Mai Chau Valley
Mai Chau Valley is home to a number of small villages inhabited by a few of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. Surrounded by vast rice paddies, towering mountain peaks, and extensive lake views, Mai Chau is an ideal escape from the busy streets of Hanoi and the pressures of daily life. Located 135km from Hanoi, it is an easily accessed location in the north and offers a bit of peace and tranquility for those wanting to escape the city. It is a four-hour journey that is completely worth taking.
Reasons to Visit Mai Chau in Northern Vietnam
The district of Mai Chau covers an impressive 520 km² and is home to 7 different ethnic minority groups. The ‘White Thai’ people being the highest population in the district. The majority of locals in the region manage their own farmland set at the base of soaring mountains and hills. A simple life a million miles away from the one that so many of us know.
Locals live in traditional stilt houses made from bamboo and timber and are a sight to behold in themselves. Their raised houses intend to keep them safe from the effects of flooding and other creatures, such as snakes and insects. The space below their houses is often used as a space to keep their livestock.
Mai Chau also sits on the western edge of the extensive and impressive Hoa Binh Lake which has a capacity of almost 9.5 billion cubic meters of water. Due to its sheer size, the lake is truly is a rare sight and is one of the most impressive in Vietnam. In addition, rolling hills surround the lake, making it even more beautiful.
Arriving in Mai Chau
There are various different options for travel in Vietnam and all are generally affordable. Arriving in Mai Chau from Hanoi is simple and isn’t costly.
Local buses to Mai Chau run regularly from Hanoi bus station and are as little as 100,000VND ($5). Buses can take anywhere between 4-6 hours and are available daily. However, it is worth considering your comfort and flexibility. Booking a local bus in advance is not easy and accessing a timetable can be challenging. Tour companies also run buses daily and are easier to book in advance. Buses can cost anywhere between $15-25 and will take around 4 hours.
It is also possible to book a taxi to take you from Hanoi to Mai Chau. Taxis in Vietnam are often your most expensive option and will cost anywhere between $90-150. They can be arranged with any tour company or with most accommodation.
Arguably your best option in terms of making the most of any trip in Vietnam. Renting a motorbike for your journey will allow you to travel at your own pace and take in the beauty of Northern Vietnam. The drive from Hanoi to Mai Chau is certainly not lacking in places to stop and sights to see. The roads are of relatively high quality and are great for even the least experienced riders. We also put together a stellar route guide that shows you how to get to Mai Chau by motorbike using as many detours off the main road as you can.
When arriving in Mai Chau by motorbike you have the option to take the lakeside road with incredible views of Hoa Binh Lake. This winding mountainside road will have you clinging to your bike seat whilst admiring the beauty of the lake. To read more about what motorbike you should take and what to expect from the journey, read our post about arriving in Pu Luong by motorbike. (link to pu Luong Post)
Things to Do in Mai Chau
Explore by Bike
Most accommodation in Mai Chau will offer free bicycle rental, enabling you to explore the glorious countryside at your own pace. Cruising through rice paddies by bicycle anywhere in Vietnam is something that should be embraced. Weaving down small valley roads past local farmers manning their livestock, farmworkers picking rice and through clusters of stilt houses could be the highlight of your trip!
Hoa Binh Lake
As mentioned earlier in the post, Hoa Binh Lake is a sight not to be missed when visiting northern Vietnam. This incredibly large lake nestled between sprawling hills is truly a sight to behold.
The lake can be enjoyed by foot, boat or kayak. Tour operators will offer opportunities to spend a day cruising the lake by boat or exploring by kayak. Hiking around one of the many paths around the lake will also give you an opportunity to view the lake from a different perspective.
Trekking around Mai Chau is a great way to observe the parks more untouched areas and get a true feel for local life. Most accommodation will be able to arrange for a local guide to lead you off-road and down more challenging paths. Therefore providing an opportunity to learn more about life in Mai Chau and other parts of Northern Vietnam.
For adventure seekers wanting a more challenging experience trekking, you can consider visiting the neighboring Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
Mai Chau Town
Visit Mai Chau’s main town to wander the market streets and shop for local handwoven gifts. The bustling market town offers a place to explore, eat and get stuck in with the locals. Visiting on a Sunday will give you an opportunity to see locals in their traditional clothing, demonstrating their different ethnic minorities.
Join the Locals for Dinner
The White Thai people are always keen to demonstrate their cooking and hospitality skills. Most homestays ran by the ethnic minority group will ask you to join them for dinner. And you should always say yes!
As particularly good cooks, the Vietnamese will always go out of their way to put on an extensive spread for each meal of the day. Not to mention the flowing rice wine that always accompanies dinner time. A true Viet experience that should be enjoyed by anyone visiting the north of Vietnam.
Visit Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Pu Luong Nature reserve is located only 1-2 hours from Mai Chau and is an ideal trip out when staying in the district. It has even more dramatic scenery, extensive hiking opportunities, and hidden villages. Pu Luong has enough to keep you busy for more than one day.
With lush green mountains spreading for miles, Pu Luong offers yet another experience not to be missed when visiting the North of Vietnam. For more information on what to do and where to stay, read our blog post on Pu Luong.
Due to its popularity and increasing tourism, Mai Chau has a wide range of accommodation to choose from. Ranging from a family homestay to a 4* resort. Making a decision on where to stay can be tough. However, your decision should be made based on what you are hoping to gain from your time in rural Vietnam.
Luxury: A Relaxing Experience
Resorts in Mai Chau are very popular with local Viet tourists looking to escape their busy city lives and experience a slice of tranquility for the weekend. Most of the resorts have pools and a place to relax during your stay. If a chilled, relaxing experience is something you’re seeking from your time in Mai Chau, then a resort could be for you!
Remember resorts in Mai Chau can be costly. If you’re planning on spending time exploring the countryside, we would suggest staying in a homestay.
Homestay: A True Vietnamese Experience
Many of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam are extremely hospitable and are keen to share their simple way of life with tourists. Therefore offering a slice of what living in rural Vietnam is truly like and homestays in Mai Chau are no exception.
Local ethnic minorities, such as the White Thai people, have opened their doors to offer tourists a place to rest their weary heads after a long day of exploring. Food is always prepared for each meal of the day upon request, rice wine is usually on tap and a clean bed is waiting.
The residents of Mai Chau have been involved in tourism for many years and now they have responded to the demand for more luxury or comfortable places. Therefore, at places like Mai Chau Sunset, you can find both traditional homestay and comfortable hotel rooms.
You may have been trekking in the misty cold winter and feel in need of double-glazed windows and en-suite bathroom rather than hopping across a cold bathroom floor to the toilet. Here you will have the choice of both and still get to dine on their sumptuous food.
Mai Chau is easy to get to, it has food and bedroom options that suit everyone and there are plenty of things to see and do while you are there. What’s not to like?
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