The Neolithic lasted from c.9000 BC to c.2100 BC, the Bronze Age from 2100 BC (Ban Chiang, Thailand) to c.500 BC, when the Iron Age began (Dong Son, Vietnam). Rice was to become the staple food for the civilizations dwelling in the plains.
Early polities in the territory of modern Cambodia include Funan (1st century to 550) and Chenla (6th century-802); the latter was succeeded by the Khmer Empire (802-1431), which also included most of modern Thailand and Laos. Tonkin long had been under Chinese rule and only in 938 achieved independence as Dai Viet. Much of the territory of modern Vietnam was covered by the Kingdom of Champa. Early polities in Burma include the Pyu City States on the Irawaddy (2nd century BCE to 1050), the Pagan Dynasty (Upper Burma 849-1297) and the Mon Kingdom of Thaton (9th century to 1050). Dvaravati in Thailand (6th to 13th century) was also of importance.
Foreign religious respectively philosophical concepts gained followers among the population of Southeast Asia, most notably Hinduism and Buddhism, and, limited to Dai Viet, Confucianism. As a consequence, Writing was introduced to the region. In early Southeast Asia, a synchretic form of Hinduism emerged in which Buddha was treated as just another god in the Hindu pantheon. In the Khmer Empire and Champa, the dominant form of Buddhism was Mahayana (and would be replaced by Theravada in the 13th century); in the Pyu States and Dvaravati, the absence of signs of such a religious revolution seems to indicate that the Theravada school of Buddhism had been more acceptable to the regional priesthood. In Dai Viet, the Confucian state examination system was introduced in 1075.
The Political Landscape : The central position was held by the Khmer Empire, which stretched over modern Cambodia, much of modern Thailand and Laos and part of Vietnam (the Mekong Delta). Its rivals included Champa, Ayutthaya (est. 1351), Sukhothai (est. 1238). Burma was ruled by the Pagan Dynasty (849-1297), while Arakan and Hanthawaddy (Pegu) were still independent.
The emergence and growth of the Mongol Empire had a strong impact on Southeast Asia. Thai historiography has the Thai polities of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya descend from The Kingdom of Nanzhao (also Kingdom of Dali, conquered by the Mongols in 1253). Burma suffered Mongol invasions 1277-1301, which caused the fall of the Pagan Dynasty and the disintegration of the country into smaller polities (out of which the Ava Dynasty 1364-1555 was the most important). Only Dai Viet was able to defeat three successive Mongol invasions in 1257-1258, 1284-1285 and 1287-1288. In the 15th century, Champa lost much of its territory to Dai Viet; Dai Viet disintegrated (Tonkin, Annam); the Khmer Empire ended, much of her territory having seceded (Kingdom of Lanxang est. 1354, Kingdom of Ayutthaya est. 1351) or having been conquered by Ayutthaya 1431; the remainder formed the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The Religious Landscape : Khmer ruler Jayavarman VII (1181-1215) attempted to make Mahayana Buddhism the religion of the Khmer. In the 13th century, monks who had studied in Sri Lanka spread Theravada Buddhism, which became dominant in the Khmer Empire and became the dominant school of Buddhism in Champa, at the expense of Mahayana.
Following the establishment of Muslim rule in Bengal (1203), a Muslim community gradually grew in adjacent Arakan.
The Political Landscape : Major regional powers were Burma (Toungoo Dynasty 1510-1752, Konbaung Dynasty 1752-1885), Siam (Ayutthaya Kingdom 1351-1767, Thonburi Kingdom 1768-1782, Rattanakosin Kingdom 1782-1932), Annam (Nguyen Dynasty, 1558-1777, Tay Son Dynasty 1778-1802) and Tonkin (Later Le Dynasty, 1428-1788). Champa in 1471 had lost much of its territory to Dai Viet, the predecessor of Annam and Tonkin, and in 1832 finally was annexed by Annam (which had annexed Tonkin in 1802). In 1431 the Khmer Empire after a disastrous defeat at the hands of Ayutthaya, was terminated; its successor Cambodia entered the Cambodian Dark Ages (-1859), having to pay tribute to both Siam and Annam. The Ayutthaya Kingdom annexed Sukhothai in 1448, Chiengmai in 1774. On the Upper Mekong, the Lanxang (1354-1707) disintegrated in 1707 into the Kingdoms of Champassak (1713-1946), Luang Prabang (1707-1949) and Viangchan (Vientiane, 1707-1828, when it was annexed by Siam).
Burma had annexed the Kingdom of Hanthawaddy (Pegu) in 1539, Arakan in 1785.
The Religious Landscape : In Burma, Siam, Chiangmai, the Laotian states (Lanxang, Champassak (1713-1946), Luang Prabang, Viangchan and Cambodia, Theravada was dominant since the 1200s. In Arakan, Annam, Tonkin it was influential.
Hinduism was influential in Arakan and Champa, but lost ground to Islam in both areas in the 16th to 17th century. Hindu sculptures were still produced in the early 16th century in what is now Thailand.
Islam spread in Arakan and Champa, mainly at the expense of Hinduism.
Christian missionaries made an impact in the Vietnamese kingdoms of Cochinchina and Annam.
The Economy : Agriculture was dominant; crafts and trade were of some importance. In a feudal economy, production of certain items was often organized as a monopoly owned by a royal relative. European merchants visited, established trading factories.
The East India Company (Bengal Presidency) annexed Arakan and Tenasserim from Burma in 1826, Lower Burma (Pegu) in 1852. In 1859/1863 France declared protectorates over Cochinchina and Cambodia. In 1883-1885 France extended her rule over Annam and Tonkin. In 1886 Britain, which in 1858 had taken over from the East India Company, completed the conquest and annexation of Burma. In 1893 France declared a protectorate over Laos; in the same year, Britain and France agreed over Siam being a buffer state. In 1907 respectively 1909, France and Britain coerced Siam to make territorial concessions.
Colonialism in mainland Southeast Asia was more intense in some areas than in others; British influence within (an administratively reunited) Burma was strongest around important seaports, in the Irawaddy valley And at places of economic importance, such as plantations and mines; it was comparatively weak in economically less significant mountain regions. French influence was strongest in the lowland regions of Cochinchina, French Annam and Tonkin, much less felt in Cambodia, Laos and the mountainous areas of Cochinchina, French Annam and Tonkin.
Siam, nominally independent, pursued a policy of modernization, often employing Westerners as administrators, and at times implementing political reforms “suggested” by foreign, often British diplomats. Historians regard Siam during the years 1893 to 1932 part of the British Informal Empire.
Postcolonial Era, since 1948
For Thailand, modern history began with the coup of 1932 and the subsequently implemented reforms. Burma was released into independence in 1948, Cambodia and Laos in 1953, North and South Vietnam in 1954, following the French military defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
During the Cold War, North Vietnam sided with the USSR and pursued a policy aiming at the destabilization of South Vietnam and the reunification of Vietnam, which was achieved in 1975. Burma pursued a policy of isolation, while Thailand, while staying out of the Vietnam War, pursued a policy of modernization; Thailand is a founder-member of ASEAN (1967).