The Bolivan Plateau is an elevated region in southern Laos. Most of the plateau is located within Champasak Province of Laos, though the edges of the plateau are also located in Sekong and Attapeu Provinces. It is located between the Annamite Mountain Range, along which runs Laos’ eastern border with Vietnam, and the Mekong River to the west, at about 15°N 106°ECoordinates: 15°N 106°E. The plateau's elevation ranges approximately from 1,000 to 1,350 metres (3,300 to 4,430 ft) above sea level.
The plateau is crossed by several rivers and has many scenic waterfalls. The name Bolivan makes reference to the Laven ethnic group which has historically dominated the region. However, domestic migrations by the Lao ethnic group (which comprises approximately 50 to 60 percent of the population of Laos) has resulted in widespread interethnic marriage, thus modifying the ethnic composition of the region.
The Bolivan Plateau has had an important role in the greater history of Laos. The three most significant historical periods which have greatly affected the area are the French colonization of the region, the Phu Mi Bun Revolt, and the Vietnam War. Each event has had a significant effect upon the Plateau and given the area its own unique character and importance.
In 1893, the French first annexed territories east of the Mekong River and later annexed minor extensions of land to the west of the Mekong in 1904 and 1907. For the Bolivan Plateau, the period of French colonization in Laos is most significant because of the agricultural techniques acquired from the French by the inhabitants. According to the Historical Dictionary, “the French planted coffee and experimented with rubber, and the plateau has remained an important agricultural area growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as cash crops”.
It was not until the French introduced farming to the region in the early 20th century that the residents of the Bolivan Plateau made the area an agricultural sector.
The second period that helps define the history of the Plateau is the Phu Mi Bun Revolt. The revolt erupted in 1901 and was not suppressed until 1907. It was a “major rebellion by local Lao Theung tribes (the Alak, Nyaheun and Laven) against French domination”. Though there is not extensive literature on these particular revolutionary revolts in the Bolivan Plateau, one can see that the native communities desired to rid the region of the extensive and overpowering influence of their colonizers.
Lastly, the Bolivan Plateau greatly suffered during the Vietnam War. The Bolivan Plateau was one of “the most heavily-bombed theatres of the Second Indochina War, US bombardment became unbearable in the late ’60s. Controlling the Bolivan 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”. Since there is a great deal of UXO lying around the Plateau, it is often dangerous to veer off unmarked paths.
According to many accounts, the devastation caused by these bombings can still be seen in some areas, though most edifices have been rebuilt. In addition, the mere fact that the Plateau is one of the areas passed through on the Ho Chi Minh Trail still attracts tourists and brings further attention to the region. Thus, the three aforementioned events are unique historical incidents which have directly affected the Bolivan Plateau.
The predominant ethnic group in the Bolivan Plateau is the Laven, though other Mon-Khmer ethnic groups reside in the area including the Alak, Katu, Taoy, and Suay. According to CPA Media, “all of these people follow animist belief systems” with some groups practicing animal sacrifices. However, more recently, some of these minority communities have begun to adopt Buddhist beliefs because of their contact with Lao Loum.
Literature on the Boloven Plateau often focuses on two primary economic contributors to the region: agricultural production and tourism. Both contribute greatly to the Plateau’s revenue.
The French first began farming and other agricultural techniques in the Bolivan Plateau including the production of coffee, rubber, and bananas in the early 20th century. Since the French’s initial influence, “the plateau remained an important agricultural area growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as cash crops such as cardamom”. However, it was the French introduction of the production of coffee that has proved most useful to the region.
During colonization, the French introduced the production of “high quality stock of both Arabica and Robusta strains. Production declined during the war years, but is now experiencing a renaissance”. The climate of the Plateau with its cooler temperatures and abundant rainfall makes it the perfect place for coffee production. Most farming families that make up a variety of the aforementioned minority groups are highly dependent on the coffee industry as their source of income. Almost all coffee in Laos is “cultivated almost exclusively on the Bolivan Plateau in Champasak Province in the southern part of the country… Currently, the Lao coffee harvest generates about 15-20,000 tons a year, 80% of which is Robusta.