Fertile valleys in Mai Chau. Photo by Aaron Joel Santos.
The Mai Chau Valley is home to two of the most successful homestay tourism villages in Vietnam: Lac and Poom Coong. In both villages, White Thai families offer simple accommodation in stilt houses right on the edge of vibrant rice fields. The best homestays are clustered around Ban Hieu, a village with a setting so idyllic that it's almost unreal, surrounded by verdant jungle, limestone outcrops, and tall mountain tops. If the idea of a homestay doesn't appeal to you, you'll also find lodges in Mai Chau, offering more comfort and beautiful bungalows with pools and private terraces.
Both hotels and homestays offer bicycle rentals for travellers. Exploring the many quiet ribbons of paths that connect clusters of stilt houses might be the greatest pleasure you'll have in Mai Chau. It doesn’t take long to get away from the crowds and feel like you’ve found your own quiet corner of the valley, riding past humble villages and rice paddies.
Mai Chau has no shortage of local handicrafts and intricate fabrics woven by skilled weavers on ancient looms. A little gentle bargaining is expected and even welcomed. On Sunday, head into Mai Chau town where the morning market attracts people from different ethnic minorities who come dressed in their finest traditional clothing.
Known for their warm hospitality, the White Thai are also fantastic cooks and serve up excellent home-cooked feasts for dinner—ideal to replenish your energy reserves after a day of bicycle adventuring. The meals you're served at the homestays in Mai Chau might be some of the best on your Vietnam trip.
There are countless treks you can take from Mai Chau, and your hotel should be able to set you up with a guide if you need one. For a full daytrip, add a kayaking excursion on nearby Hoa Binh Lake. This is a beautiful body of water surrounded by jungled hills. For more remote and adventurous options, venture a little further to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
It is easy to spend a few days doing little else than admiring the nature around Mai Chau, but a wander through the forests is richly rewarded. Scores of cool, fresh streams run among the trees, feeding waterfalls and aquarmarine pools ideal for bathing in the afternoon heat. For the best experience hire a guide and head deeper into the area.
Hire a bicycle to get the most out of one day in Mai Chau and head off to explore. You'll find pretty villages connected by narrow paths weaving between paddy fields. Stock up on souvenirs at markets in town before enjoying a home-cooked feast in one of the many stilt house homestays in the area.
On your second day in Mai Chau, head a little further afield on a guided trek or consider a kayak tour on the Hoa Binh Reservoir. Cap your stay with drinks and a killer view at the Sunset Bar.
March to May and September to November are the best times to visit Mai Chau. October is perhaps the most ideal month because harvest takes place and the rice takes on a glorious golden hue.
Mai Chau is around 140km from Hanoi. Local buses from the capital run direct into Mai Chau town just a short walk from Lac and Poom Coong villages. Coming from Son La or Dien Bien Phu, you will need to ask the driver to stop at the Mai Chau turn off. In Hanoi, it is possible to hire a motorbike or a car with driver for the journey.