South East Asia, Land of Gold  सुवर्णभूमि , សុវណ្ណភូមិ

16.04.2020

The Land of Gold

In many old Indian written sources a mysterious place called "Suvarnabhumi" is mentioned, but where Suvarnabhumi was located is subject to much academic debate, but also a topic that has caused an almost infected nationalistic quarrel among the South East Asian (SEA) states of today. In Sanskrit Suvarnabhumi is written सुवर्णभूमि and in Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism, this place is called Suvannaphomi (Khmer: សុវណ្ណភូមិ).

As many of you know, Bangkok airport has this name, but Thailand didn't exist at the time the toponym was first mentioned. Many researchers has the opinion that Sumatra was Suvarnabhumi, because Sumatra was the first place the Indian guests visited. Sumatra also had plenty of gold in the interior at the time. (200 BCE)

Furthermore, Suvarnabhumi, is mentioned in some very old inscriptions from a Cambodian place called Sambor Prei Kuk, so the Cambodians says that they live in the land of Suvannaphom.

Cambodia

Before you plan a trip to Cambodia, make research, it is not really a country for a normal "relaxed standard beach resort holiday", it's more a land of adventure. It's the home of the most original mainland South East Asian culture, a fantastic, but also exhausting country. It is the third most corrupted regime in Asia and one of the poorest countries in the world, and therefore very dirty and polluted. Insfrastructure is under-developed, especially in Phnom Pehn, the capital of traffic infarction! It is, sadly, a country of ecological disaster and the population still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress from the civil war in the 1970s. Additionally, criminality, prostitution and drug abuse is common.

But it is the country of Kampuchea and the fantastic Khmers, the land of Angkor Vat and Angkor Borei. They have the most ancient alphabeth of SEA, it is the parent system of Lao and Thai scripts. Price level is very favourable in Kampuchea and living is laid back. Visa regulations is among the best in the world. So! If you like remote djungels, elephants, strange foods, culture and archeology, history and friendly people, this is the place! A fairly strange place! This is far from the beach in Thailand, the opposite of Singapore and not as orderly as Vietnam. This is the real South East Asia! And, as everywhere, you can of course, find really comfortable hotels. 


(Note: I sometimes use a Swedish based translitteration system for the Khmer language, because French and English is not well suited to do a correct job)

Rajabori Villas, Koh Throng, Kratie, Cambodia (picture from Asia Tours)
Rajabori Villas, Koh Throng, Kratie, Cambodia (picture from Asia Tours)
Terres Rouges Lodge, Banlung, Ratanakiri, Cambodia. (picture from Asia Senses)
Terres Rouges Lodge, Banlung, Ratanakiri, Cambodia. (picture from Asia Senses)
Very priceworthy, Poolside Villa, Phnom Pänj. (picture from Booking.com)
Very priceworthy, Poolside Villa, Phnom Pänj. (picture from Booking.com)
Lovely Seam Siem Reap Hotel. (Picture from Phoenix Travel)
Lovely Seam Siem Reap Hotel. (Picture from Phoenix Travel)

Angkor Vat (Yashodharapura, Barom Visnulok and Angkor Thom)

Before you visit this place, to appreciate the stories of the local guide, you should take part of the "Indian Bible" Mahabarata. It's a way to get some orientation of a culture that most westerners have no idea about. The great epic story of Ramayana is the next step to achieve cultural competence. Ramayana is extremely popular in SEA and comes with the blood, children are brought up with stories from that extensive epic. A brief orientation of the mythology is very useful to, because the pantheon is very large. A good site to do that is here:  https://sailingstonetravel.com/decoding-the-symbolism-of-angkor/

Indonesia

The story of Indonesia started in Taiwan, as far as we know. There, the Proto-Indonesians, or Austronesians, started their migration around 2000 BCE (Nobody really knows exactly). Aproximately 500 CE they reached Madagascar and all the Pacific islands. That's why the Austronesian languages are spoken in so many places. ( The Maoris of New Zeeland are also Austronesian). The first archeologically fairly well known cu    The Austronesians ruled the sea, and soon they dominated the trade passing throw the Malacca strait. Chinese porcelain and silk went west, indian artifacts and monks went east. South East Asia itself contributed with gold and rice, among other things. From around 600CE to 1200CE the Malayu speaking Srivijaya empire, with vassals, dominated, but for shure, others traded to. Arabs, Persians and Chinese for example. The Chinese traders were often Hokkien, and thats why Indonesian has Hokkien loan words incorporated in the vocabulary. Tamils from south India was presnt to, and both the Chola empire and the Pallava kings had great influence on all of South East Asia, and the Indianasion of that part of the world.

The Sumatra based Srivijaya was very influential and contributed substantially to the development of South East Asia. They had vassals in Vietnam (Champa), Cambodia (Chenla) and Java (Sailendra). The Malayu speaking Srivijaya made the Malayu language a lingua franca in the harbours and that is a main factor behind the success of Bahasa Indonesia. But Srivijaya also ruled the river mouths of Malaysia, Thailand and Borneo. During those days nobody could pass the Malacca strait without paying taxes to the Malays of Palembang.

Further Reading:

The Indianized states of South East Asia, George Coedes.

A Short history of Cambodia, John Tully.

Several titles by Michael Vickery.

Lost goddesses, the Denial of Female Power in Cambodian History, Trudy Jacobsen.

In Swedish:

Burmas Historia och Thailands Historia, Bertil Lintner