Rivers in Yunnan

Yunnan is an inland province, surrounded by no sea, but rich in water with fancy rivers, lakes, springs, pools and glacier landscapes. There are more than 600 rivers, large and small, on the land of Yunnan. They belong to the Yangtze River (Jinsha River), Pearl River (Nanpanjiang River), Red River (Yuanjiang River), Lancang River(Mekong River), Nujiang River(Salween River) and Irrawaddy River six water systems, flowing into the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean respectively. In addition to the sources of pearl river and red river are in Yunnan, the rest rivers are all just passing through Yunnan Province. Nujiang River, Lancang River, Red River, Ruili River (Irrawaddy River system) are international rivers, especially Lancang River flows through Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries, so it is called “the Danube in the East”. Six river systems in a province belong to two oceans and four rivers are international rivers, which are extremely rare in the world.

List of Yunnan Rivers


Water System


Injection into Pacific Ocean

Changjiang(Yangtze) River System

Yangtze River, Chishui River(Cross-provincial river), Jinsha River(Cross-provincial river), Hengjiang River(横江, Cross-provincial rivers), Luoze River(洛泽河, Cross-provincial river), Niulan River(牛栏江, Cross-provincial river), Yili River(以礼河), Xiaojiang River(小江), Pudu River(普渡河), Longchuan River(龙川江), Shuiluo River(水落河, Cross-provincial river), Shuoqu River(硕曲, Cross-provincial river)

Pearl River System

Pearl River, Xi River(西江), Xun River(浔江), Yu River(郁江), You River(右江, Cross-provincial river), Xiyang River(西洋江, Cross-provincial river), Tuoniang River(驮娘江, Cross-provincial river), Qianjiang River(黔江), Beishui River(北水河), Beipan River(北盘江), Kedu River(可渡河, Cross-provincial river), Gexiang River(革香河, Cross-provincial river), Nanpan River(南盘江, Cross-provincial river), Huangni River(黄泥河, Cross-provincial river), Xiaohuangni River(小黄泥河, Cross-provincial river), Kuaize River(块泽河)

Red River System

Honghe River-Yuan River(International River), Lujiang River-Panlong River(International River), Zhijiang River(沚江, International River), Daliangzi River(大梁子江, International River), Yinjiang River-Nanli River(Pumei River普梅河, International River), Mian River-Babu River(棉河-八布河, International River), Tuojiang River-Lixian River(沱江-李仙江, International River), Nanna River-Tengtiao River(南那河-藤条江, International River), Xiaohei River(小黑江, International River), Zhama River(喳吗河), Amo River(阿墨江), Babian River(把边江), Nanxi River(南溪河, International River), Nanjie River(南界河), Hedi River(河底河), Lvzhi River(绿汁江), Lishe River(礼社江)

Meckong River System

Mekong River(Lancang River, International River ), Nanlei River(南垒河, International River), Nanlan River(南览河, International River), Nanla River(南腊河), Nanrun River(南润河, International River), NanA River(南阿河, International River), Buyuan River(补远江), Weiyuan River(Xiaoheijiang River), Yangbi River(漾濞江)

Injection into Indian Ocean

Salween River system

Salween River-Nujiang River, Nanka River(南卡江, International River), Nangun River(南滚河, International River), Nanyi River(南依河, International River), Nanding River(南定河, International River), Kuke River(枯柯河)

Irrawaddy River system

Irrawaddy River, Ruili River(瑞丽江, International River), Taping River-Daying River(大平江-大盈江, International River), Nmai Hka, Dulong River(独龙江, International River)

Three Parallel Rivers

The Three Parallel Rivers refer to the three rivers of the Jinsha River, the Lancang River and the Nujiang River, which originate from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and run more than 170 kilometers from north to south in Yunnan Province.

1. Jinsha River金沙江(Yangtze)

The Jinsha River is the Chinese name for the upper stretches of the Yangtze River. It flows through the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan in western China. The river passes through Tiger Leaping Gorge. And the famous “The First Bend of Yangtze River” is on the Jinsha River in Lijiang, Yunnan.

Check more information about Jinsha River Travel Guide related to Tiger Leaping Gorge and the first bend of Yangtze River.
1 Day Lijiang to Shangri-la Tour with The First Bend of Yangtze River and Tiger Leaping Gorge
1 Day the upper Yangtze River Rafting Tour
3 Days The First Bend of Yangtze River Rafting and Tiger Leaping Gorge Tour
7 Days the Upper Yangtze River Rafting Tour from Deqin to Lijiang
10 Days Yunnan Classic Tour with the Upper Yangtze River Rafting Tour

2. Lancang River澜沧江(Mekong)

The reach of the upper reaches of Mekong River within China is named Lancang River. Lancang River is one of the biggest rivers in Southwest China, the longest river in Southeast Asia, the 4th longest river in Asia and the 9th longest river in the world. Mekong River flows through a number of countries, including Laos, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. With the total drainage area of 810,000 square kilometers, Mekong River is hailed as the Danube in the East. In China, Lancang River flows through Qinghai, Tibet and Yunnan provinces with the total length of 2,179 kilometers. Within Yunnan Province, Lancang River is 1,247 kilometers long with the drainage area of 165,000 square kilometers. The river flows into Laos and Burma from Mengla County of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, becoming the boundary river of the 2 countries, which is named Mekong River.

3. Nujiang River怒江(Salween)

The Salween or, officially, Thanlwin River known in China as the Nujiang River, is a river about 2,815 kilometers long that flows from the Tibetan Plateau into the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia. The section of Nujiang which located in Yunnan Province surges ahead between the Gaoligong Mountain and the Biluo Snow Mountain, which are both at an average altitude of over 3000 meters. Due to huge drop and rapid torrent, the river appears extraordinarily spectacular. With dangerous cliffs on both mountains, the river gallops towards the south like a horse with a huge water discharge 1.6 times of that of the Yellow River every year on average, striking out an oriental grand canyon combining imposing and steep mountains and deep valley. Main attractions related to Nujiang River includes the first bend of Nujiang River and Nujiang Grand Canyon.

Nujiang Grand Canyon is the world’s third Grand Canyon to the Brahmaputra waters canyon in China and of the Colorado Grand Canyon in the southwestern United States. In the three grand canyons of the Nujiang Great Canyon, the Lancang river canyon and Dulong river canyon in Nujiang Prefecture, Nujiang Grand Canyon is the most spectacular. 

Nujiang Grand Canyon Travel Tips

Tours Including Nujiang Grand Canyon 
9 Days Nujiang Grand Canyon Tour with Dulongjiang River Valley Hiking Adventure
6 Days Nujiang Grand Canyon Adventure with Bingzhongluo Hiking Tour
15 Days Three Parallel Rivers Overland Adventure with Dulongjiang River Valley and Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking

Three parallel Rivers Natural Reserve in Yunnan Province

The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Yunnan province, China. It lies within the drainage basins of the upper reaches of the Yangtze(Jinsha), Lancang(Mekong) and Nujiang(Salween) rivers, in the Yunnan section of the Hengduan Mountains. How to Get to Three Parallel Rivers in Yunnan? 

The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas consists of fifteen protected areas, in eight geographic clusters. The areas include:

1. The three separate sections of the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve

2. Haba Snow Mountain Nature Reserve, with the Tiger Leaping Gorge

3. Bita(碧塔) Lake Nature Reserve, part of Pudacuo National Park, in Shangri-La.

4. Yunling Nature Reserve

5. Gongshan Scenic Area

6. Yueliang Mountain Scenic Area in Fugong County (also known as Stone Moon mountain)

7. Pianma Scenic Area in Lushui County

8. Baima-Meili Snow Mountain—Meili Snow mountain range Reserve, with the highest peak, at 6,740 meters, of the protected areas.

9. Julong Lake Scenic Area, in Deqin County

10. Laowoshan Scenic Area, in Fugong County

11. Hongshan Scenic Area, part of Pudacuo National Park in Shangri-La

12. Qianhushan (Thousand Lake Mountain) Scenic Area, in Shangri-La

13. Laojunshan Scenic Area, in Lanping Bai and Pumi Autonomous County

Check More Information about Three Parallel Rivers Travel Guide.
10 Days Three Parallel Rivers Circle Tour with Nanjiluo and Biluo Snow Mountain Hiking
12 Days Yunnan Three Parallel Rivers Overland Tour with Biluo and Meili Snow Mountains
13 Days Three Parallel Rivers Circle Adventure with Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yubeng Village Hiking Tour
15 Days Three Parallel Rivers Overland Adventure with Dulongjiang River Valley and Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking
20 Days Yunnan Three Parallel Rivers Adventure Trekking Tour