Southeast Asia is made up of a large mainland peninsula, and a maritime area with 20,000 islands scattered through the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Much of the land in this region is mountainous and covered in dense, tropical forest.
Deforestation in Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, and Laos has destroyed the habitats of many rare plants and animals, such as tigers and wild elephants. It has also caused flooding and soil erosion. Some trees, such as teak, are logged for their timber; others are felled to create farmland, and replanting is rare. Thailand took the step of banning commercial logging in 1989.
In the last 20 years, rice farmers have been planting new species of high-quality rice, which produce a greater yield. These, along with new, intensive rice-planting programs and sophisticated machinery, have helped some countries, such as Indonesia, to become self-sufficient. Rice is a staple food of the region and grows well in the warm, humid climate.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago, or group of islands, in the world, spread out over 3,000,000 sq miles (8,000,000 sq km) of ocean. The country’s huge population, which is predominantly Muslim, includes 362 different peoples, speaking over 250 languages. Most people still live in small villages, but nine million live in the capital, Jakarta, on the island of Java.
Buddhism is the most important religion in mainland southeast Asia, and the area has thousands of monasteries and ornate Buddhist temples. In Thailand, 95 percent of the people are Buddhist, and nearly every village has its own temple or wat, which is the center of village life.
The “Ring of Fire” is an arc of active volcanoes running through maritime southeast Asia and around the Pacific Ocean. The volcanoes sit along the edges of two plates that make up the Earth’s crust. When the plates move against each other, they cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on the islands of this region.
The music, dance, and drama of southeast Asia derive from the region’s religious traditions. Cambodia’s highly stylized classical dances are based on 12th-century Hindu dances, while much of Indonesian drama retells Hindu myths. Indonesia is also famous for its shadow puppet shows.
Many southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, are known as “Little Tigers” because of their fast-growing “tiger” economies and industrial enterprise. These countries benefit from cheap, plentiful labor, and export manufactured goods such as clothes and electronics.
Capital city: Rangoon (Yangon)
Area: 261,969 sq miles (678,500 sq km)
Population: 49 million
Capital city: Kuala Lumpur; Putrajaya (administrative)
Area: 127,316 sq miles (329,750 sq km)
Population: 23 million