Geographical aspects of South East Asian countries – 1


Asia is the largest and most populous continent in the world, sharing borders with Europe and Africa to its West, Oceania to its South, and North America to its East. Asia is often divided into culturally and geographically similar regions. Although definitions, names, and borders can vary, generally the regions of Asia include West Asia (which is part of the Middle East), the Caucasus (sometimes also considered as part of the Middle East), Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia (also called the Indian Subcontinent), and Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is located, just like it sounds, in the southeast portion of the continent of Asia. It is south of China and to the east of India. Much of Southeast Asia is islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The countries of Southeast Asia include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (or Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor (or Timor -Leste), and Vietnam. Southeast Asia covers about 4.5 million km2 (1.7 million mi2), which is 10.5% of Asia or 3% of earth’s total land area. Its total population is more than 641 million, about 8.5% of the world’s population. It is the third most populous geographical region in the world 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 ASEAN, a regional organisation established for economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration amongst its members.

The term “Southeast Asia” was first used in 1839 by an American pastor Howard Malcolm in his book entitled 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 2nd by the Allies, through the formation of South East Asia Command (SEAC), ten of eleven states of Southeast Asia are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while East Timor is an observer state. Papua New Guinea has stated that it might join ASEAN and is currently an observer.


Southeast Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. Southeast Asia is bordered to the north by East Asia, to the west by South Asia and way of Bengal, to the east by Oceania and Pacific Ocean, and to the south by Australia and Indian Ocean. The region is the only part of Asia that lies partly within the Southern Hemisphere, although the majority of it is in the Northern Hemisphere.

Geographical divisions

Southeast Asia is geographically divided into two sub-regions, namely   Mainland Southeast Asia and Maritime Southeast Asia. Mainland Southeast Asia, also known historically as Indochina, includes:

  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Myanmar
  • Peninsular Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Maritime Southeast Asia, also known historically as the East Indies and Malay Archipelago includes:

  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • East Malaysia
  • Brunei
  • Singapore
  • East Timor
  • Christmas Island, the Andaman and Nicobar Island of India, and the Cocos  (Keeling) Island. Taiwan is also included by many anthropologists.

The region lies near the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic and volcanic activities. The   Sunda Plate is the main plate of the region, features almost all Southeast Asian countries except Myanmar, northern Thailand, 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.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India are geographically considered part of Maritime Southeast Asia. Eastern Bangladesh and Northeast India have strong cultural ties with Southeast Asia and sometimes considered both South Asian and Southeast Asian. Sri Lanka has on some occasions been considered a part of Southeast Asia because of its cultural ties to mainland Southeast Asia. The rest of the island of New Guinea which is not part of Indonesia, namely, Papua New Guinea, is sometimes included, and so are Palau, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, which were all part of the Spanish East Indies with strong cultural and linguistic ties to the region.

The eastern half of Indonesia and East Timor (east of the Wallace Line) are considered to be biogeographically part of Oceania (Wallace) due to its distinctive faunal features. New Guinea and its surrounding islands are geologically considered as a part of Australian continent, connected via the Sahul Shelf.

Bordering Bodies of Water: Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, Java Sea, Philippine Sea, Celebes Sea.

Major Rivers and Lakes: Tonle Sap, Lake Toba, Songkhla Lake, Laguna de Bay, Mekong River, Salween River, Irrawaddy River, Fly River

Major Geographical Feature: Volcanoes of Indonesia and the Philippine Islands, Malay Peninsula, Philippine Trench, Java Trench, New Guinea Island, Borneo Island, Sumatra Island There are around 20,000 islands in Southeast Asia.


Southeast Asia is rich in wildlife with animals such as orangutans, leopards, elephants, water buffalo and rhinos. There is also significant diversity in culture, language, and religion. Much of Southeast Asia is rainforest and the climate is very wet. The wet weather makes the area prime for rice patty agriculture making rice the main staple in the Southeast Asian diet.