In the high mountains of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, three rivers – the Jinsha, Nujiang and Lancang – all originated from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, run roughly parallel, north to south for some 170 km. As the crow flies, the distance between the Jinsha and Lancang rivers is 66 km while that between the Lancang and Nujiang rivers is less than 19 km.

The Three Parallel Rivers site covers land of some 1.7 million hectares. With it come nine nature reserves and 10 scenic spots variously belonging to Lijiang City, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture. Located where the three geological regions of East Asia, South Asia and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau meet, it is representative of rare alpine landforms and their evolution, and one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world.

After this area of near confluence, the rivers greatly diverge: the Nujiang River becomes Salween and empties out at Moulmein, Burma, into the Indian Ocean, the Lancang becomes the Mekong and south of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, empties out into the South China Sea and the Yangtze flows into the East China Sea at Shanghai. Selected nature reserves and places of scenic beauty in this unique region were collectively awarded World Heritage Site status in 2003 for their very rich biodiversity and outstanding topographical diversity.Running parallel to these three rivers, but to the west inside Burma, is the river gorge of the N’Mai river, the main tributary to the Irrawaddy River.

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