Learn about the Mekong River in Laos

The Mekong River, which crosses different countries in Southeast Asia, is considered the lifeline of the small country of Laos. This river is recognized as one of the great rivers in the whole world. Read on to learn more about the Mekong River in Laos. 

Origin of the Name 


The original name of the Mekong River was in the Tai language, which is Mae Nam Khong. After some time, its name was shortened, and they started to call it Mae Khong.  

Mae Nam means “Mother of Waters” in Thai and Lao languages, and they usually use this term for bigger rivers. On the other hand, Khong is used as the proper name for “River Khong.” However, in Vietnamese and Chinese languages, Khong is the archaic term for “river.” Other people, especially the ancient European traders, call the river different names, such as the Cambodia River, the May-Kiang River, and the Mekon River.

The Mekong River’s Geography


The Mekong River is known as the longest river in the whole of Southeast Asia. It also places 7th in Asia and is recognized as the 12th in the world. This river is about 4,900 kilometers long, flowing from the southeastern province of Qinghai in China. It also passes through the east Tibet Autonomous Region to the Yunnan province of China. Then, the river also flows through Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, serving as an international border, then all the way through Cambodia and Vietnam. After passing through these regions, the river water drains into the South China Sea.

The river drains over 810,000 square kilometers of land, starting from Tibet Plateau to the South China Sea. The Mekong River is also divided into two basins – upper and lower basins. These two basins are comprised of different regions within the scope of the Mekong River. 

The Upper Mekong River Basin includes the Lancang Basin in China and Myanmar, Three Rivers Area, and the Tibetan Plateau. The Lower basin, on the other hand, encompasses the Khorat Plateau, the Mekong Delta, the Northern Highlands, and the Tonle Sap Basin, found in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. These regions the Mekong River passes through have different geomorphology, topography, and drainage patterns. 

Biodiversity in the Mekong River


The Mekong River has a rich biodiversity and is home to over 850 fish species and 20,000 plant species. This river is one of the areas with the richest biodiversity worldwide, and its aquatic biodiversity is the second highest, following the Amazon river. Fishermen once caught a 300-kilogram freshwater stingray in the Mekong River, the largest freshwater fish ever recorded. Aside from that, they also caught a 293-kilogram Mekong catfish in the river. 

The river is also a big help to people, as approximately 80% of the people living in the Lower basin of the river whose livelihoods depend on the rich and diverse natural resources Mekong River has to offer. People could earn a high income from the aquatic animals caught in the river, and if they’re not selling those animals, they could serve them as their everyday food. Aside from fish, crabs, shrimps, turtles, and snakes can also be found along the Mekong River. 

Climate and Hydrology


The water from the Mekong River mainly comes from the lower Mekong basin. So the flow from the river likely depends on the abundance of water they get from the lower basin. The flow from the river fluctuates with the monsoon winds, so the river has its lowest flow during April. However, the flow increases between May and June during the arrival of the southerly monsoon winds. And when the months of August and September come, the upper basin is at its highest water levels. This high water level lasts until late October. 


The Mekong River begins having a low water flow in November when the northeasterly monsoon wind, which causes dry weather, arrives. This lasts until May. During this period, rice cultivation within the regions belonging to the scope of the Mekong River gets affected because of a lack of irrigation. 


In terms of temperature and climate, it’s warm in the river’s lower basin all year. In Phnom Penh, a city in Cambodia wherein the Mekong River flows through, temperatures could reach an average of 32 degrees Celsius to 23 degrees Celsius. In the upper Mekong River basin, the temperature is affected by the altitude, so it’s quite cooler in regions belonging to the upper basin. These regions also experience more seasonal variation. 

Environmental Issues


The Mekong River has been experiencing drought due to climate change. Aside from that, hydroelectric dams also damage the river’s ecosystem. The river has been in severe drought for several years already, and it has a huge negative impact, especially on the people whose livelihoods rely on the Mekong River. When there is no drought, huge floods start to happen, and the Mekong river still suffers negatively because of the hydropower dams developed along the river. 

Aside from drought and overflooding, the river also suffers from water pollution because of the poor and undeveloped sewage treatments within the regions belonging to the scope of the Mekong River. This harms the ecological integrity and biodiversity of the river.

The Mekong River is also a huge source of the 12.7 million tonnes of plastic that goes into the ocean yearly. So researchers and NGOs have been urging people to lessen the use of hydropower dams in order to promote long-term sustainability. Some have also been suggesting shifting to other sources of renewable energy and thinking of different ways to make use of the water from the Mekong River.

As of now, the Mekong River has been hugely affected by the evolving world, including urbanization, industrialization, and the changes in the economic development of the different regions of the Mekong River. In return, the river offers different growth opportunities to people, especially to those living along the Mekong River. It allows hydropower dam developments, bigger opportunities for agriculture and fisheries, improved transport and trading, and more. 

However,  growth and improvement in the Mekong River may be affected if changes and developments are ineffective and aren’t planned well. It may negatively impact the river’s biodiversity and cause severe environmental degradation. So besides everything the Mekong River has to offer, it is still important that people be more mindful of their actions to conserve the river’s beauty and biodiversity.