Sometimes Hanoi can get a little much. If you are looking for fresher air, greener views, quieter roads and an overall slower pace of life for a few days, Mai Chau offers just what you need. Whilst only 140 km south-west of Hanoi and located in the Hoa Binh Province, Mai Chau is worlds away from hectic city life.
Whilst the town of Mai Chau itself is nothing to write home about, it is the nature just outside that draws people in. Luscious paddy fields roll out through a valley among giant peaks covered in trees. Look around and all you can see is a color chart of green– iridescent cascades broken up only by wooden huts, standing tall on their stilts against a backdrop of undulating hills.
Most likely, it is these wooden huts you will be staying in. Most visitors to the area are Vietnamese, escaping their cities, and Mai Chau accommodation predominantly consists of homestays. Local families welcome you into their homes, and whether you are usually drawn to more luxurious places or not, there is something special about waking up in rural Mai Chau. Whether you are awakened by birds, the odd motorcycle racing past, or local children’s laughter, the lack of beeping horns, street seller’s loud speakers, and building work is blissful. As you draw back the curtains and step outside, taking in the fresh air and views, it is hard not to delight in the calmness.
” Cycle between the villages, through the paddy fields, as the gentle breeze cools you and sweeps through your hair. “
Unlike other popular rural getaways from Hanoi, such as Ninh Binh, Mai Chau is not rife with ‘must do’ activities and tourist hotspots. And that is the real attraction. There is no guilt in relaxing and reading your book on the balcony, glancing up every now and again to remind yourself of the beauty of the setting. Alternatively, if you are feeling active, head for a walk up the hills to offer panoramic views of the paddies below. Mai Chau is scattered with small family-run shops selling water and iced tea if you’re in need of a pick-me-up en route.
Many homestays and hotels offer free bicycles to borrow for the day, and this was our personal highlight. Cycle between the villages, through the paddy fields, as the gentle breeze cools you and sweeps through your hair. Meandering, with no real destination or purpose other to enjoy the views, makes for a wonderful few hours.
If you want to venture further afield, you can hire motorbikes in Mai Chau town and head to Go Lao Waterfall, just over 10 km away, or just see where you end up. There are small lakes dotted around the area, where you can join locals (people and buffaloes) for a swim, or just while away some time people watching before heading back to your accommodation to watch the sunset over the hills.
The attraction to Mai Chau is the lack of pressure to do anything. If you’re looking for serenity, look no further. A couple of days here will leave you relaxed, peaceful and happy.
There is no train connection from Hanoi to Mai Chau, but you can take the bus from Hanoi’s My Dinh bus station for 180,000 to 300,000 VND dependent on the type of bus. The journey takes around 4 hours. A return journey by private car costs around 3 million VND.