Sate“Being geographically located near each other, it is inevitable for Southeast Asian countries to influence each other in many different aspects. In fact, this influence can be traced hundreds of years ago”

The interaction among Southeast Asians in the past has led to several influences that can still be seen until now. Let us take a closer look at how similar some Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand are in terms of food, culture, religion, language, and lifestyle in general.


Malay and Thai dishes are mostly spicy. Special dishes coming from each country can be easily found in the other country. Northern Malaysia in particular almost has the exact types of food that Thai people love. Filipino dishes, on the other hand, tend to be sweet and salty. However, despite such differences, there are still certain dishes that are common to the other countries. The Filipino barbecue and Malaysian satay are more or less the same. Filipinos love “inihaw” or grilled meat, which is also very popular in Thailand. Fried noodles are common to all these countries. The “Bihun” or rice noodle has the same name both in the Philippines and Malaysia, though it is spelled with an “o” in the Philippines. The big noodles are called “koey teow” in Malaysia and are also very popular in Thailand as “sen yai” but you will  be understood even if you call it “koey teow.” Rice is also a staple food in these countries. Each country has its own version of fried rice. In Malaysia, it is called “nasi goreng.” It is “sinangag” in the Philippines and in Thailand, it is called “khao phat.” The taste is also more or less the same, made unique by the addition of other ingredients.


A lot of cultural celebrations and practices in these three countries are mainly influenced by a dominant religion. It is Islam in Malaysia, Buddhism in Thailand, and Christianity in the Philippines. Though they have diverse beliefs, it can be easily observed that they all are prayerful. The number of mosques, churches and temples present in each of these countries reflect just how prayerful the people are.

Greetings are also an essential part of these countries’ culture. For Thais, they have to make the “Sawadee” gesture each time they meet someone, especially those who are older than them. In Malaysia, it is common for men to do a handshake followed by a slight touching of their heart when they meet. For women, kissing on both cheeks is usually done. For Filipinos, making “mano” to the elderly is a sign of respect. This is where they take either hand of the elderly and put it to their foreheads. This is also done for elders in Malaysia. It is also common for Filipinos to hug and kiss each other on the cheeks especially if they have not met for a long time or they are about to say goodbye.

Festivals are likewise very common in these countries and are present almost the entire year. Most provinces and states also have their own form of celebration for different reasons. However, in Malaysia the biggest celebration is the Hari Raya. This is a 3-day celebration done at the end of the Ramadan season. The Philippines, being a dominantly Christian country, has Christmas as its biggest celebration. Filipinos, working abroad, go home just to be a part of this celebration. In Thailand, Songkran Festival, or the Thai New Year, is their biggest  celebration. However, despite different celebrations being done, all three countries celebrate it with lots of food, going home to pay respect to the elderly and gathering of families.


KuilMalays have a very huge influence on Filipinos as they have served as the backbone of Filipino culture even before colonization began. This is the reason why the Filipino language has a lot of similarities with that of the Bahasa Melayu. Some of these words include puti (F), putih (M), which means white, payong (F), payung (M) which means umbrella, and gunting (same for both) which means scissors. Some Malay words are the same with certain Filipino dialects. Examples are dua (M), duwa (Cebuano) or two and telinga (M), talinga (Ilonggo) which means ears. Malaysia and Thailand do not just have similar words, but a lot of Malay can speak Thai and the other way around, especially for those who live near the border. If you go to Kelantan and Perlis in Malaysia or Songkhla in Thailand, this is very evident. Thais also use  the word “kub” for men and “kha” for women to indicate politeness. Filipinos also use the words “po” or “opo” to indicate the same. These words don’t have a literal meaning, but are used to sound more polite. Surprisingly, there are words that are almost the same in all  languages. The word “this” in Malaysia is “ini”, in Thai is “a ni”, and in Cebuano (a regional language in the Philippines), it’s “ini”.


Currently, all these countries are heading towards modernization through development of various industries. The people have moved  forward as well in terms of technology and its use in education, communication, and transportation. However, for all three countries, it is still very common to see extended families since they all prefer to live with their parents even if they already have a family of their own; something that is not that common somewhere else. When it comes to fashion, most Malays still remain modest and conservative. Though Thais and Filipinos have been greatly influenced by Western culture, a lot of them still preserve their traditional way of dressing up.

Indeed, these neighboring Southeast Asian countries have great influence on each other. Thus, until now, they remain close and have strong cultural ties. There are also some bilateral projects being funded by each government to help the other. This kind of friendship that took  hundreds of years in the making will definitely remain strong for the years to come.

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