World

Life along the Mekong

Published 7:11 AM ET, Fri December 14, 2018
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Roughly meaning "Mother of Rivers" in Thai and Lao languages, the Mekong River is a sacred lifeline in Southeast Asia.

Click through to explore the treasures of the Mekong as it winds its way from China to Vietnam.
Sokratana Hou/MekongRiverCommission
The upper half of the Mekong originates in the Tibetan Highlands in southwest China where it is known as the Lancang. It flows southeast through Yunnan province, pictured here, before crossing into Southeast Asia. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The brown waters of the Mekong meet the tripoint of China (left) Myanmar (right) and Laos. From there it flows along the border of Myanmar and Laos, and then roughly traces the border of Thailand and Laos before crossing Cambodia and Vietnam and emptying into the South China Sea. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
The entire river runs for around 2,700 miles, and drains on more than 313,000 square miles of land. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Millions of people up and down the Mekong depend on the river for its resources and also for their livelihoods. Here, a fisherman casts his net into the river in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/GettyImages
Many local farmers are engaged in rice production, particularly in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, pictured here, also known as "Asia's rice bowl."

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The river is home to vast aquatic wildlife including the endangered Mekong giant catfish and Irrawaddy dolphin, pictured here. AFP/ Gerry Ryan / World Wildlife Fund
Some communities live in boats on the river, such as the Cham people pictured here on the western bank of the Mekong in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Phearith Phan/MekongRiverCommission
While many people in Kampong Cham farm rice, most take to fishing as a source of food and supplemental income. Phearith Phan/MekongRiverCommission
Communities living on the river are vulnerable to flooding, particularly during the monsoon season. In 2013, floods in Cambodia left more than 80 dead and wreaked havoc in villages like this one in Kandal province.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images
The Mekong is not just one river. Thousands of rivers and streams feed into the main river, including the Nam Khan tributary in Laos, pictured here. During the dry season, villagers build a bamboo bridge to cross the river. Khomkrish Innanchai/MekongRiverCommission
It is also a sacred place for local communities. Each April, a water splashing festival takes place on the banks of the Lancang-Mekong River to celebrate the new year for the Dai ethnic minority of Xishuangbanna in southwest China. Similar water festivals take place across Southeast Asia to bring in the new year. Guang Niu/Getty Images
Another water festival takes place in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh each November to commemorate the end of monsoon season. This long dragon boat carrying 179 rowers and measuring 87.3 meters will be on display during this year's water festival.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Life has flourished in and around the Mekong for millions of years, and continues to do so for the communities and countless species that call it home. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/AFP/Getty Images