Mai Chau is an incredibly picturesque, rural area in the Hoa Binh province of Northern Vietnam. Rice fields grow at the base of mountains, in bursts of yellow and green, and people live in bamboo houses on stilts. Palm trees line the roads and pathways, while women work in the fields wearing traditional colonial hats. There are a few activities you can do there, such as climbing 1,200 steps to enter Chiều Cave or travelling north to the Gò Lào Waterfall. However, we – like most people – went to to Mai Chau to relax and do very little!
We took a bus from Hanoi, which took around five hours and cost 28,000 Vietnamese dong per person (around €10.80). We used 12goAsia to book our tickets online a few days in advance. The company sends your booking confirmation via email, so no printing required. We stayed in this homestay and was generally happy with it. The room was effectively a wooden shed, built from bamboo (with a proper double bed, bedside table, electrical sockets, an en suite, WiFi and air conditioning!).
Most of our 24 hours in Mai Chau were spent wandering around, enjoying the stunning scenery. It was absolutely beautiful! Along with the towering mountains and the rice paddies, we saw a crazy number of butterflies (much larger than butterflies back home!), along with cats, dogs, ducks, chickens and lizards. Crickets chirped at us from the rice paddies and frogs ribbited from the rivers that snake through the region. The weather was humid and overcast, with a great tropical feel. We walked everywhere but it is also possible to rent bikes and motorbikes from homestays to travel faster and further.
I suggest visiting some of the charming villages such as Poom Coong village and Lac village. Here you can find some fantastic souvenirs such as clothes, bags, hats, rugs, scarves and other accessories handmade by the local ethnic community. Mai Chau is home to many members of the Thai (the third largest ethnic community in Vietnam). Embroidery is a major part of the economy for women of the Thai community. When girls reach the age of 12, they are taught how to weave and embroider. Once married, she will be responsible for making the blankets and bedding for her household and can also sell her designs for additional income.
Food-wise, we had mixed results! Our Saturday lunch at Mai Chau Countryside homestay was really disappointing, but our Sunday lunch at Bún chả Mai Châu was very tasty. We paid for dinner at the homestay on the Saturday night; it was one of our pricier meals but it was enormous and very tasty. We had pork belly in a sweet, sticky sauce, with a hard boiled egg, spring rolls, omelette, cucumber, carrot and pineapple salad, coleslaw with peanuts, thinly sliced pork rib, bitter greens, rice, dragon fruit and rice wine for 300,000 VND (€11.60)!
If you visit Mai Chau, go during the week and not at the weekend! I had read that weekends get noisy because a lot of tourists and locals from Hanoi travel there. Turns out it was very noisy! On Saturday afternoon and evening, there was a large music event in a neighbouring village: all afternoon and evening Vietnamese dance and pop music floated around the valley, the sound magnified by the mountains. We also stumbled across a wedding reception whose guests were singing loud, off-key karaoke at top volume. The sound carried all the way down the street! Additionally, a talent show was taken place near our homestay which included singers and performances from Thai dancers, but that was all wrapped up by 10pm.
All in all, we enjoyed our time in Mai Chau, although it was fleeting. If you’re an experienced biker, you can explore much further afield on a motorbike and see more of what the area has to offer. Have you ever been there? If so, what did you think of it?
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow