Oli and I have been to Mai Chau twice now, and have driven through a third time on the way to Pu Luong. Yet, I’ve not written about it until now which is a disservice to what an amazing destination it is.
Going through my pictures in preparation for this post, I could not believe how beautiful they were! Now, I’d like to think it’s because of my great photography skills but, really, Mai Chau is just magical.
Since that first trip in April, we’ve taken 11 more weekend trips across the country. From Xuan Son to Sapa and all the way to Saigon. But Mai Chau remains one of the most picturesque towns we’ve visited in Vietnam.
Mai Chau is an incredibly popular weekend trip from Hanoi, although it is still a place we’d never heard of when we first came to Vietnam 6 years ago.
The Vietnamese government chose a number of areas of the country to develop specifically for tourism, and Mai Chau was one of them, attributing heavily to its popularity. One project they undertook was improving the infrastructure in a number of traditional houses, creating beautiful and fairly luxurious homestays throughout the village. Today their must be well over 100 homestays in Lac Village in Mai Chau.
Yet, despite this rather quick move from remote town to renowned tourist hotspot, both times we’ve been it never really felt overrun. In fact, there was just as many local tourists as foreign tourists and most of the time the streets were empty. Maybe we were lucky, but for us it is this peaceful, rural atmosphere there that we remember.
The dusty streets, the bright green rice paddies and the wooden stilt homes standing above it all.
So, what do we recommend you do in this town? There are a number of things we urge you not to miss.
Cycling in Mai Chau
You can rent bicycles for a a few dollars a day in Mai Chau, from a number of enterprising families around the village. With plenty of pathways through the rice paddies and into neighbouring villages, we recommend taking any route that looks intriguing and getting well and truly lost.
Shopping in Mai Chau
Now, this is not your usual Journey Count recommendation as all our money goes towards travel related activities (and beer). But if you are looking for some beautiful Vietnamese souvenirs then Mai Chau is a fantastic place to get them.
As with many places in the country, Mai Chau is full of factory made items. Despite the beautiful looms in every household, buying stock from the factories is still a great income for these families. Having said that, you can still find incredible hand made things in all the little shops. Hemp materials and batik designs are something to look out for.
Photographing Mai Chau
Whether you are on a bike or on foot, take the time to stop often on your wanders around Mai Chau to soak in the atmosphere and take plenty of photos. The traditional wooden houses all have their own unique charm and the rice paddies, both far-reaching and terraced, look good from all angles.
Waterfalls and caves in Mai Chau
We’ve said this before but it begs repeating: wherever we find ourselves in Vietnam there seems to be at least one cave and one waterfall!
The waterfall just outside of Mai Chau is a cascading roar of water, falling much more steeply than many other waterfalls in Vietnam which tend to flow gently over terraced lagoons.
We rented scooters from Mai Chau Valley View to reach the waterfall. Get there by heading back to the QL6, turning off onto the 15 and then again onto the TL540. You can search Thac Go Lao in google maps, then when you near the location you can park at a local’s house to then walk down to take a swim.
The cave, Mu Luong Cave, is right across the street from the Mai Chau Lodge and if you are staying there you can enter for free with a guide. If you are in a nearby homestay you’ll have to request a guide for around 100,000vnd.
We really recommend making the time and budget to visit, especially if you haven’t seen many other caves in Vietnam, as it is an incredibly impressive one. It is one of the many caves in Vietnam that was used as an army base and arsenal during the Vietnam war and tunnels deep into the mountainside.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get any good photos from inside the cave but here is a shot of one of the rooms in Mai Chau Lodge:
This brings us nicely onto:
Homestays in Mai Chau
During our first trip in Mai Chau we splurged for the Mai Chau lodge with Oli’s parents and it was a lovely stay. Comfortable rooms with local design details, a pool and spa facilities and a balcony with a beautiful sunset view. The food was fairly good too, but overpriced for our usual budget. If you want a dose of luxury then this is a great choice.
But without doubt our recommendation is to stay in a homestay. Often little more than $7-8 a day, with food, and well equipped with bathrooms, comfortable communal sleeping areas and family style dining spaces, there really is no equivalent experience. And the food served in your homestay may be some of the best you have in Vietnam!
We love Homestay Number 20 run by the Linh family, which sits right at the edge of the village beside the paddies.
Sunsets and beer in Mai Chau
No day in Mai Chau is complete without a sunset beverage at sunset bar. Located atop a hill in the centre of the village it is the perfect vantage point for watching the sun cast it’s golden glow over the landscape and dip between the surrounding mountains.
We would say that Mai Chau is one of the most relaxing weekend trips from Hanoi. It is relatively close and has all the home comforts you’d desire in such a stunning, rural location. Paying just one price for all your sleep and hunger needs and venturing out of your homestay for adventure and sunset beers? Simple travel at its finest.
I know we’ll be back soon enough for a 4th and 5th time of wandering its maze of dusty streets and filling up our memory cards.
Let us know if you head there too and what hidden gems you find…