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, 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 Timor, Indonesia, East Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and
Austronesian peoples predominate in this region. The major religions are Buddhism and Islam,
followed by Christianity. However a wide variety of religions are found throughout the region,
including many Hindu and animist-influenced practices.
Definitions of "Southeast Asia" vary, but most definitions include the area represented by the
• Burma (Myanmar)
• East Timor
• Papua New Guinea
All of the above excluding East Timor are members of the Association of Southeast Asia
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. Taiwan is sometimes considered part of Southeast Asia as well as East
Asia but it is not a member of ASEAN. 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
Southeast Asia is geographically divided into two subregions, namely Mainland Southeast Asia
(or Indochina) and the Maritime Southeast Asia (or the Malay Archipelago) (Indonesian
Mainland Southeast Asia includes:
• Burma (Myanmar)
• Peninsular Malaysia
Maritime Southeast Asia includes:
• East Malaysia
• East Timor
The eastern parts of Indonesia and East Timor (east of Wallace Line) are considered to be
geographically parts of Oceania.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India are geographically considered part of Southeast Asia.
The Seven Sister States in India is culturally part of Southeast Asia and sometimes considered
both South Asian and Southeast Asian. Hainan Island and several other southern Chinese regions
such as Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi are considered both East Asian and Southeast Asian.
Taiwan, which sits on the Tropic of Cancer and borders the South China Sea, is likewise often
included in definitions of Southeast Asia as well as East Asia. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.