Located between China and India, the region known today as Southeast Asia was strongly influenced by both of these powerful neighbors. Even so, the distinct cultures of Southeast Asia retained their own unique identities.
Indian styles are evident in this Buddhist monument, the Borodudur temple in Central Java, which was long overgrown and covered in volcanic ash before its intricate carvings were discovered.
Southeast Asia is made up of two major regions. The first, mainland Southeast Asia, includes several peninsulas that jut south between India and China. Today, this region is home to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and part of Malaysia. The second region, island Southeast Asia, consists of more than 20,000 islands scattered between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. It includes the present-day nations of Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei (broo NY), and the Philippines.
The mainland is separated from the rest of Asia by mountains and high plateaus. Still, traders and invaders did push overland into the region. Mountains also separate the four main river valleys of Southeast Asia—the Irrawaddy (ihr uh WAH dee), Chao Phraya (chow PRY uh), Mekong, and Red. These river valleys were home to early civilizations.