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Cultural Discovery

The cultural diversity of Southeast Asia remains staggering. On a visit to any one of these countries you can discover everything from highly developed, artisan societies descended from ancient civilisations -- such as the Srivijaya (c. 650 AD) or Angkor (c. 800 AD) Empires -- to jungle nomads still dressed in loincloths and penis gourds, toting bows and arrows, spears and blowpipes.

In between lies a lush tapestry of ethnic variety, including tribal minorities that still live as they always have, practicing slash-and-burn cultivation, weaving their own distinctive, colourful clothing and adorning themselves in highly ornate headdresses and jewellery.

History

Nineteenth century European colonisation has also played its part in moulding the region. Cities such as Saigon, Hanoi and Phnom Penh feature fine examples of colonial architecture, while the Philippines boasts elaborate churches dating back over 400 years.

Religion

Buddhism, Islam and Christianity are all strongly represented. Each one has developed in unique ways to suit the indigenous people, who have adopted and infused many of their ancient animist beliefs that preceded the arrival of organised religion.

Food

With influences from India, China, the Middle East and Europe, the culinary flavours of Asia are equally beguiling ... and defining. To a Thai, if you can eat authentic Thai food, then you are already part way to becoming one of them!

Further enriching the experience, Southeast Asia also plays host to some of the world's most dynamic capital cities, where towering edifices of concrete and glass sit alongside glittering spires of Buddhist temples, or villages of wooden stilt houses connected by a latticework of canals and waterways.

Perhaps the ultimate cultural exchange is to immerse yourself for a couple of days -- or more -- as a guest of a local community. Not only will you experience the daily lives of the ordinary 21st century Asians and build long-term relationships with them, you will significantly help those communities while doing so.

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