Nestled in between roaring mountains, Mai Chau is a humble district in the Northwest of Vietnam and is a perfect escape from Hanoi’s hustle. The rustic emerald beauty of Mai Chau is often compared to that in Sapa, but Mai Chau is notorious for being far less commercialized and touristy. In case you’re wondering whether Mai Chau or Sapa is more worthwhile of a trip, see our guide below shares all the needed information and tips for your next trip to Mai Chau.
Mai Chau is a district of Hoa Binh Province, and the capital city of Mai Chau is Mai Chau City. This blog will cover traveling in Mai Chau District as a whole.
Weather: The best time to visit Mai Chau is around October - April when the weather is the mildest. Coming to Mai Chau around other times can be unbearably hot.
Geography: Mai Chau’s terrain comprises of the fertile lowland 150m above the sea level, with mountain ranges and bubbling streams carving through. The countryside views will make you never want to leave this scenic land.
The laid-back atmosphere of Mai Chau’s countryside
Demographics: Mai Chau is home to a significant population of the Thai ethnic group in Vietnam: Black Thai and White Thai - the “color” signifies the different ancestors and cultures of the communities. In addition, there are the Kinh people, Muong people in Mai Chau. Therefore, do expect to experience the unique variety of cultural traits that Mai Chau has to offer.
How to spend your days in Mai Chau: cycling, trekking, spelunking, staying in stilt houses, buying brocade fabrics and rice wine, enjoy local traditional dishes.
A local stilt house in Mai Chau
What to Pack for Mai Chau
Clothing: mostly include the packing necessities for Northern Vietnam. Additionally, remember to bring these items for outdoor activities in Mai Chau
Electronics: it is best to prepare upon your trip to Mai Chau as there are limited services for your electronics
Get your Vietnam travel insurance
Accommodation services in Mai Chau for tourists are not abundant, but because of that, you’ll get to immerse in the pristine nature unspoiled by concrete structures. The viable options for staying in Mai Chau are homestays and lodges around the Lac Village and Poom Coong Village. They are traditional stilt houses of ethnic families, which are elevated off the ground with the bottom part used to shelter farmed animals.
Book a stay at Mai Chau Ecolodge for premium accommodation in Mai Chau
Wake up to a refreshing view (farmers planting rice in the field)
Look for places to stay in Mai Chau here:
Distance from Hanoi to Mai Chau: 160 km
Look for Hanoi - Mai Chau bus/taxi tickets online:
Look for places to rent motorbikes in Hanoi
Motorbiking from Hanoi to Mai Chau will pass by steep mountainous routes, but the condition of the roads is relatively nice so it shouldn’t be a challenging ride. Most visitors would follow the national road No.6 (QL6 on Google Maps) for a day trip from Hanoi to Mai Chau.
Depending on when you’re visiting, Mai Chau will welcome you with either verdant green carpets of paddy fields or endless golden stretches of ripe rice paddies. Other than that, there is plenty to see and do to appreciate Mai Chau’s scenery.
Boundless paddy fields in Mai Chau’s village
For motorbikers in Mai Chau, you’re in for a treat. The Thung Khe Pass slits through the mountain cliffs and creates an adrenaline-rushing curve. The pass connects Tan Lac and Mai Chau, and is a part of the National Highway No.6 (QL6). Some buses from Hanoi to Mai Chau stop here for passengers to take in the magnificent views and enjoy some streetside snacks like grilled corns or grilled eggs.
Thung Khe Pass is also locally referred to as the White Stone Pass
Despite being a famous destination from Hanoi, Mai Chau still retains its relaxing charm
Mai Chau is ideal for cycling in between verdant paddy fields and through peaceful villages. Some lodges in Mai Chau offer free bicycle rentals (do check for this when booking your stay), or you can look for a bicycle tour in Mai Chau for more thrilling bicycle adventures.
It is incredibly tempting to take a long nap in the mellow atmosphere of Mai Chau, but riding a bicycle around the local villages is truly gratifying
Simple, rustic, yet charming views
A popular trek in Mai Chau is the 18 km trail from Lac Village to Xa Linh Village. A multiple-day trek will usually start from Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Thanh Hoa Province - adjacent to Mai Chau) through Mai Chau, to as far as Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh.
Note that trekking and hiking in Mai Chau take strenuous physical work, and you may come across some blistering rains. Have your GPS ready or contact a professional trekking tour guide. If you plan to take part in this activity, our advice is to research accommodations along the trekking routes and plan to stay at least 3 days in Mai Chau.
Mai Chau's caves are famous for its mystic beauty thanks to the ancient stalactites and stalagmites. Caving in Mai Chau will take you to another dimension, which will undoubtedly add special highlights to your trekking journey.
Prepare to climb 1200 stone steps into the wonder of Chieu Cave. It can get pretty hot during summer days in Mai Chau, so plan to visit the cave in the late afternoon. However, the deeper you venture into the cave, the colder it gets, so do plan you caving outfits accordingly.
Conquer the Chieu Cave in Mai Chau for epic photos
Hoa Binh Lake is a human-made reservoir of the Da River - one of the largest rivers in Vietnam with winding streams. The lake is roughly 2-hour-drive from Mai Chau, and most major homestays like the Mai Chau Ecolodge operate day tours to Hoa Binh Lake.
As calm as it may seem, Mai Chau doesn’t lack daring activities
Once in Mai Chau, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the vibrant ethnic culture in the local markets, and of course, purchase some items for yourself too!
Pa Co Market's entrance
Intricate handicrafts made by ethnic women
When shopping at local ethnic markets, a little bit of bargaining is welcomed.
Mai Chau blooms in colors during the Gau Tao Festival
Lon Man - the pig - only feeds on small plants instead of industrialized foods, so the meat is exceptionally juicy and tender with very little fat. Locals love to boil the meat and have it with roasted salt and beans.
Legend has it that the bamboo tubes were utilized as a container for people working in the fields to carry rice with them. Now, it is a must-try rice dish for visitors in Mai Chau. Com Lam is carefully grilled over hot charcoal right before being served with grilled mountain chicken and sesame salt and sugar.
Grilling Com Lam
This specific type of chicken is farmed with a unique method; the chickens are only fed with a small amount of food, then they can wander freely at the foot of a hill until they have to run up the hill to come back to their nests. As a result, the chicken legs are the best part of Ga Doi, which are usually baked in charcoal or steam with lemon leaves. This dish goes with a traditional Thai dipping sauce called “cham cheo” made with chopped up herbs and chilies.
Ruou Can is the extraordinary culinarily and cultural traits of Vietnam ethnic minorities. It is generally a big jar or jug of rice wine mixed with ginger and other herbs and indeed pretty strong. Villagers usually share a jug of wine in communal ceremonies or celebrations using long bamboo straws. Enjoying a night in Mai Chau with some roasted meat and a few sips of Ruoc Can can warm you up from inside out. If the taste of the wine still lingers on you, then make sure to buy some home!
Ruou Can is the best when shared with friends
Besides the mentioned specialties, Mai Chau’s cuisine consists of a lot of pork, chicken, and wild herbs and vegetables. Take full advantage of your time staying in a local homestay to try out the local dishes.
A homey meal with a local family with baby bamboo shoots, chicken, and fresh vegetables
The final big question is: Mai Chau or Sapa? Read our blog on What to Do in Sapa before you rush to the conclusion. Nonetheless, for a nature-lover at heart, you would not want to miss the chance to experience the idyllic nature of Mai Chau.
Need more information on planning a day trip from Hanoi? Let us know in the comments below.
© Written by Kim Hoang for itourvn.com | itourvn.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com