How to get to Mai Chau
A Hanoi to Mai Chau motorbike trip is something that many of us have done before. However, did you know all the possible routes? Are you on a return trip and fancy a new route or even a trip to Pu Luong and would you like to spice it up a little? Would you like to be confident in knowing what the new route is like? Well, here you are.
Please note: There are a few accommodation suggestions on a separate tab on the map. Take a look.
Depending on where you are in Hanoi city, Google will offer you different routes to get to Mai Chai. This is all very obvious and what we already know. I have marked the two major routes out of town in Black and Purple.
As you can see on the map, you will be routed along the AH13 / Highway 6 or the CTO8 in the general direction of Hoa Binh City. Around here is where the Hoa Lac / Hoa Binh Highway then merges with the AH13, which is what you then follow over to Tong Dau junction. It is then 5km down a small road to get to Mai Chau Town.
If you took this route it would be around 150km and would take about 3.5 to 4hrs with stops. If you were planning to go to nearby Pu luong, then you should take a look at 4 great routes to Pu Luong.
Tip: Don't take the AH13 through Ha Dong if you can avoid it.
I have marked the start of the journey on the AH13 in PURPLE because I strongly urge you not to take this route. It is very busy and often blocked with traffic. On top of this, there are road works and this increases the delays.
If you can take the CT08 route out of town [if it makes sense distance-wise], then do so. You will thank me for it.
The AH13 route is main road and it is busy and dangerous in parts with a lot of trucks and buses. This is the obvious danger but it is also dirty and not very scenic as you will be eating dust and fumes and driving through town after town seeing very little greenery.
If you have no experience of taking a trip to Mai Chau, you might just follow one of the routes that Google offers. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to do. Google is generally quite smart when it comes to getting to places, but it doesn’t know that we might want to take a longer more scenic route. Therefore, we have listed a few detours that will get you off the main road and make the journey a little longer but a lot more fun.
Therefore, we have listed a few detours that will get you off the main road and make the journey a little longer but a lot more fun. These detours are MARKED IN RED
Tip: It won’t hurt if you get in early, but it will if you get in late.
As we said, Google doesn’t know that you want to take the scenic route. It only wants to route you on the fastest, easiest, or most common route.
What you need to bear in mind is that these detours will take up a lot of time. You need to leave early and also make sure that you don’t stop and chat for ages when you have a break. If you do either you will find yourself rolling into Mai Chau way after dark and there might not be any beer left in the fridge!!
Detour 1: DT446
This is a great little road that was used a lot more before the Hoa Lac / Hoa Binh Highway took most of the traffic. It is thin, two lane and winding. The surrface is quite smooth but it is a little out of repair in parts due to lack of use. There is some heavy traffic but it is generally an easy and pleasant road to drive on. This logically leads on to Detour 2, if you feel you have time.
There is nothing of note on this route other than typical countryside scenes.
Tip: Be careful on the Bridge
Funnily enough, you can take the bridge over the QL21 (at Hoa Lac) westwards (towards Hoa Binh) but not eastwards (towards Hanoi). Sometimes, the cops hang out on the route coming into Hanoi. They will fine you, quicker than you can say “Oi Troi Oi!”
Best idea? Stay off the bridge.
Detour 2: Uncle Ty's Road
This route could be a little tricky to get on to and you will need to drive slowly and scout around for a way on to it. The new highway barriers have made access that much harder. Once you are on it, it is a pleasant drive on tarmac, small road and quite winding. There is a little traffic but mostly motorbikes and the odd farm vehicle. It is rare to see anything big on this section. It is a little tricky to follow as there are many twists, turns and off roads but you will eventually find yourself out on the Black River heading down to Ky Son on quite fast and good tarmac.
On the way, you will pass a huge pumping station that sends household water to Hanoi; you will see the reservoir. Also on this route is Uncle Ty’s Farmstay, which is a great place to stop off if you have an extra night. Then, you will see a few ferries that cross the Black River. It is perfectly possible to take one and then drive on the quieter shore.
Tip: Stay OFF the CT roads
The CT08 runs out to Hoa Lac and motorbikes are not allowed to ride on this. There will be very clear signage to show you where to turn off. If the police catch you on this road, they will stop you and fine you.
Detour 3: Ferry Route
If you have taken Uncle Ty’s Road above, you now have the choice to cross the Black River on one of two ferries that are there. This will allow you to drive on the opposite side of the Black River (an awesome place, and the focus of Black River Loop, one of our most popular motorcycle tours), which is a little less busy and in slightly better condition. It is the crossing that is interesting to be honest. It also means that you spend a tiny bit less time on the main road. And it is great if you want to go directly to the cafes near the Hoa Binh Dam and have an ice cream.
This side of the river is a little quieter and all you will see are a few houses and some old cement factories that I presume were used to produce the tonnes and tonnes needed for the dam construction.
Detour 4: ATK Road
This route is only accessible if you are coming from Xuan Mai so you could consider taking it on the return to Hanoi. It is a small winding road with very little traffic. The larger trucks tend to take the highway and car drivers seem too lazy and maybe prefer the easier AH13. You will need to turn on to the ST12B, which is a little busier and a lot less scenic after this. You come out at Doc Cun and then decide if you want to take the main road or try your luck on Detour 6.
There is a lot of country life and some beautiful rocky outcrops along the first section. The second section is a little vanilla but it beats the highway hands down, especially for a novice rider.
Tip: Don't overload the bike
Having two people and a few clothes each is probably going to be quite enough for these bikes. Any more than this and you will feel the lack of power and notice the bad handling, particularly up hill.
Detour 5: Round the Hill
You can easily take this route after Detour 2 and not go to Hoa Binh. Where Detour 4 turns off, you carry on and head towards the DT12b. This road is a little busy as there is some industry on it and the only thing about it might be that it offers an alternative route. Once you are on the DT12b, it is smooth, fast road and you will be up to Doc Cun in no time.
There is not much to see on this route and, once again, there are several smelly farms with pigs on the first section. The second section is plain provincial road.
Detour 6: Piggy Route
This is a small and tricky to find road that is close to Detour 2 in Ky Son. It takes you round a large hill that posed a barrier to the Black River. It is not used by many and this is why it is difficult to follow. You should only really take this if you feel adventurous and have time. The good thing is that it isn’t very long and you can easily return to the start. If visiting the Hoa Binh Dam is on your list, then this is a short detour you can do and you should not take Detour 6, below.
There is little to see on this route but plenty to smell as you will go past two large pig farms. Other than that it is just a small road.
Detour 7: Thung Nai Road
This detour can be accessed from the previous Detours 6 and 7 as well as the Ferry Detour. You will need to take the standard route for a few kilometres and then you can get on it. You will head West and the road is generally fine other than there are a few mines and maybe still some construction. Once this first section is out of the way and you turn South, you will then ride on much quieter and more pleasant road. You wind your way South and then over a suspension bridge. This is where the route is interesting with lots of friendly people who are happy to shout and wave at you. You will need to follow the route carefully as this place is quite a rabbit warren and you could easily turn onto some very difficult dirt road (do it, if you like). You will pop out at Muong Khen / Tan Lac and hit the AH13 once more. You can now choose to head up to the Waterfall detour or take the Pu Bin road.
About 3 or 4 km into this route you will see the Museum Of Muong People. This is an interesting place to stop if you have time. Other than that, on the route you will see some beautiful scenery, quiet little villages and, hopefully, a heap of friendly people.
Tip Use saddle bags, a tank bag or a top box
Consider taking saddle bags, a tank bag, or using a top box. The benefits of these are that they will allow you to take your gear off the bike very easily when you need to fill up with petrol, they will allow a pillion passenger more room, and they also all ow you to have quick access to things like water and camera gear.
Detour 8.1/8.2: Lovely Road
This road almost directly links to Detour 7 in Muong Khen and is much longer than the standard route to the Pu Bin Petrol Station.
Note: It is two lines on the map because Google says it does not connect to the AH13, but it does and I drove it in Dec ‘22.
You start off by heading towards Pu Luong on a good quality tarmac road with not much traffic other than motorbikes and the odd truck. Then, you turn right in Quyet Chien at the People’s Committee building (UBND). The road is good all the way to the AH13 but it does get smaller and there is quite a steep section that might be slippery in the rain. Watch out.
There is nothing to see on the route other than country life taking place right in front of you. Nice, huh?
Pu Bin Road
I have not driven on this road for quite some time. I do know that it does not go to Mai Chau any more as it has been washed out. Some years ago I took it and there was a tough rocky section that would be hard for an auto bike to get over but nothing that two or three people coudn’t lift a bike over.
I need to check this out and see how doable it is and this is why it is not currently listed as a detour. Opinion Pending.
Detour 9: Waterfall Road
This is an absolute cracker of a road and is quite easily accessed too or from Detour 7. It is easy to follow and will take you along the shore of the Hoa Binh Dam. You start out in the lower valley under the Thung Khe pass, near White Rocks and then as you curve round you go uphill and into the forest. The road is in good condition and you will see traffic in the form of cars but not many trucks and certainly no large ones like on the highway. You will curl around and then head up hill to the AH13 junction at Dong Bang. From there, you have a straight run on wide highway down to Tong Dau and then 5km on to Mai Chau town.
Along the way you will see small farms and then pass the Ba Khan Resort and Mai Chau Hideaway. As you climb you will pass Go Lao Waterfall and then it is pretty much boring main road.
Detour 10: Hug the Hill
One final detour, if you would like to take it. Go on. Why not? We didn’t come all this way to take the main road into town, did we?
So, you head South towards Mai Chau town from Tong Dau Junction and after about 1km you can turn right off the road and then follow the small roads that hug the hillside. It is hard to describe this and there are so many routes it is actually a waste of time to do so. Just follow your nose.
You simply wiggle and waggle through here taking a look at what people are doing in their day to day life. This might well be a highlight of the trip.
How would I get from Hanoi to Mai Chau?
From Hanoi to Mai Chau
I would leave early from Rentabike Vietnam to miss the traffic and I would take the CT08 route for speed. I would get to Hoa Lac quite quickly so I would have time to take the DT446 and Uncle Ty’s Road. Then, cross the river on one of the ferries. Take the Ferry Route. There would be time to stop at the dam and have a look around. Maybe they will let you through the tunnel now (there was a landslide near the Uncle Ho Statue and it was closed off) After this I would take the Thung Nai Road and go slowly, taking photos and having fun with the locals. I would follow the AH13 up to the Waterfall Road and round to Tong Dau. Lastly, I would Hug the Hill and end up in Sunset Boutique Hotel.
Mai Chau to Hanoi
I would Hug the Hill again so as to get as many pics as possible and then I would go up the pass on the AH13 to the Pu Bin Petrol Station. (Remember to stop at the Flag Tower on the pass to take a photo of the valley.) I would take 8.2 Lovely Road, but then try to go down the Pu Bin Road to see if it was passable. Either way, I would end up at Muong Khen where I would take the standard route for speed and get down to the ATK Road. I would take this and be in Luong Son in no time, from where I would head to Xuan Mai and take the small shortcut road to Quoc Oai. From there it is a straight run back to Hanoi and Rentabike Vietnam.
If the weather was bad...
… in Winter, I would consider taking large parts of the highway so that it would be fast and I could get out of it.
… in Summer, I would wait out any storms in a cafe and then see how much of the detour route I think I could take without being too late to get to my destination. consider taking large parts of the highway so that it would be fast and I could get out of it.
Tip: Make note of keypoints
You may wish to note the keypoints on the route (the places where you head for) such as: Hoa Lac, Hoa Binh, Tong Dau. If you do so, do it in Vietnamese to make it easier for anyone you ask directions.
Best Choice of Bike
You can use pretty much any bike that we rent to take these routes as they are all in good condition and usually tarmac or concrete. Some sections are steep, which is more of an issue for beginner riders rather than the choice of bike.
That said, we would not rent the Honda Cub or the Honda Lead for a trip like this. This is because the Honda Cub just does not have the power to be a safe machine on the highway as speed and the Honda Lead is too low to the ground and will have trouble on any rough ground. We think there is a high chance of damaging the bike and it is a case of them being too dangerous.
- Remember that CT roads are off limits. You cannot take a motorbike on CT roads. They are for 4+ wheeled vehicles only.
- Set Google Maps to ‘motorbike’ option. This will then route you on suitable roads i.e not on CT roads
- Usually you will find a small road that runs alongside or near the CT Road. It can be hard but try to follow this.
- If you don’t have the ‘motorbike’ icon, then you can go into Route Options and hit avoid highways, avoid tolls and this will then route you on the right roads for a motorbike.
- Drive slower than you normally would. The speed limit will be 40kmh in town and usually 60kmh out of town. This is because there are lots of hazards on these roads.
- Respect the speed limit. The cops are quite happy to pull over foreigners nowadays and they are happy to fine them, too. Fines can be several million VN Dong so they worth avoiding.
- If you are riding in a group, rotate the back rider. So, every 5 or 10km have the back rider come up to the front so that no one gets left behind.
- Stay in touch through apps and set regular stops be them 1hr or 50+km intervals. This way you should all slow down and group up.
- Don’t Drink and Drive. Obviously, this is not a good idea, however, you may be unware that the legal blood alcohol level in Vietnam is ZERO. So, not even a sniff of booze is allowed.
Tip: Book your hotel ahead
I usually suggest that people book their accommodation before they arrive. This means you will be sure of having food and drinks as well as a bed. There is nothing worse than having to find somewhere when you are tired and hungry = hangry
The direct route is about 145km. However, if you take some of the detours this will increase. It could go up to as much as 200km.
If you take the direct route it will be from 4 to 5 hours including time for rest breaks and photo stops. If you take any of the detours this time will obviously increase and it is hard to say exactly. The weather will also play a role in this as rain and mist will make it much slower.
There is a wide range of places to stay in Mai Chau. You can stay in a cheap homestay in the shared open dorm rooms, a small mini hotel or resort style accommodation. Each of these options has varying price ranges so, overall, there is somewhere for everyone.
You have the choice of the main town, Ban Poong Coong, Ban Lac and the Sam Khoe area. Each is slightly different and would appeal to different people for different reasons.
There is plenty to do and see in Mai Chau. You can take a trek or a bicycle ride around the countryside or you could visit one or both of the caves. A visit to the Flag Tower is a must to see the view, as well.
Alternatively, visiting nearby Go Lao Waterfall might be something you wish to do.
The food that the homestays cook is fantastic. Season depending, they will make sure to prepare at least one local dish and often more. Some examples include: eels in bamboo, buffalo meat, sticky rice in bamboo, fried crickets, and mountain snail amongst others.
There are many small restaurants in town, but the homestay food is usually much better.
Any bike can make the trip on the main road but we think that either the Honda XR150 or Honda Future is best.
You can find bike rental almost everywhere and a simple auto or semi auto bike should be around 100 to 150,000vnd per day, not including fuel.
If we consider Mai Chau as a hub, then it is quite easy to get to any of the following places in one day: Hanoi, Pu Luong, Moc Chau, Ta Xua, Son La