Stunningly beautiful yet eminently accessible, Mai Chau’s rice paddy scenery and ethnic minority villages offer an introduction to rural Vietnam that comes with comfy beds, Western loos, and loads of adventurous activities.
Mai Chau lies about three hours’ drive from Hanoi, in a broad, fertile valley surrounded by forested mountains. And while true that Mai Chau’s well-developed tourism infrastructure means you don’t have to spend five hours in the back of a pick-up truck to get there, or sleep on a straw mat on the floor when you do — but we’re firm believers that you don’t always have to rough it to experience a different way of life. So, while some now eschew Mai Chau as too well trodden, let us make the case for a rural gem that’s no less easy-going or beautiful for being well connected and comfortable.
While the town itself is neither picturesque nor particularly interesting, the surrounding countryside is gorgeous. Dotted with ethnic minority villages, paddy fields and farmland, it’s ripe for exploration — and there are numerous high-quality trekking, cycling and kayaking tours all over the valley. Head out on foot or by bike and you’ll soon find yourself in Thai and Hmong communities where the growth of tourism has done little to alter the pretty, wooden stilt houses or the friendly, laid-back attitudes. What's more, this is a great opportunity for an extended hike or mountain bike ride through the mountains, travelling from village to village and staying overnight in local accommodation.
Don’t come to Mai Chau expecting a frozen-in-amber time capsule: this is a modern rural community facing up to the challenges of preserving its traditional identity while welcoming tourism, and in our book it’s doing a fantastic job.