Overview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where time almost stand still…

 

Southeast Asia mesmerizes its visitors with its exotic culture, friendly people, traditions and astounding natural beauty. Well known for its picturesque beaches, sumptuous cuisine and low cost-of-living, But Southeast Asia isn’t just about relaxing in the sun. Adventure awaits in the form of scuba diving, surfing, spelunking, mountain climbing, volcanic exploration, and long-distance trekking.

Southeast Asia has long been a favorite corner of the world for globe-tramping backpackers. The year-round tropical climate is also a big draw card for those looking to escape less than favorable weather at home. It is one of the world’s most sought tourist destinations, and for a reason. Some of the countries here have it all.

Southeast Asia has a great allure that enticed tourists from all over the globe. From ancient temples, religious artifacts, to Mother Nature’s fascinating landscape which you will left spell bounded. Philippines Thailand, Bali and Malaysia’s beaches will take your breath away and the beaches offer the perfect setting for sun lovers. The clear emerald water offers a respite from the heat. World renowned parties such as full moon parties are held on Thailand beaches. In Cambodia you can visit Ankor Wat which is the site of ruins from the Khmer Empire. The Killing Fields and S-21 Tuol Sleng Prison are a reminder of Cambodia’s past and the suffering the Cambodian people have endured. In Laos it is popular to rent tubes and float down the river. Scuba diving is worth trying in the Philippines and Malaysia for you will be mesmerized with its rich and colorful marine life.

South East Asia is a stunningly beautiful land where past, present and future blend harmoniously together. It has it all and never ceases to delight!

 

HISTORY

Southeast Asian history is very diverse and often tumultuous, 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. The Philippines on the other hand was colonized by Spain for 333 years, by the United States for 44 years and by Japan for 3 years. The Dutch, British and Chinese also attacked the Philippines with minimal success with the British able to take control of Manila and surrounding environs for about 3 years.

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, Burmese and Khmer has its roots from this process.

CLIMATE

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 40°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), 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. However, even in the “wet” season, the typical pattern is sunny mornings with a short (but torrential) shower in the afternoon, so this alone should not discourage you from travel.

In Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and parts of  Indonesia (notably Sumatra and Borneo), 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 of the current situation in the entire region.

UNDERSTAND

Just like rest of Eastern Asia, Most of Southeast Asia’s major languages are not mutually intelligible. English is a traveler’s most useful language overall, although for longer stays in any Southeast Asian country (except maybe Singapore and the Philippines), picking up at least some of the local language is useful, and may be essential. Chinese and Japanese are also helpful, as both powers have invaded and occupied this region on many different occasions.

 

COUNTRIES OF SOUTHEAST ASIA



THAILAND

Before Bangkok–Ayutthaya

 

The ancient trading city of Ayutthaya was capital of Siam ( now Thailand) since 1351, when King Ramathibodi I founded the Kingdom of Ayutthaya on an island in the middle of Chao Phraya. It was overwhelmed by the Burman invasion in 1767, and the capital was moved to Bangkok. At the height of its power, the Ayutthaya Kingdome absorbed the northern Thai Kingdom of Sukhothai and destroyed the flourishing Khmer Kingdom of Angkor in nearby Cambodia. The Ayutthayans also temporarily controlled Chiang Mai, another kingdom in the far northern part of Thailand. In sum, the kingdom was extended throughout Thailand and the Southeast Asian peninsula, and included some portions of present-day Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

In the Throes of its successful conquests, Ayutthayan rulers built a chain of splendid palaces, gilded statues, and towering Buddhist temples and pagodas within its key territory. Successful were they in building a magnificent city. Ayutthaya was known as the golden city. Several hundred thousand inhabitants lived in its fold. The Kingdom ultimately lost its luster when the Burmese attacked its capital, killing most of its people, pillaging its treasures, and obliterating many of its buildings. The city was abandoned and a new capital was established some 80 kilometers south of it.

More than 200 years since it was deserted, only the ruins of this once illustrious city exist, like the Wat Maha That (Temple of the Great Relic) built between 1374 1375 with a sitting Buddha with hands in the bhumisparsha or “calling the earth to witness”position; the Wat Thammikkarat (Temple of the Pious Monarch) and its stone lions or singh; the Wat Rarburana (Temple of the Royal Restoration; the huge reclining Buddha of Wat Yai Chai Mongkron (Temple of Great Victory); the three stupas of Wat Si Sanphet, where the remains of King Ramathibodi II and some family members are interred; the Buddha statue of Wat Monkhon Bophit (Temple of Auspicious Kings), one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand. All these are considered cultural treasures of humankind, and in 1991, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) officially acknowledge the importance of Ayutthaya to the cultural heritage of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Palace and Wats of Bangkok

In the last quarter of the 18th century, Bangkok was a settlement on the banks of Chao Phraya. It became the center of government and religious institutions of Siam (Thailand) after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. General Chakri ruled undwer thew royal name of King Rama I, and shaped the destiny of the city when he moved the capital in 1782 from its temporary site in Thon Buri to across the river. The present royal house of Thailand is descended from Chakri Dynasty.

Soon, the Grand Palace of Bangkok emerged, which is a compound of several royal buildings and Buddhist temples, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaeo. Over the years, more than 400 temples and monasteries were completed, many with gold-gilded beams, ridges and pillars. Most were influenced by the prang style of the former kingdom of Ayutthaya, like the greatly admired Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAMBODIA

 

The Temples of Angkor–A Testament to the glories of Cambodia’s Khmer Empire

Angkor, an imposing religious complex-cum capital of the Khmer Empire for more than six centuries during the middle ages, was initially established in honor of the Hindu god Shiva. It was later re-dedicated to Buddha, after the former was said to have failed in protecting the kingdom from a ruinous foreign incursion in 1177.

Founded by the Khmer prince Jayavarman II in the early years of the ninth century, Angkor, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word Negara, which means “city.” was ruled by more than two dozen monarchs until its decline in the 15th century. Deep within this period, Khmer rulers spanned the entire stretch of a fertile plain tucked between the hills of Kulen and the lake of Tonle Sap in the northern part of the present  day Cambodia. They built palaces, roads, irrigation canals, reservoirs, and an endless series of temple complexes donned with intricate stone inscriptions and magnificent stone carvings, like the first state temple of Phnom Bakheng, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom.

Encompassing all magnificent structures and creations of the Khmer kings, one place of worship stood out for its sheer size , statliness, and artistry: the Angkor Wat. The Angkor Wat is a Hindu temple complex built by Khmer king Suryavarman II during the 12th century to serve as his personal observatory, shrine and sepulcher. As the king’s final resting place. Angkor Wat was made to face the setting sun, which was unorthodox of traditional Hindu temples facing east, because according to another Hindu belief, the spirit of the dead travels westward when heading to the next life.

Prodigious and vivid, the sculptured stone complex of Angkor Wat took 0 years to build, calling for a deployment of thousands of manual labor and an incalculable volume of sandstone and laterite. Occupying some 80 hectares, it is the largest religious shrine ever built by man. And, along its ornate walls, the complex holds the distinction of having the longest running bas-relief in the world. It artistically depicts scenes from the ancient Hindu epics Ramanaya and Mahabharata, the activities of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu, the historic exploits of King Suryavarman II and his subjects, and the affections of the seductive apsaras – the celestial nymphs of a 12th -century Khmer lore symbolizing “the one who goes through the water of the clouds.”

By the 1400s, by reason of defense and security, Angkor was abandoned as a political capital by Khmer rulers. Since then, Angkor Wat was inhabited, sporadically at first, by Buddhist monks. Today, Angkor is the national symbol of Cambodia and is an important destination for Buddhist pilgrims around the world. in 1992, it was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, officially declaring it as one of humanity’s most treasured cultural sites.

 

 

LAOS

A Year of the Lao

 

Laos belong to the Khmer empire until Fa Ngun, an exiled Laotian prince raised in the Khmer capital of Angkor and married to a Khmer princess, was given a Khmer army to take his rightful heritage as a Laotian king. He assumed the throne of Muong Swa (Luang Prabang), founded the kingdom of Lan Xang in 1353, and kicked the Khmers out of the country. The rule lasted up to the late 17th century, when dynastic feuds finally caused its disintegration.

The Theravada branch of Buddhism gained strong support from rulers, as it confirmed monarchy by strongly recognizing the value of a king. In return, the royalty supported the expansion of Buddhist monasteries and temples in every village of the kingdom. Religion became the center of Laotian life, and temples became sanctuaries for spiritual rejuvenation and intellectual discoveries. It was during this period when Lao’s most sacred Buddhist shrine, the That Luang Stupa (Great Sacred Stupa), was built in Vientiane during the 16th century by King Xetthathirat on a hilltop site of an earlier Khmer temple. the structure is 148 feet tall.

A Vietnamese army sacked Lan Xang in 1478, but was immediately driven out by King Vixun, who had with him a golden Buddha image known as Phra Bang. The Buddha became the symbol of the Lao state, and a city named after it was built, Luang Prabang became the royal capital until a communist takeover in 1975. In 1995, Luang Prabang was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List for its well-preserved structures invoking traditional Lao architecture and European-inspired colonial buildings.

It’s important to note that in the tedious process of building the scores of Buddhist temples in Laos during the Lan Xang era, principles of the faith prescribed the standards of their architecture and influenced the passages that were either painted or carved in temple walls. Besides the Lao innovations of a tiered roof style curving near the ground and the bronze roof adornment with five spires representing the peaks of the holy Mount Meru, a typical Lao temple also includes a venue for ordaining new monks, a library, shrines where relics are stored, and living quarters for the monks. Even in the sculpture of Buddha images, there are distinctive features that are uniquely Lao, such as long hands and fingers, stretched earlobes and curly hair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIETNAM

Remembering Hue and Halong Bay

 

Most of Vietnam’s exceptionally beautiful islands are uninhabited and unsullied by human presence because of their precipitous character. Hence, they are able to naturally maintain their unique features. Some of the islands have caves and grottoes, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The presence of countless limestone pillars embellishing the islands, which are of great scenic charm and of great biological value, is the main reason why the bay became such a spectacular seascape. Among the occupied islands, the more important ones are the pearl trading center of Co To and the tourist holding center of Cat Ba.

In 1994, The UNESCO recognized this group of offshore islands as the best example of marine-invaded towers in the world. With the place’s outstanding scenic beauty and great biological interest, the islands were designated as a World Heritage Site. From the Gulf of Tonkin, a southward journey will lead you to central lowlands of Vietnam, into the 19th century feudal city of Hue, and to the imposing complex of Hue Monuments. Established as the imperial capital of a unified Vietnam in 1802 under the Nguyen dynasty, Hue is a compound of defensive walls and huge palaces-with the Forbidden Purple City, the Imperial City and the Inner City as its heart, and the picturesque Perfume River as its artery.

Hue is noted for the splendid planning and great artistry of its structures. In fact, even after more than 200 years since it was built by Emperor Gia Long of the last dynasty, this once royal city is still regarded as one of the best well-planned and naturally beautiful capital cities of Southeast Asia. Also, the complex of Hue monuments was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1993.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INDONESIA

Borobudur and the Village Temples of Java and Bali

 

Borobudur, the colossal Buddhist temple in Magelang on the island of Java, is a testament of the Indonesians’ long and passionate attachment to omniscient and spiritual beings. Borobudur was built in the early 800 AD by the Sailendra Dynasty of Java. It was abandoned two centuries later when the influence of this Buddhiat Kingdom diminished, as the Hindu kingdom of Mataram rose and gained control of central and eastern Java.

Ensconced on a hill 150 feet high, Borobudur is made of eight stone terraces, with each step sitting on top of each other. The first five squared terraces have walls festooned with Buddhist sculptures in bas-relief . The upper circled terraces are adorned with scores of stupas. From the base to its pinnacle, it’s an expedition of 4.8 kilometers through ceremonial passages and stairways. According to believers, profound insights emerge as they scale the height of this temple pyramid.

In 1983, after a through reclamation effort aided by the United nations, Borobudur was dedicated  a national monument of Indonesia after more than 1100 years since it was built. In 1991, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

The Thousand Temples of Prambanan

In the village of Prambanan in Central Java are ruins of a Hindu temple complex dating as far back as the eight and 10th centuries. Known as Prambanan temple Compound. It’s the largest religious complex in Indonesia dedicated to Shiva. Standing at the center of a concentric square are three temples with bas-reliefs depicting the epic of Ramayana, and dedicated to the three great Hindu gods, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The remains of this enormous complex of a “thousand temples” built during the Saleindra dynasty of Mid-800 AD is one magnificent find in a landscape dotted by stone temples of all sizes. In 1991, Prambanan was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The Village Temples of Bali

Famous for its epic dances, arts and crafts and recently for its pristine beaches and world class resorts, the southern Indonesian island of Bali has been deeply enmeshed in religion for centuries. Although dominantly Muslim, it has long standing tradition and a strong presence of Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, places of worship are aplenty, and temples are found without fail in every village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MALAYSIA

Getting a Whiff of Malaysia’s Cosmopolitan Air

 

During the last few decades, as Malaysia’s economy progressed at a steady pace, the capital city of Kuala Lumpur has become an icon for development and a source of envy for many urban sprawls around the globe. it became a city of concord between the old and new, and an orchestra of cultures and faiths. Looming over century-old structures, like the Moorish-designed Sultan Abdul Samad building near Merdeka Square, are litanies of modern high-risers, all radiant in glass, concrete and steel–just like those in New York and Shanghai. The Menara Kuala Lumpur, the KL Tower at Bukit Nanas, and the tallest twin towers on earth the Petronas Towers are all testimonies of Malaysia’s economic strength and KL’s consequent arrival in the universal frontline.

Malaysia as a whole is one big success story. The 75-kilometer stretch from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to KL Sentral is a paragon of ultimate transformation from a third world country to a modern metropolis. It passes through the “intelligent city”of Putrajaya, and show cases eight signature bridges reflecting local customs, but using cutting edge engineering technologies. Amid the hustle and bustle associated with big cities, KL streets are safe and neat, even during the evenings. The public transportation system is efficient and reliable to the dot. Restaurants, coffeehouses and bars are aplenty, accessible and assigned properly in well-lit and secured street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHILIPPINES

Exploring Banaue’s Highlands to Tubbataha’s Deep Waters

 

The islands of the Philippines–all 7107 of them have enough charm and mystique to entice the adventurer and inspire the romantic. Set in the fringes of the Pacific and cuddled by the tropics is a year round of sun and fun in the beaches and an endless venture in the wilderness. Endowed by nature with so much wonder, the islands quarter unexplored mountain fastness, rainforest and swift streams. With landscapes contoured by the forces of nature and colored by time, nothing can be more fascinating than experiencing the islands’ most valued possessions. The Purto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and theTubbataha Reef Marine Park, both in the island of Palawan, are simply stunning as natural wonders and were both declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Fauna are mostly endemic to their chosen habitats in this archipelago. The vegetation, as well, is imposing: nurtured by forest precipitations and emphasized by the presence of some of the world’s rarest plants and flowers. Agriculture is also a source of amazement in the Cordilleras. The Ifugaos carved the mountainside thousands of years ago to create the World Heritage Site, Banaue Rice Terraces.

Across the country are towns and cities of characters and style-shaped by local traditions and influenced by colonial pasts. Amidst the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Vigan, Ilocos Sur and Silay City in Negros Occidental are citadels of history.

The centuries-old churches dotting the countryside make a people strengthened by faith. Foremost are the baroque churches of San Agustin in Manila, La Asuncion in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur, San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte and Santo Tomas in Miag-ao, Iloilo–all of which were included in the World Heritage List. As a people toughened by industry and sweetened by camaraderie, the Filipinos–with cultures anchored on faith and gratitude–always have a reason to celebrate. Hence, be certain that on any given day, there is a festival somewhere in the islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SINGAPORE

The Merlion

 

Singapore is a city of diversity and contrast. It’s inimitable in the strictest sense of the world. A Christian Church, Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, or Chinese temple can be found in a single block, and can be visited in one sweep. Crossing the Singapore reveals a great divide between amalgamations of sleek skycrapers and timeworn edifices of a former colonial outpost. An immersion to its animal reserves gives you a glimpse of the tame and wild, the winged and gilled, and the nocturnal and diurnal. A day tour around the city journeys through cultures, places and time.

Singapore is an attraction town. its evolution is geared towards tourism. riches of its past are well preserved in sites–like the Daoist Thian Kock Keng, Armenian Chruch, Sri Veeramakaliamman and Cavenagh Bridge–and in numerous museums with art, history, Asian civilization, river tales, philatelic, science and war exhibits. While holding to its heritage, Singapore is more famous for its modern image–high rise buildings, party places and hi-tech destinations. State-of-the-art structures, like The Esplanade along the water front, are sources of indescribable awe. This durian-inspired dome of galleries  and theaters regularly presents world-class art exhibits and shows.

A shopping paradise for luxury, ethnic and bargain products, Singapore has one of the highest retail spaces per square mile in the world. They have extra-huge malls, colorful arcades and outdoor markets street after street, from Bugis Village to Little India and Chinatown.

If there’s one icon Singapore is most remembered for, it’s the mythical Merlion standing guard over the Singapore River, with water spurting from its mouth into the harbor. Just like the city it protects, this mermaid with a head of a lion is created by a fusion brought together by its people–to get the best out of the many civilizations, ethnicities and traditions conveyed in the country and shared harmoniously by everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MYANMAR

Revisiting Myanmar’s Ancient Kingdom

 

Myanmar has always been a fascination. It’s a land enriched by exotic stories and tales. A wave of people from China and Tibet followed the Irrawaddy River downstream to build communities and kingdom across Irrawaddy-Sitang Delta as early as 300 BC. First it was the Mon. Then, the Pyu. Eventually the Burmans, a people ethnically related to Tibetans and Chinese, exerted dominance over the other tribes and established in 1044 a unified Pagan Kingdom under the leadership of Buddhist King Anawratha, with the city of Pagan as capital. The city of Pagan flourished immensely, as it became the core of Theravada Buddhismin the whole region. In more than the two centuries following the institution of the Pagan, tens of thousand s of Buddhist monasteries and pagodas  are built within and around the city of Pagan alone, not counting the thousands more in other key cities, like Mandalay and Yangon, the present capital. However, the glory of this kingdom came to an end in 1287 when Mongols under Kublai Khan attacked and conquered Pagan. Many of the Monasteries and pagodas disintegrated under the elements. However, the world still has so much to be thankful for, as there are still 5000 more of them still standing elegantly and valiantly in the open plains of Pagan, including the enigmatic temple complex of Ananda and the massive Thatbyinnyu.

One exotic story about the grandeur of Myanmar came to a view point of a conquering force–the famous European explorer Marco Polo, who traveled to Pagan in1287 as a diplomat of the Khan court. Polo said, “The towers are built of fine stone; and one of them has been covered  with gold, a good finger in thickness, so that the tower looks as if it were all solid gold. Really, they do form one of the finest sights in the world. When they are lit up by the sun, they shine brilliantly and are visible from a far distance.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRUNEI

Kampong Ayer:  A Village Where the River Flows

For over 1300 years, the Brunei River– not on thew banks but on the water itself–is home to a significant number of Brunei inhabitants. As of the moment, there are 30,000 people residing in the village–1/10 of the entire population of Brunei. The Water Village, or Kampong Ayer, in Bahasa Malay is culturally important to the sultanate, as it’s continuance of it’s people’s provenance on river dwelling. It was, and still is, one of the most important centers for commerce and trade on the island. In fact it was even referred to as “Venice of the East” by Antonio Pigaffeta, a chonicler in Magellan’s expedition, when the fleet docked for refitting and re-supply in 1521.

It’s largest and  most famous water settlement in Southeast Asia, with over 4000 buildings, including residential houses, mosques, schools, shops, restaurants and a hospital all standing on stilts above the Brunei River. It has maintained an architectural heritage of wooden homes with excessively decorated interirors. Some 40 kilometers of boardwalks intersect the structures. Long wooden speed boats serve as private water taxis, and transport residents to the mainland of Bandar Seri Begawan.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

A perfect example of modern Islamic architecture, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is Brunei’s most recognizable landmarks and foremost tourist attraction. Built in 1958 on a man-made lagoon near the banks of Brunei River, it has a huge dome covered with pure gold. Its 171-foot tall minaret can practically be seen from the capital city of Bendar Seri Begawan. A huge stone replica of a 16th century barge used for traditional ceremonies is docked in the Brunei River fronting the mosque. A marble bridge links the two structures.

The royal mosque was named after the 28th sultan of Brunei, and is regarded one of the most impressive mosques in the Asia-Pacific region. It was designed by an Italian architect incorporating Renaissance and Islamic styles never seen in Islamic mosques around the world. The impeccable blending of old and new resulted in an extremely elegant structure with world-class materials used, like Italian marbles, Chinese granite, European chandeliers, and Arabic carpets, as well as state-of-the-art facilities, like a British high-speed lift for the main minaret’s viewing deck.

 

 


GET IN

Southeast Asia’s touristy countries (Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand ) do not require visas from most visitors, but the rest do. However, Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia offer visas on arrival at most points of entry, which minimizes the hassle involved. Vietnam and Myanmar require advance paperwork for most western foreigners.

By Plane

The main international gateways to Southeast Asia are Bangkok (Thailand) and Singapore, with Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in third place and Manila also having good international connections. Hongkong 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.

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. Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Clark are the main hubs for discount airlines in the area.

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 Udon Ratchathani; east via Chachoengsao to Aranyaprathet and also south-east via Pattaya to Sattahip and south via Surat Thani and Hat Yai through Malaysia via Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru to Singapore

COST

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 or so.

DO

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 Bali, Indonesia as the top drawers.

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

EAT

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 travelers. 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.

DRINK

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), Singha (Thailand), Tiger Beer (Singapore and Malaysia) and Beer Lao (Laos). Lager is by far the most popular style, although stout (esp. Guinness) is also popular and the larger cities have plenty of microbreweries and imported brews. Don’t be surprised by the local habit of adding ice to your beer: not only does it help keep it cool, but it dilutes the often high alcohol content (6% is typical) as well.