SINGAPORE (ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Ten countries, several ethnicities, dozens of fables, scores of cultural symbols, hundreds of places to visit and thousands of delicacies to relish - diversity flourishes across this region of over 628 million people. Here are some, possibly lesser known, facts about the regional grouping.
Why the name Brunei
Local legend has it that the first settlers landed near the Brunei River and found an abundance of water and fish. One proclaimed “baru nah!” which loosely means “now we found it” awhich over time became Brunei.
A palace fit for every king
The 1,788-room Bruneian palace, the Istana Nurul Iman, spanning a mind-boggling 120 ha is the world’s largest residential palace, housing the Prime Minister’s office and the seat of the government of Brunei. It is also has a mosque that can hold 1,500 people, and has five swimming pools and even a helipad.
Venice of The East
Hospitals, petrol stations and even mosques on stilts might surprise those passing by Kampong Ayer, the water village along the banks of Brunei River. About 300,000 people live there and their village has been on stilts for 1,300 years.
Water or gasoline? The latter is cheaper
Crude and natural gas, two of Brunei’s main exports, account for half of its gross domestic product. While many associate crude oil as a product of other regions, crude oil and natural gas production account for 65 per cent of GDP and 95 per cent of exports.It costs more to buy a bottle of 1.5L drinking water (US$0.78) than a litre of gasoline (US$0.38), according to some reports.
A first for many
Maziah Mahusin had the honour of being the country’s first female athlete to represent her country at the Olympics. In 2012’s London Olympics, Maziah represented Brunei in the women’s 400m race, and despite not being the fastest runner, it does not take away from the pride of being a pioneer for women in sports.
Khmer architecture is modern
French-educated Cambodian architect Van Molyvann led a profound period of architectural change between Cambodia’s independence in 1953 and 1975, during which he combined elements of the modernism of the 1950s and 1960s with traditional Khmer elements to create Khmer architecture. These elements included use of new construction material or reinforced concrete and the elevation of buildings on stilts.
These monuments, commissioned under the patronage of King Norodom Sihanouk, celebrate independence and symbolise hopes for a modern future. While many have been torn down, some New Khmer Architecture masterpieces remain like Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Cambodiana Hotel.
Global leader in gourmet pepper
On Cambodia’s southern coast, Kampot province’s mineral-rich red earth and salty coastal winds have created exceptional growing conditions for pepper. The red, green, and white varieties are the favourite of chefs around the world, particularly red which is used in France for pastry.
In 2016, the European Union gave pepper from Kampot province its seal of approval with the “Protected Geographical Indication” putting it in the same ranks as champagne, cognac, Parma ham, Gorgonzola cheese and more.
Once Asean’s rock ‘n roll capital
In the 1960s, Phnom Penh was the swinging centre of South-east Asia thanks to homegrown rock bands and pop singers who embraced surfer and psychedelic sounds of the era. While many of the artists were later killed under the Khmer Rouge, in recent years musicians and filmmakers have helped to renew interest in the era, including the acclaimed 2015 documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten.
The reversing river
A lake named Tonlé Sap in Cambodia has a reversing river every monsoon season, with waters flowing upstream back into it. This is caused by the increase in water volume from the Mekong river during the monsoon season, which exceeds the river’s ability to empty into the sea. This water then flows into adjacent tributaries, ultimately resulting in the reversed flow of the river. AThose living in the area have made this annual flooding a part of their lives, harvesting carp and catfish stranded in small pools of water.
Pangolin Rehabilitation Center
The rare and shy pangolin is the only known mammal with scales. These nocturnal animals live off a diet of ants and termites, which they catch with tongues that can be longer than their bodies. They are one of the most trafficked animals in the world. An estimated 100,000 pangolins are captured every year, where they are killed for their meat and scales. The Pangolin Rehabilitation Center was opened near Phnom Penh in 2012 to protect those no longer able to get by in the wild.
Heard of Chicken Church?
Hidden in Punthuk Setembuk hill in Magelang, a few hours’ drive from Yogyakarta, is an abandoned prayer house built in the shape of a crested dove. Thousands have been driving up to see it after it was featured in the box-office romantic hit drama Ada Apa dengan Cinta? 2 (What’s with Cinta? the sequel). It used to be a well-kept secret spot for photographers to get an overview of the Borobudur Temple, but is now a favourite place, offering tourists an unforgettable Instagram moment at sunrise. Visitors start queuing from midnight.
Teen love movie still draws crowds, 15 years later
Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? (What’s with Cinta?) is one of Indonesia‘s most watched movies and marked the reawakening of the movie industry in Indonesia at the turn of the century. Produced by Miles Films in 2002, the coming-of-age teen movie brought the public back to cinemas and the film stayed on screen for months. Its sequel, released in February last year, saw most of the cast return. Producer Mira Lesmana hopes to complete the finale, Ada Apa Dengan Cinta 3, in the next few years.
Jakarta may be known as the Big Durian, but the King of Fruit is the tourism icon of Medan, in North Sumatra. The city has several 24-hour durian stalls, but one stands out - Durian Ucok - that draws tourists from all over the region for its durians. The shop offers a total replacement, free, if their durians don‘t quite taste right.
Indonesians speak Esperanto
The language, created by Polish physician Dr L.L. Zamenhof in 1887 to encourage people from different countries to talk to each other, is spoken in many parts of Indonesia. Till the 1960s, a club of Esperantists published bulletins and translated books and novels to spread use of the language. A movement to widen its use has been more noticeable since 2004.
Largest gold mine
The Grasberg mine in remote Papua is said to be the largest gold mine in the world. It was discovered by Dutch geologist Jean Jacques Dozy in 1936 by accident. He set out to scale the region’s highest glacial peak and discovered an interesting rock with green streaks. which was found to have high amounts of copper and gold. A company called Freeport Sulphur proceeded to develop the area for mining. While the mine has brought great wealth to these corporations, there is increasing concern about the welfare of Papuans. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has hastened development efforts and initiated a series of massive infrastructure projects.
Find one of world’s top Buddhism monuments
Originally built in the 3rd Century at the same time Vientiane was established, That Luang stupa is the symbol Laos. It was built to house bones belonging to Lord Buddha but the original structure was renovated on the orders of King Saysetthathirath when he moved the Lao capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in 1560. The stupa is regarded as one of the world’s must-see Buddhist monuments. Every November, the colourful That Luang festival is staged to celebrate the stupa.
Plain of Jars
Mystery still surrounds the origins of the stone vessels of the Plain of Jars. While some believe the jars were built to store human remains, others theorise they were used to boil liquid during the Khoun Cheuang (6th Century AD) period. Jar Site 1 is the more popular of the two sites in Xieng Khuang province, 8km southwest of Phonsavanh and easily reached by tuk-tuk or bike. The site counts 331 jars, including the largest single jar – said to have been the victory cup of Khoun Cheuang, who, according to local legend, liberated the local people from oppressive rulers. The jars were supposedly made to brew and store huge amounts of rice alcohol which were drunk during the seven-month celebration held in honour of the victory.
Alms-giving early in the morning in Luang Prabang province is a fascinating activity for visitors, who get up very early to gather along the road side with rice, food and sweets to give to passing monks.
World’s most bombed country
Laos is regarded as one of the world’s most bombed countries, with the United States dropping more than 270 million cluster bombs on the country between December 1964 and March 1973. This number is equivalent to dropping a full plane cargo load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years, according to the worldatlas.
Asean’s geological wonder
A huge cave in Konglor village in Khounkham district, Khammuan province, attracts thousands of visitors. The Konglor Cave is about 7.5km in length - the longest in the country - and 80-100 metres wide.
Catch the world’s biggest flower at Gunung Gading
Mount Kinabalu in Sabah comes to mind at the mention “mountains” and “Malaysia”. But the Gunung Gading National Park in neighbouring Sarawak also warrants a visit.
The mountain – named after the legendary Princess Gading (a guardian of three mountain peaks) – is touted as one of the best places in the region to see a Rafflesia in bloom. This is said to be the largest and most beautiful flower in the world. Home to a range of wildlife, the park has three nature trails that weave through a rainforest. The park is accessible by car from Kuching, in a journey of about two hours.
‘Rice’ and shine at Kedah Paddy Museum
Malaysia’s agrarian history is carefully curated at the country’s premier paddy museum (and only fourth paddy museum in the world after Japan, Germany and the Philippines).
Located in Kedah, the country’s “rice bowl state”, this three-storey building features exhibitions on paddy cultivation in Malaysia and around the world. Apart from that, one can learn all about the taboos and legends of paddy-planting.
Food for thought artist
“Eye candy” would probably best represent what Malaysian food artist Samantha Lee does. A busy mother of young children, Lee started devising all sorts of quirky, cool lunchbox meals for her kids to encourage them to eat well, fashioning scenes from fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood and cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants from food. Lee has a over 700,000 followers on her Instagram account @leesamantha and she’s been featured on E! Online, The Rachael Ray Show, People magazine and Vogue.
The Jungle Bird cocktail
Rum, Campari, lime juice, pineapple juice and syrup. These five simple ingredients make up the Jungle Bird, an internationally-renowned classic cocktail that was created right here in Kuala Lumpur. Created in 1978 at the Aviary Bar in the old KL Hilton on Jalan Sultan Ismail, every cocktail bar in KL worth its salt (and bitters) knows how to serve it.
Cutting edge gaming connection
Malaysians are used to seeing local gamers compete in eSports tournaments around the world, but how many know that there’s a local connection to the gaming equipment they use?
The all-Malaysian Penang arm of Taiwanese company Pixart Imaging Inc designed the most important component in popular gaming mice such as the Logitech G502 and G900, as well as Razer’s Deathadder and Abyssus – the optical sensor that gives them the sheer accuracy needed for gaming. Aside from gaming, its sensors are also used in the Apple Magic mouse and the Microsoft Surface Dial and several drone brands for hover stabilisation.
Catch the Pyazat, before it dies
Pyazat, Myanmar’s traditional drama, is on the verge of extinction due to the influence of foreign cultures. The modern form of Pyazat emerged in the late British colonial period with films. The shows that used to last three hours are now down to two and they are mostly performed in rural areas. From preaching morality, these shows now dwell on laughing away the stresses of daily life.
A breathtaking cave in an amazing landscape
The Saddan cave, one of the biggest in Myanmar, is dotted with several images of Buddha. It takes about 20 minutes to cross the cave, if the bats don’t deter you, and the exit opens into a lake, offering a view of a landscape that will leave you feeling enchanted.
A spot to remember a romantic legend
Than Daung Gyi - in Kayin state, a four to six-hour train ride from Yangon, is best known as the place of Myanmarese Christians. It is also famous for the legend of Prince Saw Thaw oh Khwa and Princess Naw Bu Baw, who were deeply in love. Though they got married, the prince’s side did not like Naw Bu Baw as they thought she was a witch. After the prince died in battle, she was imprisoned in a rock cavern and eventually died. Local people believe their spirits still wander hand-in-hand through forests in that area.
Asean’s top collection of Buddhist mural paintings
The Lokahteikpan Temple, in Bagan, is said to have the best collection of Buddhist mural paintings in South-east Asia and these were discovered as recently as 1958. The mural paintings emphasise educating people on Theravada Buddhism. The paintings depict the eight Scenes of the Buddha, 10 major stories of Lord Buddha and 550 Jatakas.
Not just a ball game
Chinlone is perhaps the country’s most famous traditional sport. TPlayers in teams of six pass the ball back and forth using their feet, knees, and their heads as they walk around a circle. A player goes into the middle alone, and creates a dance of different moves strung together. Unlike other sports, there is no scoring in Chinlone, and players are judged based on how beautifully they play the game.
Island in a lake on an island in a lake
While Vulcan Point may no longer be the largest specimen of its kind, it is still a marvel of nature to experience. Vulcan Point is on an island in a lake, on an island. The lake surrounding Vulcan Point, Taal Lake, is a volcanic one formed after eruptions sealed the water body from the sea. After centuries of rainfall, it slowly desalinated and become host to a plethora of species that slowly adapted to the change in the salinity of the water. The volcano holding all of this, the Taal Volcano, is the second most active volcano in the Philippines.
Largest mammal eye to body ratio
The Philippine tarsier has the largest mammal eyes, in terms of ratio to the body, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The diminutive chimp is also one of the smallest primates in the world, ranging from 8.5cm to 16cm tall. Despite this small frame, the tarsier’s skull houses a pair of eyes that are 1.6cm in diameter. As a result, its eyes are unable to turn in their sockets. A special adaptation allows their necks to turn 180 degrees in either direction. Furthermore, their eyes can dilate almost completely in poor light conditions, allowing them to see late at night in the forest.
Mother of all pearls
The former holder of this accolade, the Pearl of Lao Tzu, was also from the Philippines. The current title-holder, the 34kg Puerto Princesa pearl, was kept under its owner’s bed for over 10 years, where he would take it out and and touch it before he went out to fish. It was only when he was to move to another part of the province that it came to light, where the man handed the pearl to his aunt, a tourism officer working in the local government. The pearl was then put on display as a tourist attraction at the local town hall.
Inventor of karaoke
While many assume that the karaoke machine was a Japanese invention, the patent is in fact held by Filipino inventor Roberto del Rosario. He created the Karaoke Sing-Along System in 1975, which contributed to the spread of the trend. Although the karaoke was created by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue a few years prior, both men have been credited as noteworthy in the history of karaoke.
‘Boondocks’ is Filipino
The expression boondocks, used to refer to isolated places or the countryside, has roots in the Tagalog word “bundok”, which means mountains. It is believed it was adapted into English by American soldiers.
Think coding and programming is hard?
The world’s youngest app developer, Lim Ding Wen, created his first app at nine in 2009. It is a drawing app named Doodle Kids.Working from an Apple IIGS computer, he wrote it in a few days before porting it for the iPhone and releasing it for free on the iTunes Store. Ding Wen is now an aspiring game developer with more than 20 apps under his belt.
The man behind the name: who is Old Chang Kee?
Ironically, there is no such person. The man behind the famous snack chain is Hainanese immigrant Chang Chuan Boo, who set up shop in 1956. He gained fame for his curry puffs at a coffeeshop near Rex Cinema. Locals referred to the snacks as the “Rex Curry Puff”. This business was later bought by Han Keen Juan in 1986, who transformed a small shop along Mackenzie Road to the chain of stores that are well known today. Old Chang Kee was named one of the world’s 20 best fast-food franchises by US-based Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2012.
Blast from the past: Singapore’s first fast food outlet
Fast-food outlets are commonly associated with the golden arches and Colonel Sanders, but for many Singaporeans in the 70s, their first such encounter was in fact A&W (Allen & Wright). A&W was the very first fast-food chain to open in Singapore, bringing in classics such as the Coney Dog, curly fries and the eponymous root beer from America. T A&W ceased its operations in 2003 and Singaporeans have little memory of this pioneering franchise today.
The smell of cocoa in Singapore’s west
Singaporeans travelling to the west of the island might detect the smell of cocoa. L The scent originates primarily from two chocolate factories, Cadbury and ADM Cocoa, 1km from the Boon Lay train station, and which have been in the area for the past two decades. Through roasting, the outer shell of beans open up, and can thus be ground more efficiently into cocoa powder.
Smelly toilets? No way!
From its humble beginnings as the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS), the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) was formed to share information and resources between countries to raise the standards of toilets worldwide. Given the impeccable cleanliness Singapore is known for around the world, it is little surprise that the founder of the RAS and WTO is from Singapore. Despite having an unconventional claim to fame, Mr Jack Sim has received numerous accolades and his efforts have changed the toilets (and lives) worldwide, reaching out to places as far as Samoa.
World’s smallest mammal
Weighing just 2 grams and measuring 29-33 mm in length, Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) is the world’s smallest bat species and also (arguably) the world’s smallest mammal species. First known to the world in 1974, the tiny bat species lives in a handful of limestone caves along rivers in the Kanchanaburi province of western Thailand, foraging for insects in the surrounding forests. Colonies have around 100 individuals per cave, with females producing just one offspring annually.
Sadly, the bat, aka the bumble bat, is classified at risk of extinction,.
Thailand’s national dish?
Phat Thai, aka pad Thai and literally meaning “fried Thai style”, is a stir-fried rice noodle dish, commonly cooked with eggs, tofu, shrimps, tamarind pulp, shallots, chili and fish sauce. For many visitors, phat Thai is their introduction to Thai food and many consider it to be the country’s national dish (although some might contend that tom yum kung takes that honour).
Yet evidence indicates that it is actually not even Thai. Bangkok-based celebrity chef McDang (Sirichalerm Svasti), in an interview for the BBC, said that noodles and stir-frying – the two main elements of phat Thai – arrived in Thailand with Chinese immigrants. He did note that the sauces and pastes used are Thai.
It turns out that the dish was popularised by military strongman Plaek Phibunsongkhram in the 1930s and 1940s in an effort to create a “national dish” as part of his programme of nationalism.
Sombat Metanee - World’s most prolific actor
Sombat Metanee is an 80-year-old legend of the Thai silver screen who for a time was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific movie star ever, performing in an incredible 617 titles.
Introduced to the world of celluloid in 1961, Sombat gained popularity for his good looks, sculpted body and sex appeal. During his heyday in the 1960s and 70s – the golden era of Thai film industry - he often worked on several films at the same time, with almost the same hairstyle in each role. On average, he starred in some 30 films per year covering various genres – action, drama, comedy, romance, rom-com and musical. Frequently paired with lead actress Aranya Namwong, Sombat was also well-known for his singing voice and released a number of movie soundtrack records and albums.
Even today, the veteran actor continues to make an occasional appearance in Thai films and TV soaps, as well as TV commercials.
Bangkok’s “gourmet” fresh market
Most wet markets to be found in Bangkok (actually anywhere in Thailand) are wet, smelly, crowded places where hygiene and quality are not the top priorities. Not so with Or Tor Kor Market (pronounced Aw, Taw, Kaw), the Marketing Organisation for Farmers, in northern Bangkok right next to the world-famous Chatuchak Market.
The bright and airy market recently ranked fourth in a CNN survey of the top 10 best fresh markets in the world, named alongside the likes of La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain; Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo,; and Union Square Farmer’s Market in New York City. According to the report, Or Tor Kor “displays exotic fruits and vegetables that are unique to Thailand as well as imported specialties from around Asia. The market is immaculate and brightly lit, allowing shoppers to easily cruise for seafood, sweets and cooked foods”.
While most of the fruit and vegetables on display look noticeably superior to those found elsewhere in Bangkok, they’re also considerably pricier. To get to the market, exit the MRT at Kamphaeng Phet station and follow the signs. The marke is open daily from 6am to 8pm.
What’s in a nickname?
Unlike people from other nations, almost all Thais have a nickname. Nicknames are common in Thai culture and are normally chosen by parents based on their child’s gender. Thais generally use the nicknames of family members, friends or colleagues instead of their “official” names. There are no specific rules for how parents choose nicknames for their children. Most likely, it’s just a favorite name, and as a result nicknames today are immensely varied.
Nicknames based on the names of animals are among the most popular, ranging from Nok (meaning bird), Kai (chicken), Moo (Pig), Kung (shrimp), Pla (fish), Kwang (deer), Tao (turtle), Kob (frog), Ped (duck), Mod (ant), Singhto (lion) to Norn (worm).
Some nicknames clearly indicate the gender of the person, such as Chai (male), Ying (female), Boy, Man and Num (young man), while others suggest the order of the birth in the family, for example, Ton (beginning), Neung (first or number one), Yai (eldest), Lek (youngest) and Nong (mostly youngest sister).
Auto brands like Benz and Porsche have become popular among boys.
An ethnic group facing extinction
The Si La ethnic group is among the groups with fewest people in Vietnam. With a total population of fewer than 1,000, Si La people live mostly in Mường Tè District in the northen province of Lai Châu and in Mường Nhé District in the northern province of Điện Biên.
The Si La group’s language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family but its usage is dropping and they have no written language.
Hundreds of years ago, their ancestors lived in Lhasa, the capital of today’s Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. They then migrated to Laos before coming to Vietnam.
Men in the group used to dye their teeth red, while women dyed their teeth black, but that custom has died out. The costumes of Si La women are made with metal coins attached to the chest. Their headscafts indicate their ages and marital status. Si La people customarily marry twice. The second ceremony is held one year after the first.
The group is at risk due to inter-marriage.
Where only men could make dresses for women
Around 60km from downtown of capital Hanoi, Trạch Xá village in Ứng Hòa District has been known for its ao dai (Vietnam’s national dress)-making skills for centuries.
A strange feature of this fame, however, has been the fact that the iconic national dress for women was made exclusively by men.
To this day, 90 per cent of the local tailors are men, owing to a long-standing rule in the region: the job was taught only to men.
Explaining the special rule, Nguyễn Văn Nhiên, 84, who has been an ao dai maker for 65 years, said that in the old days, local inhabitants had to go far away to work as tailors to earn their living. Only men could travel as women were not believed strong enough to travel so so far.
Locals also believed that the ao dai designed and tailored by men was more beautiful than those done by women.
Today, villagers do not have to travel to different regions to look for clients. Women also help their husbands do the job.
The only mosque in northern Vietnam is in the centre of the capital
The only mosque in northern Vietnam, named Al-Noor Masjid (The Mosque of Light), is at 12 Hàng Lược Street in Hanoi’s Hoàn Kiếm District.
Over the past 100 years, the mosque has been the destination for Vietnamese and foreign Muslim worshippers. At the beginning of the 19th century, Indian businessmen came to Vietnam on business, and some settled here. In 1885 they started to build the Al-Noor mosque, which is deeply influenced by Indian architecture and culture.
The mosque was officially inaugurated in 1890.
The only place to find squid eggs
Every coastal locality in Vietnam offers visitors many culinary gifts from the sea, but the southernmost province of Cà Mau has a monopoly on squid eggs.
The province’s fishermen fish for squid at night. The catch is put in ice to keep it fresh. Next morning, the squid eggs are taken out and the squid flesh is dried in the sun.
A popular squid egg dish involves mixing it with duck eggs, minced pork and pig’s liver. The mixture is flattened out into small patties, which are sun dried and taken home.
Squid eggs are a luxury because for every 10 to 12kg of fresh squid, you can only get 1kg of eggs.
Underwater sea path
Located in Vân Phong Bay (60km from Nha Trang City in the central province of Khánh Hòa), Điệp Sơn Island is an increasingly attractive destination for many visitors, drawn by its beaches and especially a beautiful “underwater sea path” connecting two islets.
Depending on the time of the visit, the path is either partially submerged in the crystal waters (in the morning during high tide) or completely dry and visible (in the afternoon during low tide).
The rustic island consists of three small separated islets and is home to about 100 households who use it as a base for fishing trips. There are also many hidden coves and caves that are perfect for exploration.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Vientiane Times, The Star, Eleven Media, The Straits Times, The Nation, Viet Nam News and Asia News Network. Information from several online resources was also used in this listicle.