Thailand’s rivers have played a significant role in shaping the habitat and livelihood of the people in Thailand. Not only do they provide people with their staple foods of rice and fish, but fueled by the abundant monsoon rains they also provide electricity and water for daily purposes. The river systems with their abundance of water is the reason for Thailand’s fertile lands together with its dense and diverse flora and fauna. The rivers of Thailand have also enhanced Thailand’s history and economy. Many cities have flourished beside these rivers, like the capital Bangkok itself, serving as an ideal location for tourism and trading, and hence building the economy.

Some of Thailand’s important rivers:

The Mekong River

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The mighty Mekong River is the longest river in Southeast Asia and the 12th longest in the world. Stretching from the Tibetan Plateau it runs for nearly 5,000 km through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam through to the South China Sea, it is the lifeblood of some 300 million people in the region. It has been called Asia’s “fish basket” and “rice bowl” with it producing 4.5 million tons of fish every year and being a critical source of irrigation for growing the Asian staple of rice throughout Thailand and its’ neighbors. In recent years the Mekong has been heavily dammed particularly in the upper reaches in China. This has caused concern for the countries downstream with huge fluctuations in river levels, affecting people’s livelihoods by disrupting the river’s natural cycle.

Chao Phraya River

Image by: Anek Suwannaphoom

The Chao Phraya River also known as the “River of Kings” is formed by four major tributaries, including the Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan Rivers. It was, and still is, a very important waterway for the people of central Thailand. Many people call the banks of the Chao Phraya River home while others use the river to get to and from work almost every day. Many people think of the Chao Phraya as merely in Bangkok – but the river begins its journey southwards in Nakhon Sawan province in northern Thailand, at the confluence of the Ping and Nan rivers. While the Chao Phraya might not be the most attractive river around, this meandering waterway has long been the source of life for Thailand’s capital.

The River Kwai

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The River Kwai is a river in western Thailand near to the Myanmar border. It consists of two tributaries, Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai, that merge at Kanchanaburi to form the Mae Klong river which empties into the Gulf of Thailand at Samut Songkhram about 50 km west of Bangkok. The river is mainly known from the Pierre Boulle novel and David Lean film “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, in which Australian, Dutch and British prisoners of war were forced by the Japanese to construct two parallel bridges spanning the river as part of the Burma Railway, also called the Death Railway, for the many lives lost during its construction. The rivers pass through Sai Yok and Erawan National Parks where the landscape and scenery is arguably some of the most stunning in Thailand.

Ping River

Image by: Supanut Arunoprayote

The Ping River in Thailand’s north west is at the centre of Chiang Mai’s history and culture. Its’ headwaters originate at the Myanmar/Thailand border in the Daen Lao Range and heads south through Chiang Mai to the Chao Praya River that flows through Bangkok and empties out into the Gulf of Thailand. Historically it was a major trade route between north and south to transport traditional exports of teak and rice. Today thousands of people pass by or cross over the Ping River in Chiang Mai without giving it a second glance. But the Ping is as important today as it was when King Mengrai likely made it the deciding factor for choosing this spot to found Chiang Mai city in 1296.