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South East Asia is a distinctive region.
Within this region there exist both cultural and physical contrasts and diversity. At least two divisions can be recognized-the mainland referring to Burma, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea (Cambodia) and Vietnam; the insular archipelago countries like Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia. These two are separated by a stretch of shallow water namely the Sunda shelf. South East Asia extends more than 4800 kilometer from east to west, containing 2.09 million sq. km. on the mainland and 2.37 million sq. km. of insular territory. Northern most limit is marked by that of Burma extending to almost 30° N latitude and a considerable part lie north of 20° latitude.
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South East Asia is noted for its maritime orientation and location. No country with the exception of Laos is without a shoreline and adequate anchorage for ships. Accessibility ranks high among the assets of South East and the Strait of Malacca is one of the great shipping wonders of the world.
The main influence of India and China is reflected here. For more than two thousand years Hindu philosophy and religion remained dominant here. Afterwards came the influence of Buddhism, which lasted for a long time. Islam's influence did not lag behind. It mainly came to stay in Indonesia and Malaya. Thailand, Indo-China, and Burma etc. remained untouched from Islamic influence. Plantation introduced by the Europeans has also influenced the economic life of Malaysia and others.
Physical Features The dominant physical features is the rugged cordilleras that splay out from the Himalayas to the north and are to the south. These north-south trending of mountains chains have been heavily weathered and rounded in the tropical rainy climate. The ranges are parallel to one another, separated by the major river basins. These river basins are the corelands. The mountain ranges are the Annamite chain of Vietnam, the Shan highlands of western Thailand and eastern Burma extending to Main peninsula and the Arakanyoma of Western Burma. Irrawady, Salween, (Burma) Menam (Thailand) and Mekong (Kampuchea and Vietnam) are the main river basins.
In contrast to this stability and regularity of the mainland mountain chains, the younger active belt of volcanism is associated with the south East Asia's islands. It is a part of circum-Pacific belt of volcanism stretching from Sumatra and Java eastward to Celebes, the Moluccas and northward to the Philippines.
Thousands of islands in the Indonesia and Philippines areas have their own contribution on the physiography of the region. Both Monsoon and tropical climates prevail here. In short, it may be said that this region of the world is distinct in its climatic characteristics, typical physiography, economic, overtures and cultural pattern.
Despite diversity in landforms, they shared maritime orientation and tropical climate giving south East Asia a similar pattern of economic growth and development.
It is a sparsely populated region among the states of Monsoon Asia. There are pockets of high concentrations such as parts of the island of Java and Luzon, the lower deltas of the Irrawaddy, the Menam, ChaoPhraya, the Mekong and the rivers and the city state of Singapore.
The density varies from 300-750 persons per square kilometer. The capital cities like Rangoon, Bangkok, Djakarta and Manila are the example of the primate cities. The urban centres are Saigon-Choon Hanoi, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The under-populated areas cover high mountains, thick forests, swamps, and large tracts of poor soil in eastern, Sumatra, Inland Borneo, southern Philippines, Interior parts of Burma, Indo-China and Thailand. The least density areas have one person per square kilometer. The moderate density, areas are western kialaya and southern and north western Java. Here the density ranges from 100 to 300 persons per square kilometer.
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