If you do a search before going to Vietnam, Sapa must be on the list with all the praises of its beautiful terraces. But if you have limited time to explore northern Vietnam while Sapa requires at least 8 hours to reach from Hanoi? I think Mai Chau can be an alternative. Mai Chau is perfect for solo, group or family trip. It is 170km from Hanoi and located in the southwest of the city, that means after your flight to Hanoi, you can stay there some days, travel to Ha Long Bay first then continue to Mai Chau without having to transfer back to Hanoi. This will save you huge chunks of time.
There isn’t only Sapa, many northern Vietnam villages are famous for beautiful rice fields and terraces, Mai Chau is one of the best but that is not all that this village can offer to you. This rural area is completely different from the hectic Hanoi. This is the place where you can forget all the tiredness and worries of a busy everyday life. And it is pretty cheap compared to other places in Vietnam and suitable for family, group or solo travel.
Mai Chau valley is filled in the green color...
After 4 hour journey from the capital of Vietnam, you can see rice fields are bursting with color surrounding by mountain, red-brown, narrow land paths run between them, some wooden traditional stilt houses of ethnic people are scattered amid the green of leaves, water buffaloes lying lazily on a path side, local children playing and dog barking from the distance… All of these sound and images make the landscape painting much more vivid. Very soon, you will recognize that “resting” is the last thing you want to do here.
...and friendly people
There are three styles of accommodation in Mai Chau: luxury resorts such as AVANA Retreat offering spacious villas with private pool overlooking terraced rice fields, a perfect base to enjoy the nature of the mountainous area in Northern Vietnam and to explore tradition and culture of the locals. If you want to keep your budget low, there is also a handful of smaller hotels and dozens of homestays in the valley, such as Mai Chau Ecolodge and Mai Chau Lodge. The price for the last two options is amazingly cheap, which makes Vietnam one of the best destination for budget travelers. For those who are not as part of a tour, a homestay and a breakfast would only cost 5 USD to 7 USD. But wherever you choose to stay, beautiful and bright green paddies stretched out for miles are always in sight.
You can choose to stay in luxury resorts such as AVANA Retreat or stilt house of Thai people
After a happy night, you wake up late in the morning and while still laying on the cozy bed, you start to think about what you will do today? And luckily, Mai Chau has something unique to offer.
Cycling slowly down the land paths through green rice fields is something must try in Mai Chau
With amazing landscape which is typical of northern mountainous Vietnam, the best activity to start your day is cycling slowly down the village paths. Getting through the rice paddies filled with green color on your bicycle, you have a chance to praise the peaceful rural life of Vietnam:
- Buffalo and cows are walking leisurely
- Bared-feet children are playing under the shade of big trees
- People are working on the field
- Women and men talking in their ethnic language
- Elders are waving their hands to you
- The kids are giving you friendly welcome smiles.
You can always stop your ride between the green fields, deeply breathe in the pleasant scent of fresh air, letting the breeze caress over your face and a few playful blades of grass tickle your feet… For a moment, you may recognize that by learning how to be happy with little things, you are learning how to be happy with life.
Village tour is another option that’s equally interesting. After breakfast, you can access some of Mai Chau’s remote villages such as Ban Lac or Ban Poom Coong by a morning bike ride or a motorbike. Local people who live in these villages (Ban in Vietnamese) are White Thai ethnicity, make a living from farming, running homestays and selling colorful handmade bags, clothes, bracelets to visitors.
Stilt house plays an important role in the White Thai’s culture
They live in traditional wooden stilt houses which always have two ladders. One on the left named “Tang Chang” is for the women with 9 steps and the second on the right named “Tang Quan” is only for the men in the family with 7 steps. In the middle of the house is an altar to worship ancestors which are called “Hong Hong” in ethnic language. The stilt house plays an important role in Thai’s cultural life. There is an old poem which is passed from generation to generation like a lesson that elders teach their sons and grandsons how to build a good stilt house:
"Huon đi tang cang ten
Huon en tang cang ven
Lom luong pat bau chai
Lom hai pat bau pay”
"Good house is built on high land
A beautiful house is built between villages
Wide wind can’t damage
Big storm can't move."
The majority population of Mai Chau is White Thai (Tai Dam) and Black Thai (Tai Kao) people. They infuse the land with their tradition and culture so don’t forget spending your time to experience.
When you stay a night at a local house, you will have a chance to join many activities such as:
- Having a dinner with house owner
- Watching Thai cultural show
- Listening to ethnic Thai music, and
- Playing bamboo dancing
Tribal culture discovery in depth...
Bit boring with bicycling? You might want to face challenges: climbing a 1,000-step staircase to reach Chieu cave (In fact, there are 1,200 steps). Situated in the southwest and considered one of the most impressive attractions in the town, Chieu cave divided into 2 floors and reaches the length of over 150m. Conquering more than 1,000 steps might make you tired but the reward is worthy. Looking down from the cave, Mai Chau valley is stunning.
Pung Waterfall is located in Avana Retreat, a luxury resort about 30 km from Mai Chau. It is set amidst dense foliage and is enveloped in an intimate atmosphere. The waterfall pours from the top and turns into various streams that supply water to all the trees, flowers, rice fields and villages in the area. For unique experiences in the mountains, Avana Retreat offers a private romantic candlelight dinner with music, flowers and a delicious menu by the waterfall.
Private romantic candlelight dinner with music, flowers and a delicious menu by the Pung waterfall
If you stay at a stilt house, meals are included in the price and they are worth to try. Traditional country dishes are served for lunch and dinner with the vegetable planted in the garden, leaves of some wild trees grown on the mountain, pork and chicken grazing in the backyard and rice harvested from their fields. The cuisine is simple but delicious and nutritious. If you are not a fan of local foods, you always find other dishes in a restaurant’s menu.
Mai Chau traditional food is simple but delicious and nutritious
After two days of staying in Mai Chau, you might not regret missing Sapa on your list. The clean region and stunning view make it become one of the most expected destinations of Vietnam for ones who appreciate the sun trail on their shoulders and the freedom in their heart.
1. Time to visit: Mai Chau may be cold and rainy so better choose the right time to go. September, October, March, April or May for best time to visit with mild weather (from 18 to 25 Celsius degree); June to August is summer, hot and rain sometimes, but sunny (from 25 to 35 Celsius degree) and from November to January is the coldest time with average temperature drops to 15 degree.
2. Clothes: Comfortable shoes and clothes are recommended as well as sunglasses and suncream in the summer.
3. Don’t forget your camera: Mai Chau is heaven for photography lovers. It provides lots of great shot, even with people who don’t know how to take a photo.
4. Bring cash: Cash is something you shouldn’t forget in Mai Chau. The local people won’t accept your credit while ATMs aren’t easy to find.
Want to have a private trip to Maichau?: Mai Chau is a featured destination in the tour "Authentic Vietnam" by Exotic Voyages so you surely can join and experience yourself with professional help from our travel expert. Take your time and tell us your requests right here.