Rivers in Southeast Asia

MEKONG RIVER  Agriculture and Fishery. The rich river soil and water sustain agriculture and fishery. More than 10 million hectares of cultivated land is used for growing rice, the main staple for most Southeast Asians.The Mekong is one of the world’s huge rivers. Along with its two sisters, Salween and Yangtze, it drains the eastern watershed of the Tibetan Plateau. The three rivers flow parallel to each other along a narrow strip of deep gorges and high ridges known as the “Three Parallel Rivers Heritage Site”. They then diverge downstream, so that Salween eventually discharges into the Andaman Sea, Yangtze into the East China Sea, and Mekong into the South China Sea. (MRC 2010a: 5) Millions of people living in different areas of the Mekong Basin depend on the waters and the diverse river products for food, income, livelihood opportunities and their way of life. Among the benefits the Mekong offers include:

Forests. Forests in the Mekong Basin support biodiversity and prevent or lessen the occurrences of calamities like flood, landslide and soil erosion.

Wetlands. Wetlands in the Mekong Basin host many unique ecosystems that significantly contribute to agriculture and fishery. Aside from these benefits, they also absorb floodwater that could otherwise cause disaster during the wet season.

Trade and Transport. For many years, the river has been an important passage for people and goods between the many towns along its bank. These days, it is becoming a major international trade route mainly because it is a lot cheaper to go by water than by land when transporting large volumes of cargo over long distances.

Other Names: Lhanchang or Lanchang (China), Nam Khong or Nam Kong (Lao PDR), Tonle Thum (Cambodia) and Cuu Long (Vietnam)
Countries: China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam
Origin: Eastern Highlands of the Tibetan Plateau
Outflow: South China Sea
Length: 4,909 kilometres
Basin: 810,000 square kilometers

The Salween is one of the longest free-flowing rivers of Southeast Asia (WWF, n.d.). It originates from the eastern highlands of the Tibetan Plateau, then flows through the “Three Parallel Rivers Heritage Site” in China before becoming the Salween in Thailand and Myanmar, and finally emptying into the Andaman Sea (IRN 2013). In China, the river cuts deep into the earth, creating a magnificent sight of a 4,000-metre deep gorge known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” or “China’s Grand Canyon (IRN 2012).


Other Names: Nu Jiang or “Angry River” (China), Salwine or Salawin (Thailand) and Nu or Thanlwin (Myanmar)
Countries: China, Thailand and Myanmar
Origin: Eastern Highlands of the Tibetan Plateau
Outflow: Andaman Sea
Length: 2,400 kilometres
Basin: 320,000 square kilometres