"Cultures are cultures, nothing to get hung up on. The deeper truths in life are completely separate from the cultures you grow up in. They're universal, and apply to all humans, no matter where they're from or how they were brought up."

Source: A Forum in the Bangkok Post

"Hell is other People."

Jean-Paul Sartre

Thumbnail 'Human Skulls' by Asienreisender

A rough overview on the evolvement of hominids is given in Kalasin's dinosaur museum, where a collection of skulls of pre-historic man is displayed.

Zhou Daguan by Asienreisender

Zhou Daguan, the Chinese envoy in medieval Angkor, who wrote the only handed-down report of the Khmer society of the time: 'The Customs of Cambodia'.

'King Narai Monument in Lopburi' by Asienreisender 'Ban Vichayen in Lopburi' by Asienreisender

King Narai of Ayutthaya is very prominent in European records. In his reign a number of diplomatic contacts between Siam and the emerging European colonial powers in Southeast Asia was established. There were also permanent European settlements in Ayutthaya and Lopburi, as Ban Vichayen.

'Chieftain Sidabutar of the Batak Toba People' by Asienreisender

Chieftain Sidabutar's head at the Sidabutar tomb at Tomok, Samosir Island, Lake Toba. The Sidabutar clan was a prominent family of the Batak Toba People and the clan's graveyard is one of the main sights on Samosir Island.

Sketch by Asienreisender, 2014

'People in Kuala Lumpur' by Asienreisender

Some bypassers, seen from a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2005, 2015

Thumbnail 'Photocomposition Chinese in Malacca' by Asienreisender

Chinese People live since many centuries in Malacca, and business life there is coined by their activities.

'Muang Noi | Pai' by Asienreisender

Muang Noi is a White Karen tribal village in Pai district.

People of Southeast Asia


Individuals and Groups

There is much to say about people. Basically it's obvious that all people are different. Individual. That is so for individuals as it is for groups of people. Though we have much in common. What makes the differences?

Visit also:

Ananta Toer (1925 - 2006), Indonesian Author

Batak People,
Tribe in Sumatra

King Mangrai
Medieval King and Founder of Lanna

Henri Mouhot (1826-1861), Traveller in Indochina

Ho Chi Minh

'Ho Chi Minh' by Asienreisender

The King of Thailand

The People of Malaysia

Marco Polo, Italian merchant and probably first Westerner ever in Southeast Asia

Odoric of Pordenone, Italian Friar and early Asienreisender

Raden Saleh (1811 - 1880), Indonesian Painter

Prabowo Subianto, Indonesian Plutocrat

Joko Widodo, Indonesian President

Susilo B. Yudhoyono, former Indonesian President

Zhou Daguan (1266 - 1346), Chinese Envoy in medieval Angkor.

Homo sapiens is a very particular species. Our brain is much higher developed than that of all other species on planet earth. The human brain is the most adaptable organ on this planet. When we are born, we know almost nothing and can do almost nothing. All what we become we have to learn.

What we are learning and how we start to deal with our surroundings depends very much on our environment. In the most of the time of the development of our species this was dominated by pure nature. People lived as nomads in little groups, ten to thirty individuals. Gathering fruits and other food here, hunting there. Life became more complex when people settled down and some became specialists, e.g. for farming or for being a spiritual leader to explain the not understood world. As more complex our societies grow, as more different people develop. Basically everyone could become any specialist, but in many cases people have already in young years to decide what for a profession they want to learn.

So, as we specialize as individuals, we specialized over times as groups. Different groups developed different ideas about the world and lived in different environments (climate, animals, plants). When we have a closer look now on the People in Southeast Asia, we have to understand their history first to be able to understand how they are. Even more: One has first to understand his own history, individually and collectively to first understand himself and then being able to compare to others. If that is not given, the results can only be very poor.

The Greatest Failure...

'Homo Sapiens' by Asienreisender

Homo sapiens is the most successfull species in earth's history. Particularly in the last five hundred years, with the rise of capitalism and modern technology, it conquered the planet from pole to pole. But, failing to develop a truly human civilization, it's doomed. Alienated from itself and from nature, modern man is causing the greatest damage to the planet, destroying the biosphere and with it the basis for it's own existence. Man is going to be the greatest failure in evolution. Sketch by Asienreisender, 2015

Not only because our modern societies are very sophisticated nowadays, there are many different kind of people to observe. But, in difference to Western societies, Asian societies have a wider variation. In Asia one finds not only high educated specialists who live in advanced cities, but also still jungle tribes who's members live like people lived in very former times. Watching Asian people is in general like watching a kaleidoscope; one sees so many fragments from what for Westerners is historical past but still existing here.

To get a closer approach to the people of especially Southeast Asia I will focus here on certain social or ethnic groups as well as to some individuals.

Writing about people here means writing about the majority of people who shape a country or region. There is always a great variety of different attitudes and habits, and there are always exceptions of individuals who live a very contrasted life compared to that of the majority.

For an outline on cognitive dissonances of Southeast Asian people, which explains in short words a lot of the peculiarities a Westerner observes here every day, click the link.

Pridi Banomyong

'Pridi Banomyong' by Asienreisender

Pridi Banomyong, 1900 - 1983

As one of the leading heads and probably the leading mind for the Siamese Revolution of 1932, Pridi Banomyong led a life which looks a bit like the stuff for an adventurous novel. To evolve democratic ideas among the People of Thailand, Thammasat University was founded in 1934, where Pridi served as rector until 1949. Having been much more progressive than politicians then and now, the conflict with the authoritarian faction of the time led eventually to his exile. Nevertheless, Pridi participated much in shaping a new Thailand in the mid 20th century and is one of the most influencial Thai politicians in the country's history.

Read the article on Pridi Banomyong...

Adolf Bastian

Adolf Bastian

A great contribution to the discovery and exploration of Angkor was done by Adolf Bastian (1826 - 1905). He realized that Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu monument, not a Buddhist one as it was assumed at the time. Bastian was an anthropologist and is considered the first German ethnologist. He travelled the whole of Southeast Asia in the years 1861 - 1865, and came back repeatedly in later years. Adolf Bastian wrote elaborately about the countries, people, customs, culture, myths and religions of Southeast Asia of his time.

Read the whole article on "Adolf Bastian"

The Life of Buddha

Very much on Buddha's life has been invented or changed in any way. Considered Buddha was a real living person, what he probably was, and not only an invention of a certain group of people. That let's us question about what are historical facts and what are exaggerations or imaginations of Buddhas disciples and others.

Read 'The Life of Buddha'...

Buddha, Meditating by Asienreisender

Buddha, meditating at the foot of a bodhi tree. Painting seen in a rural temple in Wiang Kaeng, north Thailand.

Image by Asienreisender, 2012

'Akha Child Making the Thai Wai' by Asienreisender

An Akha girl. Image by Asienreisender, Chiang Khong, 2/2012

Hill People, or
Hill Tribes in Southeast Asia

There are hundreds, if not thousands of different kinds of hill people around in a large area from which the Golden Triangle might be the best known part. Just to name a few: Khamu, Kayan Lahwi, Karen Khao, Karen Dam, Lisu, Lahu, Akha/Hani, Hmong/Miao, Tai Lue, (...) If civilized people see these hill people, they appear sometimes very much as back in time, undeveloped, poor, uneducated, ill-equipped, uncultivated, as really hilly-billies. They don't have even an organized religion, practising animism. If Southeast Asians from the cities visit the mountains, they have a view on the mountain people as to visit their own ancestors.

Read the whole article on hill tribes...

The Java Man

Homo Erectus Javanicus

About half of all the known ever found hominid fossils were discovered in Sangrilan on Java. Beside that stone tools, bone tool, axes and a number of other tools were found in Sangrilan. It was inhabited for the last 1,5 million years and shows a long line of continuous human evolution. It includes also the evolution of human culture, the evolution of local animals and the ancient environment. That all makes it a key site in the understanding of human evolution generally.

Read the whole article

Published on July 24th, 2012


The vast majority of people here is very low in behaviour. 'Mister' here, 'mister' there, 'mister' everywhere. People stare permanently to a western traveller. Java is one of the down-to-the-bottom countries in the world, in which the people suffer great poverty since many generations.

Read the whole article

Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn

Franz Junghuhn (*1809 in Mansfeld, Germany - 1864 Lembang, Java) completely explored Java's geography, geology and botany. He created the first reliable map of whole Java and countless of particular maps of Javanese regions, including the Dieng Plateau. He was also the first who mapped the southern Batak territories on Sumatra. A breakthrough in botany was the successfull cultivation of Peruvian bark trees (quinine) on Java. His biography reads like a 19th century adventure novel.

Read the whole article

Published on September 22nd, 2012

The Kayan People of Nai Soi / Thailand

'A Kayan Woman in Ban Nai Soi wearing a Brass Coil Necklace' by Asienreisender

Ban Nai Soi Village is a small refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province, close to the Burmese border. The here living people are mostly of the Kayan Lahwi tribe, a clan of the Red Karen People. The tribe's women gained some fame due to an old custom, that is to wear a heavy metal armor around the neck, arms and legs. The armor, what is a long brass coil, is applied from young years on already, and it is deforming the body in a way that it looks as if the women would have an elongated neck. The village of Nai Soi has therefore become a tourist attraction for people who want to visit and watch the Kayan women.

Have a look for the Kayan Village of Ban Nai Soi...

'Moken Woman on Ko Chang' by Asienreisender

The Moken
of Thailand and Burma

The Moken are a people who live a sea-nomadic way of life in the Indian Ocean (e.g. the Andaman Sea) since many generations - nobody knows exactly since how long, maybe it goes into the thousands of years. They are very adapted to live with and from the sea; an example is their capacity to stay for as long as eleven and a half minutes under water. They are, unlike most Southeast Asians, of Australonesian origin.

Read the article on the Moken People...

Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen

Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen

Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen (1834-1918) is almost a mystical personality in the Christian Batak countries of north Sumatra. Nommensen came in 1862 to the then 'Dutch East Indies' to mission the Batak People in the area around Lake Toba. After several of his predecessors have been victim to the cannibalic practices of the Batak People of the time, Nommensen survived several assassination trials. At the end of his life the christian parish counted 180,000 members. His mission is counted as one of the most successful christian missions in modern history. Nommensen also translated the bible from Greek into Batak language.

Read the article on Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen and the 'Batak Mission'...

Stamford Raffles

Stamford Raffles

Stamford Raffles (*1781 - 1826) is definitely among the most fascinating personalities who are related to Southeast Asia. He is a legendary person, comparable to Lawrence of Arabia (Thomas Edward Lawrence). Both have in common a deeper understanding and sympathy for the native people in the countries they lived for years and effected them. Both of them came in conflict because of their disagreement with the political implications of imperialism, who are crucial for an empire. Raffles is commemorated for the founding of Singapore in 1819.

Read the whole article

Published on September 5th, 2012

The People of Cambodia

The Cambodian society is a breakdown society, which not really recovered from decades of war and civil war. The Cambodians barely escaped an auto genocide in the 1970s only due to another war led by neighbouring Vietnam to drive the Pol Pot faction of the Khmer Rouge out of power. Despite economic recovery the population is still suffering deprivation and poverty. The People of Cambodia are an ugly witness of what war, poverty and tyranny makes out of humans.

Have a look for the article on 'The People of Cambodia'...

Laotian Woman in a street restaurant in Muang La, Laos by Asienreisender

Inside a typical street restaurant in Muang La, Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

The People of Laos

There is no easy approach to the People of Laos, for the huge ethnical diversity. Since the 6,200,000 inhabitants (2010), of whom some 60% are ethnically different from the Laotians (the largest ethnic), are falling apart into 70 - 120 different languages, of whom some are not yet scientifically explored; well, there is much to say on this topic.

Read the whole article on 'The People of Laos'

Published on April 24th, 2013

The People of Southeast Asia

There could be made a long outline of all the different ethnics and customs in Southeast Asia; for a general understanding I want to point out an interesting observation.
Crucial for an understanding of people in any culture is the understanding of human childhood development...

Read the whole article on "The People of Southeast Asia"

The People of Thailand

There are some good points to make about Thai People. Especially understandable they become when one compares them to Westerners.

Read the whole article

Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is, or at least was one of the most famous western celebrities in Southeast Asia. Having an adventurous career, he is the co-founder of Thai Silk Company Ltd. and promoted Thai Silk as a merchandise of world fame. The Jim Thompson House is nowadays one of the sights in Bangkok. Particularly interesting is his mysterious disappearance in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, where he went on a short afternoon stroll and was never seen again then. Three search expeditions, seen as the largest land search in Southeast Asia's history, didn't find the faintest trace of him. Rumours spread, of course...

Have a look for the brief story of Jim Thompson...

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913)

In 1854 a man arrived in Singapore who can be counted as one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. Alfred Russel Wallace, a former land surveyor from England, who spent already a couple of years in the tropical Amazon region collecting animals (mostly insects), came to expand his collection and studies in the Malay Archipelago. In the following eight years he made 70 journeys through the whole, huge archipelago, what is nowadays Indonesia and Malaysia. In 1858 he came to the clear and elaborated conclusion that animals are not representing a fixed shape and capabilities, but being highly versatile, ever adapting to their changing environments. Species are undergoing a permanent change respective development, and the driver for that change is natural selection. Russel wrote a great deal of essays on this topic and sent letters to England to reconfirm his position. One of his pen pals was Charles Darwin, an already accepted member of the scientific community in England. Darwin became over the time more and more impressed by Russels ideas, particularly when he received a letter in June 1858, in which Russel outlined the 'theory of evolution'. That was exactly the concept which was stored in Darwin's drawers since 20 years, but who hesitated to publish it. Russel even used mostly the same key terms for his theory as Darwin did.

Read the whole article on 'Alfred Russel Wallace'

Published on August 26th, 2013


Westerners who come to Southeast Asia, particularly for the first time, are often very astonished. It's all so strange here, not only the climate, the animals and the landscapes, but, above all, the people. They are so different...

However, Westerners have a long tradition coming to Southeast Asia, and the first Westerners who arrived here were all but tourists.

Read the whole article on Westerners...

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People of Southeast Asia