The 10 Longest Rivers in Asia

December 22, 2023

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Yangtze River flowing through the Three Gorges

Asia is home to some of the longest — and most important — rivers in the world. With a population approaching 5 billion people, these rivers are a vital life source. They provide drinking water, fish and a method of transportation for people, plus they support an abundance of vegetation and wildlife.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled this list of the 10 longest rivers in Asia:

1. Yangtze River

Several boats sailing down the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges Dam
Boats travelling through the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China
Length: 6,300 km
Flows through: China
Interesting fact: It is the longest river in the world to run through just one country

Stretching for 6,300 kilometers, the Yangtze River in China is the third longest river in the world and the longest river in Asia. It is also the longest river in the world to flow through just one country. The Yangtze begins in Tibet and passes through the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shanghai, where it discharges into the East China Sea.

One of the busiest waterways in the world, the Yangtze River is essential for the transportation of goods and it provides vast amounts of hydroelectric power. Around a third of China’s population lives on the river’s banks, making it of paramount importance to people.

Not only that, but it creates a huge array of natural ecosystems, providing habitats for many types of species, including the snow leopard, giant panda and Yangtze finless porpoise, as well as the Yangtze giant soft shell turtle, Chinese alligator and Yangtze sturgeon which live in its waters.

2. Yenisei River

View of the Yenisei River in Krasnoyarsk
Morning view of the Yenisei River in Krasnoyarsk
Length: 5,539 km
Flows through: Russia, Mongolia
Interesting fact: The river is thought to be contaminated with radioactive discharge from a bomb-making facility

Measuring 5,539 kilometers long, the Yenisei is the second-longest river in Asia and the fifth-longest in the world. It is also the longest river to empty into the Arctic Ocean.

Rising in northern Mongolia, the Yenisei flows through northern Russia, taking in Tuva, Khakassia and Krasnoyarsk Krai before ending its journey in the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean. While the Selenga River is the Yenisei’s main tributary, the most significant body of water it is connected to is Lake Baikal, which is both the oldest and the deepest lake in the world.

The Yenisei River supplies power, food and transportation to more than a million people, but this is concerning as the river is thought to have been contaminated by radioactive discharge from a bomb-making facility that was built in the 1950s.

As well as being home to 55 species of native fish, the Yenisei’s banks provide habitat for the Taimyr, the world’s largest reindeer herd.

3. Yellow River

Swans flying over the Yellow River at twilight
Swans flying over the Yellow River at twilight
Length: 5,464 km
Flows through: China
Interesting fact: The river is named after the color of the soil that’s found in its lower course

Starting in the Bayankala Mountains and emptying into the Bohai Sea, the Yellow River runs for 5,4647 kilometers, making it the third-longest river in Asia. On its way to the sea, it flows through nine of China’s regions: Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong.

Known as the “Mother River of China”, the Yellow River is where Chinese civilization began, and its importance continues today, particularly in terms of power development, as several major hydroelectric power dams have been built across it.

Deadly floods in 1332, 1887 and 1931 caused widespread suffering and devastation to the humans and wildlife that relied on the river, however, today it is still home to around 160 fish species.

4. Ob-Irtysh River

Ob-Irtysh River in Novosibirsk at sunset
Ob-Irtysh River in Novosibirsk at sunset
Length: 5,410 km
Flows through: Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia
Interesting fact: The Ob River’s main tributary, the Irtysh, is the longest tributary river in the world

The Ob-Irtysh is the seventh-longest river in the world and the fourth-longest in Asia. It flows for 5,410 kilometers from the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia to the Arctic Ocean, passing through the Russian federal subjects of Novosibirsk (the largest city in Siberia), Tomsk, Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets.

Possessing a great deal of economic potential, the river is a key transportation route, it provides drinking water, irrigation and power, and it is a major source of fishing.

More than 50 fish species live in the Ob-Irtysh’s waters, including carps and sturgeons, and more than 150 bird species have been spotted near the Ob-Irtysh River. Wolves, minks, beavers, otters and Siberian moles are also native to the river’s ecosystems.

5. Amur River

View of Hiehe, China at night time on the banks of the Amur River
Amur River flowing the city of Heihe, China
Length: 4,444 km
Flows through: Mongolia, Russia, China
Interesting fact: In China, the Amur is known as the “Black Dragon River”

Flowing for 4,444 kilometers, the Amur is Asia’s fifth-longest river. With sources in both Mongolia and China, it flows from west to east, running along the border between Russia and China until it empties into the Strait of Tartary, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean.

Throughout its history, the Amur River has been — and continues to be — essential to both China and Russia for fishing and transporting goods.

Many different species live in the waters of the Amur River, including the predatory Amur Pike, Amur catfish, northern snakehead, Kaluga, Amur soft shell turtle and Indian lotus. 

6. Lena River

View of the Lena River at sunset
View of the Lena River at sunset
Length: 4,400 km
Flows through: Russia
Interesting fact: It is the longest river that flows entirely through Russia

Asia’s sixth-longest river is the Lena River, which measures 4,260 kilometers from its source in the Baikal Mountains to the Arctic Ocean. It is the longest river to flow entirely through Russia and the eleventh-longest river in the world. On its journey northwards, the river passes through the districts of Irkutsk and Sakha, before joining the Yenisei River and discharging into the Laptev Sea, which forms part of the Arctic Ocean.

Natural resources like gold can be found in the area surrounding the Lena River, as well as an abundance of wildlife, from fish like Arctic lampreys, Arctic Cisco, Chung salmon and sturgeon which live in the river to birds including swans, geese and sandpipers that nest in the surrounding habitats.

7. Mekong River

A rowing boat navigating down the Mekong River
Boat cruising along the Mekong River in Vietnam
Length: 4,350 km
Flows through: Laos, Thailand, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar
Interesting fact: The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia

At 4,350 kilometers long, the Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia and the seventh-longest in Asia. Its journey from China’s Lasaigongma Spring to the South China Sea takes in the countries of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and it forms parts of the borders between Myanmar and Laos and Laos and Thailand.

The Mekong provides hydroelectric power, fishing, transportation and fresh water to the people living in its basin, and the river’s wildlife is extremely diverse. Almost 800 reptile and amphibian species live in the Mekong’s waters, including the giant soft shell turtle. Sadly, though, a number of species have become endangered or extinct over the years, such as the Irrawaddy dolphin and saltwater crocodile.

8. Shatt al-Arab-Euphrates-Murat River

View of the Karun tributary river at sunset
Karun tributary river at sunset
Length: 3,596 km
Flows through: Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria
Interesting fact: The river needs to be continually dredged due to large amounts of silt that are deposited into it by the Karun tributary

The eighth-longest river in Asia is the Shatt al-Arab, which runs for 3,596 kilometers through Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The river begins where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers meet in the town of al-Qurnah in southern Iraq, and ends in the Persian Gulf.

In order to remain navigable, the Shatt al-Arab River needs to be continually dredged, due to the Karun tributary, which deposits vast amounts of silt into it.

The river supports a wide variety of wildlife, including several migratory bird species, water buffaloes, antelopes and gazelles, as well as certain types of rodents, reptilians and amphibians.

9. Indus River

Indus river wending its way through the Himalayan mountain range
Birds-eye view of the Indus River in the Himalayan mountain range
Length: 3,180 km
Flows through: Pakistan, India, China, Kashmir, Afghanistan
Interesting fact: The Indus River dolphin is one of the world’s most endangered cetaceans

The Indus is the ninth-longest river in Asia, stretching for 3,180 kilometers. While it is located mostly in Pakistan, it begins in China and flows through India too. The river rises in mountain springs in Western Tibet, passes through the Indian territories of Jammu and Kashmir and runs south through Pakistan before reaching the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean

The Indus River forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan, and it is Pakistan’s biggest and most important river.

Also known as the “bhulan,” the Indus River dolphin is one of the world’s most endangered cetaceans. In the past, it could be found along the entire stretch of the river, but today it lives only in the middle and lower parts of the river, which is a mere 20 percent of its historic range.

10. Syr Darya River

Bridge over the Syr Darya River, Kazakhstan
Bridge over the Syr Darya River, Kazakhstan
Length: 3,078 km
Flows through: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan
Interesting fact: The Syr Darya is the longest river in Central Asia

Taking the tenth spot on the list of the longest rivers in Asia is the Syr Darya River. It runs for 3,078 kilometers from the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, flowing west and northwest through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan until it reaches the Aral Sea.

Jackals, forest mice, badgers and Hemprich’s long-eared bats can be found in the long grasses, woods and shrubby vegetation that surround the river, with native bird species like pheasants, Scops owls, kestrels, ducks and geese also present in the area. Like many other Asian rivers, a diverse array of fish, reptile and amphibian species live in the Syr Darya.

Overview: Asia’s longest rivers

RankRiver systemCountryLength (km)Length (miles)Outflow
1Yangtze RiverChina6,3003,920East China Sea
2Yenisei RiverRussia, Mongolia5,5393,442Kara Sea
3Yellow RiverChina5,4643,395Bohai Sea
4Ob-Irtysh RiverRussia, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia5,4103,362Gulf of Ob
5Amur RiverMongolia, Russia, China4,4442,761Sea of Okhotsk
6Lena RiverRussia4,4002,734Laptev Sea
7Mekong RiverLaos, Thailand, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar4,3502,703South China Sea
8Shatt al-Arab-Euphrates-Murat RiverIraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria3,5962,234Persian Gulf
9Indus RiverPakistan, India, China, Kashmir, Afghanistan3,1801,976Arabian Sea
10Syr Darya RiverKazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan3,0781,913Aral Sea

Asia is home to some of the longest rivers in the world. However, due to population growth, climate change and urbanization, they are under extreme threat.

Like the rest of the world’s rivers, Asia’s waterways are essential to both humans and wildlife, which means it is imperative that we protect them to prevent further pollution and the extinction of even more species.

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