In a nutshell
Surrounded by towering cliffs and typically picturesque rice fields is this beautiful and idyllic valley called the Mai Chau area.
Why go to Mai Chau
It offered us great respite from traffic-plagued Hanoi and gave off a very peaceful and relaxed vibe, perfect for those who want to taste some rural Vietnamese life. We found the area to be a lot quieter than Sapa and therefore if you prefer going off the beaten track, this place might just well be worth a visit. The charming and spectacular mountainous scenery offers ample photo opportunities as do the 7 ethnic minority tribes that live in the region. There are some things to see and activities to do in the area with the most popular being trekking in the surrounding areas and you can either do this on your own or as part of a tour. You will get a real taste of what life is like if you go trekking as you will see various villages and how they live and work. Also, there is a cave, a museum and a market as well as adrenaline activities like rock climbing, cycling and kayaking for the sporty types. There is nothing better than “doing as the Romans do” and that applies to the accommodation as the majority of the guesthouses are traditional places on stilts and this gives it a truly cultural experience.
When to go to Mai Chau
The best time to go to Mai Chau is from October to April, because outside of these times the area can get unbearably hot and if you are staying at guesthouses with unreliable electricity, you may not get away from it. We were only wearing light garments like shorts and t shirts and the temperature doesn’t drop that much at night time. If you come February to April time then you will be greeted with the most luscious green countryside ever seen. If you come between October and December then this green transforms into an outstanding and striking golden colour due to the rice approaching its harvest.
Where to stay in Mai Chau
The area is speckled with little villages and most of the accommodation is relatively cheap with Van Village being one of our favourites for staying in a homestay. Prices start from VND50,000 and there were western toilets, good beds, fans and even TV’s in the common room. There are even cheaper places to be found in Pom Coong village and are known as backpacker central. If you are looking for something a little more upmarket then try Mai Chau town as there are some modern hotels including Mai Chau Valley View Hotel (VND200,000) that has spacious rooms, balconies, hot water and a restaurant.
Where and what to eat in Mai Chau
The majority of the guesthouses offer food and seeing as most of the places are owned by one of the ethnic minorities, don’t expect too much outside of the local cuisine. We tried a few dishes and they were absolutely delicious like the various soups and stir fry’s with our favourites being rice noodle with pork/chicken (VND20,000). There were also fish and vegetarian dishes but if you want something western then try the Mai Chau Valley View Hotel as it has pizzas and pastas. Ban Lac 1 is the most developed of all the villages and has best the nightlife with a few bars, though it doesn’t have a great range of places to stay at.
How to get around Mai Chau
If you don’t mind walking you can get around on foot to most villages but if that’s not your cup of tea then renting a bicycle for VND20,000 might be your best option. It’s a fun way to explore the area and is cheap and if you are going to rent for longer than a day then try to negotiate a price. Sometimes you will find motorbike taxis and there is a taxi service in the town of Mai Chau.
How to get to and from Mai Chau
To get in and out of Mai Chau, there are direct buses from Hanoi which cost around VND280,000 and take 4-5 hours. Also, there are regular buses that depart from Hanoi that arrive in Hoa Binh and then from the bus station there you can get the bus to Mai Chau.
Another option is to get a bus from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu or Son La and tell the bus driver to drop you off at Tong Dau junction, which is 5 kms from Mai Chau and from there get a motorbike taxi for VND50,000.
Similrly there is a direct bus for getting back from Mai Chau. It also costs VND280,000 and is operated by Grouptour.
Is Mai Chau a safe place to visit?
In terms of safety, as long as you are good at riding a bicycle or a motorbike and don’t fall off then there is nothing else to worry about. The local tribes are extremely friendly and there is no criminal activity in the area that has been reported.