Southeast Asia is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, even with just 10 member states and 2 observers, there are hundreds of languages, tribes, cultures and subcultures within it. There is also much less commonality within the bloc, compared to the European states, who would all readily identify themselves as Europeans, or Africans in Africa. You’d hardly hear someone identify themselves as Southeast Asian. Asian is probably as close as it gets. Making up almost 10% of the world’s population and probably a lot more of its diversity and history, there’s a lot we’d like to know about Southeast Asia beyond the cliches of Western media, and who better to profile this than the venerable National Geographic? So we’ve compiled a list of 5 Southeast Asian documentaries we’d love to see produced on National Geographic!

1. Empires of Southeast Asia

Great empires once existed in Southeast Asia, whether its the Khmer Empire who built the sprawling Angkor complex, or the Sailendra Empire responsible for Borobodur in Indonesia, they deserve more than just stories told by guides at the physical complex to clueless tourists. Flavourful myths are a dime a dozen in their home cities, but not much of its history is accurately told and visualized, a shame to the greatness of these once- flourishing empires.

Khmer Empire

Khmer Empire

2. Southeast Asian Architecture

SEA Architecture has clearly been left out of the books, with even architecture students in SEA having very little of it, besides those in their own home countries. It would be ridiculous for an architect in Germany for example to know very little of Italian renaissance styles or the more modern brutalist styles in Eastern Europe. Yet, the architecture of each Southeast Asian nation is amazing, decorated and storied in its own way. The Cambodians study extensively into Angkor Wat, the Indonesians into Javanese style architecture, and the Burmese even have Pagoda universities to teach, classify and propagate the pagodas that can be seen in every corner of the country. A documentary to look at how these architecture styles emerged through the interactions between these empires as well as the ways they battle the unique ecological climate of SEA would be so appealing.

Myanmar's Pagodas

Myanmar’s Pagodas

3. Lao Rocket Festival

This little known festival in the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos is one of the biggest events in the country. Villagers travel hundreds of kilometres just to take part in this annual event in hope of winning a big prize, given to the team that manages to build the rocket that flies the furthest. Originally held to celebrate the end of the dry season and ‘shake the skies’ for some rain to begin planting rice, it has created a life of its own with people creating rockets of all shapes and manners, hoping to win the prize, while many are hurt in the process of building and launching these amateur rockets holding explosive gunpowder.

Lao rocket festival

Lao rocket festival

4. The South China Sea Disputes

The South China Sea is a region hotly contested by most Southeast Asian Nations, as well as China who recently constructed islands in the middle of the sea just to stamp their authority and inflate their military presence. These artificial islands now boast the biggest military installation in these disputed islands, as well as infrastructure to quickly bring in the big guns, including large airstrips capable of landing B-52 bombers and deep harbours for Aircraft carriers. This sudden move has left most of the other SEA Nations reeling, with their little bases now looking no more like tents in the face of skyscrapers.

China's spanky new island

China’s swanky new island

5. The Papuan Tribes

Papua new guinea is still relatively closed off to the rest of the world, with very little known about the country, or its people. Myths and stories like cannibalism, witch doctors and the like are still associated with this little known country in Southeast Asia. There are even a number of Papuan tribes still undiscovered and have never made contact with the rest of the world. A total of 312 known tribes populate the nation, each with its own unique dress, language, culture and anything you can think of. This photo-series by photographer Jimmy Nelson documented on seeks to document the tribes of the world and help keep them alive while dispelling some myths about them.

The Papuan tribes

The Papuan tribes

Anymore you’d add to the list?


The rider of ox-carts, tarantula-eating, giant crossbow toting founder of Backstreet Academy. Let me know if you have a challenge to add to that and I'll gladly oblige! :)