Coming from Europe, via Florida, I knew very little about the countries of Southeast Asia. I knew a bit about Vietnam - because of the wars, and because there is a Vietnamese community in Poland. In the U.S. I worked with a Vietnamese, and a Filipino, but still my knowledge of Southeast Asia was pitiful.
This has been changing since I moved to Australia. Countries of Southeast Asia (SEA) are Australia's neighbours to the north, and north-west. From the Australian viewpoint to the west there is the Indian Ocean and then far far away Africa, to the south - Antartica, to the east: New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, and lots of smaller islands, and then far away South America. SEA countries are Australia's closest big neighbours. They are a varied and interesting bunch. Let's start with the four biggest by population size:
Area: 1,900,000 km2 on over 17,000 islands, the biggest of which are: Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea.
Official language: Indonesian (form of Malay). Over 700 local languages.
Religion: 86% Muslim, 9% Christian.
GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP): 4700 USD.
Democratic? Yes, since very recently.
Indonesian island of Bali, where 88 Australians died in 2002 bombings, is a popular holiday destination. The almost 4 mln inhabitants of Bali are very different from the rest of Indonesia in terms of religion: 92% are Hindu.
Area: 300,000 km2 over 7000 islands. Capital: Manila.
Official languages: Filipino (Tagalog) and English. 170 local languages.
Religion: 90% Christian, 5% Muslim.
GDP per capita in PPP: 4000 USD.
Philippines is famous for exporting nurses, doctors, and even priests, mainly to the U.S.
Area: 330,000 km2.
Official language: Vietnamese.
GDP per capita in PPP: 3400 USD.
Religion: officially 81% atheist, but traditionally Buddhist with 6% Christian minority. See Religion of the Vietnamese.
Communist Vietnam is famous for fighting first the French and then the Americans for a total period of 31 years after end of WW II.
Area: 513,000 km2.
Official language: Thai.
Religion: 95% Buddhist, 5% Muslim.
GDP per capita PPP: 9400 USD.
What is Thailand famous for? The only thing that comes to my mind are Thai ladyboys.