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The History of the Mekong River

South East Asia has one river that runs through several of its countries, the Mekong. The 12th longest in the world and the 7th in Asia, the river runs through the Chinese province of Yunnan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The history of the river is deep; however unfortunately the river has divided the people of the countries it runs through rather than brining them together in unity. 

The earliest noted historic settlements dates back to 2100 BC. During this Iron Age the Ban Chiang clan was settled along the river bed. The next noted settlement listed to be located at the river bed is the Indianized Khmer clan known as the Funan. This was during the 1st century. This clan was settled on the Mekong Delta. 


Several sites along the river have been excavated over the years and one in particular conducted at the Oc Eo, near An Giang dug out coins dates to the Roman Empire indicating either trade with the empire or the Roman Empire having some settlement along the river. 

The Khmer clan Chenla was known to have settled along the Mekong river around the 5th century. Post the fall of the Khmer Empire of Angkor, the Siam and Tonkin states emerged and situated themselves on the coast of the river though torn between their influences. 

In 1540 the Mekong River saw its first European visit. Antonia De Faria put the Mekong river on the map with a few notes to the upstream delta. The Spaniards and the Portuguese thereafter used the river for trade expeditions and missions. Though the European visits were sporadic they left a mark on the historical significance of the river. 

In the mid 19th century the French invaded and captured Saigon and established control over Cambodia. They led and expedition which started from the mouth of the river in order to understand the course of the river and established that the Mekong had several dips and valleys, falls and rapids and therefore was not useful for trade as navigation was a task. in 1893 THE French took control of the river bed in Laos. 

During the Indochina war in the 20th century the Cambodian section of the Mekong river sank due to use of heavy explosives. Till this dates there are traces of live explosives in the waters of the Mekong along the Cambodian sector thereby making it impossible for fishermen to do through the waters and the construction of irrigation and bridges. 

From the several clans and Empires that controlled the Mekong river and the fact that the river runs through several countries it has several names in the local language of each country. In Thai the river is called Mae Nam Khong, Mae means mother and nam translates to Water in English. 

The Mekong river is known as Lancang in China and it is the source of water and livelihood to over 60 million people. The river is also used as a means of transportation in China and thereby is a part of daily life. It is also the main fishing location in China thereby acting as a source of livelihood to the country as well. 

The waters of the Mekong river is home to over 1200 species of fish thereby making it a great location to support the fishing industry; however the river bed has rocks as sharp as razor teeth and come all the way upto the top of the river. Thus it is important for fishermen to know the river well before venturing out. The Lower Mekong basin is home to fresh water dolphins however they are a rare commodity these days. 

Tourists visiting Cambodia or any country that the river can enjoy the beauty of the river if they are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and city attractions. Though there are traces of commercialization along the river beds most of them are associated with creating towns and beach settlements for tourists in order to help them enjoy the beauty of the river bed. Along the river bed one will note that the locals have pagodas (homes) however these are not visited by the tourists. Boat cruises along the river are a common site and most boats allow their guests to enjoy some leisurely fishing while on the river. Alternatively visitors can also relax and enjoy fishing from the river bed.