Most travellers visiting South East Asia will come across the Mekong River at some stage as it runs through Myanmar, (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam. The mighty Mekong really is of major importance to all these countries.
As follows is everything you need to know about the Mekong River.
Mekong River Statistics
The Mekong River begins in the Tibetan plateau and finishes in the delta in South Vietnam for a total distance of 4,350 km making it the 12th longest river in the world.
The Khone waterfall near the Laos/Cambodia border is the widest waterfall in the world at 6.7 miles with a drop of 70 feet. The falls are most impressive at the end of the rainy season when the flow is 1.5 million cubic meters per second. This is more than any other fall in the world, and twice as much as Niagara Falls.
It then flows through the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia which is the biggest lake in Southeast Asia at 2,700 sq km.
It drains an area of 795,000 sq km and is the 2nd most diverse river after the Amazon.
Finally, it drains through the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam into the South China sea.
The delta covers an area of 40,577 sq km.
Everything that tourists need to know about the Mekong River
While the Mekong River sustains life for 60 million local people in 6 countries it is now also a major tourist drawcard. A number of operators offer cruises ranging from large open slow boats for budget travellers up to luxury cruises for well-heeled tourists.
The most popular southeast Asia section is from the Thai/Laos border crossing of Chiang Khong in Thailand and Huay Xai in Laos going down the river via Pakbeng in Laos to the heritage-listed Luang Prabang in Laos. This part is a fast-flowing section of spectacular river geography that has been carved out over the ages. It passes through remote local villages where a glimpse of local life can be seen also.
Mekong River Ecology
The Mekong River has over 850 species of fish. These include some of the biggest freshwater fish in the world.
The biggest is the Mekong River catfish that can be up to 3 metres in length and weigh between 150 & 200 kilograms with some reported to be as big as 350 kilograms.
It has over 20 million species of plants, 800 species of snakes & frogs, 1200 species of birds and over 400 other mammals. These include freshwater dolphins and Siamese crocodiles.
Mekong River Dams
There are currently 11 dams on the main Mekong river and 120 others on its tributaries. More are planned.
Many scientists say they do more harm than good. Read the following Lowy institute report for more information.
As for tourists, all you need to know about the Mekong River is that a boat trip is one of the quintessential things you need to do in Southeast Asia today.
It is both relaxing and exciting whether cruising from Laos to Thailand or vice versa where it is the dramatic upper region or the serene waters of the Delta in South Vietnam. Both very different but no less beautiful in totally different ways.
Do this the clever Baktrax way by going upriver rather than down with the tourist hordes. Exactly the same scenery but even more peace and serenity with far less people on the slow boat.
Or the even smarter/exciting 21 days that includes Cambodia before finishing where all the others start in Chiang Mai. Relax, shop and/or party after the adventure is done and dusted.
This really is the only intelligent direction to travel in for the best Laos/Cambodia experiences that includes the best of the Mekong River.