Southeast Asia: the Mainland

The lands lying beyond the Bengal deltas, south of China, and fronting on the South Seas have had an exceedingly involved and complex history from very early times. At the moment, this page will attempt to survey modern developments in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. It's companion page will detail the islands of Indonesia, insular Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Presently this covers: Arakan, Burma, Cambodia, Champa, Champasak, Chenla, Funan, Hue, Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Lan Na, Lan Xang, Langkasuka, Laos, Luang Prabang, Malacca, Malaysia, Nakhon si Thammarat, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Pattani, Pegu, Perak, Perlis, Pinya & Ava, Sagaing, Sawa, Selangor, Singapore, Sukhothai, Taungbaing, Thailand, Thaton, Tonkin, Trengganu, Vientiane, Viet-Bac, Vietnam (Annam), and Xiang Khoang.


ARAKAN The western coast of Burma from Bengal to the delta. It has a very long history of its own.

BURMA (MYANMAR) An ancient land with a very rich and complex history, little understood by outsiders even today. The following lists detail monarchs controlling mainly the central regions of what is now the modern state. For other Burmese polities, see Arakan, Pegu, Pinya-Ava, Sagaing, and Thaton.

CAMBODIA A French protectorate from 1863-1953, aside from a brief Japanese occupation in 1945.

CHAMPA The Cham are a Western Austronesian group unrelated to the Indochinese who form the bulk of the population in Vietnam - they are distantly related to Malays, Filipinos, and Madagascarans. They formed a large and important state, or rather federation of closely associated states, along the eastern Indochinese coast from  early in the Common Era until the later 15th century - there are still about 120,000 Cham-speaking citizens of Vietnam. It should be noted that the history of Champa is poorly understood, and documented for the most part by peoples who opposed them and eventually defeated them - recent developments in Cham historiography and archeology have suggested the necessity of widespread revision of the existing record, but matters are still in flux. The following list is a compilation from several different sources, both older and more recent, together with attempts on my part to reconcile glaring conflicts; one point should be emphasised - the Cham seem to have held a federation of closely related polities, and the following is a best guess at senior leaders of the entire people.

CHAMPASAK A breakaway province which formed a kingdom within what is now modern Laos - downgraded to a principality after French colonial authorities gained control of the area in 1904.

HUE In central Vietnam; the center of power for the Nguyen dynasts who eventually recovered all of Vietnam after defeating the Tay-Son usurpers at the beginning of the 19th century. As a technicality, the Nguyen lords were nobles within the Northern Kingdom of Tonkin (ruled in the name of the Le by the Trinh), holding their southern lands in fief to the figurehead Le dynasts - in actuality, they were independent rulers.

JOHORE A state located in the southern Malay Peninsula.

KEDAH In the far northwest of Malaysia, facing the Andaman Sea and bordering Thailand to the north.

KELANTAN A state in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula, one of the component states of the Federation of Malaysia.

LAN NA In the hill country of northern Thailand, adjacent to the eastern Burmese frontier. Lan Na was an early Thai state, founded as the progenitors of the Thai people began migrating out of south-central China. It endured, with considerable vicissitudes, until almost the present day.

LAOS The Laotians are a people related to the Thai, who migrated out of southern China many centuries ago and established a number of principalities and kingdoms along the upper Mekong River. The modern Laotian state is a fusion of the old kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

LUANG PRABANG A splinter Kingdom formed out of territory belonging to Vientiane, Luang Prabang became the seat of the modern Laotian state as the Royal capital. A French Protectorate was established 1893-1953.

MALACCA A state in the southwestern Malay Peninsula, permanently Islamacized from the mid 15th century.

MALAYSIA A state comprising the bulk of the Malay Peninsula on the Asian mainland, together with a wide strip of territory along the northern verge of the island of Borneo. It is a federal government with an unusual system of non-hereditary monarchy at the top. The sovereign (Yang Di-Pertuan Agong) rotates through 5-year terms from among the 9 native Sultans who govern provinces and comprise the nobility of the land.

NAKHON si THAMMARAT A province in southern Thailand, at the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. The name of the province derives from its Pali-Sanskrit name Nagara Sri Dhammaraja (City of the Sacred Dharma King), which in Thai pronunciation becames Nakhon Si Thammarat.

NEGERI SEMBILAN A state in the Malay Peninsula, north of Malacca, south of Pahang, and west of Johore. Originally established by Princes from Sumatra (the Empire of Srivijaya) in the 14th century, the region was confederated into a loose association of nine local territories in 1773, with the Sultanate rotating among the district rulers in precisely the same manner that the Malaysian Kingdom operates nowadays.

PAHANG A state within the Malay peninsula, now a part of the Malaysian Federation.

PATTANI A predominantly Malay-inhabited region in extreme southern Thailand, encompassing the modern provincial districts of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, with the Malaysian frontier immediately to the south. Recently the region has seen considerable turbulence from Muslim seperatists seeking imposition of Islamic law and secession from Thailand.

PEGU (Hanthawaddy) A region in southern Burma, playing host to a long-enduring state.

PERAK A state in the Malay Peninsula, now a part of the Federation of Malaysia. It is noted for important tin mines.

PERLIS The smallest and most northerly state within the Malay peninsula, now a part of the Malaysian Federation.

PINYA & AVA  Closely related Shan states (they can be regarded as simply separate dynastic eras within the same polity)  in central Burma, formed on the dissolution of the old Pagan state. The first three rulers were brothers, known in Burmese history as "The Three Shan Brothers", - they collectively brought down the Paganese Kingdom.

SAGAING A Shan state in central Burma, formed after the disappearance of Pagan.

SELANGOR A state on the Malacca Strait of the west coast of the Malay Peninsula. It contains within it the city of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

SINGAPORE A large and vital port covering an island at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Originally a series of little villages, A free port was established by Sir Thomas Raffles in 1819. It expanded to become an important mercantile center from the 1860's onward.

SUKHOTHAI A state located in what is now eastern Thailand, near the Laotian frontier.

TAUNGBAING (Tawnpeng/Pappatasara) An important Shan statelet in eastern Burma.

THAILANDA large and powerful state in upper southeast Asia, and one of the rare non-European states which avoided being absorbed by European interests during the Colonial Era; in large part due to the resiliance and enlightened self-interest of its rulers during the 19th century, and the fact that it was to Great Britains advantage to have a buffer state located between India and French Indochina.

THATON (Suvarna Bhumi) A Mon state in southern Burma.

TONKIN North-central Vietnam, eventually all of the north. This region was the base of power for the Trinh dynasts, who contested with the Mac clan for mastery over Hanoi, winning it in 1592. This family held the closest thing to overall power in Vietnam, inasmuch as they governed the puppet-Emperors of the Le dynasty until they in turn were despoiled by the Tay-Son.

TRENGGANU A Malay state on the east coast of the mainland peninsula, facing the South China Sea.

VIENTIANE The administrative capital of Laos (as opposed to the Royal capital at Luang Prabang), Vientiane was the seat of the Lan Xang Kingdom from 1353 until 1778.

VIET-BAC A province in extreme northern Vietnam, adjacent to the Chinese frontier. The center of power for the dissident Mac dynasts who seized control of Hanoi in the early 16th century, only to lose it in 1592. The held on to their northern stronghold beyond the Red River, with the help of the Chinese, until the latter 17th century.

VIETNAM Vietnam is the modern name for this state, and I use it for the sake of clarity and recognition, but it must be said that the use of "Vietnam" is quite recent. Up until the dissolution of French Indochina, the eastern coastal regions were known as ANNAM and the northern regions were, overall, NAM-VIET. A French protectorate was established here 1883-1940, 1945-1953.

WAYTHARLY An early Burmese Kingdom, located on the southwestern coast in western Arakan.

XIANG KHOANG (Phonsavan) A lowlands region east-southeast of Luang Prabang, in Laos, the site of very ancient cultures.