The Longest Rivers Of Asia

By Alice Chen on October 5 2020 in Geography

The Yangtze River in China.
  • The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia, stretching for 3,915 miles.
  • The Mekong River crosses through many borders passing through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
  • The Yellow River, Asia's second longest, plays an important role in improving the ecological environment of the areas it passes through.

Since ancient times, rivers have played a crucial role in the development of human society. These rushing streams of water bring with them the element necessary to grow crops while also providing a supply of relatively clean drinking water. Even technological advancements have moved us beyond the need to build cities near water sources, rivers and waterways still continue to be a critical part of major societal institutions, from the production of electricity to access to food sources.

Asia is a massive continent with rivers interlinking all over its sizable landmass. Historically, its major rivers have played an essential role in providing freshwater, fertile soil, food, and transportation to people many generations past. Even now, the benefits of good land to farm, transportation, and potential energy gathered from watermills still act as an incentive to live near rivers. Plus, rivers continue to house some of the most diverse and endangered wildlife on Earth. Their unique habitat allows for rare plants and animals to take root. And in some areas, the rivers continue to play an important role in people's livelihoods, particularly those of fishers living off the land. From a more ecological perspective, rivers carry water and nutrients and drain surface water. Suffice it to say, rivers are important for many reasons. Here are some of the largest waterways in Asia.

1. Yangtze River - 3,915 miles

Yangtze River, China. Image credit: Daniel Doerfler/Shutterstock

The Yangtze is the largest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world, with a whopping 3,915 miles (6,300 km) of length. It starts in the Plateau of Tibet before moving through 11 provinces to get to the East China Sea. In fact, it also serves as the border for several of these provinces. Most of the river is hard to see as over 75% of it runs through the mountains.

2. Yellow River - 3,395 miles

Yellow River, China. Image credit: Ian Winslow/Shutterstock

The Yellow River, also called Huang He, is also in China. It is 3,395 miles (5,464 km) long and starts in the Qinghai province. From there it crosses over six other provinces as well as two autonomous regions to get to the Gulf of Chihli, also called Bo Hai, which is an embayment of the Yellow Sea, itself a part of the North Pacific ocean. Its turbulent dangerous waters have given it the names "China's Sorrow" and "The Ungovernable."

3. Mekong River - 3,050 miles

Mekong River, border of Thailand and Laos. Image credit: Nakornthai/Shutterstock

The Mekong River crosses through many borders, going from southeastern China through Tibet and Yunnan province to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, then finally to Vietnam and draining into the South China Sea. It comprises part of the border between Myanmar and Laos, and Laos and Thailand. It's the longest Southeast Asian river, coming in at 3,050 miles (4,909 km). Its name varies from country to country, but it is most recognized outside of Asia by its Chinese name.

4. Lena River - 2,668 miles

Lena River, Russia. Image credit: FotoSovushka/Shutterstock

Lena River is found entirely within the borders of Russia and has a total length of 2,668 miles (4,294 km). It is located in the north and is found in an area with plentiful wildlife and natural resources, like gold. The river starts in the Baikal range, slightly east of the Baikal Lake itself, and flows mainly through the Russian Republic of Sakha, eventually joining the Yenisei River before going in a large arc up to the Laptev Sea which is part of the Arctic Ocean, where it ends.

5. Irtysh River - 2,640 miles

Irtysh River, Russia. Image credit: Aleksander Karpenko/Shutterstock

The fifth-longest waterway in Asia is the Irtysh River. It originates from glaciers on the Altai Mountains of Xinjiang province in China, right on the border with Mongolia, before passing westward across the northern corner of the Chinese territory and through Kazakhstan, where it flows northwest in the Eastern tip of the country and is known as the Ertis River. It then crosses into Russia before eventually making its way to the Ob River in western Siberia. It comes in at a sizable length of 2,640 miles (4,248 km).

6. Brahmaputra River - 2,391 miles

Brahmaputra River Tibet, China. Image credit: Meiqianbao/Shutterstock

Brahmaputra River goes through the countries of China, India, and Bangladesh over the course of 2,391 miles (3,848 km). It flows towards the east through the Tibet Autonomous Region of China from its source in the Himalayas then into India to an intersection with the smaller Gange river. From there, the shared stream empties out in the Bay of Bengal. In the course of its journey, it passes through Assam and Bangladesh.

7. Ob River - 2,268 miles

Ob River, Russia. Image credit: Starover Sibiriak/Shutterstock

Ob River is 2,268 miles (3,650 km) long and is entirely located within Russia, specifically the central portion. It flows north and west across western Siberia in a corkscrew diagonally down from its head in the Altai Mountains on the border with Kazakhstan, all the way to the Gulf of Ob before going northward into the Arctic Ocean. Its a key transportation route and has a lot of economic potential.

8. Indus River - 2,243 miles 

Indus River, India. Image credit: Rathnan PV/Shutterstock

The Indus River is the next one on this list, coming in at 2,243 miles (3,610 km) and going through three countries: China, India, and Pakistan. It is the biggest and most critical river in Pakistan and it has twenty major tributaries. It starts from the Tibetan plateau near Lake Mansarovar and the Himalayas, runs through the Indian territories Jammu and Kashmir, then flows south through the entire country of Pakistan before ending in the Arabian Sea, a part of the Indian Ocean. 

9. Yenisei River - 2,167 miles

Yenisei River, Siberia, Russia. Image credit: Valerii_M/Shutterstock

The Yenisei River goes through Mongolia and Russia and stretches on for 2,167 miles (3,487 km). It is the greatest river system flowing to the Arctic ocean and its course rises in northern Mongolia and goes north through Russia to the Kara Sea. Its upper reaches are sparsely populated as they are prone to rapids and flooding. The middle section, meanwhile, is controlled by a series of large hydroelectric dams.

10. Nizhnyaya Tunguska River - 1,857 miles

Nizhnyaya Tunguska River, Russia. Image credit: Laura Diemer/Shutterstock

The Nizhnyaya Tunguska River runs through Russia and spans 1,857 miles (2,989 km). The river itself is located in western Siberia and flows east off the of the Yenisei River as one of its major tributaries, through the province of Irkutsk province and the Krasnoyarsk region. Parts of the river have a broad valley with numerous sandbanks, and other parts are filled with gorges and rapids. 

Climate Change and Pollution 

Unfortunately, as is the case with all other natural environments dealing with the encroaching of human civilizaion, the rivers of Asia are not immune to the effects of climate change and pollution. Considering the drastic effects of higher carbon emissions and the ever-increasing pile of human garbage, it makes sense that these major rivers in Asia deal with damaging consequences to their biodiversity.

Climate change and its subsequent increases in temperature will likely intensify the melting of Central Asian glaciers, causing an initial bump in water, but in the long run leading the decreased runoff of rivers. River runoffs refer to all the water that comes into the river system. Runoff cycles will also shift their peak to the early months of the year, leading to decreased flow in the summer months, which potentially could impact local agriculture. Overall the amount of water will decrease, which in combination with heatwaves and monsoons, could make it hard for people the many people in Asia who rely on rivers to subsist.

Many rivers in the region are also already highly polluted with domestic, industrial, and agricultural waste, to the point where the water quality has reached unsafe levels. Some rivers even have mercury levels 100 times more than the legal amount. This has partially happened due to rapid economic development and urbanization, so pollution is likely to continue unabated.  

It is clear that more must be done to protect the rivers of Asia, but this will not be easy and will likely take global coordination. Only time will tell if that's possible.

The Longest Rivers Of Asia

RankRiverCountry/countries through which it flowsLength (km)Length (miles)
1Yangtze China6,3003,915
2Yellow River China5,4643,395
3MekongChina, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam4,9093,050
4Lena River Russia4,2942,668
5Irtysh River Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Russia4,2482,640
6Brahmaputra RiverChina, India, Bangladesh3,8482,391
7Ob River Russia3,6502,268
8Indus River China, India, Pakistan3,6102,243
9Yenisei River Mongolia, Russia3,4872,167
10Nizhnyaya Tunguska River Russia2,9891,857
11Yarlung Tsangpo River China, India, Bangladesh2,8401,765
12Amur RiverRussia, China2,8241,755
13Salween River China, Myanmar, Thailand2,8001,740
14EuphratesIraq, Syria, Turkey2,7601,715
15Vilyuy River Russia2,6501,647
16Ganges India, Bangladesh2,5101,560
17Amu Darya Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan2,5001,553
18Ishim River Kazakhstan, Russia2,4501,522
19Ural River Kazakhstan, Russia2,4281,509
20Pearl River China, Vietnam2,3201,442
21Aldan River Russia2,2731,412
22Olenyok River Russia2,2701,411
23Syr Darya Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan2,2121,374
24Irrawaddy River Myanmar2,2101,373
25Xi RiverChina, Vietnam2,1971,365
26Kolyma RiverRussia2,1291,323
27Songhua River China1,9251,196
28Podkamennaya Tunguska River Russia1,8651,159
29TigrisTurkey, Syria, Iraq1,8501,150
30Vitim River Russia1,8371,141
31Kama River Russia1,8051,122
32Chulym River Russia1,7991,118
33Angara River Russia1,7791,105
34Indigirka River Russia1,7261,072
35Ket RiverRussia1,6211,007
36Argun River China, Russia1,6201,007
37Tobol River Russia1,591989
38Yalong River China1,571976
39Han River China1,532952
40Alazeya River Russia1,520944
41Godavari RiverIndia1,465910
42Amga River Russia1,462908
43Ili River Kazakhstan, China1,439894
44Olyokma River Russia1,436892
45Taz River Russia1,401871
46SutlejChina, India, Pakistan1,400870
47Liao River China1,390864
48Yamuna India1,376855
49Kura Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan1,364848
50Hai River China1,329826
51Tarim River China1,321821
52Narmada RiverIndia1,300808
53Krishna RiverIndia1,290802
54Zeya River Russia1,210752
55Chuna River Russia1,203748
56Red River China, Vietnam1,200746
57Jialing River China1,190739
58Kızılırmak River Turkey1,182734
59Markha River Russia1,181734
60Nen River China1,170727
61Demyanka River Russia1,159720
62Anadyr River Russia1,150715
63Hari Afghanistan, Turkmenistan1,150715
64Helmand RiverAfghanistan, Iran1,150715
65Kapuas River Indonesia1,143710
66Omolon RiverRussia1,114692
67Huai River China1,100684
68Wu River China1,100684
69Konda River Russia1,097682
70Tyung River Russia1,092679
71Kherlen River Mongolia, China1,090677
72Vasyugan River Russia1,082672
73Ghaghara China, Nepal, India1,080671
74Aras Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan1,072666
75Chu RiverKyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan1,067663
76Bolshoy Yugan River Russia1,063661
77Maya River Russia1,053654
78Tura River Russia1,030640
79Biryusa River Russia1,012629

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