In contemporary definition, Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions:
- Mainland Southeast Asia, also known as the Indochinese Peninsula and historically as Indochina, comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
- Maritime Southeast Asia, also known as the Malay Archipelago and historically as Nusantara, comprising the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India), Brunei, East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.
The region lies near the intersection of geological plates
, with both heavy seismic and volcanic activities. The Sunda Plate
is the main plate of the region, featuring almost all Southeast Asian countries except Myanmar, northern Thailand, northern Laos, northern Vietnam, and northern Luzon
of the Philippines. The mountain ranges in Myanmar, Thailand, and Peninsular Malaysia
are part of the Alpide belt
, while the islands of the Philippines are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire
. Both seismic belts meet in Indonesia, causing the region to have relatively high occurrences of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
It covers about 4,500,000 km2
(1,700,000 sq mi), which is 10.5% of Asia or 3% of Earth's total land area. Its total population is more than 655 million, about 8.5% of the world's population. It is the third most populous geographical region in Asia after South Asia and East Asia.
The region is culturally and ethnically diverse, with hundreds of languages spoken by different ethnic groups.
Ten countries in the region are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), a regional organization
established for economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration amongst its members.
The region, together with part of South Asia, was well known by Europeans as the East Indies
or simply the Indies until the 20th century. Chinese sources referred the region as Nanyang
"), which literally means the "Southern Ocean". The mainland section of Southeast Asia was referred to as Indochina
by European geographers due to its location between China and the Indian subcontinent and its having cultural influences from both neighboring regions. In the 20th century, however, the term became more restricted to territories of the former French Indochina
(Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam). The maritime section of Southeast Asia is also known as the Malay Archipelago
, a term derived from the European concept of a Malay race
Another term for Maritime Southeast Asia is Insulindia
(Indian Islands), used to describe the region between Indochina and Australasia
The term "Southeast Asia" was first used in 1839 by American pastor Howard Malcolm in his book Travels in South-Eastern Asia
. Malcolm only included the Mainland section and excluded the Maritime section in his definition of Southeast Asia.
The term was officially used in the midst of World War II
by the Allies
, through the formation of South East Asia Command
(SEAC) in 1943.
SEAC popularised the use of the term "Southeast Asia," although what constituted Southeast Asia was not fixed; for example, SEAC excluded the Philippines
and a large part of Indonesia
while including Ceylon
. However, by the late 1970s, a roughly standard usage of the term "Southeast Asia" and the territories it encompasses had emerged.
Although from a cultural or linguistic perspective the definitions of "Southeast Asia" may vary, the most common definitions nowadays include the area represented by the countries (sovereign states and dependent territories) listed below.
Political map of Southeast Asia
Although Peninsular Malaysia
geographically situated in Mainland Southeast Asia
, it also shares many similar cultural and ecological affinities with surrounding islands
, thus it serves as a bridge of two subregions.
Geographically, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
of India is also considered a part of Maritime Southeast Asia. Eastern Bangladesh
and Northeast India
have strong cultural ties with Mainland Southeast Asia and are sometimes considered transregional areas between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Similarly, Christmas Island
and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
have strong cultural ties with Maritime Southeast Asia and are sometimes considered transregional areas between Southeast Asia and Australia/Oceania. On some occasions, Sri Lanka
has been considered a part of Southeast Asia because of its cultural and religious ties to Mainland Southeast Asia.
The eastern half of the island of New Guinea
, which is not a part of Indonesia, namely, Papua New Guinea
, is sometimes included as a part of Maritime Southeast Asia, and so are Guam
, the Northern Mariana Islands
, and Palau
, which were all parts of the Spanish East Indies
with strong cultural and linguistic ties to the region, specifically, the Philippines.
South China Sea
Gulf of Thailand
Gulf of Tonkin
Bay of Bengal
Strait of Malacca
Gulf of Tomini
Gulf of Carpentaria
Philippine Sea (Pacific Ocean)
Oceans and Seas in Southeast Asia
The region was already inhabited by Homo erectus
from approximately 1,500,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene
age. Homo sapiens
, the ancestors of modern Australo-Melanesians
, reached the region by around 45,000 years ago,
having moved eastwards from the Indian subcontinent. Rock art
(parietal art) dating from 40,000 years ago (which is currently the world's oldest) has been discovered in the caves of Borneo
. Homo floresiensis
also lived in the area up until at least 50,000 years ago, after which they became extinct.
During much of this time the present-day islands of western Indonesia were joined into a single landmass known as Sundaland
due to lower sea levels.
In the late Neolithic
, the Austronesian peoples
, who form the majority of the modern population in Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia, and the Philippines, migrated to Southeast Asia from Taiwan
in the first seaborne human migration known as the Austronesian Expansion
. They arrived in the northern Philippines in 2200 BC and rapidly spread further into the Northern Mariana Islands
by 1500 BC; Island Melanesia
by 1300 BC; and to the rest of Indonesia
, southern Vietnam
, and Palau
by 1000 BC.
They often settled along coastal areas, assimilating the preexisting Australo-Melanesian
peoples such as Orang Asli
of peninsular Malaysia, Negritos
of the Philippines, and Papuans
of New Guinea.
peoples of Southeast Asia have been seafarers
for thousands of years. They spread eastwards to Micronesia
, as well as westwards to Madagascar
, becoming the ancestors of modern-day Malagasy people
, and Polynesians
Passage through the Indian Ocean aided the colonisation of Madagascar, as well as commerce between Western Asia, eastern coast of India and Chinese southern coast.
Gold from Sumatra
is thought to have reached as far west as Rome. Pliny the Elder
wrote in his Natural History
about Chryse and Argyre
, two legendary islands rich in gold and silver, located in the Indian Ocean. Their vessels, such as the vinta
, were capable to sail across the ocean. Magellan's
voyage records how much more maneuverable their vessels were, as compared to the European ships.
from the Sulu Sea
was believed to have been used in Magellan's voyage
as a translator.
Studies presented by the Human Genome Organisation
(HUGO) through genetic studies of the various peoples of Asia show empirically that there was a single migration event from Africa, whereby the early people travelled along the south coast of Asia, first entered the Malay peninsula 50,000–90,000 years ago. The Orang Asli, in particular the Semang
who show Negrito characteristics, are the direct descendants of these earliest settlers of Southeast Asia. These early people diversified and travelled slowly northwards to China, and the populations of Southeast Asia show greater genetic diversity than the younger population of China.
Solheim and others have shown evidence for a Nusantao
maritime trading network ranging from Vietnam
to the rest of the archipelago as early as 5000 BC to 1 AD.
The Bronze Age Dong Son culture
flourished in Northern Vietnam
from about 1000 BC to 1 BC. Its influence spread to other parts Southeast Asia.
The region entered the Iron Age
era in 500 BC, when iron was forged also in northern Vietnam still under Dong Son, due to its frequent interactions with neighboring China.
Bronze drum from Sông Đà
, northern Vietnam. Mid-1st millennium BC
Most Southeast Asian people were originally animist
, engaged in ancestors, nature, and spirits worship. These belief systems were later supplanted by Hinduism
and Buddhism after the region, especially coastal areas, came under contact with Indian subcontinent
during the 1st century.
Indian Brahmins and traders brought Hinduism to the region and made contacts with local courts.
Local rulers converted to Hinduism or Buddhism and adopted Indian religious traditions to reinforce their legitimacy, elevate ritual status above their fellow chief counterparts and facilitate trade with South Asian states. They periodically invited Indian Brahmins into their realms and began a gradual process of Indianisation
in the region. Shaivism
was the dominant religious tradition of many southern Indian Hindu kingdoms during the 1st century. It then spread into Southeast Asia via Bay of Bengal
, Indochina, then Malay Archipelago, leading to thousands of Shiva temples on the islands of Indonesia as well as Cambodia and Vietnam, co-evolving with Buddhism
in the region. Theravada Buddhism
entered the region during the 3rd century, via maritime trade routes between the region and Sri Lanka
Buddhism later established a strong presence in Funan
region in the 5th century. In present-day mainland Southeast Asia, Theravada is still the dominant branch of Buddhism, practiced by the Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian Buddhists. This branch was fused with the Hindu-influenced Khmer culture. Mahayana Buddhism
established presence in Maritime Southeast Asia, brought by Chinese monks during their transit in the region en route to Nalanda
It is still the dominant branch of Buddhism practiced by Indonesian and Malaysian Buddhists.
The spread of these two Indian religions confined the adherents of Southeast Asian indigenous beliefs into remote inland areas. Maluku Islands
and New Guinea were never Indianised and its native people were predominantly animists until the 15th century when Islam
began to spread in those areas.
While in Vietnam, Buddhism never managed to develop strong institutional networks due to strong Chinese influence.
In present-day Southeast Asia, Vietnam is the only country where its folk religion
makes up the plurality.
Recently, Vietnamese folk religion is undergoing a revival with the support of the government.
Elsewhere, there are ethnic groups in Southeast Asia that resisted conversion and still retain their original animist beliefs, such as the Dayaks
, the Igorots
in Luzon, and the Shans
in eastern Myanmar.
Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms era
After the region came under contact with the Indian subcontinent circa 400 BCE, it began a gradual process of Indianisation
where Indian ideas such as religions, cultures, architectures, and political administrations were brought by traders and religious figures and adopted by local rulers. In turn, Indian Brahmins and monks were invited by local rulers to live in their realms and help transforming local polities to become more Indianised, blending Indian and indigenous traditions. Sanskrit
became the elite language of the region, which effectively made Southeast Asia part of the Indosphere
Most of the region had been Indianised during the first centuries, while the Philippines later Indianised circa 9th century when Kingdom of Tondo
was established in Luzon.
Vietnam, especially its northern part, was never fully Indianised due to the many periods of Chinese domination
The first Indian-influenced polities established in the region were the Pyu city-states
that already existed circa 2nd century BCE, located in inland Myanmar. It served as an overland trading hub between India and China.
Theravada Buddhism was the predominant religion of these city states, while the presence of other Indian religions such as Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism were also widespread.
In the 1st century, the Funan
states centered in Mekong Delta
were established, encompassed modern-day Cambodia, southern Vietnam, Laos, and eastern Thailand. It became the dominant trading power in mainland Southeast Asia for about five centuries, provided passage for Indian and Chinese goods and assumed authority over the flow of commerce through Southeast Asia.
In maritime Southeast Asia, the first recorded Indianised kingdom was Salakanagara
, established in western Java circa 2nd century CE. This Hindu kingdom was known by the Greeks as Argyre
(Land of Silver).
By the 5th century CE, trade networking between East and West was concentrated in the maritime route. Foreign traders were starting to use new routes such as Malacca
and Sunda Strait
due to the development of maritime Southeast Asia. This change resulted in the decline of Funan, while new maritime powers such as Srivijaya
, and Medang
emerged. Srivijaya especially became the dominant maritime power for more than 5 centuries, controlling both Strait of Malacca
and Sunda Strait
This dominance started to decline when Srivijaya were invaded by Chola Empire
, a dominant maritime power of Indian subcontinent, in 1025.
The invasion reshaped power and trade in the region, resulted in the rise of new regional powers such as the Khmer Empire
Continued commercial contacts with the Chinese Empire
enabled the Cholas to influence the local cultures. Many of the surviving examples of the Hindu cultural influence
found today throughout Southeast Asia are the result of the Chola expeditions.[note 2]
As Srivijaya influence in the region declined, The Hindu Khmer Empire experienced a golden age during the 11th to 13th century CE. The empire's capital Angkor
hosts majestic monuments—such as Angkor Wat
. Satellite imaging has revealed that Angkor, during its peak, was the largest pre-industrial urban centre in the world.
civilisation was located in what is today central Vietnam, and was a highly Indianised Hindu Kingdom. The Vietnamese
launched a massive conquest against the Cham people
during the 1471 Vietnamese invasion of Champa
, ransacking and burning Champa, slaughtering thousands of Cham people, and forcibly assimilating them into Vietnamese culture.
During the 13th century CE, the region experienced Mongol invasions
, affected areas such as Vietnamese coast, inland Burma and Java
. In 1258, 1285 and 1287, the Mongols tried to invade Đại Việt
The invasions were unsuccessful, yet both Dai Viet and Champa agreed to become tributary states to Yuan dynasty
to avoid further conflicts.
The Mongols also invaded Pagan Kingdom
in Burma from 1277 to 1287, resulted in fragmentation of the Kingdom and rise of smaller Shan States
ruled by local chieftains nominally submitted to Yuan dynasty.
However, in 1297, a new local power emerged. Myinsaing Kingdom
became the real ruler of Central Burma and challenged the Mongol rule. This resulted in the second Mongol invasion of Burma in 1300, which was repulsed by Myinsaing.
The Mongols would later in 1303 withdrawn from Burma.
In 1292, The Mongols sent envoys to Singhasari
Kingdom in Java to ask for submission to Mongol rule. Singhasari rejected the proposal and injured the envoys, enraged the Mongols and made them sent a large invasion fleet to Java. Unbeknownst to them, Singhasari collapsed in 1293 due to a revolt by Kadiri, one of its vassals. When the Mongols arrived in Java, a local prince named Raden Wijaya
offered his service to assist the Mongols in punishing Kadiri. After Kadiri was defeated, Wijaya turned on his Mongol allies, ambushed their invasion fleet and forced them to immediately leave Java.
After the departure of the Mongols, Wijaya established the Majapahit Empire
in eastern Java in 1293. Majapahit would soon grow into a regional power. Its greatest ruler was Hayam Wuruk
, whose reign from 1350 to 1389 marked the empire's peak when other kingdoms in the southern Malay Peninsula
, and Bali
came under its influence. Various sources such as the Nagarakertagama also mention that its influence spanned over parts of Sulawesi
, and some areas of western New Guinea
and southern Philippines
, making it one of the largest empire to ever exist in Southeast Asian history.(p107)
By the 15th century CE however, Majapahit's influence began to wane due to many war of successions it experienced and the rise of new Islamic states such as Samudera Pasai
and Malacca Sultanate
around the strategic Strait of Malacca
. Majapahit then collapsed around 1500. It was the last major Hindu kingdom and the last regional power in the region before the arrival of the Europeans.
Spread of Islam
Wapauwe Old Mosque
is the oldest surviving mosque in Indonesia, and the second oldest in Southeast Asia, built in 1414
began to make contacts with Southeast Asia in the 8th-century CE, when the Umayyads
established trade with the region via sea routes.
However its spread into the region happened centuries later. 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 1136. Samudera Pasai
converted to Islam in 1267, the King of Malacca Parameswara
married the princess of Pasai, and the son became the first sultan of Malacca. Soon, Malacca became the center of Islamic study and maritime trade, and 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
There are several theories to the Islamization
process in Southeast Asia. Another theory is trade. The expansion of trade among West Asia, India and Southeast Asia helped the spread of the religion as Muslim traders from Southern Yemen (Hadramout) brought Islam to the region with their large volume of trade. Many settled in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. This is evident in the Arab-Indonesian, Arab-Singaporean, and Arab-Malay populations who were at one time very prominent in each of their countries. 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 Islam provided a positive force among the ruling and trading classes. Gujarati Muslims
and Tamil Muslims
played a pivotal role in establishing Islam
in Southeast Asia.
Trade and colonisation
Trade among Southeast Asian countries has a long tradition. The consequences of colonial rule, struggle for independence, and in some cases war influenced the economic attitudes and policies of each country.
From 111 BC to 938 AD northern Vietnam was under Chinese rule. Vietnam was successfully governed by a series of Chinese dynasties including the Han
, Eastern Han
, Eastern Wu
, Cao Wei
, Liu Song
, Southern Qi
, and Southern Han
Records from Magellan's voyage show that Brunei
possessed more cannon
than European ships, so the Chinese must have been trading with them.
Malaysian legend has it that a Chinese Ming emperor sent a princess, Hang 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.
Western influence started to enter in the 16th century, with the arrival of the Portuguese in Malacca, Maluku
and the Philippines, the latter being settled by the Spanish years later. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the Dutch established the Dutch East Indies
; the French Indochina
; and the British Strait Settlements
. By the 19th century, all Southeast Asian countries were colonised except for Thailand
, a coin minted by the VOC
, 1646–1667. 2 kas, 2 duit
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
beaks from the islands of the archipelago. Before the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Europeans mostly were interested in expanding trade links. For the majority of the populations in each country, there was comparatively little interaction with Europeans and traditional social routines and relationships continued. For most, a life with subsistence-level agriculture, fishing and, in less developed civilizations, hunting and gathering was still hard.
Europeans brought Christianity
allowing Christian missionaries to become widespread. Thailand also allowed Western scientists to enter its country to develop its own education system as well as start sending Royal members and Thai scholars to get higher education from Europe and Russia.
, and Tamil Nadu
, had a flourishing trade relationship with Southeast Asia in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The trade relationship with Gujarat declined after the Portuguese invasion of Southeast Asia in the 17th century.
The United States took the Philippines from Spain in 1898. Internal autonomy was granted in 1934, and independence in 1946.
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 and regional responses to international concerns.
Relief map of Southeast Asia
Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia and is also the largest archipelago in the world by size (according to the CIA World Factbook
). Geologically, the Indonesian Archipelago
is one of the most volcanically
active regions in the world. Geological uplifts
in the region have also produced some impressive mountains, culminating in Puncak Jaya
, Indonesia at 5,030 metres (16,503 feet), on the island of New Guinea
; it is the only place where ice glaciers can be found in Southeast Asia. The highest mountain in Southeast Asia is Hkakabo Razi at 5,967 metres (19,577 feet) and can be found in northern Burma sharing the same range of its parent peak, Mount Everest
The South China Sea
is the major body of water within Southeast Asia. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore, have integral rivers that flow into the South China Sea.
Geographically, Southeast Asia is bounded to the southeast by the Australian continent
, the boundary between these two regions runs through Wallacea
Southeast Asia map of Köppen climate classification
The climate in Southeast Asia is mainly tropical–hot and humid all year round with plentiful rainfall. Northern Vietnam and the mountainous parts of Laos and Myanmar are the only regions in Southeast Asia that feature a subtropical climate
, which have a cooler winter with potential snow. The majority of Southeast Asia has a wet and dry season caused by seasonal shifts in winds or monsoon
. The tropical rain belt
causes additional rainfall during the monsoon season. The rainforest is the second largest on Earth (with the Amazon rainforest
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.
Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in the world.
Climate change will have a big effect on agriculture
in Southeast Asia such as irrigation systems will be affected by changes in rainfall and runoff, and subsequently, water quality and supply.
Climate change is also likely to pose a serious threat to the fisheries industry in Southeast Asia.
The Philippine eagle
is the national bird
of the Philippines. It is considered by scientists as the largest eagle in the world,
and is endemic to the Philippines' forests.
The mouse deer
, a small tusked deer as large as a toy dog or cat, mostly can be found on Sumatra, Borneo (Indonesia), and in Palawan Islands (Philippines). The gaur
, a gigantic wild ox larger than even wild water buffalo, is found mainly in Indochina. There is very little scientific information available regarding Southeast Asian amphibians.
Birds such as the green peafowl
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 a 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.
Wallace's hypothetical line divides Indonesian Archipelago into 2 types of fauna, Australasian and Southeast Asian fauna. The deepwater of the Lombok Strait
between the islands of Bali
formed a water barrier even when lower sea levels linked the now-separated islands and landmasses on either side
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
(Indonesia) is the highest recorded on Earth. Diversity is considerably greater than any other area sampled in the Coral Triangle composed of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. The Coral Triangle is the heart of the world's coral reef biodiversity, the Verde Passage is dubbed by Conservation International as the world's "center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity". The whale shark
, the world's largest species of fish and 6 species of sea turtles
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.
The 2013 Southeast Asian Haze
saw API levels reach a hazardous level in some countries. Muar experienced the highest API
level of 746 on 23 June 2013 at around 7 am.
Even prior to the penetration of European interests, Southeast Asia was a critical part of the world trading system. A wide range of commodities originated in the region, but especially important were spices such 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
) who sailed from the Americas and Kingdom of Portugal
, 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 parts of Borneo, the French into Indochina
, and the Spanish and the US into the Philippines. An economic effect of this imperialism was the shift in the production of commodities. For example, the rubber plantations of Malaysia, Java, Vietnam, and Cambodia, the tin mining of Malaya, the rice fields of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and the Irrawaddy River delta in Burma, were a response to the powerful market demands.
The overseas Chinese
community has played a large role in the development of the economies in the region. The origins of Chinese influence can be traced to the 16th century, when Chinese migrants from southern China
settled in Indonesia, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.
Chinese populations in the region saw a rapid increase following the Communist Revolution
in 1949, which forced many refugees to emigrate outside of China.
The region's economy greatly depends on agriculture; rice and rubber
have long been prominent exports. Manufacturing and services are becoming more important.
An emerging market
, Indonesia is the largest economy in this region. Newly industrialised countries
include Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, 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. Oil reserves in Southeast Asia
are plentiful.
Seventeen telecommunications companies contracted to build the Asia-America Gateway
submarine cable to connect Southeast Asia to the US
This is to avoid disruption of the kind caused by the cutting of the undersea cable from Taiwan to the US in the 2006 Hengchun earthquakes
Along with its temples Cambodia has been promoting its coastal resorts. Island off Otres Beach Sihanoukville, Cambodia
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."
Since the early 1990s, "even the non-ASEAN nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma, where the income derived from tourism is low, are attempting to expand their own tourism industries."
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.
Furthermore, Vietnam is considered as a rising power
in Southeast Asia due to its large foreign investment opportunities and the booming tourism sector, despite only having their trade embargo lifted in 1995.
is the only member of G-20 major economies
and is the largest economy in the region.
Indonesia's estimated gross domestic product for 2020 was US$1,088.8 billion (nominal) or $3,328.3 billion (PPP) with per capita GDP of US$4,038 (nominal) or $12,345 (PPP).
Stock markets in Southeast Asia have performed better than other bourses in the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, with the Philippines' PSE
leading the way with 22 percent growth, followed by Thailand's SET
with 21 percent and Indonesia's JKSE
with 19 percent.
Population distribution of the countries of Southeast Asia (with Indonesia split into its major islands).
Southeast Asia has an area of approximately 4,500,000 square kilometres (1,700,000 sq mi). As of 2018, around 655 million people live in the region, more than a fifth live (143 million) on the Indonesian island of Java
, the most densely populated large island in the world. Indonesia
is the most populous country with 268 million people, and also the 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
, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, and also as the Hoa
in Vietnam. People of Southeast Asian origins are known as Southeast Asians or Aseanites.
woman in Aklan
– the Negritos
were the earliest inhabitants of Southeast Asia.
were believed as one of the earliest inhabitants in the region. They are genetically related to the Papuans
in Eastern Indonesia, East Timor and Australian Aborigines
. In modern times, the Javanese
are the largest ethnic group in Southeast Asia, with more than 100 million people, mostly concentrated in Java
, Indonesia. The second-largest ethnic group in Southeast Asia is Vietnamese
(Kinh people) with around 86 million population, mainly inhabiting in Vietnam, thus forming a significant minority in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. The Thais
is also a significant ethnic group with around 59 million population forming the majority in Thailand. In Burma, the Burmese
account for more than two-thirds of the ethnic stock in this country, with the Indo-Aryan Rohingya
make up a significant minority in Rakhine State
Indonesia is clearly dominated by the Javanese
ethnic groups, with hundreds of ethnic minorities inhabited the archipelago, including Madurese
. While Malaysia is split between more than half Malays
and one-quarter Chinese, and also Indian minority in the West Malaysia
make up the majority in Sarawak
makes up the majority in Sabah
which are in the East Malaysia
. The Malays
are the majority in West Malaysia and Brunei, while they forming a significant minority in Indonesia
, Southern Thailand
, East Malaysia
. In city-state Singapore, Chinese
are the majority, yet the city is a multicultural melting pot with Malays, Indians and Eurasian also called the island their home.
form a significant minority in Central and South Vietnam, also in Central Cambodia. While the Khmers
are the majority in Cambodia and form a significant minority in Southern Vietnam
and Thailand, the Hmong people
are the minority in Vietnam, China, and Laos.
Countries in Southeast Asia practice many different religions. By population, Islam
is the most practised faith, numbering approximately 240 million adherents, or about 40% of the entire population, concentrated in Indonesia
, Southern Thailand
and in the Southern Philippines
. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world.
There are approximately 205 million Buddhists in Southeast Asia, making it the second-largest religion in the region, after Islam. Approximately 38% of the global Buddhist population resides in Southeast Asia. Buddhism
is predominant in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Singapore. Ancestor worship and Confucianism
are also widely practised in Vietnam and Singapore.
is predominant in the Philippines, eastern Indonesia, East Malaysia, and East Timor. The Philippines has the largest Roman Catholic population in Asia.
East Timor is also predominantly Roman Catholic due to a history of Indonesian
and Portuguese rule. In October 2019, the number of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant in Southeast Asia, reached 156 million, of which 97 million came from the Philippines
, 26 million came from Indonesia
, 11 million came from Vietnam
, and the rest came from Malaysia
, East Timor
No individual Southeast Asian country is religiously homogeneous. Some groups are protected de facto
by their isolation from the rest of the world.
In the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, Hinduism is dominant on islands such as Bali
. Christianity also predominates in the rest of the part of the Philippines, New Guinea
. Pockets of Hindu population can also be found around Southeast Asia in Singapore, Malaysia, etc. Garuda
, 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 practised elsewhere, as Animism
and local culture is incorporated into it. 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, Highland Philippines, and Papua in eastern Indonesia. In Burma, Sakka (Indra
) is revered as a Nat
. In Vietnam, Mahayana Buddhism is practised, which is influenced by native animism but with a strong emphasis on ancestor worship
Each of the languages has been influenced by cultural pressures due to trade, immigration, and historical colonization as well. There are nearly 800 native languages in the region.
The language composition for each country is as follows (with official languages in bold):
- Jabodetabek (Jakarta/Bogor/Depok/Tangerang/South Tangerang/Bekasi), Indonesia
- Metro Manila (Manila/Quezon City/Makati/Taguig/Pasay/Caloocan and 11 others), Philippines
- Bangkok Metropolitan Region(Bangkok/Nonthaburi/Samut Prakan/Pathum Thani/Samut Sakhon/Nakhon Pathom), Thailand
- Eastern Economic Corridor(Chachoengsao/Chonburi/Rayong), Thailand
- Gerbangkertosusila(Surabaya/Sidoarjo/Gresik/Mojokerto/Lamongan/Bangkalan), Indonesia
- Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley (Kuala Lumpur/Selangor), Malaysia
- Greater Penang (Penang/Kedah/Perak), Malaysia
- Sijori Triangle (Singapore/Johor Bahru/Batam), Singapore Malaysia Indonesia
- Ho Chi Minh City Metropolitan Area (Ho Chi Minh City/Vũng Tàu/Bình Dương/Đồng Nai), Vietnam
- Hanoi Capital Region (Hà Nội/Hải Phòng/Hạ Long), Vietnam
- Da Nang City (Đà Nẵng/Hội An/Huế), Vietnam
- Yangon Region (Yangon/Thanlyin), Myanmar
- Greater Bandung Metropolitan Area(Bandung/Cimahi), Indonesia
- Metro Cebu (Cebu City/Mandaue/Lapu-Lapu City/Talisay City and 11 others), Philippines
- Metro Davao (Davao City/Digos/Tagum/Island Garden City of Samal), Philippines
- Metro Iloilo-Guimaras (Iloilo City/Pavia/Oton/Leganes/Zarraga/San Miguel/Guimaras) , Philippines
- Metro Cagayan de Oro (Cagayan de Oro/El Salvador and 13 others) Philippines
- Phnom Penh City (Phnom Penh/Kandal), Cambodia
- Vientiane Prefecture (Vientiane/Don Noun/Tha Ngon), Laos
- Brunei-Muara (Bandar Seri Begawan/Muara), Brunei
- Dili (Dili), East Timor
Hồ Chí Minh City
Cagayan de Oro
George Town, Penang
Nay Pyi Taw
Most populous cities in Southeast Asia (500,000+ inhabitants)
Burmese puppet performance
The culture in Southeast Asia is very diverse: on mainland Southeast Asia, the culture is a mix of Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Thai (Indian
) and Vietnamese (Chinese
) cultures. While in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia the culture is a mix of indigenous Austronesian
, Indian, Islamic, Western, and Chinese cultures. Also Brunei shows a strong influence from Arabia. Vietnam and Singapore show more Chinese influence
in that Singapore, although being geographically a Southeast Asian nation, is home to a large Chinese majority and Vietnam was in China's sphere of influence
for much of its history. Indian influence in Singapore is only evident through the Tamil migrants,
which influenced, to some extent, the cuisine of Singapore
. Throughout Vietnam's history, it has had no direct influence from India – only through contact with the Thai, Khmer and Cham peoples. Moreover, Vietnam is also categorized under the East Asian cultural sphere
along with China, Korea, and Japan due to a large amount of Chinese influence embedded in their culture and lifestyle.
agriculture has existed in Southeast Asia for millennia, 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 labour-intensive. The rice paddies are well-suited to the monsoon climate of the region.
can be found all over Southeast Asia, from Thailand and Vietnam to Borneo, to Luzon in the Philippines, to Papua New Guinea
. The region has diverse metalworking, especially in Indonesia. This includes weaponry, such as the distinctive kris
, and musical instruments, such as the gamelan
The region's chief cultural influences have been from some combination of Arabia
, and China
. Diverse cultural influence is pronounced in the Philippines, derived particularly from the period of Spanish and American rule, contact with Indian-influenced cultures, and the Chinese and Japanese trading era.
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 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 of Southeast Asia have an affinity with the arts of other areas. Dance in much of Southeast Asia includes movement of the hands as well as the feet, to express the dance's emotion and meaning of the story that the ballerina is going to tell the audience. Most of Southeast Asia introduced dance into their court; in particular, Cambodian royal ballet
represented them in the early 7th century before the Khmer Empire
, which was highly influenced by Indian Hinduism. Apsara Dance
, famous for strong hand and feet movement, is a great example of Hindu symbolic dance.
Puppetry and shadow plays were also a favoured form of entertainment in past centuries, a famous one being Wayang
from Indonesia. The arts and literature in some of Southeast Asia are quite influenced by Hinduism, which was brought to them centuries ago. Indonesia, despite conversion to Islam which opposes certain forms of art, has retained many forms of Hindu-influenced practices, culture, art, and literature. An example is the Wayang Kulit
(Shadow Puppet) and literature like the Ramayana
. The wayang kulit show has been recognized by UNESCO
on 7 November 2003, as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
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. 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
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
ensembles of Thailand and Cambodia and the Kulintang
ensembles of the southern Philippines, Borneo
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.
On 18 November 2010, UNESCO officially recognized angklung as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and encourage the Indonesian people and government to safeguard, transmit, promote performances and to encourage the craftsmanship of angklung making.
manuscript from before the 19th-century writing system
The history of Southeast Asia has led to a wealth of different authors, from both within and without writing about the region.
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
(see image to the left — magnify the image to see the writing on the flat side, and the decoration on the reverse side).
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 material would have been more durable than paper in the tropical climate of Southeast Asia.
In Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore, the Malay language is now generally written in the Latin script. The same phenomenon is present in Indonesian, although different spelling standards are utilised (e.g. 'Teksi' in Malay and 'Taksi' in Indonesian for the word 'Taxi').
The use of Chinese characters, in the past and present, is only evident in Vietnam and more recently, Singapore and Malaysia. The adoption of Chinese characters in Vietnam dates back to around 111 B.C. when it was occupied by the Chinese. A Vietnamese script called Chữ Nôm
used modified Chinese characters to express the Vietnamese language. Both classical Chinese and Chữ Nôm were used up until the early 20th century.
However, the use of the Chinese script has been in decline, especially in Singapore and Malaysia as the younger generations are in favour of the Latin Script.
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