For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers 'til you starve
Then your head is skewered on a stake.
Southeast Asia is a rich land of many cultures and nations. Myanmar/Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, The Philippines and Indonesia (and Singapore, Brunei and Timor Leste).
And that's the thing: The West's cultural experience with Southeast Asia is usually limited to the leftovers of The Vietnam War. In the minds of many people outside of the region, Southeast Asia (minus Thailand) is a land of steamy jungles, guerrilla warfare, and all sorts of violence and atrocities. Add vice for taste; affairs between American servicemen and native Vietnamese women are notorious, and it's not for nothing that Thailand has a reputation for sex tourism; as does the Philippines, often a blazing target for high-profile Western pedophiles and cybersex criminals. Furthermore, it appears that Southeast Asia doesn't exist below the sixth parallel - one might get to see the Petronas Twin Towers, but that's about it.
So, when a piece of media goes to Southeast Asia, it usually goes on a Holiday In Cambodia. The setting will either be little jungle villages with wooden huts or cities so seedy they leave marks on the screen. Vice will be both upheld and punished, with the main characters either being told "Me love you long time" by a woman (very often a prostitute) who may or may not have a vagina, or being thrown in some Hellhole Prison on drug charges. If you venture outside the cities, expect your main means of transportation to be a worn-out old Huey or decommissioned River Patrol Boat leftover from "the war", or some sort of ramshackle, shoddily made vehicle "borrowed" from the locals. And someone, some time, is getting a gun in the face. Oh, and there may be elephants.
If you mix this trope with a strong dose of Latin Land and Tropical Island Adventure, a shot of East Indies, and in the major urban areas a sprinkling of Americasia, you'll get something like the Philippines, though for what it's worth, that country is mixed with so many and so disparate cultural influencesowing to nearly 500 years of Western colonialism more pervasive than almost any other country in the regionthat it's a challenge to even represent at all, let alone accurately, in most media. Just for one example, there are no ancient temples anywhere in the Philippinesthey're all Catholic churches, plus a few mosques left over from the days when Islamic kingdoms ruled there.
- Black Lagoon centers on the fictional Thai city of Roanapur, where it seems like every body of organized crime in existence has a controlling stake.
- Saito is implied to be a connoisseur of such vacations (the sexual side anyway) in Beck.
Koyuki: He extended his vacation again? What is it about Southeast Asia that makes middle-aged men so crazy?
- Barangay 143, a Filipino Anime focused on a basketball team playing in the Manila slums.
- The Marvel Universe has the fictional country of Madripoor, a state so corrupt that a terrorist/assassin-for-hire served as its ruler. And then she was deposed by HYDRA, which means it's gone from one end of fresh hell to the other.
- Marvel Universe has also created the Siancong War, set in a fictional Southeast Asian country, to serve as the setting for the origin stories of various heroes like Tony Stark or Frank Castle.note The war is said to have started as a Cold War proxy conflict between the communist and capitalist blocs, but over time was extended through the machinations of Asian supervillains like the Mandarin, who had their own designs on the country and its resources.
- The Vertigo miniseries Vertigo Pop! Bangkok centers around two American tourists who are fully exposed to the seedier sides of Thailand's sex tourism trade.
- You wouldn't expect a Disney comic to take place in such a locale, but in Carl Barks' "The Treasure of Marco Polo", (written in 1966), Scrooge McDuck's adventure in search of the eponymous treasure takes him to the war-torn, vaguely Vietnamese country of Unsteadystan, where he butts heads with warlord Wan Beeg Rhat.
- Buck Danny: quite possibly the most oft-recurring setting in the series.
- The longest story arc in the original World War Two stories involved the heroes being shot down in Japanese-occupied Indochina while carrying secret documents, and having to trek through the jungle for weeks to return to their base in China. This means escaping not only from Japanese troops, but also Chinese pirates, hostile Hmong tribesmen, and a highly dramatized version of Japan's Black Dragon Society. Not to mention the occasional tiger, crocodile, or herd of buffalos.
- In a later story arc, they were deployed to the fictional nation of Vien Tan, depicted as being in the midst of a civil war. On the one side is the U.S. friendly but fairly ineffective monarchy the heroes are sent to support. On the other is a rebellion led by the king's nephew, supported by foreign mercenaries, and orchestrated by a Nebulous Evil Organization trying to control the nation's resources.
- A few stories after that, we find them in another fictional nation, North Sarawak. It's portrayed as a dictatorship hostile to Western governments, but sheltering a massive opium plantation run by the American Mafia... which, by way of thanks, not only offers the dictator a cut of the profits, but has equipped him with a force of modern jet fighters and mercenary pilots which made him "the most powerful ruler in Borneo."
- Finally, the region's Ruthless Modern Pirates are a recurring villain in stories set after World War Two. They're portrayed as rich and powerful, allied with several regional despots, and very well equipped thanks to their access to dozens of hidden caches of weapons and equipment abandoned by the Japanese throughout the Pacific. The North Sarawak story arc also reveals that the local pirate community have long been partnered with the international mercenary Lady X, Buck Danny's nemesis, whose wartime connections in the Imperial Japanese Navy allowed the pirates to locate those caches in the first place.
- The fourth story arc in Largo Winch has Largo traveling to Burma and seeking help from Chinese Triads and Chan separatists to break his best friend Simon out of a jungle fortress after he's framed as a Cop Killer. It turns out to have been a scheme by the Burmese secret police and a corrupt CIA station chief, with the ultimate aim of using Largo and the escaped prisoners to discover the home base of the Chan guerrillas and the identity of their leaders. This would have allowed them to crush the rebellion once and for all... and left them in control of the opium with which the rebels had been funding themselves.
- Ambush Bug should be brought to Nuremberg for wanton cruelty to this trope. It destroys it like Agent Orange the jungle. Hukka Mandoraid!
- The Killing Fields, obviously. Played straight with Spalding Gray's Swimming To Cambodia, which talks about his adventures in Thailand between shooting days.
Farewell, to the fantastic breakfasts, free every morning. You walked down and there they are waiting on you with the papaya, mango, and pineapple like I'd never tasted before. Farewell, to the Thai maids with the king-sized cotton sheets and the big king-sized beds. Farewell, to the lunches. Fresh meat flown in from America, daily. Roast potatoes, green beans and roast lamb, at 110 degrees under a circus tent, according to British Equity. Farewell to the drivers with the tinted glasses and the Mercedes with the tinted windows. Farewell to the cakes, and teas and ices every day exactly at four o'clock. Farewell to those beautiful smiling people. Farewell to that single, fresh rose in a vase on my bureau in the hotel every day. And just as I was climbing into that first-class seat, and wrapping myself in a blanket, just as I was adjusting the pillow from behind my head, and having a sip of that champagne, and just as I was adjusting and bringing down my Thai purple sleep mask, I had an inkling, I had a flash. I suddenly thought I knew what it was that had killed Marilyn Monroe.
- The documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. Rithy Panh, the documentary's director, makes a cameo in a French film set in Cambodia, Holy Lola, specifically in order to provide a Real Life perspective on the nightmare that country went through within living memory.
- The James Bond feature The Man with the Golden Gun, where he travels to Thailand to question a possible associate of Scaramanga, the businessman Hai Fat.
- Air America depicts the secret operations conducted by the US in Laos during the Vietnam War, complete with rampant corruption, drug smuggling and gunrunning.
- Tropic Thunder is being shot in Vietnam, but when the director gets tired of the actors primadonna antics, he dumps them in the jungle. At one point the Only Sane Man deduces they've passed the border, being in Laos or Cambodia.
- Though curiously, the opium growers the actors encounter and are eventually captured by speak poorly accented Mandarin Chinese.
- This becomes a (hilarious) plot point: Kirk Lazarus is able to distract the gate guards long enough with increasingly crappier Chinese until they become suspicious of him.
- The Villain Protagonist of American Gangster gets his drugs from Vietnam. The scenes there focus on the peasant villages with wooden huts and the general anarchy of the Vietnam War.
- Similarly, the Amsterdam Triad in the 80s film China White gets their heroin from guerillas in an unidentified Southeast Asian nation in exchange for rocket launchers.
- Brokedown Palace presents a somewhat more grim variant of the above scenario, with the two female leads thrown into a Thai women's prison with no chance for parole after a fling sneaks large amounts of heroin into one's luggage.
- Bangkok Hilton (the real prison associated with that nickname, where The Other Wiki claims that Death Row prisoners have their leg-chains welded together, is all-male)
- Holly is about an American in Cambodia who discovers the sordid world of child prostitution, and decides to rescue a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl from that grim fate.
- Bangkok Dangerous: Politics in Thailand involve hiring hit men to dispose of troublemaking politicians.
- while in On the Job, set in the Philippines, the politicians hire the hit men to dispose of troublemaking rivals.
- Dien Bien Phu is a film about the eponymous battle that sealed the fate of French Indochina.
- The 2011 The Lady is a Biopic of Burmese democracy activist (and now politician) Aung San Suu Kyi (played by Michelle Yeoh), and as such, it depicts her struggle against the military junta in power in her native Myanmar.
- Referenced in Three Seasons: An American veteran of the Vietnam War goes to Saigon in order to find the grown daughter he had with a local prostitute, and whom he left behind when he went back to the US.
- The Hangover Part II is set in Bangkok, which is portrayed exactly like this trope.
- Apocalypse Now is probably the Trope Codifier.
- Only God Forgives is probably the crappiest holiday in Thailand anyone's ever gone through.
- Wish You Were Here is about two young couples of Aussies who decides to go visiting, and partying, in Sihanoukville in Cambodia. They get into more and more trouble.
- Bad Genius is set mostly in modern, urban Thailand. While it doesn't focus much on Bangkok's urban squalor, as most of the action is set in reasonably maintained school settings, it does feature scenes in a huge dumpsite, where one of the characters is assaulted by paid thugs.
- BuyBust, set in the drug-addled underbellies of modern Metro Manila.
- The Quiet American sticks to the cities of Vietnam, but focuses on the upcoming turmoil that will lead to the Vietnam War. Notably, it was actually written before the Vietnam War began, which can lead to a good deal of Harsher in Hindsight for modern readers.
- The Ugly American features the fictional country of Sarkhan (an Expy of Vietnam with cultural trappings of Burma/Myanmar and Thailand), but also contains scenes in those other countries.
- Burmese Days, naturally enough, is set in Burma/Myanmar, specifically during the late 1920s as a British colony and extension of The Raj.
- Bangkok 8 is centered on Bangkok's red light district, and the sequels follow Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep as he explores the other seedy aspects of Bangkok living.
- Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason has a scene where Bridget, on vacation in Thailand, is unknowingly made into a drug mule by a fling of one of her friends and ends up in your average Thai prison hellhole.
- The Beach, beginning with a seedy Bangkok hotel. Interestingly, the tourist industry around the Phi Phi Islands, where the bulk of the movie adaptation was filmed, seems quite proud of the movie and it is still possible to visit remnants of the set.
- Nayan Chanda's book Brother Enemy is focused on the international relations of Cambodia, Vietnam, and China after the fall of Saigon up to 1986.
- Smaller & Smaller Circles is set in the vast slums of metropolitan Manila, capital of the Philippines, in The '90s.
- Alex Rider: In Snakehead, Alex has to inflitrate a Southeast Asian people smuggling ring. He travels to Bangkok where, in addition to to dealing with the people smugglers, he is forced to fight in an underground Muay Thai tournament.
- The main characters of The A-Team were the most successful American special forces unit of the Vietnam War, until they were framed by a corrupt superior for knocking over the Bank of Hanoi. They return to Vietnam in the season 4 finale, when General Fulbright (the officer who up until then had been responsible for capturing them) hires them to help save the daughter he left behind there.
- The almost literal backstory of lead character Harmon Rabb: his father was shot down during the Vietnam War, but never confirmed dead. When he was sixteen, Harm ran away to Laos to try to locate his father, or at least find clues that might prove that he was still alive.
- Several of the older characters on the show also served in the war. Most notably Admiral Chegwiddin, Harm's superior officer, who was a SEAL during the conflict, and Admiral Boone, a recurring character who flew a fighter at the time.
- Jack from Lost holidays in Thailand in one of his flashbacks. Apparently, in Lost, Thailand is made entirely of naive 8-year-old boys and psychic tattooists. Incidentally, they manage to split the difference on the surroundings: he gets a quiet jungle hut... right in the middle of a seedy city.
- The title character of MacGyver served in the Vietnam War, as did many other characters in the show, and its legacy crops up in the series from time to time. Most notably in the season 5 episode Second Chance, where his friend Jesse Coulton goes to Thailand to retrieve the son he had with a Vietnamese woman, who's now mixed up in a local black market ring run by former American servicemembers.
- No Reservations and its predicessor A Cook's Tour beat Top Gear to the punch by some years. Tony loves this part of the world (except Cambodia was kinda lame), has been to both cities and the jungle and wants to live in Vietnam. For chefs in general, Southeast Asia is a mind-blowing place to visit (for those of us stuck elsewhere, find a good pho resturant, trust me).
- Exception: When the Top Gear boys went motorcycling through Vietnam for the 2008 Christmas special they acknowledged it would be a disservice to history not to refer to The Vietnam War and its legacy, but at the same time presented the country as so much more than "that place where a war happened".
- Although not shown in the series, Daisy of Spaced goes on a holiday in Vietnam. We only see vague photo snaps. She later gets caught out by a dole interviewer when she wears her souvenir T-shirt to sign on (he just happens to speak Vietnamese).
- Serangoon Road depicts Singapore in the mid-1960s, before it became a wealthy city-state, and had its share of seedy dives, unsafe back alleys, intercommunal violence and the odd terrorist bombing.
- The Dead Kennedys' song "Holiday in Cambodia", the Trope Namer, uses this trope for grim satirical contrast, with vocalist Jello Biafra inviting pretentious, insensitive American college students to take a holiday to Pol Pot's regime, to find out what it's really like.
- Kim Wilde's Cambodia is about a pilot who returns from Cambodia with a Thousand-Yard Stare. He doesn't return from his next mission.
- Rising Storm 2: Vietnam, plays this straight, being set in various Vietnamese towns, cities, villages, forested regions, etc. Hue City in particular is depicted as a run-down shanty town, even before the NVA and VC arrive.
- Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days follows this trope in spirit, being centered entirely around the exploits of the titular duo as they attempt to oversee an arms deal in the most crime-ridden part of Shanghai, China before being chased through ever-seedier back alleys by just about every dude in the city with a gun (and one dude with a box cutter).
- In Wasted Youth, Mr. Stouffer breaks down into a "Vietnam flashback" while giving a speech, during which time he reveals that he slept with a transvestite while on vacation in Vietnam.
- The training level of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation takes place in Angkor Wat. In the backstory of the Crystal Dynamics trilogy, Richard Croft was killed by Natla in Cambodia.
- Just Cause 2's Panau surely fits the definition.
- King of the Hill has a Laotian character, Kahn, as the neighbors of the main characters. The show mostly averts this trope, until the episode where another well-to-do Laotian convinces Kahn that his life is meaningless because he embraces American culture, and convinces him to join a Laotian resistance force that will one day go back to free their brethren. That suggests Kahn is Hmong, with a clearly Laotian family name. Huh. Somewhat a subversion in that the person invoking the trope, the well-to-do Laotian, Ted, is even more assimilated than Kahn, and doing this for the benefit of his community's place in American society, rather than because he cares or even knows what is going on in Laos. He outright states the reason he is forming his paramilitary group to gain notoriety for Laotian immigrants by emulating the Cuban exile community. He invokes this trope to create parallels to the Cuban La Résistance by likewise opposing the communist government in his home country.