The Red River, draining a 169,000 km2 watershed, is the second largest river in Viet Nam and constitutes the main source of water for a large percentage of the population of North Viet Nam. Here we present the results of an investigation into the spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of particulate and dissolved organic carbon (POC and DOC, respectively) in the Red River Basin. POC concentrations ranged from 0.24 to 5.80 mg C L−1 and DOC concentrations ranged from 0.26 to 5.39 mg C L−1. The application of the Seneque/Riverstrahler model to monthly POC and DOC measurements showed that, in general, the model simulations of the temporal variations and spatial distribution of organic carbon (OC) concentration followed the observed trends. They also show the impact of high population densities (up to 994 inhab km−2 in the delta area) on OC inputs in surface runoff from the different land use classes and from urban point sources. A budget of the main fluxes of OC in the whole river network, including diffuse inputs from soil leaching and runoff and point sources from urban centers, as well as algal net primary production and heterotrophic respiration was established using the model results. It shows the predominantly heterotrophic character of the river system and provides an estimate of CO2 emissions from the river of 330 Gg C year−1. This value is in reasonable agreement with the few available direct measurements of CO2 fluxes in the downstream part of the river network.