Economically, geographically and culturally, the Mekong River is one of the most important rivers in the world. It is a massive stretch of water, extending around 4000 kilometers from its origin in the mountains of Tibet to its end, where it deposits into the South China Sea.
The lower Mekong River Basin comprises several nations in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and parts of China. It is estimated that nearly 60 million people live in the villages, towns and cities that dot its banks, a population consisting of over 100 different ethnic groups. Many of the people who live along the river depend on it for sustenance; whether in the form of irrigation for agriculture, water for fishing, transportation and trade, or increasingly tourism.
The river itself is also massive, with depths of up to 100 metres and in places stretching as wide as 14 kilometers from bank to bank. The enormous amount of water that flows in the river allows forest and swamp areas to thrive, creating an incredibly diverse ecosystem. The river and its surrounding areas are home to an absolutely astonishing number of plants and animals, and in fact no other river hosts as many fish species as the Mekong. Fishing the Mekong is an industry worth billions of dollars, and with good reason. Many of the fish caught here are renowned for their delectable taste, and some of them can be huge. Last year alone, over 1.5 million tonnes of fish were caught in the Mekong, providing the people that live on the river much needed food and produce for fishing communities to trade and sell.
In recent years, the Mekong has also begun to make a name for itself as a tourist destination, with thousands of holidaymakers from all over the world coming every year. Although for many years the Mekong and the people who live on it were left alone and parts of it were seemingly forgotten, the recent surge in interest has brought about major investment from bodies such as the UN and the World Trade Organization. While this news may bring fear to those already familiar with the ugly side of “development” in certain parts of Asia, the Mekong will not be home to eyesore hotels and rampant pollution. Instead, much of the focus of new projects has been on keeping the river clean and making sure development is sustainable, ensuring this natural treasure will be available for future generations to enjoy.
In every nation where it flows, the Mekong plays an enormous role in the daily lives of those who live nearby. This is true perhaps nowhere as much as Laos, where the river is lined by not only numerous villages and towns, but also major urban centers such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, while also serving in some places as a border between Laos and Thailand. The Mekong River is an integral part of the daily lives of many, and boasts some of the most impressive marine flora and fauna in the world. With this amazing combination of natural beauty and cultural importance, seeing the Mekong is truly a sight to behold.