Nestled in between roaring mountains, Mai Chau is a humble district in the Northwest of Vietnam and is a perfect escape from Hanoi’s hustle. The rustic emerald beauty of Mai Chau is often compared to that in Sapa, but Mai Chau is notorious for being far less commercialized and touristy. In case you’re wondering whether Mai Chau or Sapa is more worthwhile of a trip, see our guide below shares all the needed information and tips for your next trip to Mai Chau.
Quick Notes about Mai Chau Travel Guide
Mai Chau is a district of Hoa Binh Province, and the capital city of Mai Chau is Mai Chau City. This blog will cover traveling in Mai Chau District as a whole.
Weather: The best time to visit Mai Chau is around October – April when the weather is the mildest. Coming to Mai Chau around other times can be unbearably hot.
Geography: Mai Chau’s terrain comprises of the fertile lowland 150m above the sea level, with mountain ranges and bubbling streams carving through. The countryside views will make you never want to leave this scenic land.
The laid-back atmosphere of Mai Chau’s countryside
Demographics: Mai Chau is home to a significant population of the Thai ethnic group in Vietnam: Black Thai and White Thai – the “color” signifies the different ancestors and cultures of the communities. In addition, there are the Kinh people, Muong people in Mai Chau. Therefore, do expect to experience the unique variety of cultural traits that Mai Chau has to offer.
How to spend your days in Mai Chau: cycling, trekking, spelunking, staying in stilt houses, buying brocade fabrics and rice wine, enjoy local traditional dishes.
A local stilt house in Mai Chau
What to Pack for Mai Chau
What to Pack for Mai Chau Travel Guide
Clothing: mostly include the packing necessities for Northern Vietnam. Additionally, remember to bring these items for outdoor activities in Mai Chau
- Hiking shoes (for hiking and trekking adventures). See more camping essentials.
- or Sandals (in case you prefer more relaxing activities)
- Long-sleeve shirts: choose either a thick layer or a breathable type, the main point is to protect your body against the harsh sunlight or wind
- A hat, a pair of sunglasses
- Bug spray: there are high probabilities that you’ll be spending the nights in Mai Chau in local homestays, which are surrounded by wild landscapes. A mosquito net is provided for a good night’s sleep, but that does not mean you are 100% free from mosquito and bug bites.
- Sunscreen: to minimize the chances of getting painful sunburns
- Digestive medicines: Imodium, antibiotics, etc.
Electronics: it is best to prepare upon your trip to Mai Chau as there are limited services for your electronics
- Phone, spare battery, charger
- Camera, battery, charger
- Vietnam travel adaptors
- Vietnam SIM Cards and mobile data plan
- Essential apps: translation, Google Maps, etc.
Get your Vietnam travel insurance
Where to Stay in Mai Chau Travel Guide
Accommodation services in Mai Chau for tourists are not abundant, but because of that, you’ll get to immerse in the pristine nature unspoiled by concrete structures. The viable options for staying in Mai Chau are homestays and lodges around the Lac Village and Poom Coong Village. They are traditional stilt houses of ethnic families, which are elevated off the ground with the bottom part used to shelter farmed animals.
Book a stay at Mai Chau Ecolodge for premium accommodation in Mai Chau
Wake up to a refreshing view (farmers planting rice in the field)
Look for places to stay in Mai Chau here:
How to Get to Mai Chau
Distance from Hanoi to Mai Chau: 160 km
Hanoi to Mai Chau by bus:
Duration: 3 – 4 hours
Ticket: from VND 150,000/pax
Hanoi to Mai Chau by taxi:
Duration: 3 – 4 hours
Estimated cost: from VND 1,600,000 depending on the number of seats/type of vehicle
Look for Hanoi – Mai Chau bus/taxi tickets online:
Hanoi to Mai Chau by motorbike:
Duration: at least 6 hours
Motorbike rental cost in Hanoi: from VND 150,000/bike/day
Look for places to rent motorbikes in Hanoi
Motorbiking from Hanoi to Mai Chau will pass by steep mountainous routes, but the condition of the roads is relatively nice so it shouldn’t be a challenging ride. Most visitors would follow the national road No.6 (QL6 on Google Maps) for a day trip from Hanoi to Mai Chau.
- Wear high-quality helmets
- Maintain an average speed of 40km/h and look out for trucks and containers
- Start the journey with a full gas tank
- With a motorbike, you can also so go beyond Mai Chau and visit nearby destinations such as Moc Chau (Son La Province), Yen Bai Province, or Ninh Binh
What to Do and See in Mai Chau Travel
Depending on when you’re visiting, Mai Chau will welcome you with either verdant green carpets of paddy fields or endless golden stretches of ripe rice paddies. Other than that, there is plenty to see and do to appreciate Mai Chau’s scenery.
Boundless paddy fields in Mai Chau’s village
Thung Khe Pass
For motorbikers in Mai Chau, you’re in for a treat. The Thung Khe Pass slits through the mountain cliffs and creates an adrenaline-rushing curve. The pass connects Tan Lac and Mai Chau, and is a part of the National Highway No.6 (QL6). Some buses from Hanoi to Mai Chau stop here for passengers to take in the magnificent views and enjoy some streetside snacks like grilled corns or grilled eggs.
Thung Khe Pass is also locally referred to as the White Stone Pass
What to do in Mai Chau: Cycling and Trekking
Despite being a famous destination from Hanoi, Mai Chau still retains its relaxing charm
Mai Chau is ideal for cycling in between verdant paddy fields and through peaceful villages. Some lodges in Mai Chau offer free bicycle rentals (do check for this when booking your stay), or you can look for a bicycle tour in Mai Chau for more thrilling bicycle adventures.
It is incredibly tempting to take a long nap in the mellow atmosphere of Mai Chau, but riding a bicycle around the local villages is truly gratifying
Simple, rustic, yet charming views
A popular trek in Mai Chau is the 18 km trail from Lac Village to Xa Linh Village. A multiple-day trek will usually start from Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Thanh Hoa Province – adjacent to Mai Chau) through Mai Chau, to as far as Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh.
Note that trekking and hiking in Mai Chau take strenuous physical work, and you may come across some blistering rains. Have your GPS ready or contact a professional trekking tour guide. If you plan to take part in this activity, our advice is to research accommodations along the trekking routes and plan to stay at least 3 days in Mai Chau.
What to do in Mai Chau: Visiting Mai Chau’s Caves
Mai Chau’s caves are famous for its mystic beauty thanks to the ancient stalactites and stalagmites. Caving in Mai Chau will take you to another dimension, which will undoubtedly add special highlights to your trekking journey.
Prepare to climb 1200 stone steps into the wonder of Chieu Cave. It can get pretty hot during summer days in Mai Chau, so plan to visit the cave in the late afternoon. However, the deeper you venture into the cave, the colder it gets, so do plan you caving outfits accordingly.
Conquer the Chieu Cave in Mai Chau for epic photos
What to Do in Mai Chau: Kayaking in Hoa Binh Lake
Hoa Binh Lake is a human-made reservoir of the Da River – one of the largest rivers in Vietnam with winding streams. The lake is roughly 2-hour-drive from Mai Chau, and most major homestays like the Mai Chau Ecolodge operate day tours to Hoa Binh Lake.
As calm as it may seem, Mai Chau doesn’t lack daring activities
What to do in Mai Chau: Shopping in Mai Chau’s Markets
Once in Mai Chau, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the vibrant ethnic culture in the local markets, and of course, purchase some items for yourself too!
- Muong Ethnic Market: lies along the Thung Khe Pass, selling from freshly-harvested flowers to street snacks like steamed corns
- Pa Co Sunday Market: selling groceries like vegetables and fish, and you can get your hands on the intricate brocade fabrics by the masterful Thai women or taste the local specialties.
Pa Co Market’s entrance
Intricate handicrafts made by ethnic women
When shopping at local ethnic markets, a little bit of bargaining is welcomed.
What to do in Mai Chau: Having fun at Mai Chau’s Festivals
- Gau Tao Festival: celebrates the Mong people’s culture and occurs in the first half of lunar January every three years.
Mai Chau blooms in colors during the Gau Tao Festival
- The Gong Festival (also known as the Xec Bua Festival): Unlike the Gong festival in Vietnam Central Regions, the Gong Festival in Mai Chau is where people would play the gong and sing songs or read poems to wish for peace and prosperity.
- Long Tong Festival: happens from the 5th to the 15th of the lunar January, the celebration is meant to pay respect to the villages’ god. One can say it resembles the Tet holiday as people prepare lots of traditional foods such as the square glutinous cake (Banh Chung) or boiled chicken to celebrate.
- Praying for the rain festival: summers in Mai Chau can be pretty harsh, but it is also the occasion to join the praying for the rain festival of the Thai people. Observe up-close the Thai people’s culture and especially the Thai folk dancing during this time of year.
What to Eat in Mai Chau Travel
Lon Man (a type of pig mixed between farmed pigs and wild ones)
Lon Man – the pig – only feeds on small plants instead of industrialized foods, so the meat is exceptionally juicy and tender with very little fat. Locals love to boil the meat and have it with roasted salt and beans.
Com Lam (rice grilled in bamboo tubes)
Legend has it that the bamboo tubes were utilized as a container for people working in the fields to carry rice with them. Now, it is a must-try rice dish for visitors in Mai Chau. Com Lam is carefully grilled over hot charcoal right before being served with grilled mountain chicken and sesame salt and sugar.
Grilling Com Lam
Ga Doi (hill’s chicken)
This specific type of chicken is farmed with a unique method; the chickens are only fed with a small amount of food, then they can wander freely at the foot of a hill until they have to run up the hill to come back to their nests. As a result, the chicken legs are the best part of Ga Doi, which are usually baked in charcoal or steam with lemon leaves. This dish goes with a traditional Thai dipping sauce called “cham cheo” made with chopped up herbs and chilies.
Ruou Can (herbal rice wine)
Ruou Can is the extraordinary culinarily and cultural traits of Vietnam ethnic minorities. It is generally a big jar or jug of rice wine mixed with ginger and other herbs and indeed pretty strong. Villagers usually share a jug of wine in communal ceremonies or celebrations using long bamboo straws. Enjoying a night in Mai Chau with some roasted meat and a few sips of Ruoc Can can warm you up from inside out. If the taste of the wine still lingers on you, then make sure to buy some home!
Ruou Can is the best when shared with friends
Besides the mentioned specialties, Mai Chau’s cuisine consists of a lot of pork, chicken, and wild herbs and vegetables. Take full advantage of your time staying in a local homestay to try out the local dishes.
A homey meal with a local family with baby bamboo shoots, chicken, and fresh vegetables
Local Tips to Enjoy Mai Chau Travel
- Local currency: there are limited currency exchange spots and services that accept foreign currency or cashless payment in Mai Chau. Our advice is to exchange your money in Hanoi upon your journey to Mai Chau.
- Mai Chau is a remote area that hasn’t had access to an advanced waste-treating system. Be mindful of the environment, and reduce your carbon footprints to preserve the untouched beauty here.
Final Thoughts on Our Mai Chau Travel Guide
The final big question is: Mai Chau or Sapa? Read our blog on What to Do in Sapa before you rush to the conclusion. Nonetheless, for a nature-lover at heart, you would not want to miss the chance to experience the idyllic nature of Mai Chau.
Need more information on planning a day trip from Hanoi? Let us know in the comments below.