The Mekong is South East Asia's greatest river, the Mother of Water that brings life to millions of people from the paddy fields of Vietnam to the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. In this series, Sue Perkins goes on an extraordinary journey, spanning nearly 3,000 miles, to explore lives and landscapes on the point of enormous change.
Sue's epic journey begins in Vietnam on the vast Mekong Delta, where she joins Si Hei, the queen of the noodle.
Having learnt how people are struggling to recover from the legacy of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, animal lover Sue continues through Cambodia to witness how deforestation and wildlife crime are stripping the country of its last wild places.
In Laos, one of the poorest and least developed of all the Mekong nations, Sue explores a country shaped by both Buddhism and Communism that has hardly changed for centuries.
And when Sue reaches her final destination – China, home to the source of the Mekong – she witnesses change sweeping through faster than any other Mekong nation, as China's economic miracle transforms even the remotest regions.
The Mekong has many names. In China it's known as the Lancang Jiang, meaning 'turbulent river'. The Thai and the Lao refer to it as Mae Kong or Mae Nam Kong, meaning 'mother water'. And the Vietnamese call it Cuu Long, meaning 'nine dragons', in reference to where the river splits into multiple branches in the delta.
The Mekong basin is the second most biodiverse area on earth, after the Amazon. Estimates of biota include 20,000 plant species, 430 mammals, 1,200 birds, 800 reptiles and amphibians and 850 fish species.
Vietnam is the world's second largest exporter of rice (after Thailand) and 80% of the Mekong Delta's 17 million people grow it for a living.
The Tonlé sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Rather unusually, its flow changes direction twice a year. In dry season, its river drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh in Cambodia. However, when the year's heavy rains begin in June, the Tonlé sap backs up to form an enormous lake.
The Mekong is the world's 12th longest river and Asia's 7th longest. It runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
For thousands of years the Mekong River has been the lifeline of the populations that depend on it for survival. The earliest known settlements along the river date back to 210 BC, with the first recorded civilization—the Indianised-Khmer culture of Funan—dating to the 1st Century.
The source of the Mekong is the Lasagongma Spring in the Tibetan Plateau and its mouth is the Mekong Delta, where it drains into the South China Sea.
Almost 80% of the Cambodian’s protein intake is reliable on the fish caught from the Mekong River.