A One Page Intro to Southeast Asia [inc. Geography, Culture, Top Places, & Food]

Southeast Asia includes the countries of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos. and Brunei.

It is a mainland and maritime region that is renowned for its friendly people and their hospitality, beautiful beaches, wilderness, street food, and the overall value for money that it offers. It is well-known for its tropical climate and cultural diversity. While it has been and continues to be a popular destination for backpackers, it’s also popular for its luxury resorts, and for retirees who migrate to better weather and better value lifestyle.

It’s a region that has had a complex and troubled past, yet, now, has found stability and economically is one of the fastest fast-growing regions in the world. Politically, the nations have a co-operative body which is ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Countries of Southeast Asia

State Pop.
(2016)
in mill.
GDP (PPP)
per capita,
Int$ (2016)
in Thous.
Capital
 Brunei .423 $76 Bandar Seri Begawan
 Cambodia 15.8 $3.7 Phnom Penh
 East Timor 1.2 $4 Dili
 Indonesia 261 $11.7 Jakarta
 Laos 6.8 $5.7 Vientiane
 Malaysia 31 $27 Kuala Lumpur 
 Myanmar 52.9 $5.8 Nay Pyi Daw
 Philippines 103 $7.8 Manila
 Singapore 5.6 $90 Singapore
 Thailand 68.9 $16 Bangkok
 Vietnam 94.6 $6.4 Hanoi

Climate

The climate in Southeast Asia is mainly tropical–hot and humid all year round with plentiful rainfall. Northern Vietnam and the Myanmar Himalayas are the only regions in Southeast Asia that feature a subtropical climate, which has a cold winter with snow. The majority of Southeast Asia has a wet and dry season caused by seasonal shift in winds or monsoon.

Culture

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. Singapore and Vietnam show more Chinese influence.

Religion

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, Brunei, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and in the Southern Philippines. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world.

Buddhism is predominant in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and Singapore. Ancestor worship and Confucianism are also widely practiced in Vietnam and Singapore.

Christianity 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 Portuguese rule.

Influences

The region’s chief cultural influences have been from some combination of Islam, India, and China. Diverse cultural influence is pronounced in the Philippines, derived particularly from the period of the Spanish and American rule, contact with Indian-influenced cultures, and the Chinese and Japanese trading era.

The Top Places to visit in Southeast Asia

The major cities in Southeast Asia

  1. Bangkok — capital of Thailand and world-renowned city for its culture, vibrancy, and nightlife.
  2. Jakarta — capital of Indonesia and being home to 10 million makes it the largest city in Southeast Asia.
  3. Ho Chi Minh City — while Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s largest city
  4. Kuala Lumpur — capital of Malaysia
  5. Luang Prabang — While Vientiane is the capital of Laos, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang is the most popular
  6. Manila — capital of the Philippines
  7. Phnom Penh —  capital of Cambodia
  8. Singapore — a city/state and economic powerhouse
  9. Yangon — capital of Myanmar known for its Buddhist pagodas and colonial architecture

The 38 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites in Southeast Asia

  1. Angkor Archeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  2. Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia
  3. Temple of Preah Vihear, Cambodia
  4. Borobudur Temple Compounds, Indonesia
  5. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
  6. Lorentz National Park, Indonesia
  7. Prambanan Temple Compounds, Indonesia
  8. Sangiran Early Man Site, Indonesia
  9. Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia
  10. Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia
  11. Cultural Landscape of Bali Province, Indonesia
  12. Town of Luang Prabang, Laos
  13. Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape, Laos
  14. Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
  15. Kinabalu Park, Malaysia
  16. Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia
  17. Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley, Malaysia
  18. Pyu Ancient Cities, Myanmar
  19. Baroque Churches of the Philippines, Philippines
  20. Historic Town of Vigan, Philippines
  21. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, Philippines
  22. Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines
  23. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Philippines
  24. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines
  25. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore
  26. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site, Thailand
  27. Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, Thailand
  28. Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand
  29. Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns, Thailand
  30. Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries, Thailand
  31. Complex of Hué Monuments, Vietnam
  32. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
  33. Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam
  34. My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam
  35. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
  36. Tràng An Landscape Complex, Vietnam
  37. Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi, Vietnam
  38. Citadel of the Ho Dynasty

The top 10 holiday destinations in Southeast Asia as ranked by Tripadvisors Travellers Choice Awards

  1. Bali, Indonesia
  2. Phuket, Thailand
  3. Hanoi, Vietnam
  4. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  5. Ko Samui, Thailand
  6. Hoi An, Vietnam
  7. Bangkok, Thailand
  8. Chiang Mai, Thailand
  9. Lombok, Indonesia
  10. Krabi, Thailand

According to a Rough Guides survey, the top 10 places to visit in South East Asia are

  1. Luang Prabang, Laos
  2. Bohol, the Philippines
  3. Borneo, Malaysia
  4. Ko Samui, Thailand
  5. Bali, Indonesia
  6. Sa Pa, Vietnam
  7. Chiang Mai, Thailand
  8. Bagan, Myanmar
  9. Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  10. Hoi An, Vietnam

The Top 15 Southeast Asian beaches according to Tripadvisor reader awards for beaches in Asia 2018

  1. White Beach, Boracay, Malay
  2. Ngapali Beach, Ngapali, Myanmar
  3. PhraNang Cave Beach, Ao Nang, Thailand
  4. Nai Harn Beach, Nai Harn, Thailand
  5. Nacpan Beach, El Nido, Philippines
  6. Nusa Dua Beach, Nusa Dua, Indonesia
  7. Karon Beach, Karon, Thailand
  8. Thong Nai Pan Noi, Ko Pha Ngan, Surat Thani Province
  9. Kata Noi Beach, Karon, Thailand
  10. Yapak Beach (Puka Shell Beach), Boracay, Malay
  11. Selong Belanak Beach, Selong Belanak, Indonesia
  12. Turtle Sanctuary Beach, Pulau Perhentian Besar, Terengganu
  13. An Bang Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam
  14. Las Cabanas Beach, El Nido, Philippines
  15. Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The top 50 islands in Southeast Asia as ranked by a readers poll by SEA Backpacker

  1. Palawan, Philippines
  2. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
  3. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
  4. Koh Tao, Thailand
  5. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
  6. Siargao, Philippines
  7. Koh Lipe, Thailand
  8. Bali, Indonesia
  9. Gili Meno, Indonesia
  10. Koh Rong, Cambodia
  11. Boracay, Philippines
  12. Coron, Philippines
  13. Flores, Indonesia
  14. Gili Air, Indonesia
  15. Banda Islands, Indonesia
  16. Nusa Penida, Indonesia
  17. Koh Lanta, Thailand
  18. Lombok, Indonesia
  19. Koh Rong Samloen, Cambodia
  20. Malapascua, Philippines
  21. Koh Chang, Thailand
  22. Similan and Surin, Thailand
  23. Sumbawa, Philippines
  24. Langkawi, Malaysia
  25. Siquijor, Philippines
  26. Koh Phangan, Thailand
  27. Togian Islands, Indonesia
  28. Koh Chang Noi, Thailand
  29. Pulau Weh, Indonesia
  30. Rabbit Island, Cambodia
  31. Bintan Island, Indonesia
  32. Kalanggaman Island, Philippines
  33. Molucas, Indonesia
  34. Labengki, Indonesia
  35. Sombori, Indonesia
  36. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
  37. Alor Island, Indonesia
  38. Sumba Island, Indonesia
  39. Komodo, Indonesia
  40. Koh Phayam, Thailand
  41. Rawa Island, Malaysia
  42. Sipadan, Malaysia
  43. Gili Asahan, Indonesia
  44. Kri Island, Indonesia
  45. Pulau Palambak, Indonesia
  46. Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia
  47. Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
  48. Guimaras, Philippines
  49. Koh Mak, Thailand
  50. Koh Kradan, Thailand

The Top Ten places to visit in Southeast Asia according to popular travel vlogger and blogger Lost Le Blanc

 

Street Foods and Cuisines of Southeast Asia

Here is a collection of videos focussed on Southeast Asia from the legend of food vlogging, Mark Wiens.