Spreading across parts of all four southern provinces, the fertile Bolaven Plateau (ພູພຽງບໍລະເວນ; known in Lao as Phu Phieng Bolaven) is famous for its cool climate, dramatic waterfalls and high-grade coffee.
The French started planting coffee, rubber and bananas in the early 20th century, but many left following independence in the 1950s and the rest followed when US bombardment began 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 unexploded ordnance (UXO) still lying around. But where it has been cleared, both local farmers and large companies are busy cultivating coffee. Other local products include fruit, cardamom, rattan and, more recently, avocados.
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.