Fancy a break from Hanoi’s chaos? Hop on a Honda and drive yourself to Mai Chau for a unique, cultural and relaxing experience. Comprising of a number of ethnic tribe villages surrounded by lush, verdant green rice paddy fields, this beautiful picturesque town is a perfect idyllic haven, hidden away in a valley.
Located only 135km from Hanoi, the journey here should take no more than three hours by motorbike (unless you happen to bump into a Vietnamese guy going to Bai Chao, and your mispronunciation results in you being led two hours away from the direction you should have been heading. Yes, that did happen to us, and consequently it took us 9 hours. This shouldn’t happen to you, as this was just a terribly inconvenient coincidence that the two places sounded so much alike).
Though Bai Chao didn’t give us much to shout about, Mai Chau certainly did. We were blown away by this fascinating scene of beauty, which incorporates a strong mix of cultural history with modern luxuries.
The town is dotted with locally-owned stilted houses which offer a truly charming, unique experience for tourists. Here you can find a place to rest on a mattress laid on the floor, underneath a mosquito net, in a shared clean space. Though there’s no air-conditioning and the toilets are shared, they’re perfect if you’re staying for a night or two, and come at a reasonable price. Local food is often included in the price, and many offer trekking tours too. These stilt houses have enabled Mai Chau to retain its cultural charm and prevent the need to build Western style hotels in the area. However, there are a small number of luxury spa hotels available.
As I mentioned earlier, we requested directions to Mai Chau from a guy, who misunderstood our pronunciation and was excited to be heading in the same direction. Under his instructions, we followed him two hours to the middle of nowhere and upon arriving at the rural village (in which we were received with bemused stares by locals), we then realised the mistake, turned around and headed back. By the time we made it to the main highway again, it was dark which meant we had to slow down. Just when we were about to give up on life we saw the lit up town at the bottom of the valley.
TIP: don’t worry if you appear to be heading away from it for an hour, you come back to it eventually.
Tired, with very sore bruised bums, we decided to splash the cash and spend the evening at Mai Chai Lodge – a popular spa hotel, which is absolutely beautiful. It cost $100 per night for the both of us, but to be honest I thought it was worth every cent. It had a balcony overlooking the stunning valley, and a magnificent breakfast buffet included. The fact that we were the only guests was a bonus. Other amazing facilities included at the lodge are an outdoor swimming pool, a Roman style Jacuzzi and a sauna and steam room. They also offer various activities which you can indulge in, including kayaking, a cave visit, an ethnic village tour, a cycling tour and much more. We chose to explore one of the tribal villages ourselves which was an exhilarating experience. (There is also an opportunity to stay in a local homestay within an ethnic community).
It’s a simple life in Mai Chau, so don’t expect to find many tourist attractions. Mai Chau IS the attraction and a wonderful experience would involve hiring a bicycle, going for a walk/trek, or taking your motorbike for a ride. Also emerge yourself in the culture with traditional dances and local cooking classes.
Oh, and sometimes there’s landslides. Be careful on the road.