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Southeast Asia

Topography of Southeast Asia.
Area 5,000,000 km²
Population 593,000,000
Density 116.5 people per km²
Territories 9
GDP (2009) $1.486 Trillion (exchange rate)
GDP per capita (2009) $2,500 (exchange rate)
Time Zones UTC+5:30 (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) to UTC+9:00 (Indonesia)
Capital cities
Largest cities

Southeast Asia (or Southeastern Asia) is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic and volcanic activity.

Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions: the Asian mainland (aka. Indochina), and island arcs and archipelagoes to the east and southeast. The mainland section consists of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia while the maritime section consists of Brunei, East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Singapore.[1]

Geographically speaking southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are sometimes grouped in the Southeast Asia subregion,[citation needed] although politically they are rarely grouped as such.[citation needed] Vietnam is culturally and historically tied to East Asia rather than Southeast Asia.[citation needed]

Austronesian peoples predominate in this region. The major religions are Islam and Buddhism, followed by Christianity. However a wide variety of religions are found throughout the region, including many Hindu and animist-influenced practices.[citation needed]





Definitions of "Southeast Asia" vary, but most definitions include the area represented by the countries:

All of the above excluding Timor-Leste are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (commonly abbreviated ASEAN.) The area, together with part of South Asia, was widely known as the East Indies or simply the Indies until the twentieth century. Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are considered part of Southeast Asia though they are governed by Australia. Sovereignty issues exist over some islands in the South China Sea. Papua is politically part of Southeast Asia through Indonesia, although geographically it is often considered as part of Oceania. As of 2009, Papua New Guinea has stated that it might join ASEAN, indicating a possible switch in its geographic locale.[2] [3]


Location of Southeast Asia.[4]

The eastern parts of Indonesia and East Timor (east of Wallace Line) are considered to be geographically parts of Oceania.

Compare Regions of Asia described by UN:      North Asia      Central Asia      Southwest Asia      South Asia      East Asia      Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is geographically divided into two subregions, namely Mainland Southeast Asia (or Indochina) and Maritime Southeast Asia (or the similarly defined Malay Archipelago) (Indonesian: Nusantara).

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India are geographically considered part of Southeast Asia. Bangladesh and the Seven Sister States of India are culturally part of Southeast Asia and sometimes considered both South Asian and Southeast Asian. The Seven Sister States of India are also geographically part of southeast asia. Hainan Island and several other southern Chinese regions such as Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi are considered both East Asian and Southeast Asian. The rest of New Guinea is sometimes included so are Palau, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, which were all part of the Spanish East Indies.

Countries and territories data


Country Area (km2)[5] Population(2009)[1] Density (/km2) GDP USD(2009)[6] GDP per capita(2009) Capital
 Brunei 5,765 400,000 70 14,700,000,000 $36,700 Bandar Seri Begawan
 Myanmar 676,578 50,020,000 74 26,820,000,000 $500 Naypyidaw
 Cambodia 181,035 14,805,000 82 10,900,000,000 $800 Phnom Penh
 Timor-Leste 14,874 1,134,000 76 599,000,000 $500 Dili
 Indonesia 1,904,569 240,271,522 126 514,900,000,000 $2,200 Jakarta
 Laos 236,800 6,320,000 27 5,721,000,000 $900 Vientiane
 Malaysia 329,847 28,318,000 83 191,400,000,000 $6,800 Kuala Lumpur
 Papua New Guinea 462,840 6,732,000 15 8,200,000,000 $1,200 Port Moresby
 Philippines 299,764 91,983,000 307 158,700,000,000 $1,700 Manila
 Singapore 710.2 4,987,600[7] 7,023 177,100,000,000 $35,500 City of Singapore (Downtown Core)
 Thailand 513,120 67,764,000 132 263,500,000,000 $3,900 Bangkok
 Vietnam 331,210 88,069,000 265 97,120,000,000 $1,100 Hanoi


Territory Area (km2) Population Density (/km2)
 Christmas Island 135[8] 1,402[8] 10.4
 Cocos (Keeling) Islands 14[9] 596[9] 42.6


Designs on Dong Son drum belonging to Iron Age prehistoric Dong Son culture locating on Red River Delta, Vietnam.

Homo sapiens reached the region by around 45,000 years ago.[10] Homo floresiensis seems to have shared some islands with modern humans until only 12,000 years ago, when they became extinct.[11] Austronesian people, who form the majority of the modern population in Indonesia and the Philippines, migrated to South East Asia from Taiwan. They arrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and as they spread through the archipelago, confined the native Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions.[12]

Solheim and others have shown evidence for a Nusantao (Nusantara) maritime trading network ranging from Vietnam to the rest of the archipelago as early as 5000 BCE to 1 CE.[13] The peoples of Southeast Asia, especially those of Austronesian descent, have been seafarers for thousands of years, some reaching the island of Madagascar. Their vessels, such as the vinta, were ocean-worthy. Magellan's voyage records how much more maneuvreable their vessels were, as compared to the European ships.[14]

Passage through the Indian Ocean aided the colonization of Madagascar by the Austronesian people, as well as commerce between West Asia and Southeast Asia. Gold from Sumatra is thought to have reached as far west as Rome, while slaves from the Sulu Sea was believed to have been used in Magellan's voyage as a translator.

Originally most people were animist. This was later replaced by Brahmanic Hinduism. Theravada Buddhism soon followed in 525. In 1400s, Islamic influences began to enter. This forced the last Hindu court in Indonesia to retreat to Bali.

In Mainland Southeast Asia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand retained the Theravada form of Buddhism, brought to them from Sri Lanka. This type of Buddhism was fused with the Hindu-influenced Khmer culture.

Architecture in the Srivijayan style. Surat Thani Thailand

Indianized kingdoms

Very little is known about Southeast Asian religious beliefs and practices before the advent of Indian merchants and religious influences from the second century BCE onwards. Prior to the 13th century, Buddhism and Hinduism were the main religions in Southeast Asia.

The Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra existed around 200 BCE. The history of the Malay-speaking world begins with the advent of Indian influence, which dates back to at least the 3rd century BC. Indian traders came to the archipelago both for its abundant forest and maritime products and to trade with merchants from China, who also discovered the Malay world at an early date. Both Hinduism and Buddhism were well established in the Malay Peninsula by the beginning of the 1st century CE, and from there spread across the archipelago.

Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is the largest religious temple in the world and Angkor the largest pre-industrial city in the world

Cambodia was first influenced by Hinduism during the beginning of the Funan kingdom. Hinduism was one of the Khmer Empire's official religions. Cambodia is the home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma in the world. Angkor Wat is also a famous Hindu temple of Cambodia. The Champa civilization was located in what is today central Vietnam, and was a highly indianized Hindu Kingdom.

The Majapahit Empire was an Indianized kingdom based in eastern Java from 1293 to around 1500. Its greatest ruler was Hayam Wuruk, whose reign from 1350 to 1389 marked the empire's peak when it dominated other kingdoms in the southern Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, and Bali. Various sources such as the Nagarakertagama also mention that its influence spanned over parts of Celebes, the Moluccas islands, and some areas of western Papua, making it the largest empire to ever exist in Southeast Asian history.

The Cholas excelled in maritime activity in both military and the mercantile fields. Their raids of Kedah and the Srivijaya, and their continued commercial contacts with the Chinese Empire, enabled them to influence the local cultures. Many of the surviving examples of the Hindu cultural influence found today throughout the Southeast Asia are the result of the Chola expeditions.[15]

Islamization of Southeast Asia

In the 11th century, a turbulent period occurred in the history of Maritime Southeast Asia, the Indian Chola navy crossed the ocean and attacked the Srivijaya kingdom of Sangrama Vijayatungavarman in Kadaram (Kedah), the capital of the powerful maritime kingdom was sacked and the king was taken captive. Along with Kadaram, Pannai in present day Sumatra and Malaiyur and the Malayan peninsula were attacked too. Soon after that, the king of Kedah Phra Ong Mahawangsa became the first ruler to abandon the traditional Hindu faith, and converted to Islam with the Sultanate of Kedah established in year 1136. Samudera Pasai converted to Islam in the year 1267, the King of Malacca Parameswara married with princess of Pasai, the son became the first sultan of Malacca, soon Malacca became the center of Islam study and maritime trade, other rulers followed suit. Indonesian religious leader and Islamic scholar Hamka (1908–1981) wrote in 1961: "The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaya is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He."[16]

There are several theories to the Islamization process in Southeast Asia. The first theory is trade. The expansion of trade among West Asia, India and Southeast Asia helped the spread of the religion as Muslim traders brought Islam to the region. The second theory is the role of missionaries or Sufis. The Sufi missionaries played a significant role in spreading the faith by syncretising Islamic ideas with existing local beliefs and religious notions. Finally, the ruling classes embraced Islam and that further aided the permeation of the religion throughout the region. The ruler of the region's most important port, Malacca Sultanate, embraced Islam in the 15th century, heralding a period of accelerated conversion of Islam throughout the region as the religion provided a unifying force among the ruling and trading classes.

Trade and colonisation


Chinese merchants have traded with the region for a long time as evidence of Magellan's voyage records that Brunei possessed more cannon than the European ships so it appears that the Chinese fortified them.[14]

Malaysian legend has it that a Chinese Ming emperor sent a princess, Han Li Po to Malacca, with a retinue of 500, to marry Sultan Mansur Shah after the emperor was impressed by the wisdom of the sultan. Han Li Po's well (constructed 1459) is now a tourist attraction there, as is Bukit Cina, where her retinue settled.

The strategic value of the Strait of Malacca, which was controlled by Sultanate of Malacca in the 15th and early 16th century, did not go unnoticed by Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa, who in 1500 wrote "He who is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice".

Strait of Malacca, (narrows).


Western influence started to enter in the 1500s, with the arrival of the Portuguese and Spanish in Moluccas and the Philippines. Later the Dutch established the Dutch East Indies; the French Indochina; and the British Strait Settlements. All southeast Asian countries were colonized except for Thailand.

European explorers were reaching Southeast Asia from the west and from the east. Regular trade between the ships sailing east from the Indian Ocean and south from mainland Asia provided goods in return for natural products, such as honey and hornbill beaks from the islands of the archipelago.

Europeans brought Christianity allowing Christian missionaries to become widespread. Thailand also allowed Western science and technology to enter its country.


During World War II, the Imperial Japan invaded most of the former western colonies. The Shōwa occupation regime committed violent actions against indigenous civilians such as the Manila Massacre and the implementation of a system of forced labor, such as the one involving 4 to 10 million romusha in Indonesia.[17] A later UN report stated that four million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labour during the Japanese occupation.[18]

The Keppel Container Terminal in the Port of Singapore. The Port of Singapore is the busiest transshipment and container port in the world, and is an important transportation and shipping hub in Southeast Asia.


Most countries in the region enjoy national autonomy. Democratic forms of government and the recognition of human rights are taking root. ASEAN provides a framework for the integration of commerce.

Conflicting territorial and maritime claims continue to exist, including the conflicting claims by Taiwan, China, and the Philippines over the Spratly Islands.


Hạ Long Bay, a Natural World's Heritage Site in Vietnam
Mayon Volcano in the Philippines overlooks a pastoral scene.

Geologically, the Indonesian archipelago is one of the most active vulcanological regions in the world. Geological uplifts in the region have also produced some impressive mountains, culminating in Puncak Jaya in Papua, Indonesia at 5,030 metres (16,024 ft), on the island of New Guinea, it is the only place where ice glacier can be found in Southeast Asia. While the second tallest peak is Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo with a height of 4,101 meters (13,455 ft). The tallest mountain in the Southeast Asia is Hkakabo Razi at 5,967 meters and can be found in northern Myanmar. The largest archipelago in the world by size is Indonesia (according to the CIA World Factbook)


The Australian continent defines a region adjacent to Southeast Asia, which is also politically separated from the countries of Southeast Asia. But a cultural touch point lies between Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian region of Papua and West Papua, which shares the island of New Guinea with Papua New Guinea.


The climate in Southeast Asia is mainly tropical–hot and humid all year round with plentiful rainfall. Southeast Asia has a wet and dry season caused by seasonal shift in winds or monsoon. The tropical rain belt causes additional rainfall during the monsoon season. The rain forest is the second largest on earth (with the Amazon being the largest). An exception to this type of climate and vegetation is the mountain areas in the northern region, where high altitudes lead to milder temperatures and drier landscape. Other parts fall out of this climate because they are desert like.


Water Buffalo.
Wallace's hypothetical line between Australasian and Southeast Asian fauna.
Great Hornbill - bird from Southeast Asia

All of Southeast Asia falls within the warm, humid tropics, and its climate generally can be characterized as monsoonal. The animals of Southeast Asia are diverse; on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the Orangutan (man of the forest), the Asian Elephant, the Malayan tapir, the Sumatran Rhinoceros and the Bornean Clouded Leopard can be also found. Six subspecies of the Binturong or bearcat exist in the region, though the one endemic to the island of Palawan is now classed as vulnerable.

The Komodo Dragon is the largest living species of lizard and inhabits the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motang in Indonesia.

The Wild Asian Water Buffalo, and on various islands related dwarf species of Bubalus such as Anoa were once widespread in Southeast Asia, nowadays the Domestic Asian Water buffalo is common across the region, but its remaining relatives are rare and endangered.

The mouse deer, a small tusked deer as large as a toy dog or cat, can be found on Sumatra, Borneo and Palawan Islands. The gaur, a gigantic wild ox larger than even wild Water buffalo, is found mainly in Indochina.

Birds such as the peafowl and drongo live in this subregion as far east as Indonesia. The babirusa, a four-tusked pig, can be found in Indonesia as well. The hornbill was prized for its beak and used in trade with China. The horn of the rhinoceros, not part of its skull, was prized in China as well.

The Indonesian Archipelago is split by the Wallace Line. This line runs along what is now known to be a tectonic plate boundary, and separates Asian (Western) species from Australasian (Eastern) species. The islands between Java/Borneo and Papua form a mixed zone, where both types occur, known as Wallacea. As the pace of development accelerates and populations continue to expand in Southeast Asia, concern has increased regarding the impact of human activity on the region's environment. A significant portion of Southeast Asia, however, has not changed greatly and remains an unaltered home to wildlife. The nations of the region, with only few exceptions, have become aware of the need to maintain forest cover not only to prevent soil erosion but to preserve the diversity of flora and fauna. Indonesia, for example, has created an extensive system of national parks and preserves for this purpose. Even so, such species as the Javan rhinoceros face extinction, with only a handful of the animals remaining in western Java.

The shallow waters of the Southeast Asian coral reefs have the highest levels of biodiversity for the world's marine ecosystems, where coral, fish and molluscs abound. According to Conservation International, marine surveys suggest that the marine life diversity in the Raja Ampat area is the highest recorded on Earth.[1] Diversity is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the Coral Triangle composed of Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. The Coral Triangle is the heart of the world's coral reef biodiversity, making Raja Ampat quite possibly the richest coral reef ecosystems in the world. The whale shark, the world's largest species of fish and 6 species of pawikans can also be found in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean territories of the Philippines.

The trees and other plants of the region are tropical; in some countries where the mountains are tall enough, temperate-climate vegetation can be found. These rainforest areas are currently being logged-over, especially in Borneo.

While Southeast Asia is rich in flora and fauna, Southeast Asia is facing severe deforestation which causes habitat loss for various endangered species such as orangutan and the Sumatran tiger. Predictions have been made that more than 40% of the animal and plant species in Southeast Asia could be wiped out in the 21st century.[19] At the same time, haze has been a regular occurrence. The two worst regional hazes were in 1997 and 2006 in which multiple countries were covered with thick haze, mostly caused by "slash and burn" activities in Indonesia. In reaction, several countries in Southeast Asia signed the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in order to combat haze pollution.


Ortigas Center in Manila is where the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank is located.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is a major economic center of the region.

Even prior to the penetration of European interests, Southeast Asia was a critical part of the world trading system. The Ryukyu Kingdom often participated in maritime trade in Southeast Asia. A wide range of commodities originated in the region, but especially important were such spices as pepper, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. The spice trade initially was developed by Indian and Arab merchants, but it also brought Europeans to the region. First Spaniards (Manila galleon) and Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British and French became involved in this enterprise in various countries. The penetration of European commercial interests gradually evolved into annexation of territories, as traders lobbied for an extension of control to protect and expand their activities. As a result, the Dutch moved into Indonesia, the British into Malaya, and the French into Indochina.

While the region's economy greatly depends on agriculture, manufacturing and services are becoming more important. An emerging market, Indonesia is the largest economy in this region. Newly industrialized countries include the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand, while Singapore and Brunei are affluent developed economies. The rest of Southeast Asia is still heavily dependent on agriculture, but Vietnam is notably making steady progress in developing its industrial sectors. The region notably manufactures textiles, electronic high-tech goods such as microprocessors and heavy industrial products such as automobiles. Reserves of oil are also present in the region.

Seventeen telecommunications companies have contracted to build a new submarine cable to connect Southeast Asia to the U.S.[20] This is to avoid disruption of the kind recently caused by the cutting of the undersea cable from Taiwan to the U.S. in a recent earthquake.

Tourism has been a key factor in economic development for many Southeast Asian countries, especially Cambodia. According to UNESCO, “tourism, if correctly conceived, can be a tremendous development tool and an effective means of preserving the cultural diversity of our planet.”[21] Since the early 1990s, “even the non-ASEAN nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, where the income derived from tourism is low, are attempting to expand their own tourism industries.”[22] In 1995, Singapore was the regional leader in tourism receipts relative to GDP at over 8%. By 1998, those receipts had dropped to less than 6% of GDP while Thailand and Lao PDR increased receipts to over 7%. Since 2000, Cambodia has surpassed all other ASEAN countries and generated almost 15% of its GDP from tourism in 2006.[23]


Pie chart showing the distribution of population among the nations of Southeast Asia and among the islands of Indonesia

Southeast Asia has an area of approximately 4,000,000 km² (1.6 million square miles). As of 2004, more than 593 million people lived in the region, more than a fifth of them (125 million) on the Indonesian island of Java, the most densely populated large island in the world. Indonesia is the most populous country with 230 million people and also 4th most populous country in the world. The distribution of the religions and people is diverse in Southeast Asia and varies by country. Some 30 million overseas Chinese also live in Southeast Asia, most prominently in Christmas Island, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, and also, as the Hoa, in Vietnam.

Ethnic groups

According to a recent Stanford genetic study, the Southeast Asian population is far from being homogeneous. Although primarily descendants of Austronesian, Tai, and Mon-Khmer-speaking immigrants who migrated from Southern China during the Bronze Age and Iron Age, there are overlays of Arab, Chinese, Indian, Polynesian and Melanesian genes.

There are also large pockets of intermarriage between indigenous Southeast Asians and those of Chinese descent. They form a substantial part of everyday life in countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. Indonesia and Malaysia also has a few mixed Southeast Asian-Chinese populations.

Ati woman. The Negritos were the earliest inhabitants of Southeast Asia.

On the mainland the Khmer peoples of Cambodia remain as ancestors of earlier Pareoean peoples. Similarly, remnants of the Mon group are found in parts of Myanmar and Thailand; the ethnic mixture there has been produced by overlaying Tibeto-Burman and Tai, Lao, and Shan peoples. The contemporary Vietnamese population originated from the Red River area in the north and may be a mixture of Tai and Malay peoples.[citation needed] Added to these major ethnic groups are such less numerous peoples as the Karens, Chins, and Nagas in Myanmar, who have affinities with other Asiatic peoples. Insular Southeast Asia contains a mixture of descendants of Proto-Malay (Nesiot) and Pareoean peoples who were influenced by Malayo-Polynesian and other groups. In addition, Arabic, Indian, and Chinese influences have affected the ethnic pattern of the islands.

In modern times, the Javanese are the largest ethnic group in Southeast Asia, with more than 86 million people, mostly concentrated in Java,Indonesia. In Myanmar, the Burmese account for more than two-thirds of the ethnic stock in this country, while ethnic Thais and Vietnamese account for about four-fifths of the respective populations of those countries. Indonesia is clearly dominated by the Javanese and Sundanese ethnic groups, while Malaysia is more evenly split between the Malays and the Chinese. Within the Philippines, the Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, and Bicol groups are significant.

Malay family from Malaysia


Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Southeast Asia, numbering approximately 240 million adherents which translate to about 40% of the entire population, with majorities in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Countries in Southeast Asia practice many different religions. Mainland Southeast Asian countries, which are, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam practice predominantly Buddhism. Singapore is also predominantly Buddhist. Ancestor worship and Confucianism is also widely practised in Vietnam and Singapore. In Maritime Southeast Asia, people living in Malaysia, western Indonesia and Brunei practice mainly Islam. Christianity is predominant in the Philippines, eastern Indonesia and East Timor. The Philippines has the largest Roman Catholic population followed very distantly by Vietnam. East Timor is also predominantly Roman Catholic due to a history of Portuguese rule.

The religious composition for each country is as follows. Some values are taken from the CIA World Factbook:[24]

The sacred monastery of Hinduism worship prepare by shelf for the Cambodian superstition sacrific on blessing.

Religions and peoples are diverse in Southeast Asia and not one country is homogeneous. In the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, Hinduism is dominant on islands such as Bali. Christianity also predominates in Philippines, New Guinea and Timor. Pockets of Hindu population can also be found around Southeast Asia in Singapore, Malaysia etc. Garuda (Sanskrit: Garuḍa), the phoenix who is the mount (vahanam) of Vishnu, is a national symbol in both Thailand and Indonesia; in the Philippines, gold images of Garuda have been found on Palawan; gold images of other Hindu gods and goddesses have also been found on Mindanao. Balinese Hinduism is somewhat different from Hinduism practiced elsewhere, as Animism and local culture is incorporated into it. Cambodia still involves today in pratice Hindism for mixture toward the excessity Buddhism disciple of the numerous special occasion, wornship and belief with the root of previous powerful Khmer Empire. Christians can also be found throughout Southeast Asia; they are in the majority in East Timor and the Philippines, Asia's largest Christian nation. In addition, there are also older tribal religious practices in remote areas of Sarawak in East Malaysia and Papua in eastern Indonesia. In Myanmar, Sakka (Indra) is revered as a nat. In Vietnam, Mahayana Buddhism is practiced, which is influenced by native animism but with strong emphasis on Ancestor Worship.

 Brunei Islam (67%), Buddhism (13%), Christianity (10%), others (indigenous beliefs, etc) (10%)
 Burma Theravada Buddhism (89%), Islam (4%), Christianity (4%), Animism (1%), others (2%)
 Cambodia Theravada Buddhism (95%), Islam, Christianity, Animism other (5%)
 Christmas Island Buddhism (36%), Islam (25%), Christianity (18%), Taoism (15%), others (6%)
 Cocos (Keeling) Islands Sunni Islam (80%), others (20%)
 East Timor Roman Catholicism (90%), Islam (5%), Protestant (3%), others (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc) (2%)
 Indonesia Islam (86.1%), Protestant (5.7%), Roman Catholicism (3%), Hinduism (1.8%), others including Buddhism, or unspecified (3.4%)[25]
 Laos Theravada Buddhism (65%) with Animism (32.9%), Christianity (1.3%), others (0.8%)
 Malaysia Islam (60.4%), Mahayana Buddhism (19.2%), Christianity (9.1%), Hinduism (6.1%), Animism (5.2%)
 Papua New Guinea Roman Catholicism (27%), Evangelical Lutheran (20%), United Church (12%), Seventh-day Adventist Church (10%), Pentecostal (9%), Evangelical (7%), Anglican (3%), other Christian (8%), others (4%)
 Philippines Roman Catholicism (80%), Islam (5%), Evangelical (2.8%), Iglesia ni Cristo (2.2%), Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan) (2%), other Christian (3%), others (Traditional beliefs, Buddhism, Judaism, nonreligious, etc) (5%)
 Singapore Buddhism (42.5%), Islam (15%), Taoism (8%), Roman Catholicism (4.5%), Hinduism (4%), nonreligious (15%), Christian (10%), others (1%)
South China Sea Islands Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Taoism, nonreligious
 Thailand Theravada Buddhism (94.6%), Islam (4.6%), others (1%)
 Vietnam Mahayana Buddhism (81%), Roman Catholicism (5%), Theravada Buddhism (2%), Cao Dai (1%), Protestant (1%), others (Animism, Hoa Hao, Islam, nonreligious, etc; 10%)


Each of the languages have been influenced by cultural pressures due to trade and historical colonization as well. Thus, for example, a Filipino, educated in English and Filipino, as well as in his native tongue (e.g., Visayan), might well speak another language, such as Spanish for historical reasons, or Chinese, Korean or Japanese for economic reasons; a Malaysian might well speak English, Chinese, Tamil as well as Malay as a second language.

The language composition for each country is as follows: (official languages are in bold.)

Andaman and Nicobar Islands Nicobarese, Bengali, English, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Shompen, Andamanese languages, others
Brunei Malay, English, Chinese, indigenous Borneian dialects[26]
Cambodia Khmer, English, French, Vietnamese, Thai, Chamic dialects, Chinese languages, others[27]
Christmas Island English, Chinese, Malay[28]
Cocos (Keeling) Islands English, Cocos Malay[29]
East Timor Tetum, Portuguese, Indonesian, English, Mambae, Makasae, Tukudede, Bunak, Galoli, Kemak, Fataluku, Baikeno, others[30]
Indonesia Indonesian, Acehnese, Batak, Minang, Sundanese, Javanese,Banjarese,Sasak, Tetum, Dayak, Minahasa, Toraja, Buginese, Halmahera, Ambonese, Ceramese; English, Dutch, Papuan languages, Chinese, others[31]
Laos Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Hmong, Miao, Mien, Dao, Shan; French, English others[32]
Malaysia Malay, English, Mandarin, Chinese dialects, Indian languages, Sarawakian and Sabahan languages, others[33]
Myanmar (Burma) Burmese, Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Kachin, Chin, Mon, Chinese languages, Indian languages, others
Philippines Filipino, English, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon/Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, others[34]
Singapore English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, other Chinese languages, other Indian languages, Arabic dialects, others
South China Sea Islands English, Filipino, Malay, Mandarin (Chinese), Vietnamese
Thailand Thai, English, Chinese languages, Malay, Lao, Khmer, Isaan, Shan, Lue, Phutai, Mon, Mein, Hmong, Karen, Burmese, others [35]
Vietnam Vietnamese, English, Chinese languages, French, Khmer, mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian, hmong)[36]


The Banaue Rice Terraces in Luzon Island, Philippines.

Rice paddy agriculture has existed in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, ranging across the subregion. Some dramatic examples of these rice paddies populate the Banaue Rice Terraces in the mountains of Luzon in the Philippines. Maintenance of these paddies is very labor-intensive. The rice paddies are well-suited to the monsoon climate of the region.

Stilt houses can be found all over Southeast Asia, from Thailand and Laos, to Borneo, to Luzon in the Philippines, to Papua New Guinea.

The region has diverse metalworking, especially in Indonesia. This include weaponry, such as the distinctive kris, and musical instruments, such as the gamelan.


The region's chief cultural influences have been from either China or India or both, with Vietnam considered by far the most Chinese-influenced. Myanmar can be said to be influenced equally by both India and China. Western cultural influence is most pronounced in the Philippines, derived particularly from the period of Spanish rule.

As a rule, the peoples who ate with their fingers were more likely influenced by the culture of India, for example, than the culture of China, where the peoples first ate with chopsticks; tea, as a beverage, can be found across the region. The fish sauces distinctive to the region tend to vary.

The Arts

"Buffalo boy plays a flute", Đông Hồ painting, Vietnam.
Apsara Dance show a softful movement, means of graceful and beauty of Cambodia.
A Thai boy plays the khim, a traditional instrument from Cambodia and Thailand.*Khim audio
Balinese writing on palm leaf. Artifacts can be seen in the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

The arts of Southeast Asia have no affinity with the arts of other areas. Dance in much of Southeast Asia also includes movement of the hands, as well as the feet to express the emotion and meaning of dance upon the story that the ballerina going to tell the audience.Most of Southeast Asian confirmed the Dance into their court, according to Cambodian royal ballet represent them in earlier of 7th century before Khmer Empire which highly influenced by Indian Hinduism. Apsara Dance, famous for its strongly hand and feet movement, is a great example of Hindism symbol dance. Puppetry and shadow plays were also a favoured form of entertainment in past centuries as the famous one known as Wayang from Indonesia.The Arts and Literature in some of Southeast Asia is quite influenced by Hinduism brought to them centuries ago.

The Tai, coming late into Southeast Asia, brought with them some Chinese artistic traditions, but they soon shed them in favour of the Khmer and Mon traditions, and the only indications of their earlier contact with Chinese arts were in the style of their temples, especially the tapering roof, and in their lacquerware.

In Indonesia, despite conversion to Islam opposed to certain forms of art, they retained many forms of Hindu influenced practices, cultures, arts and literatures. An example will be the Wayang Kulit (Shadow Puppet) and literatures like the Ramayana. This is also true for mainland Southeast Asia (excluding Vietnam). Dance movements, Hindu gods, arts were also fused into Thai, Khmer, Lao and Burmese cultures. It has been pointed out that Khmer and Indonesian classical arts were concerned with depicting the life of the gods, but to the Southeast Asian mind the life of the gods was the life of the peoples themselves—joyous, earthy, yet divine.

In Vietnam, the Vietnamese share many cultural similarities with the Chinese.


Traditional music in Southeast Asia is as varied as its many ethnic and cultural divisions. Main styles of traditional music can be seen: Court music, folk music, music styles of smaller ethnic groups, and music influenced by genres outside the geographic region.

Of the court and folk genres, Gong-chime ensembles and orchestras make up the majority (the exception being lowland areas of Vietnam). Gamelan orchestras from Indonesia, Piphat /Pinpeat ensembles of Thailand & Cambodia and the Kulintang ensembles of the southern Philippines, Borneo, Sulawesi and Timor are the three main distinct styles of musical genres that have influenced other traditional musical styles in the region. String instruments also are popular in the region.


The history of Southeast Asia has led to a wealth of different authors, from both within and without writing about the region.

Originally, Indians were the ones who taught the native inhabitants about writing. This is shown through Brahmic forms of writing present in the region such as the Balinese script shown on split palm leaf called lontar, right:

The antiquity of this form of writing extends before the invention of paper around the year 100 in China. Note each palm leaf section was only several lines, written longitudinally across the leaf, and bound by twine to the other sections. The outer portion was decorated. The alphabets of Southeast Asia tended to be abugidas, until the arrival of the Europeans, who used words that also ended in consonants, not just vowels. Other forms of official documents, which did not use paper, included Javanese copperplate scrolls. This would have been more durable in the tropical climate of Southeast Asia.

See also


  1. ^ a b "World Macro Regions and Components". The United Nations. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  2. ^ Papua New Guinea asks RP support for Asean membership bid Retrieved July 8, 2009
  3. ^ Somare seeks PGMA's support for PNG's ASEAN membership bid Retrieved July 8, 2009
  4. ^ This map primarily indicates ASEAN member countries, and therefore does not mark the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are also geographically a part of Southeast Asia.
  5. ^ "Country Comparison :: Area". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  6. ^ "Country Comparison :: GDP". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  7. ^ (html) Statistics Singapore - Population (Mid Year Estimates) & Land Area. 2009. Statistics Singapore. 2009. 
  8. ^ a b "Christmas Islands". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  9. ^ a b "Cocos (Keeling) Islands". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  10. ^ Smithsonian (July 2008). The Great Human Migration. p. 2. 
  11. ^ Morwood, M. J.; Brown, P., Jatmiko, Sutikna, T., Wahyu Saptomo, E., Westaway, K. E., Rokus Awe Due, Roberts, R. G., Maeda, T., Wasisto, S. and Djubiantono, T. (October 13, 2005). "Further evidence for small-bodied hominins from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia". Nature 437: 1012–1017. doi:10.1038/nature04022. 
  12. ^ Taylor, Jean Gelman (2003). Indonesia: Peoples and Histories. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 5-7. ISBN 0-300-10518-5. 
  13. ^ Solheim, Journal of East Asian Archaeology, 2000, 2:1-2, pp. 273-284(12)
  14. ^ a b Laurence Bergreen, Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, hardcover 480 pages, ISBN 0-06-621173-5
  15. ^ The great temple complex at Prambanan in Indonesia exhibit a number of similarities with the South Indian architecture. See Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. The CōĻas, 1935 pp 709
  16. ^ Chinese Muslims in Malaysia, History and Development by Rosey Wang Ma
  17. ^ Library of Congress, 1992, "Indonesia: World War II and the Struggle For Independence, 1942-50; The Japanese Occupation, 1942-45" Access date: February 9, 2007.
  18. ^ John W. Dower War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986; Pantheon; ISBN 0-394-75172-8)
  19. ^ Biodiversity wipeout facing South East Asia, New Scientist, 23 July 2003
  20. ^ Sean Yoong (April 27, 2007). "17 Firms to Build $500M Undersea Cable". International Business Times. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  21. ^ Background overview of The National Seminar on Sustainable Tourism Resource Management, Phnom Penh, June 9-10, 2003. (
  22. ^ Hitchcock, Michael, et. al. Tourism in South-East Asia. New York: Routledge, 1993
  23. ^ WDI Online
  24. ^ "Field Listing - Religions". CIA factbook. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  25. ^ Indonesia - The World Factbook
  26. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Brunei
  27. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Cambodia
  28. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Christmas Island
  29. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Cocos (Keeling) Islands
  30. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- East Timor
  31. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Indonesia
  32. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Laos
  33. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Malaysia
  34. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Philippines
  35. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Thailand
  36. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Vietnam
  • Rand, Nelson (2009). Conflict: Journeys through war and terror in SouthEast Asia. Dunboyne: Maverick House Publishers. ISBN 978-1-905379-54-5. 

Further reading

External links

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!


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