World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 6

By Paul Bernabeo | Go to book overview

Geography and Climate

The three southeast Asian nations of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam form a compact
territorial block, sometimes known as Indochina, that includes a considerable
diversity of landscape. Demographically and economically, Vietnam, which occupies
the eastern seaboard of Indochina, dominates its two poorer neighbors. The region
is characterized by central and northwestern mountains and hills and by two major
river basins: the Red River Valley in the northeast and the Mekong River basin in
the west, center, and south.

MEKONG RIVER

The Mekong River is 2,702 miles (4,350 km) long, making it the longest river in southeastern Asia and the twelfth-longest waterway in the world. The river and its tributaries drain Laos, most of Cambodia, and southern Vietnam, as well as parts of China, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand, altogether an area twice the size of the state of California. Along much of its length, the Mekong River is an important navigable waterway. However, through navigation is impossible because of the obstacles formed by the Khone Falls and the Khemmarat Rapids in southern Laos. In southern Vietnam, the river reaches the ocean in a broad delta that is formed by many distributaries.

The river's flow varies dramatically with the seasons, and from August or September through October or November, the large volume of floodwater on the Mekong River reverses the direction of flow on the lower Mekong's major tributary, the Sab River. The lower Mekong River has a mean annual flow of around 500,000 cubic feet (14,200 cubic m), and the waterway carries large quantities of sediments, particularly in southern Laos upstream from the Khone Falls.

The Red River flows through a broad valley in northern Vietnam.

THE PLAIN OF JARS

The Plain of Jars, which is part of the Xiangkhoang Plateau in northern Laos, is named for hundreds of carved stone jars, the tallest of which are over 10 feet (3 m) tall, that dot its surface. The jars date from the period between the first and seventh centuries CE and were made by a people about whom little is known. The plain is a relatively flat limestone and sandstone upland, some 3,000 feet to 3,600 feet (900 to 1,000 m) above sea level. It is cut by narrow valleys, including the gorge of the Ngum River.

RED RIVER

The Red River (Song Hong in Vietnamese) rises in southwestern China and flows 750 miles (1.200 km) to the ocean. For part of its course through northern Vietnam, the Red River runs in a narrow gorge before widening into a delta along the Gulf of Tonkin. The delta is a major agricultural region that supports a large farming population. Two major tributaries join the Red River: the Clear River (Song Lo) on the left bank and the Black River (Song Da) on the right bank. Because of great seasonal variations in rainfall in the river basin, the Red River is characterized by an uneven flow of water through the year.

KHONE FALLS

In terms of volume of water, the Khone Falls on the Mekong River in southern Laos are the world's second largest. Only the Buyoma Falls on the Congo River in Africa have more water. The Khone Falls form a series of cataracts (rapids) rather than a single obstacle, but they effectively obstruct the navigation of the river. The falls are a double series of cataracts where the waterway crosses a hard bed of basalt. Despite the huge volume of water in the river, the falls have little height, tumbling only 45 feet (14 m) into a pool. Many rocky outcrops and small islands dot the waterway, and a small port has been established on the largest island in the river to unload and portage barge cargoes around the falls.

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World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 6
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 721
  • Contents 723
  • Geography and Climate 724
  • Cambodia 756
  • Laos 786
  • Vietnam 814
  • Further Research 858
  • Index 862
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