How do we imagine Southeast Asia? First we pass it through the prism of history and representation, a 1000 years of images, empire and, more recently, travel. We could think of exotic and mysterious jungle-thronged temples, palm-fringed white beaches, redolent colours and enigmatic, gracious peoples; places to be discovered or to be returned to.
More realistically, we might think of ultra-modern sci-fi cityscapes, burgeoning urban youth culture, the struggle for democracy and terrible wars. Then, if we spend more time immersing, absorbing and inhabiting we find a place that resonates with humanity yet dumbfounds and bewitches us. By that point our imaginings will start to come undone as a region on the march, ready to take its place centre stage, begins to materialize.
In the east is Vietnam, the emerging regional superpower, almost fully recovered from the terrible decades of war and now, with its dazzling cuisine and gorgeous beaches a firm favourite with travellers. Vietnam’s neighbours, Laos and Cambodia, still maintain a mysterious air of adventure and excitement, their temples, peoples and the mighty Mekong all enduring attractions. Thailand has faced its share of travails in recent times, but is still a proud and friendly nation, rightly famed for beaches, hills and food. Malaysia and Singapore compete with Thailand for diversity of geography, history and pleasures while Indonesia, the colossus, is a network of islands, beaches, mountains, peoples, histories and cities that stretches for thousands of kilometres all the way to Australia.
Extract from Footprint Travel Guides 'Southeast Asia Handbook'