myanmar backed out due to enormous pressure from US and EU
3 This summit consisted of two parts.
The first part was moved from 12‒17 December, 2008 due to the 2008 Thai political crisis.
The second part was aborted on April 11 due to protesters entering the summit venue.

During the fifth Summit in Bangkok, the leaders decided to meet "informally" between each formal summit:[40]

ASEAN Informal Summits
Date Country Host
1st 30 November 1996  Indonesia Jakarta
2nd 14‒16 December, 1997  Malaysia Kuala Lumpur
3rd 27‒28 November, 1999  Philippines Manila
4th 22‒25 November, 2000  Singapore Singapore

East Asia Summit

Participants of the East Asia Summit:      ASEAN      ASEAN Plus Three      Additional members      Observer

The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a pan-Asian forum held annually by the leaders of 16 countries in East Asia and the region, with ASEAN in a leadership position. The summit has discussed issues including trade, energy and security and the summit has a role in regional community building.

The members of the summit are all 10 members of ASEAN together with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand who combined represent almost half of the world's population. Russia has applied for membership of the summit and in 2005 was a guest for the First EAS at the invitation of the host - Malaysia.[42]

The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur on 14 December 2005 and subsequent meetings have been held after the annual ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting.

Meeting Country Location Date Note
First EAS  Malaysia Kuala Lumpur 14 December 2005 Russia attended as a guest.
Second EAS  Philippines Cebu City 15 January 2007 Rescheduled from 13 December 2006.

Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security

Third EAS  Singapore Singapore 21 November 2007 Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment[43]

Agreed to establish Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia

Fourth EAS  Thailand Cha-am and Hua Hin 25 October 2009 The date and location of the venue was rescheduled several times, and then a Summit scheduled for 12 April 2009 at Pattaya, Thailand was cancelled when protesters stormed the venue. The Summit has been rescheduled for October 2009 and transferred again from Phuket[44] to Cha-am and Hua Hin.[45]

Commemorative summit

A commemorative summit is a summit hosted by a non-ASEAN country to mark a milestone anniversary of the establishment of relations between ASEAN and the host country. The host country invites the heads of government of ASEAN member countries to discuss future cooperation and partnership.

Meeting Host Location Date Note
ASEAN – Japan Commemorative Summit  Japan Tokyo 11, 12 December 2003 To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of relations between ASEAN and Japan. The summit was also notable as the first ASEAN summit held between ASEAN and a non-ASEAN country outside the region.
ASEAN – China Commemorative Summit  China Nanning 30, 31 October 2006 To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the establishment of relations between ASEAN and China
ASEAN – Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit  South Korea Jeju-do 1, 2 June 2009 To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of relations between ASEAN and Republic of Korea

Regional Forum

ASEAN full members
ASEAN observers
ASEAN candidate members
ASEAN Plus Three
East Asia Summit
ASEAN Regional Forum

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a formal, official, multilateral dialogue in Asia Pacific region. As of July 2007, it is consisted of 27 participants. ARF objectives are to foster dialogue and consultation, and promote confidence-building and preventive diplomacy in the region.[46] The ARF met for the first time in 1994. The current participants in the ARF are as follows: all the ASEAN members, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the European Union, India, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Timor-Leste, United States and Sri Lanka.[47] The Republic of China (also known as Taiwan) has been excluded since the establishment of the ARF, and issues regarding the Taiwan Strait are neither discussed at the ARF meetings nor stated in the ARF Chairman's Statements.

Other meetings

Aside from the ones above, other regular[48] meetings are also held.[49] These include the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting[50] as well as other smaller committees, such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center.[51] Meetings mostly focus on specific topics, such as defence[48] or the environment,[48][52] and are attended by Ministers, instead of heads of government.

Plus Three

The ASEAN Plus Three is a meeting between ASEAN, China, Japan, and South Korea, and is primarily held during each ASEAN Summit.

Asia-Europe Meeting

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an informal dialogue process initiated in 1996 with the intention of strengthening cooperation between the countries of Europe and Asia, especially members of the European Union and ASEAN in particular.[53] ASEAN, represented by its Secretariat, is one of the 45 ASEM partners. It also appoints a representative to sit on the governing board of Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), a socio-cultural organisation associated with the Meeting.

ASEAN-Russia Summit

The ASEAN-Russia Summit is an annual meeting between leaders of member states and the President of Russia.

Economic Community

ASEAN has emphasised regional cooperation in the “three pillars” of security, sociocultural and economic integration.[54] The regional grouping has made the most progress in economic integration, aiming to create an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.[55]

Free Trade Area

The foundation of the AEC is the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), a common external preferential tariff scheme to promote the free flow of goods within ASEAN.[55] The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is an agreement by the member nations of ASEAN concerning local manufacturing in all ASEAN countries. The AFTA agreement was signed on 28 January 1992 in Singapore.[56] When the AFTA agreement was originally signed, ASEAN had six members, namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam joined in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. The latecomers have not fully met the AFTA's obligations, but they are officially considered part of the AFTA as they were required to sign the agreement upon entry into ASEAN, and were given longer time frames in which to meet AFTA's tariff reduction obligations.[57]

Comprehensive Investment Area

The ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Area (ACIA) will encourage the free flow of investment within ASEAN. The main principles of the ACIA are as follows[58]

  • All industries are to be opened up for investment, with exclusions to be phased out according to schedules
  • National treatment is granted immediately to ASEAN investors with few exclusions
  • Elimination of investment impediments
  • Streamlining of investment process and procedures
  • Enhancing transparency
  • Undertaking investment facilitation measures

Full realisation of the ACIA with the removal of temporary exclusion lists in manufacturing agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining is scheduled by 2010 for most ASEAN members and by 2015 for the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam) countries.[58]

Trade in Services

An ASEAN Framework Agreement on Trade in Services was adopted at the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in December 1995.[59] Under AFAS, ASEAN Member States enter into successive rounds of negotiations to liberalise trade in services with the aim of submitting increasingly higher levels of commitments. The negotiations result in commitments that are set forth in schedules of specific commitments annexed to the Framework Agreement. These schedules are often referred to as packages of services commitments. At present, ASEAN has concluded seven packages of commitments under AFAS.[60]

Single Aviation Market

The ASEAN Single Aviation Market (SAM), proposed by the ASEAN Air Transport Working Group, supported by the ASEAN Senior Transport Officials Meeting, and endorsed by the ASEAN Transport Ministers, will introduce an open-sky arrangement to the region by 2015.[61] The ASEAN SAM will be expected to fully liberalise air travel between its member states, allowing ASEAN to directly benefit from the growth in air travel around the world, and also freeing up tourism, trade, investment and services flows between member states.[61][62] Beginning 1 December 2008, restrictions on the third and fourth freedoms of the air between capital cities of member states for air passengers services will be removed,[63] while from 1 January 2009, there will be full liberalisation of air freight services in the region, while[61][62] By 1 January 2011, there will be liberalisation of fifth freedom traffic rights between all capital cities.[64]

Free Trade Agreements With Other Countries

ASEAN has concluded free trade agreements with China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and most recently India.[65] In addition, it is currently negotiating free trade agreement with the European Union.[66] Taiwan has also expressed interest in an agreement with ASEAN but needs to overcome diplomatic objections from China.[67]


On 15 December 2008 the members of ASEAN met in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to launch a charter, signed in November 2007, with the aim of moving closer to "an EU-style community".[68] The charter turns ASEAN into a legal entity and aims to create a single free-trade area for the region encompassing 500 million people. President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stated that "This is a momentous development when ASEAN is consolidating, integrating and transforming itself into a community. It is achieved while ASEAN seeks a more vigorous role in Asian and global affairs at a time when the international system is experiencing a seismic shift," he added, referring to climate change and economic upheaval. Southeast Asia is no longer the bitterly divided, war-torn region it was in the 1960s and 1970s." "The fundamental principles include:

a) respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all ASEAN Member States; b) shared commitment and collective responsibility in enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity; c) renunciation of aggression and of the threat or use of force or other actions in any manner inconsistent with international law; d) reliance on peaceful settlement of disputes; e) non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States; f) respect for the right of every Member State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion and coercion; g) enhanced consultations on matters seriously affecting the common interest of ASEAN; h) adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government; i) respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice; j) upholding the United Nations Charter and international law, including international humanitarian law, subscribed to by ASEAN Member States; k) abstention from participation in any policy or activity, including the use of its territory, pursued by and ASEAN Member State or non-ASEAN State or any non-State actor, which threatens the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political and economic stability of ASEAN Member States; l) respect for the different cultures, languages and religions of the peoples of ASEAN, while emphasising their common values in the spirit of unity in diversity; m) the centrality of ASEAN in external political, economic, social and cultural relations while remaining actively engaged, outward-looking, inclusive and non-discriminatory; and n) adherence to multilateral trade rules and ASEAN's rules-based regimes for effective implementation of economic commitments and progressive reduction towards elimination of all barriers to regional economic integration, in a market-driven economy".[69]

However, the ongoing global financial crisis was stated as being a threat to the goals envisioned by the charter,[70] and also set forth the idea of a proposed human rights body to be discussed at a future summit in February 2009. This proposition caused controversy, as the body would not have the power to impose sanctions or punish countries who violate citizens' rights and would therefore be limited in effectiveness.[71]

Cultural activities

Logo of the S.E.A. Write Award

The organisation hosts cultural activities in an attempt to further integrate the region. These include sports and educational activities as well as writing awards. Examples of these include the ASEAN University Network, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, the ASEAN Outstanding Scientist and Technologist Award, and the Singapore-sponsored ASEAN Scholarship.

S.E.A. Write Award

The S.E.A. Write Award is a literary award given to Southeast Asian poets and writers annually since 1979. The award is either given for a specific work or as a recognition of an author's lifetime achievement. Works that are honoured vary and have included poetry, short stories, novels, plays, folklore as well as scholarly and religious works. Ceremonies are held in Bangkok and are presided by a member of the Thai royal family.


ASAIHL or the Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning is a non-governmental organisation founded in 1956 that strives to strengthen higher learning institutions, espescially in teaching, research, and public service, with the intention of cultivating a sense of regional identity and interdependence.

Heritage Parks

ASEAN Heritage Parks[72] is a list of nature parks launched 1984 and relaunched in 2004. It aims to protect the region's natural treasures. There are now 35 such protected areas, including the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and the Kinabalu National Park.[73]


ASEAN Heritage Sites
Site Country Site Country
Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park  Myanmar Ao Phang-nga Marine National Park  Thailand
Apo Natural Park  Philippines Ba Be National Park  Vietnam
Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park  Indonesia Gunung Leuser National Park  Indonesia
Gunung Mulu National Park  Malaysia Ha Long Bay  Vietnam
Hoang Lien Sa Pa National Park  Vietnam Iglit-Baco National Park  Philippines
Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary  Myanmar Inlé Lake Wildlife Sanctuary  Myanmar
Kaeng Krachan National Park  Thailand Kerinci Seblat National Park  Indonesia
Khakaborazi National Park  Myanmar Khao Yai National Park  Thailand
Kinabalu National Park  Malaysia Komodo National Park  Indonesia
Kon Ka Kinh National Park  Vietnam Lampi Kyun Wildlife Reserve  Myanmar
Lorentz National Park  Indonesia Meinmhala Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary  Myanmar
Mu Ko Surin-Mu Ko Similan Marine National Park  Thailand Nam Ha Protected Area  Laos
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park  Vietnam Preah Monivong (Bokor) National Park  Cambodia
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park  Philippines Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve  Singapore
Taman Negara National Park  Malaysia Tarutao Marine National Park  Thailand
Tasek Merimbun Wildlife Sanctuary  Brunei Thung Yai-Huay Kha Khaeng National Park  Thailand
Tubbataha Reef Marine Park  Philippines Ujung Kulon National Park  Indonesia
Virachey National Park  Cambodia Keraton Yogyakarta  Indonesia


The ASEAN Scholarship is a scholarship program offered by Singapore to the 9 other member states for secondary school, junior college, and university education. It covers accommodation, food, medical benefits & accident insurance, school fees, and examination fees.[74]

University Network

The ASEAN University Network (AUN) is a consortium of Southeast Asian universities. It was originally founded in November 1995 by 11 universities within the member states.[75] Currently AUN comprises 21 Participating Universities.[76]

Official song


Southeast Asian Games

The Southeast Asian Games, commonly known as the SEA Games, is a biennial multi-sport event involving participants from the current 11 countries of Southeast Asia. The games is under regulation of the Southeast Asian Games Federation with supervision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia.

ASEAN Para Games

Logo of the ASEAN Para Games

The ASEAN Para Games is a biennial multi-sport event held after every Southeast Asian Games for athletes with physical disabilities. The games are participated by the 11 countries located in Southeast Asia. The Games, patterned after the Paralympic Games, are played by physically-challenged athletes with mobility disabilities, visual disabilities, who are amputees and those with cerebral palsy.

FESPIC Games/ Asian Para Games

The FESPIC Games, also known as the Far East and South Pacific Games for the persons with disability, was the biggest multi-sports games in Asia and South Pacific region. The FESPIC Games were held nine times and bowed out, a success[77] in December 2006 in the 9th FESPIC Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Games re-emerges as the 2010 Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China. The 2010 Asian Para Games will debut shortly after the conclusion of the 16th Asian Games, using the same facilities and venue made disability-accessible. The inaugural Asian Para Games, the parallel event for athletes with physical disabilities, is a multi-sport event held every four years after every Asian Games.

Football Championship

The ASEAN Football Championship is a biennial Football competition organised by the ASEAN Football Federation, accredited by FIFA and contested by the national teams of Southeast Asia nations. It was inaugurated in 1996 as Tiger Cup, but after Asia Pacific Breweries terminated the sponsorship deal, "Tiger" was renamed "ASEAN".


Non-ASEAN countries have criticised ASEAN for being too soft in its approach to promoting human rights and democracy in the junta-led Myanmar.[78] Despite global outrage at the military crack-down on peaceful protesters in Yangon, ASEAN has refused to suspend Myanmar as a member and also rejects proposals for economic sanctions.[79] This has caused concern as the European Union, a potential trade partner, has refused to conduct free trade negotiations at a regional level for these political reasons.[80] International observers view it as a "talk shop",[81] which implies that the organisation is "big on words but small on action".[82] Head of the International Institute of Strategic Studies – Asia, Tim Huxley cites the diverse political systems present in the grouping, including many young states, as a barrier to far-reaching cooperation outside the economic sphere. He also asserts that in the absence of an external threat to rally against with the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has begun to be less successful at restraining its members and resolving border disputes such as those between Burma and Thailand and Indonesia and Malaysia.[83]

During the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, several activist groups staged anti-globalisation and anti-Arroyo rallies.[84] According to the activists, the agenda of economic integration would negatively affect industries in the Philippines and would cause thousands of Filipinos to lose their jobs.[85] They also viewed the organisation as imperialistic that threatens the country's sovereignty.[85] A human rights lawyer from New Zealand was also present to protest about the human rights situation in the region in general.[86]

See also


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  2. ^, Search Voice of America
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  4. ^, ASEAN-10: Meeting the Challenges, by Termsak Chalermpalanupap,, ASEAN Secretariat official website. Retrieved 27 June 2008.
  5. ^ Bangkok Declaration. Wikisource. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  6. ^, Overview,, ASEAN Secretariat official website. Retrieved 12 June 2006.
  7. ^, European Union Relations with ASEAN. Retrieved 29 October 2009.
  8. ^ Bernard Eccleston, Michael Dawson, Deborah J. McNamara (1998). The Asia-Pacific Profile. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0-415-17279-9. 
  9. ^ "ASEAN secretariat". ASEAN. 23RD JULY 1999. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  10. ^ "Background Note:Brunei Darussalam/Profile:/Foreign Relations". United States State Department. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  11. ^ "Vietnam in ASEAN : Toward Cooperation for Mutual Benefits". ASEAN Secretariat. 2007. Retrieved 28 August 2009. 
  12. ^ a b Carolyn L. Gates, Mya Than (2001). ASEAN Enlargement: impacts and implications. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 981-230-081-3. 
  13. ^ "Statement by the Secretary-General of ASEAN Welcoming the Kingdom of Cambodia as the Tenth Member State of ASEAN : 30 April 1999, ASEAN Secretariat". ASEAN Secretariat. 2008. Retrieved 28 August 2009. 
  14. ^ East Asia Economic Caucus. ASEAN Secretariat. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  15. ^ a b, Whither East Asia? Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  16. ^, Asia's Reaction to NAFTA, Nancy J. Hamilton. CRS - Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  17. ^, Japan Straddles Fence on Issue of East Asia Caucus. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  18. ^ "Regional Financial Cooperation among ASEAN+3". Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  19. ^ Bangkok Treaty (in alphabetical order) At UNODA United Nations. Retrieved on 4 September 2008.
  20. ^ ASEAN Secretariat. ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Extracted 12 October 2006
  21. ^ East Asian leaders to promote biofuel, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 13 March 2007.
  22. ^ "ASEAN Statement on Launching of the ASEAN Wildlife Law Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN)". ASEAN. 1 December 2005. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  23. ^ "Asean: Changing, but only slowly". BBC. 2003-10-08. 
  24. ^ RP resolution for observer status in UN assembly OK’d, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 13 March 2007.
  25. ^ "Philippines to Represent Asean in Un Meetings in Ny, Geneva". Yahoo! News. 2007-03-07. Retrieved 2007-03-13. 
  26. ^ "East Timor ASEAN bid". The Sun-Herald (The Sydney Morning Herald). 2007-01-28. Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  27. ^ "East Timor Needs Five Years to Join ASEAN: PM". ASEAN Secretariat. 26 July 2006. Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  28. ^ Forss, Pearl (2007-08-27). "US and ASEAN seeking to enhance relationship: Dr Balaji". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  29. ^ "ASEAN to complete free trade agreements by 2013". Forbes. 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  30. ^ Ong, Christine (2007-08-27). "ASEAN confident of concluding FTAs with partners by 2013". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  31. ^ "ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement - NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade". Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  32. ^ "Asean, Australia, New Zealand Sign Free-Trade Deal (Update1)". 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  33. ^ "Overview Association of Southeast Asian Nations", Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
  34. ^ "Overview Association of South East Asian Nations", Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
  35. ^, "Association of South East Asian Nations", "Microsoft Encarta", Retrieved on 27 July 2009., Archived 2009-10-31.
  36. ^ a b Morrison, Charles. (2004): "Track 1/Track 2 symbiosis in Asia-Pacific regionalism", "The Pacific Review", 17,(4):548.
  37. ^ Simon, Sheldon W. (2002: ["Evaluating Track II approaches to security diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific: the CSCAP experience"], "The Pacific Review", 15,(2): 168, ISSN 0951–2748.
  38. ^ Morrison, Charles. (2004): "Track 1/Track 2 symbiosis in Asia-Pacific regionalism", "The Pacific Review", 17,(4):549
  39. ^ "On Building the ASEAN Community: The Democratic Aspect", 8 August, 2005. Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
  40. ^ a b c ASEAN Structure, ASEAN Primer
  41. ^ Denis Hew (2005). Roadmap to an Asean Economic Community. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 981-230-347-2. 
  42. ^ "Chairman's Statement of the First East Asia Summit Kuala Lumpur". ASEAN. 14 December 2005. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  43. ^ "Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment". ASEAN. 21 November 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  44. ^ Thai PM woos Chinese businesses ASEAN Calendar for October 2009
  45. ^ Thailand changes venue for ASEAN+3, East Asia summits
  46. ^ About Us, ASEAN Regional Forum official website. Retrieved 12 June 2006.
  47. ^ Official Website of Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  48. ^ a b c ASEAN Calendar of Meetings and Events November 2006, ASEAN Secretariat. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  49. ^ BBC country profile/Asean leaders, BBC. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  50. ^ ASEAN Ministerial Meetings, ASEAN Secretariat. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  51. ^, ASEAN Secretariat. Retrieved 16 March 2007.
  52. ^ "Malaysians have had enough of haze woes". The Malaysian Bar. Retrieved 2007-03-13. 
  53. ^ Lay Hwee Yeo (2003). Asia and Europe: the development and different dimensions of ASEM. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0-415-30697-3. 
  54. ^ "Overview". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  55. ^ a b Sim, Edmund "Introduction to the ASEAN Economic Community",
  56. ^ "Agreement on the Common Effective Preferential Tariff Scheme for the ASEAN Free Trade Area, Singapore, 28 January 1992". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  57. ^ "Overview". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  58. ^ a b "Highlights of the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA)". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  59. ^ "ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (1995)". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  60. ^ "Overview". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  61. ^ a b c "Asean Single Aviation Market". The Straits Times. 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2008-09-26. 
  62. ^ a b "Singaporean PM urges ASEAN to liberalise aviation". (Xinhua News Agency). 2007-11-01. Retrieved 2008-09-26. 
  63. ^ Kaur, Karamjit (2008-09-25). "Tiger offers 50,000 free seats". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2008-09-26. 
  64. ^ "Three quarters of a million more seats and counting- KL-Singapore benefits from liberalisation". Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. 2008-09-28. Retrieved 2008-09-26. 
  65. ^ "Welcome to Singapore FTA Network". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  66. ^ "Welcome to Singapore FTA Network". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  67. ^ "Taipei Times - archives". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  68. ^ "'Momentous' day for ASEAN as charter comes into force". Agence France-Presse. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  69. ^ Association of South East Asian Nations.: "The ASEAN Charter", December 2007, p.6-7, ISBN 978-979-3496-62-7. Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
  70. ^ Olivia Rondonuwu and Suhartono, Harry (2008-12-15). "ASEAN launches charter under shadow of crisis". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  71. ^ "ASEAN charter comes into force". International Herald Tribune. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  72. ^, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  73. ^ ASEAN's Greatest Parks, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  74. ^ "Ministry of Education, Singapore: ASEAN Scholarships". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  75. ^ "ASEAN University Network/Agreement". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  76. ^ "ASEAN University Network/Board Member". Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  77. ^ "Closure of FESPIC Federation". Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  78. ^ "ADB president calls for building Asian economic integration". Peace Journalism. 2007-01-03. Retrieved 2007-04-03. 
  79. ^ "Japan Cancels Myanmar Grant". Associated Press. 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2007-10-18. 
  80. ^ Silp, Sai (2007-02-15). "Burma an Issue in Asean-EU Trade Talks". The Irawaddy News Magazine Online Edition. Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  81. ^ "Malaysian foreign minister says ASEAN is no 'talk shop'". 2005-12-05. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  82. ^ "BBC Country/Internatonal Organisation Profile: Association of Southeast Asian Nations". BBC News. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  83. ^ ASEAN's Mixed Bag
  84. ^ "About 100 militants stage protest vs Asean Summit in Cebu". GMA News. 2007-01-13. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  85. ^ a b "ASEAN protests in Cebu will also underscore massive opposition to Charter Change". Kilusang Mayo Uno. 2006-12-07. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  86. ^ "NZ rights lawyer to join protests at ASEAN summit". News and Press. 2006-12-07. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 

External links

ASEAN organisations

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Southeast Asia article)

From Wikitravel

Asia : Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a collection of dissimilar but not unrelated states squeezed between the twin giants of India and China. The area has long been a favorite corner of the world for globe-tramping backpackers, well-known for its perfect beaches, tasty cuisine, low prices, and good air connections.

Tiny oil-rich sultanate in Borneo.
Recovering from decades of war and home of Angkor.
East Timor
One of the world's newest states, at the eastern tip of Indonesia.
The sleeping giant of South-East Asia and the world's largest archipelago, with more than 18,000 islands spanning three time zones.
The forgotten, but growing, country of South-East Asia, landlocked by Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam
Multicultural country covering the skyscrapers of KL and the jungle headhunters of Borneo.
Myanmar (Burma)
Military dictatorship open to the adventurous traveller.
Freewheeling former Spanish and American colony with over 7,100 islands and beautiful tropical beaches.
Clean and orderly island-city state.
The most popular destination in the region.
Firmly marching down the long road to capitalism.


These are the nine of the most prominent cities in Southeast Asia:

  • Bangkok - Thailand's bustling, cosmopolitan capital with nightlife and fervour.
  • Jakarta - The perennially congested capital and largest city of Indonesia.
  • Kuala Lumpur - Grown from a small sleepy Chinese tin-mining village to a bustling metropolis.
  • Luang Prabang - a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, and vibrant night market.
  • Manila - Historic, bustling, awe-inspiring, Manila is a blend of cultures and flavors with many places to see.
  • Penang - Former British colony known as the "Pearl of the Orient", and bustling island city with excellent cuisine.
  • Singapore - Modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay influences.
  • Vientiane - The still sleepy capital on the banks of the Mekong River.
  • Yangon (formerly Rangoon) - The commercial capital of Myanmar, known for its pagodas and colonial architecture.

Other destinations

These are some of the largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities.

Southeast Asia is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and for a reason. Some of the countries here have it all: a tropical climate, warm (or hot!) all year around, rich culture, gorgeous beaches, wonderful food and last but not least, low prices. While its history and modern-day politics are complex, most of it is also quite safe for the traveller and easy to travel around in.


Southeast Asian history is very diverse and often tumultous, and has to an important extent been shaped by European colonialism. The very term Southeast Asia was invented by American Naval strategists around 1940. Southeast Asia was prior to WWII referred to with reference to the colonial powers; farther India for Burma and Thailand, with reference to the main British colony of India, although Thailand was never formally colonized; Indochina referred to the French colonies of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and Indonesia and parts of maritime Southeast Asia was referred to as the Dutch East Indies. In addition, what is now Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore were also British colonies. The Philippines on the other hand was colonized by Spain for 333 years and by the United States for 44 years. East Timor was colonized by Portugal for 273 years, then occupied by Indonesia for 27 years before becoming the first nation to gain independence in the 21st century.

Pre-historic Southeast Asia was largely underpopulated. A process of immigration from India across the Bay of Bengal is referred to as the process of Indianization. Exactly how and when it happened is contested; however, the population of the mainland region largely happened through immigration from India. The Sanskrit script still used as the basis for modern Thai, Lao, Burmese and Khmer has its roots from this process. On the other hand, population of the archipelegos of East Timor, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as Malaysia on the mainland is thought to have come about though immigration from Taiwan.

For at least two thousand years (and to this day), Southeast Asia has been a conduit for trade between India and China, but large-scale Chinese immigration only began with the advent of the colonial era. In Singapore, the Chinese form a majority of the population, but there are substantial Chinese minorities, assimilated to varying degrees, across all countries in the region.

In recent years, Southeast Asia is acknowledged as having a relatively high rate of economic growth, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines often being called the "New Asian Tigers", and Vietnam also recording double digit growth rates in recent years.

Rice terraces in Banaue, Philippines
Rice terraces in Banaue, Philippines

Southeast Asia is tropical: the weather hovers around the 30°C mark throughout the year, humidity is high and it rains often.

The equatorial parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, have only two seasons, wet and dry, with the dry season somewhat hotter (up to 35°C) and the wet season somewhat cooler (down to 25°C). The wet season usually occurs in winter, and the hot season in summer, although there are significant local variations.

However, in Indochina (north/central Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar), the seasons can be broken down into hot, wet and dry, with the relatively cool dry season from November to February or so being the most popular with tourists. The scorching hot season that follows can see temperatures climb above 40°C in April, cooling down as the rains start around July. However, even in the "wet" season, the typical pattern is sunny mornings with a short (but torrential) shower in the afternoon, not all-day drizzle, so this alone should not discourage you from travel.

Southeast Asia is also home to many mountains, and conditions are generally cooler in the highlands. In equatorial Southeast Asia, highland temperatures generally range from about 15-25°C. Some of the highest mountains in Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar are so high that snow falls every year, and Indonesia is even home to a permanent glacier.

In Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and parts of Indonesia (notably Sumatra and Borneo) and the Philippines (notably Palawan), haze from forest fires (usually set intentionally to clear land) is a frequent phenomenon in the dry season from May to October. Haze comes and goes rapidly with the wind, but Singapore's National Environment Agency has useful online maps [1] of the current situation in the entire region.


Southeast Asia is religiously diverse. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are predominantly Sunni Muslim, while East Timor and the Philippines are predominantly Roman Catholic. In northern Southeast Asia, Buddhism dominates, mostly of the Theravada variety, with the exception of Vietnam where the Mahayana variety dominates. However, religious minorities exist in every country. The ethnic Chinese minorities in the various countries practise a mix of different religions, including Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. Hinduism is still practised in parts of Indonesia, most notably Bali, as well as by a sizeable proportion of the ethnic Indian community in Malaysia and Singapore. The southern parts of Thailand are home to ethnic Malays who mostly practise Islam, while the island of Mindanao in the Philippines is also home to a sizeable Muslim community. Indonesia is also home to many Christians, most notably on Papua and the island of Sulawesi. In East Malaysia as well as more remote parts of various countries, various tribal religions are still widely practised.


Most of Southeast Asia's major languages are not mutually intelligible. English is a traveller's most useful language overall, although for longer stays in any Southeast Asian country (except maybe Singapore, and most of the time, Malaysia, Brunei and Philippines), picking up at least some of the local language is useful, and may be essential, especially if you plan to venture beyond the big cities to more rural areas. Chinese is also helpful, although many Southeast Asian Chinese speak only southern dialects like Cantonese or Minnan, not Mandarin.

Get in

Southeast Asia's touristy countries (Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand) do not require visas from most visitors. Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and East Timor offer visas on arrival at most points of entry. Vietnam and Myanmar require advance paperwork for most visitors.

By plane

The main international gateways to Southeast Asia are Bangkok (Thailand) and Singapore, with Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in third place. Manila (Philippines) also offers relatively good connections to other cities outside the region, particularly North America. Hong Kong also makes a good springboard into the region, with many low-cost carriers flying into Southeast Asian destinations.

By train

The only railway line into Southeast Asia is between Vietnam and China, and consequently on to Russia and even Europe. There are no connections between Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries yet, although there are plans for links through both Cambodia and Myanmar onward to the existing Thailand-Malaysia network.

By boat

Southeast Asia is a popular destination for round the world cruises, and many of them make several stops in Southeast Asia with the option to go for shore excursions. Popular ports of call include Singapore, Langkawi, Penang, Tioman, Redang, Phuket and Ko Samui. In addition, Star Cruises [2] also operates cruises from Hong Kong and Taiwan to various destinations in Southeast Asia.

Get around

By plane

Much of Southeast Asia is now covered by a dense web of discount carriers, making this a fast and affordable way of getting around. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are the main hubs for discount airlines in the area. The larger multinational discount airlines and most national carriers are respectable, but some of the smaller airlines have questionable safety records, especially on domestic flights using older planes — do some research before you buy.

Services along the main Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok business corridor are extremely frequent, with frequencies almost like a bus service in the daytime, meaning that competition is stiff and prices are low if you book in advance.

By train

Thailand has the most extensive network, with relatively frequent and economical (albeit slow, compared to most buses) and generally reliable services. The main lines from Bangkok are north to Chiang Mai; north-east via Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) to Nong Khai and also east to Ubon Ratchathani; east via Chachoengsao to Aranyaprathet and also south-east via Pattaya to Sattahip; and south via Surat Thani (province) to Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao and Hat Yai, through Malaysia via Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur, and Johor Bahru, to Singapore.

The networks in Indonesia and Myanmar are more limited and decrepit and perhaps best experienced for their nostalgic value.

Cambodia's railways were badly hit by the civil war and have been going downhill ever since. The only remaining passenger service connects the capital Phnom Penh with the next-largest town Battambang, and takes longer to arrive than a reasonably determined cyclist. It is no longer possible to transit all the way through Cambodia to Thailand by rail.

By boat

International ferry links are surprisingly limited, but it's possible to cross over from Malaysia to Sumatra (Indonesia) and from Singapore to the Riau Islands (Indonesia) and Johor (Malaysia). Star Cruises [3] also operates a fleet of cruise ferries between Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, occasionally venturing as far as Cambodia, Vietnam and even Hong Kong.

Domestic passenger ferries link various islands in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, but safety regulations are often ignored, boats often overloaded, and sinkings are not uncommon. Be sure to inspect the boat before you agree to get on, and avoid boats that look overcrowded or too run down.

By car

Getting around continental Southeast Asia as well as intra-island travel in the various islands of Southeast Asia by car is possible, but definitely not for the faint hearted. While you can drive yourself around Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei without any major problems after giving yourself some time to get used to the relative lack of road courtesy, traffic conditions elsewhere range from just bad to total chaos. As such, it is advisable to rent a car with a driver, and not try to drive yourself around.

Traffic moves on the left in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, East Timor and Singapore, and moves on the right elsewhere.

Thaiwand Wall and Phra Nang Beach, Rai Leh, Thailand
Thaiwand Wall and Phra Nang Beach, Rai Leh, Thailand

It's difficult to choose favorites from a region as varied as Southeast Asia, but picking one representative sight per country:

  • The awe-inspiring temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia
  • The eerie, continually erupting volcanoes of Mount Bromo in Indonesia
  • The laid-back former royal capital of Luang Prabang in Laos
  • The surreal mix of modernity and tradition in Malaysia's capital-to-be Putrajaya
  • The literally thousands of ancient temples and stupas which make up the cityscape of Bagan, Myanmar
  • The 2000-year-old rice terraces of Banaue, built onto the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the Batad indigenous people
  • The colorful ethnic districts of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam in Singapore
  • The limestone cliffs, azure waters and perfect beaches of Krabi in Thailand
  • The delightfully well-preserved ancient trading port of Hoi An in Vietnam
Spotted Moray Eel in Sabang, Philippines
Spotted Moray Eel in Sabang, Philippines


Scuba diving is a major draw for visitors to Southeast Asia, with the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia all boasting world-class diving locations.

Surfing is also an increasing popular sport especially in the Philippines and Indonesia, with Nias and Bali the top draws.

Try wakeboarding at Southeast Asia's largest wakeboarding center in Camarines Sur in the Philippines.

Explore the world's longest underground river the Puerto Prinsesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan also in the Philippines.


Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia and Thailand, is well-known throughout the world for its traditional massages. While the conditions of massage parlours vary, those located in major hotels in touristy areas are usually clean, though you would generally pay a premium for them. Nevertheless, prices remain much lower than in most Western countries, with 2-hour massages starting from around US$10-20.

Chinese New Year decorations on sale in Singapore
Chinese New Year decorations on sale in Singapore

Every Southeast Asian country has its own currency. The US dollar is the official currency of East Timor, the unofficial currency of Cambodia and Laos, and (for larger payments) is widely accepted in all Southeast Asian cities. Euros are also widely accepted in the major cities, although rates are rarely as good as for dollars. Thai baht are widely accepted in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. As Singapore is considered to be the main financial centre of Southeast Asia, Singapore dollars would generally be accepted in major tourist areas if you're in a pinch (and are legal tender in Brunei), though the conversion rate might not be very favourable. Exchange rates for Southeast Asian currencies tend to be very poor outside the region, so it's best to exchange (or use the ATM) only after arrival. Alternatively, Singapore and Hong Kong have many money changers who offer competitive rates for Southeast Asian currencies, so you might plan to spend a night or two in transit for you to get your money changed.


Southeast Asia is cheap, so much so that it is among the cheapest travel destinations on the planet. US$20 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget in most countries in the region, while the savvy traveler can eat well, drink a lot and stay in five-star hotels for US$100/day.

Some exceptions do stand out. The rich city-states of Singapore and Brunei are about twice as expensive as their neighbors, while at the other end of the spectrum, the difficulty of getting into and around underdeveloped places like Myanmar, East Timor and the backwoods of Indonesia drives up prices there too. In Singapore in particular, the sheer scarcity of land drives accommodation rates up and you would be looking at US$100 per night for a four-star hotel.


Southeast Asia is a shopping haven, with both high end branded goods and dirt cheap street goods. The most popular city for shopping in Southeast Asia is Bangkok, although Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore all have extensive arrays of exclusive shopping malls stocked with haute couture labels. On the other end of the spectrum, street markets remain a part of daily life (except in Singapore) and are the place to go for dirt cheap or counterfeit items. Some towns like Chiang Mai in Thailand and Ubud in Bali, Indonesia are well-known for enormous markets selling traditional artworks, and it's often possible to buy directly from local artists or have dresses, jewelry, furniture etc made to order.

Fruit at a street market, Thailand
Fruit at a street market, Thailand

Rice is the main Southeast Asian staple, with noodles of all sorts an important second option.

Fruit is available everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Mangoes are a firm favorite among travellers. The giant spiky durian, perhaps the only unifying factor between South-East Asia's countries, is infamous for its pungent smell and has been likened to eating garlic ice cream next to an open sewer.

Street vendors or hawkers. Be careful of some, but most offer wonderful food at a very inexpensive cost.


Rice-based alcoholic drinks — Thai whisky, lao, tuak, arak and so on — are ubiquitous and potent, if rarely tasty. As a rule of thumb, local booze is cheap, but most countries levy very high taxes on imported stuff.

Beers are a must try in Southeast Asia - check out San Miguel (Philippines), Tiger Beer (Singapore) and Beer Lao (Laos).

Stay safe

Virtually all of the traveller trail in Southeast Asia is perfectly safe, but there are low-level insurgencies in the remote areas of Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, and East Timor continues to be politically unstable.

Terrorists in Indonesia have bombed several hotels and nightclubs frequented by foreigners in Bali and Jakarta, most recently the Marriott and Ritz Carlton in July 2009. Thailand's southernmost states have also been the scene of violence in recent years, and while tourists have not been specifically targeted, there have been several attacks on trains and three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai in 2006.

Violent crime is a rarity in Southeast Asia, but opportunistic theft is more common. Watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas and keep a close eye on your bags when traveling, particularly on overnight buses and trains.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary





  1. Association of Southeast Asian Nations

See also


  • Anagrams of aaens
  • ansae


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