River Channels and Canals--
Large areas of the river basin have been used for centuries for local transport of goods and people. Important considerations are:

• Rivers connect places in the basin, and often the only means of transportation;
• River flows determine the timing and efficiency of transportation; and
• River form determines what methods of transportation can be used (e.g., size of vessel).

Larger vessels are used in deeper-water areas at several locations along the lower Mekong River in Cambodia and the Delta in Viet Nam. Long stretches of navigable water occur in Cambodia along the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac Rivers. Diverse types of shipping and transport are found in the delta areas between Phnom Penh and the South China Sea. Sea-going vessels of 2,000 and 3,000 dead weight tones (DWT) transit the 330 km from the sea to Phnom Penh. Larger vessels can potentially use the Bassac River, though the Bassac estuary restricts vessel size to 3,000 DWT. Smaller rivers and tributaries throughout the basin are important for local boat transportation, as well as for movement of natural resources (food crops, timber, bamboo, etc.) between communities and urban areas.

Major canals were dug in the Mekong River delta during the 18th century and continue to be used extensively today. The canals and main river channels are used to transport large amounts of agricultural products, mainly rice and cereal crops, construction materials and a variety of other material such as consumer goods, timber and timber products fertilizers, agricultural equipment and cement. The main canals are:

Location Place Names
Long Xuyen Quadrangle Vinh Te, Cai San, Long Xuyen, Rach Gia
Trans-Bassac Xa No, Nang Mau
Ca Mau Peninsula Quan Lo - Phung Hiep
Plain of Reeds Hong Ngu, Dong Tien, Nguyen Van Tiep

These canal systems play an important role in the hydrologic/hydraulic regimes of the delta area. Although first excavated for navigation, early in the last century they were increasingly used for irrigation, drainage and transport of agricultural goods to outside areas. There is now a tendency to excavate and enlarge the canals for agriculture. Roads along the canals and rivers within the delta function as flood-protection dikes.

Projections of transport capacity requirements in the delta suggest that improvements will be needed to the fleet (especially increased use of steel barges, as opposed to self-propelled boats), cargo and handling facilities (improved berthing, and handling and storage facilities) and waterways.

In Cambodia, transport on the Great Lake and Tonle Sap is mainly for fish products, with passenger traffic and tourism being economically minor but growing in importance. Approximately 120,000 to 150,000 tonnes of fish product is transported annually in the Great Lake and Tonle Sap. Passenger movement is mainly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in high-speed boats. Other commodities that are transported in this area include gravel, rice and oil mainly during the wet season. Plans are to improve the navigation channel between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, by reducing dry-season shallow-areas that obstruct navigation during the dry season, especially where the Great Lake enters the Tonle Sap. In addition, improvements are planned for three ports around the lake (Chong Kneas, Lompang Luang and Chnoc Trou).

Upstream from Phnom Penh, navigation along the Mekong River is impaired by natural obstructions so that vessel transport is confined to relatively short river segments. Impediments include rapids and shoals near Kratie, the Khone Falls, at the border of Lao PDR and Cambodia, and rapids, shoals and sharp bends between Khone Falls and Pakse.

Further upstream a long series of rapids, sharp bends and shallow areas also impair navigation along a stretch of river that extends from southern Yunnan in China to Lao PDR and northern Thailand. Many areas along this stretch are passable only by small local craft. In southern Yunnan, river transport was rudimentary up until the early 1950s, when a mechanized ferry was put into service. Shipping increased slowly after that and now is characterized by a number of vessels that ply the river during the dry season and vessels of 300 to 500 tonnes. Removal of large rocks has recently taken place in southern Yunnan with plans to remove additional barriers along the length of the river to northern Thailand in order to enable year-round use of larger vessels from China to Thailand.

Apart from smaller towns and villages where small boats are engaged in local fishing, commerce and ferrying, there are a number of larger ports distributed along the Mekong River. Major ports include:

Location Place Names
Vietnam Long Xuyen, Tra Noc, Cao Lanh and My Tho
Cambodia Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham and Kratie
Thailand Nong Khai
Lao PDR Savannakhet, Keng Kabao, Tha Naleng, Laksi, Thadeua, Luang Prabang
Yunnan Jinghong, Simao

A number of smaller ports are located along the river, though many are in need of improvement. In the delta, plans exist to add more district ports to handle local cargo so that provincial ports can be used mainly for international cargo.