Mai Chau Vietnam
Mai Chau Vietnam, situated 135 km southwest of Hanoi, is a stunningly beautiful mountainous region in Hoa Binh Province.
Some of Vietnam’s indigenous ethnic minority groups live in the area. The local Sunday markets are exceptionally colourful events.
The majority of the villagers are White Thai, distant relatives to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China. The women are expert weavers, producing traditional style clothing and souvenirs from scratch.
The area is excellent for light trekking and cycling. Discover the picturesque valleys and rice terraces and the many small villages with their cheerful inhabitants. Stop for a while and enjoy a drink and a snack.
Mai Chau is the complete opposite to Hanoi. There is little traffic, and the background noise is gurgling irrigation streams and birdsong, not the hooting of motorcycles rushing here, there and everywhere.
It is becoming a popular destination for travellers, being only a three and a half hour journey by car from central Hanoi. It offers the complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city, a perfect spot where to escape.
What to do in Mai Chau Vietnam
Three hours drive from the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, as you travel west into the mountainous Hoa Binh province, the landscape transforms from the congested city into vast open rice fields, karst mountains and quaint wood and bamboo villages.
As we travel along highway 6 from Hanoi, we stop on Thung Khe Pass, a rest stop for a snack at one of the smokey food shacks and a magnificent view of the nearby white cliffs and the valley below. Try the freshly boiled or grilled corn and sugarcane, or the sticky-rice com lam. Very cheap and filling but warming against the areas cold winds.
The highland cold offers its dangers, especially during the winter. A thick fog can make driving the pass quite frightening, with the driver only able to see a short distance in front of him.
Welcome to Mai Chau: a rural valley where towering cliffs, unique culture and laid-back atmosphere is a magnet for visitors keen to experience the land and lifestyle of Vietnam’s northwest.
After spending a couple of days here, you will realise that little has changed down the centuries. Spend the daylight hours exploring the local Tai Dam and Tai Kao villages and cycling around the brilliant green rice fields. In the evenings sample the local beer and wine and enjoy traditional Tai dances.
The great outdoors though is Mai Chau’s biggest draw; the rice fields, the local people and the mountains showing off the beauty of Vietnams northwest region to the awestruck traveller.
As you cycle or trek along Mai Chau’s dirt roads, the changing scenery gives numerous photo opportunities. Depending on the season, wildflowers may be in bloom, rice paddies either green with plants or mirror-like and locals driving cattle from place to place.
Guides can advise on suitable trekking and biking trails depending on how easy or difficult you prefer.
Your local hotel or homestay can often loan you a bike or recommend a local provider for a fee of approximately VND 60000 (US$2.60). Trekking packages can average US$ 40-90 depending on the activities included.
Over fifty ethnic minorities inhabit Vietnam alongside the majority Kinh (Viet) people. The Tai Dam and Tai Kao (“White Thai and Black Thai”) people occupy Mai Chau, with their unique traditions and culture.
Travellers can choose to stay in a homestay at one of the two largest villages in Mai Chau – Poom Coong and Lac. Stay in the Tais unique stilt houses, built four to five feet above the ground, offering rustic but basic accommodation.
Although both villages offer homestays, most travellers head to Lac for food and Poom Coong to sleep. You sleep on a mattress laid out on a creaking bamboo floor, waking up to the sound of cockerels and farmers heading to work in the dark. Life is simple here.
Virtually every Tai home has a loom. Tradition means that women dedicate their times to weaving, learning it while still
young and working to weave their trousseau for their future marriage.
Tais specialise in weaving traditional brocade; silk fabrics with vibrant colours and raised patterns. Their daily clothing usually consists mainly of brocades, even when engaged in manual labour.
The villages manufacture their silk brocades from initially harvesting silkworm cocoons, reeling off the silk, dying the threads using natural colours and weaving their garments for sale in the local villages and markets.
All this takes a lot of hard labour from highly skilled experts with lots of experience, so please acknowledge this as you haggle for a bargain.