The Mekong River is the word’s 12th longest river and Asia’s 7th longest with a length of about 2,703 miles. The river drains an area of approximately 307,000 square miles and discharges 114 cubic miles of water annually. This trans-boundary river runs through several Asian countries including China, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Mekong River is one of the most difficult rivers to navigate because of the extreme seasonal variation in its flow and the several waterfalls and rapids along its course. The name “Mekong” is derived from “Mae Nam Khong,” a contracted form of Thai and Lao. “Mae Nam” means “mother of waters” and is used to refer to any major river while “Khong” is the proper name of the river. The river runs from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea.
Source of the Mekong River
Mekong River rises from the “Three River Source Area” of the Tibetan Plateau. The plateau is a vast elevated area in Central and East Asia, covering a major part of the Tibet Autonomous Region in western China. Tibetan Plateau stretches for approximately 620 miles from north to south and 1,600 from east to west. It is sometimes referred to as the “roof of the world” because of its high elevation (over 3 miles) and the surrounding imposing mountain ranges. It contains headwaters of the drainage basin of numerous streams including the Mekong River, Yangtze River, and Yellow River.
Course of the River
From the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River flows through the Tibetan Autonomous Region and into Yunnan Province in China. From Yunnan, the river flows through the Three Parallel River Area along with the Salween and Yangtze Rivers before meeting the tri-point of Laos, China, and Myanmar. From there, Mekong flows southwest and forms the border between Laos and Myanmar for approximately 62 miles before arriving at the tri-point of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar also referred to as Golden Triangle. At this point, Mekong meets the Ruak River. Mekong River turns east from the Golden Triangle and briefly forms a border between Thailand and Laos. It then turns east into Laos and flows for about 250 miles before returning to the Laos-Thailand border again where it flows for about 530 miles. The Mekong again flows through Laos, passing by the city of Pakse before crossing into Cambodia. At Phnom and Penh, Cambodia’s capital, the river is joined by the river and lake system of the Tonle Sap. Immediately the Mekong River is joined by the Sap River, the Bassac River branches off, forming the first distributary and the beginning of the Mekong Delta.
The Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is a region in Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the South China Sea. The delta covers an area of approximately 15,600 square miles and dominated by flush floodplains. The Mekong Delta system has two main distributary channels; the Mekong to the east and Bassac to the west that discharges directly into the South China Sea which is part of the Pacific Sea. The Mekong Delta has abundant species of plants and animals including some of the big fish like the giant carp.