The longest river in Southeast Asia and the 12th longest on earth, the Mekong River journeys over 2700 miles from the Tibetan Plateau to the southeast, through Laos and Thailand to the equatorial flood plains of Cambodia and Vietnam, then finally flows into the South China Sea.
Two thousand years of human history flow along the Mekong River. It is said that the rise and fall of the great Khmer civilization responsible for the building of Angkor Wat was inextricably linked to the Mekong’s shifting tides. Today, around 60 million people live, work and play on the Mekong. Fish from the river comprise Cambodia’s single largest source of protein and it is rightly called the rice bowl of Vietnam, as it is on the fertile lands of the Mekong River Delta that the Vietnamese people grow half their nation’s agricultural product.
The Mekong River is also a hub for Vietnamese culture and a major transportation route for villagers living in the Delta. From floating markets selling fish, coconut candy, tropical fruit, vegetables and flowers to bee farms that line the river, the Mekong throbs from before sunrise to after dark with vital economic activity.
In appreciation of its shared importance, the governments of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam signed an Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin in April 1995 that created The Mekong River Commission to jointly promote sustainable use and protection of the river. However in 2010, Laos announced plans to build the Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River. Despite ongoing opposition from Cambodia and Vietnam, in 2012, Laos and Thailand decided to proceed with the dam. Laos has also begun preliminary work on a second Mekong hydropower project, the Don Sahong Dam. Environmentalists and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) warn that both projects could ultimately damage the Mekong River and adversely affect the millions of people who live along it. Already the Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is on the World Wildlife Fund’s list of endangered species.
Sustainable eco-tourism, as Aqua Expeditions pioneered on the Peruvian stretch of the Amazon River, will play a critical role in preserving the rich but precarious cultural traditions and indigenous wildlife of the Mekong River.