Running 4,345 km from its headwaters
in the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea, the Mekong River feeds Southeast
Asia with its abundant fish population, irrigates the surrounding lands,
draws borders and, as all great rivers do, builds civilizations. The banks
carry stories of both ancient and modern life, and the people who live
along its shores still rely on the Mekong for their livelihood.
Artifacts found in Ban Chiang, Thailand, show
the river region was occupied as early as 210 BC. Archeologists in Oc Eo,
in An Giang, Vietnam, found evidence of Roman trade. And the great Khmer
Empire established Angkor Wat, their magnificent temple complex, in the
The riverís biodiversity is second only to
that of the Amazon. New species are still being discovered. The river is
home to giant catfish, stingrays and a freshwater soft-shell turtle that
grows to weigh more than 500 pounds. Itís also home to the critically endangered
Irrawaddy dolphin, a creature that some researchers say can distinguish
between local dialects.
Outsider exploration of the river was stymied
by difficult terrain ó the river is broken with difficult rapids and waterfalls.
The headwaters werenít identified by Western sources until 1900.
Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand all have large
shipping ports on the river, and increasingly, bridges for both rail and
road traffic span border crossings and move vast amounts of cargo between
nations and abroad.
Now, Mekong politics centre around hydroelectric
power and the impact that upstream dams have on fish populations that sustain
communities throughout the entire region. As awareness of the riverís rich
ecosystem increases, thereís growing interest in sustaining both the ecological
and archeological assets not just for tourists, but for everyone in the
region who depends on the river for food, transportation and much, much