Land use/land cover change, particularly that of tropical deforestation and forest degradation, has been occurring at an unprecedented rate and scale in Southeast Asia. The rapid rate of economic development, demographics and poverty are believed to be the underlying forces responsible for the change. Accurate and up-to-date information to support the above statement is, however, not available. The available data, if any, are outdated and are not comparable for various technical reasons. Time series analysis of land cover change and the identification of the driving forces responsible for these changes are needed for the sustainable management of natural resources and also for projecting future land cover trajectories. We analysed the multi-temporal and multi-seasonal NOAA Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) satellite data of 1985/86 and 1992 to (1) prepare historical land cover maps and (2) to identify areas undergoing major land cover transformations (called ‘hot spots’). The identified ‘hot spot’ areas were investigated in detail using high-resolution satellite sensor data such as Landsat and SPOT supplemented by intensive field surveys. Shifting cultivation, intensification of agricultural activities and change of cropping patterns, and conversion of forest to agricultural land were found to be the principal reasons for land use/land cover change in the Oudomxay province of Lao PDR, the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and the Loei province of Thailand, respectively. Moreover, typical land use/land cover change patterns of the ‘hot spot’ areas were also examined. In addition, we developed an operational methodology for land use/land cover change analysis at the national level with the help of national remote sensing institutions.