Diverse Cultures of Southeast Asia

By Victoria Burke & Cassie Campos

Geography of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is made up of two different regions. The first is the main land, including several peninsulas. Today this region is home to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and parts of Malaysia. The second region is island southeast Asia. It has more then 20,000 thousand islands between the India Ocean and The south China Sea. The main land is separated by mountains and high plateaus. Between seasons while waiting for the winds to shift, merchants harbored there vessels in southeast Asian ports which became important center of trade and culture. The people of southeast Asia developed there own culture before the Indian or Chinese influences shaped the area. Matrilineal descent, or inheritance through the mother was excepted in the region.

Indian Culture Spreads to Southeast Asia

Indian merchants and Hindu priests filled into southeast Asia, slowly spreading their culture. Later Buddhist monks and scholars introduced their Theravada beliefs to the region. Following the path of trade and religion came the influence of writing law, government arts, architecture, and farming. In the early centuries A.D, Indian traders settled in southeast Asia ports which caused the population to expand. As the population grew Indian beliefs and ideas were wide spreading. The Influenced people reached between 500 and 1000. Long after Hinduism and Buddhism went viral in southeast Asia, Indians brought in a new religion, Islam. Today, Indonesia still has the largest Muslim population of any nation.

New Kingdoms and Empires Emerge

The Pagan Kingdom Arises

In the Kingdom of Pagan they had a fertile ride-growing land which united the region under King Anawrahta. He is credited for bringing Buddhism to the Burman people. He filled his capital city with grand stupas, or dome-shaped shrines. Pagan thrived for about 200 years after Anawrahta's death. They were then over taken by the mongols in 1287. When the Burmans fought off the mongols they looked to there past with great pride.

The Khmer Empire

Indian influences shaped the Khmer empire, which reached it peak between 800 and 1350. Its rulers controlled much of present-day Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. The Khmer Empire adapted Indian writing, mathematics, architecture, and art. In the 1100's, King Suryavarman II built the great temple st Angkor. The ruins that still stand today are are among the most famous in the world. Hundreds of carvings glorify the king, although there are strong Indian influences, the style is uniquely Khmer.

Srivijaya Empire Flourishes
The Srivijaya empire flourished in Indonesia from the 600's to the 1200's. Srivijaya controlled the Strait of Malacca, which was vital for shipping. Both Hinduism and Buddhism influenced the empire. Later Islam spread to Sumatra, Java, and other islands. Many local leaders adopted the religion. This cemented commercial links with other Muslim trading centers.

Vietnam Emerges

In southeast Asian Indian influence outweighed Chinese influence. China sent in military to conquer the neighboring state of Annam (in Northern Vietnam). The red river delta irrigated fertile rice paddies, or fields, which provided food for the growing population. Chinese domination in 111 B.C, Han armies conquered the region and remained there for the next 1,000 years. During that time the Vietnamese adopted Confucian ideas, the custom of speaking and writing the Chinese language, and the Mahayana beliefs. Despite the powerful Chinese influence, the Vietnamese preserved a strong sense of separation identity. When the tang dynasty collapsed in 939, Vietnam broke free from china. Vietnam were still loyal to china.


  • Indian influences outweighed Chinese influence in southeastern Asia.
  • Many cultures mixed and thrived in the region
  • New Kingdoms and Empires become powerful and connect together through religion and culture.
  • Vietnam was the only country that had strong influence from China.
  • The Chinese controlled Vietnam for over 1,000 years