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Although they arose in parallel with those of Europe, the civilisations of Southeast Asia were among the last on the planet to be discovered by the Western world. Not until the Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape of Good Hope to crack the secret of the monsoon winds did the merchants of Lisbon, Venice or London know for sure where nutmeg or cinnamon originated. Nor could anyone before then say for certain that beyond the tip of India lay a vast tropical ocean, strewn with countless islands and forested peninsulas holding city states and huge religious complexes as sophisticated as any west of the Bosphorus.
Today, images of Southeast Asia’s splendours are familiar to everyone: the root-infested ruins of Angkor Wat; the gilded pagodas of Yangon; the pearl-white sand of Bali’s beaches; the volcanoes and enigmatic Buddhist stupas of Java; the Orang-utans of Borneo’s jungle-covered interior; the ultra-modern skyline of Singapore . . . All form stepping stones on a trans-Asian odyssey pursued by streams of visitors every year.
These iconic sights are, however, merely the most prominent among a plethora of lesser known, but no less extraordinary locations which would take several lifetimes to explore in full. Burma and Southeast Asia collectively make up one of the most geographically convoluted, widely dispersed and culturally mixed regions on earth, separated by great expanses of sea, jungle, mountains and rivers. That’s precisely why we’ve divided them into more manageable pieces, with itineraries reflecting not merely a given region’s essential diversity, but also the cultural glue that holds it together.