Mai Chau Travel Guide
Surrounded by emerald green paddies and nestled between two towering hills, Mai Chau is located in an idyllic valley that is approx 150 m above sea level and nearly 138 km from the capital city, Hanoi. This rural district has a really charming scene that makes the tourist stay for longer than intended.
Mai Chau is a small town that gives a perfect opportunity to get a break from the hustle of Hanoi on the Vietnam private holidays. It is surrounded by tiny Thai villages which give the chance for an authentic travel experience where is it possible to stay for the night in a traditional stilt house.
Most of the villagers are made up of white Thai tribe who have a distant relation to tribes in China, Laos and Thailand. Most of the locals engage in polite bargaining and tend to avoid the strong-arm sales tactics. Also, most of the locals no longer wear the traditional dresses, but there are still plenty of Thai women that are skilled a creating a variety of traditional-style textiles.
Mai Chau has established itself as a thriving grassroots tourism project with the opportunity for travellers to stay in the village homestays, this region is a popular destination on the tour itinerary. Plus, it is a well-liked getaway for the local people of Hanoi, so for the tourists the best time to visit is throughout the week.
A visit to Mai Chau is certain to appeal to those travellers wishing to relax, hike, and cycle the local area, but may not appeal for the hard-core exploration.
The preferred time to travel on the Vietnam holiday packages for the hot and comfortable weather is February to May and October to November. But, from December to January (sometimes February), the temperature starts to fall and gets quite chilly.
Most of the homestays and stilt houses have fans available for guests, but the climate can make it quite uncomfortable from June to September. Plus, there is a greater risk of rain throughout these months, which can have a negative impact on sightseeing and touring.
How to get there
A regular bus service runs from the My Dinh bus station in Hanoi to Mai Chau with a travel time in the region of 4 hours and costing about $3.50. Alternative bus rides travelling to Dien Bien Phu or Son La will include a local drop off in Mai Chau town.
For the travellers that like to experience the local scenery, a motorbike trip from Hanoi to Mai Chau is certain to appeal with the ability to see sights like limestone karsts and paddy fields while cruising along the mountain road and passing ethnic villages. But, in certain area the road traffic is quite heavy which can be quite difficult to navigate for the less experienced rider.
A direct motorcycle route from Hoa Binh city is about 66 km or from Hanoi is 139 km with the expect time of arrival from the capital city taking about 5 hours to complete.
For the tourists on the Vietnam adventure tour that plan to stay in Mai Chau town or a nearby village, it is possible to easily navigate the local area on foot. But for those planning to visit the sights further afield it benefits to hire a motorbike for the day, which costs in the region of $0.75 per hour. Also, there are the local taxi services (car and motorbike) for getting around.
Where to stay
Many of the local villagers have set up their homes to become a traditional stilt house homestay. By staying in this type of accommodation it is possible to learn more about the traditions and culture of the local people. The majority of the homestays offer a very similar service with the cost in the region of $2.50 per night (excluding meals). However, most of the villagers are more than willing to prepare a delicious meal for an extra charge. Other benefits of staying in the homestays are the ability to volunteer to work in the rice paddies or watch on as skilled craftsmanship is demonstrated.
For the travellers that want to experience a little luxury and have the extra money, a stay at the Mai Chau Ecolodge is certain to appeal.
This is a charming boutique resort with a luxurious pool and spa and free shuttle service between Hanoi and Mai Chau. The rooms come complete with the standard comforts with the cost per night in the region of $100. A great quality of this resort is the stunning views of the local mountains and valley floor. The on-site restaurant has the ability to serve up the high-quality cuisine with a choice of local and international dishes. Also, this resort can help with organizing a wide range of tours that include the romantic packages to guided treks.
After a long day of trekking or cycling on the Vietnam travel it makes sense to find a comfortable retreat to rest up for the night while enjoyed the stunning backdrop and dining on a delicious international or a local dish. Plus, there is the chance of watching a local ethnic-minority group perform a traditional dance
Eat and drink
The food options in Mai Chau are basically limited to what is served in the hotel or homestay. There really isn’t much else here except for a few small pho and rice places. Most of the homestays will service a set breakfast (often western; fruit, jam, bread, etc.) and dinner (home-cooked dishes) which is often on top of the basic cost to stay in the homestay.
Mai Chau does have a Sunday market (most active in the mornings) with plenty of vendors from different minority groups selling a varied range of items – there is little else in Mai Chau town in relation to shopping.
A visit to a village like Poom Coong makes it possible to find plenty of shops that are trading in all kinds of paraphernalia, such as paintings and textiles. The majority of these items is imported from China, although there are certain goods made locally, such as the textiles which are made into a scarf or similar items.
The Hoa Ban+ handicraft shop in Ban Lac 2 is a type of training and job creation facility for the disabled, with many items that have been created with a unique design. There is also a working workshop located close to this shop.
Things to see and do
A great way to explore Mai Chau is to sign up for a tour through a travel agency or similar in Hanoi. Any worthwhile tour will offer the adventurous trekking opportunities that take in the local sights. A typical tour can start at a single day to those that are much longer and include trekking into areas like the Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
While it is possible to travel independently by walking or cycling, the organized tours can include a more varied mix of activities, such as trekking, cycling, kayaking and rock climbing.
Other travel options include heading to a destination like Hoa Binh Lake and seeing if there are any fishermen willing to take you out on the lake for a relaxing boat tour.
A great way to fully explore Mai Chau Valley on the Vietnam family vacation is to hire a bicycle for a day or two. Most of the guesthouse and hotels have hire bikes available for a small charge – although some accommodation does include as a free service. A lot of the surrounding area is reasonably flat which makes for a comfortable and relaxed trip.
A well-planned tour makes it possible to see some incredible scenery that includes the terraced tea plantations, bamboo groves, corn fields, rice paddies, towering limestone mountains and waterfalls. By passing the local villages it is possible to get a better appreciation of the traditions and watching as the farmings carry out the farming methods up close.
But, there are a few quite narrow paths that start to get muddy and difficult to pass after a spell of heavy rainfall. It helps to be well-prepared for the cycling tour and take along sun protection, waterproofs, and wear closed shoes. The cost of hiring a bicycle from one of the villages is in the region of $1 per hour.
A great place to visit while in Mai Chau is the Chieu Cave, which is easily accessed by bicycle. By visiting this unmissable spot it is possible to climb nearly 1200 steps that run up the mountainside to reach the cave chamber. Chieu Cave can be quite quiet with little other foot traffic – although it is a popular place for locals to go to pray. The refreshing cool air of the cave system is blended with the sound of chanting echoes, ritual offerings scattered on the cave floor, and burning incense. On the return trip it is possible to admire the splendid views of the local valley. There is an entrance fee for the Chieu Cave system which costs less than a dollar.