Spreading across the northeast of Champasak Province into the southeastern Salavan, Sekong and Attapeu provinces, the fertile Bolaven Plateau (ພູພຽງບໍລະເວນ; known in Lao as Phu Phieng Bolaven) is famous for its cool climate, dramatic waterfalls, fertile soil and high-grade coffee plantations.
The area wasn't farmed intensively until the French started planting coffee, rubber trees and bananas in the early 20th century. Many of the French planters left following independence in the 1950s and the rest followed as US bombardment became unbearable in the late '60s. Controlling the Bolaven Plateau was considered strategically vital to both the Americans and North Vietnamese, as evidenced by the staggering amount of UXO (unexploded ordnance) still lying around.
The slow process of clearing UXO continues, but in areas where it has been cleared, both local farmers and larger organisations are busy cultivating coffee. Other local products include fruit, cardamom and rattan.
The largest ethnic group on the plateau is the Laven (Bolaven means ‘home of the Laven’). Several other Mon-Khmer ethnic groups, including the Alak, Katu, Tahoy and Suay, also live on the plateau and its escarpment.
The Bolaven Plateau can be explored by motorbike on a day trip from Pakse, but we recommend taking a few extra days and tackling the 'Southern Swing'.