Mai Chau is a picturesque valley that lies amidst the majestic mountains in Vietnam’s northwest region. It is a 150-kilometer journey from the capital Hanoi. This is an ultimate Mai Chau travel guide provide you with details information on advices and tips for a trip to Mai Chau, Vietnam on things to do, what to see, where to stay, what to eat, Mai Chau restaurant, how to get there, how to get around
Best Time to Visit Mai Chau
Mai Chau is suitable to visit all year round. Nevertheless, the best times of the year for traveling in Mai Chau is from October to November or March to April. The days are sunny and warm but not too hot. In December, January and occasionally February, the days and especially the nights can get very chilly.
Harvest season in May or late September are the best times to travel to Mai Chua if you are an avid landscape photographer – for capturing the landscapes at their best and the bustle of farmers working the fields.
In the winter time, November to February can be chilly during the day with an average temperature of sixteen degrees, but it is the only time you will see the peach and plum trees blossoming.Ensure sure you pack warm clothing as the temperature drops significantly at night.
The Bauhinia variegate, commonly known as the Orchid Tree, starts to flower in September and continues blooming for a few months. The reunification holiday on September 2nd attracts thousands of Vietnamese and overseas travelers who celebrate the day the Vietnam War ended and the beginning of unification after the war.
Summertime in Vietnam is from May through to August; with daytime temperatures ranging from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius. Be sure to pack sun protection like hats, sunblock, and sunglasses, but also pack a rain jacket as it is prone to heavy rain, seemingly without warning. Bring plenty of insect spray and sturdy walking shoes if you plan on getting off the beaten path.
List of Cultural and Traditional Festivals in Mai Chau
The Xen Xo Phon festival happens every fourth lunar month (April or May) in which the White Thai people of Mai Chau beg the heavens for rain with songs and dancing. During the evenings, gatherings of White Thai sing and dance amongst the houses in their villages; singing songs by torchlight and accepting offerings in exchange for the blessing of good rains that season. The villages, which are reliant on good rain for the rice and vegetable yields, pray for help each year from the heavens for more rain to come. The bigger the celebration, the more plentiful the showers when the weather turns.
Tet Trung Nguyen Festival held in early September is for people to pray for the ‘lost souls’ or ‘wandering spirits.’ According to ancient beliefs, spirits of their deceased loved ones are set free on this day and return to their homes in search of their earthbound families. The Vietnamese people honor them by preparing grand feasts for the lost souls; with all kinds of foods including meat, rice, cakes and more.
The Gong festival of Muong ethnic group is held in Spring and Lunar New Year (usually around November) and is a unique folklore ritual. Bands visit families in the villages from the first through to the seventh days of the lunar new year, singing songs and playing gongs to wish a new year of goodhealth, prosperity, and peace to the hosts.
In September to early October, the New Rice Crop Festivals take place in the region. Immediately after harvesting the rice crop, the Tay people enter into the “New Rice” Festival. They offer the fruits of their labor to worship heaven and earth – for good weather, affluence, a good harvest, healthy family and express respect to departed ancestors.
- How to get to Mai Chau by public bus from My Dinh bus station
Hoang Thao Bus Rout: My Dinh bus station – Mai Chau
Departure time: From My Dinh bus station: 14.30pm, from Mai Chau town 8.45am
Ha Loan busRoute: My Dinh bus station – Mai Chau
Departure time: From My Dinh bus station: 7.50am, from Mai Chau town 1.30pm
- Note: The Mai Chau to Ha Loan bus will also pick up from Lac Village number 1 at 12.30pm, it will be an extra $1 on top of the regular fare.
Transportation to Mai Chau is at $7.50 per passenger for a one-way bus ride from Hanoi Old Quarter to Mai Chau Town.
There is a tourist bus ride from the Hanoi Old Quarter that departs around 7.15am to 7.45am; the service includes pick up at your hotel to Mai Chau. Be aware that this bus will only drop you off at Mai Chau Sunrise village. You will need to contact your homestay host to arrange transportation to your accommodation.
The bus back to Hanoi departs around 3.00pm from Mai Chau to Hanoi Old Quarter. They may not drop you at your hotel on Friday, Saturday or Sunday because traffic in the main streets in Hanoi Old Quarter and around HoanKiem lake is busy during these days. Let the bus driver know which hotel you are staying at and ask them which is the best stop nearest to your hotel to get off.
Renting a private car for the round trip from Hanoi to Mai Chau for two days and one night will cost around $120. If you travel by motorbike to Mai Chau, don’t forget to stop at the side road market in ThungKhe pass to pick up some local specialties and stop at Flagpole to get a great view of the entire Mai Chau valley.
How to get around in Mai Chau
If you enjoy walking, then a stroll around the surrounding villages for a couple of hours is the perfect way to see all the sights in the town and is an especially good choice for colder weather.
The best option to get around Mai Chau is cycling; you can bike for 2 hours to visit other villages, don’t forget to get a map and ask the host family for the best routes to get around. Most importantly let your host family know where you are going and what time you expect to return.
If you would like to travel to a few nearby places of Mai Chau – such as the Go Lao waterfall, HoaBinh lake, Pu Luong nature reserve – then a motorbike is the best means of transportation. The traffic around the township of Mai Chua is light, which makes it safe to negotiate your way around.
- Private car or taxi
Hire cars or taxis are available for you to get around Mai Chau and its surrounding area.
- Electric bus
The electric bus uses the same route as biking; it will take you to most nearby villages which are the perfect option for days when it is raining. Ask your homestay owner to arrange an electric bus ride. It costs around $15 for a maximum of 8 passengers.
Motorbike rental in Mai Chau, Mai Chau bike for rent
You can rent a bicycle for $3 per day, Motorbike rental starts at $12 per day and excludes fuel. Ume Mai Chau shop offers bike and motorbike rental service
Where to Stay in Mai Chau- Mai Chau accommodation
There is a wide variety of choices for accommodation in Mai Chau such as homestays, hotels, and resorts. The recommendations for good quality motels and homestays in Mai Chau are as follow:
- Ume Mai Chau Eco Homestay at Lac village number 2
Mobile: +84 974313104
Rates: $5 for a bed including breakfast,
$15 for a private room,
$18 for a private room with balcony including breakfast.
- Mai Chau countryside homestay at PoomCoong village
Mobile: +84 164 423 5140
- Mai Chau family homestay at Van Mai village, 10 kilometers from Mai Chau
Mobile: + 84 91 592 19 15
- Quan Hang homestay at Lac 1 village
Mobile: +84 97 898 67 40
Hotels in Mai Chau town
- Mai Chau Valley View
Address: Mai Chau town, Mai Chau Dist
Hotline: +84 972 058 696
- Khoa Thanh Hotel
Address: Mo Luong lake, Chieng Chau commune
Rate: $35/per room/per night
There are a few good three stars hotels and resort in Mai Chau such as Mai Chau Sunset Boutique, Mai Chau Villa, Mai Chau Sunrise Village, Sol Bungalow, and Mai Chau Lodge.
Mai Chau Eco Lodge is known as the best accommodation in Mai Chau. It is the most luxurious resort in Mai Chau.
Tips: Do not stay in Lac Village number 1. This village is very touristy. It is only suitable for domestic travelers.
The Van Village near Mai Chau town started tourism services not very long ago. The locals are friendly and hospitable. Van Village has a beautiful garden where there are hundreds of varieties of flowers.
Things to Do in Mai Chau
Many options are dependent on where you are based. You can go trekking or cycling to visit nearby villages. There are five main villages: Lac village no 1 and 2, PomCoong Village, Van Village, Nhot Village, and Na Phon Village. The terraced rice paddies in Buoc village are a photographers’ paradise.
Other things to do include:
- Hiking up to the Afternoon and Mo Luong caves.
- Bamboo rafting in Lac Village number 2 along the river.
- Hire a motorbike to explore Go Lao waterfall.
- Go for a boat trip in HoaBinh lake.
- Take a motorbike trip to Pu Luong nature reserve to see the rice paddy harvests in either May or September.
- Watch traditional Thai dance and drink local wine in the evening.
- Visit the Sunday market in Mai Chau town which is the busiest day of the week in the marketplace when ethnic groups from other parts of Mai Chau come to sell and buy.
- Visit Sunday market of Paco which is around 30 kilometers from Mai Chau town
What to see in Mai Chau
Thung Khe Pass
Travel three hours out of Hanoi on National Highway 6 to the HoaBinh Province, and as you rise to an altitude of one thousand meters above sea level, you leave behind a congested city and replace it with vast, open rice fields, quaint villages, and majestic mountains.
Stalls that sell all kinds of the local food crowd the side of the highway here. The stall vendors sell everything from boiled corn to com lam, which is sticky rice bound in banana tree leaves and then cooked in bamboo pipes.
The view of the entire valley from this vantage point is considered to be one of the best panoramas in the whole province.
Lac Village, whose history dates back well over seven hundred years is two villages. Lac Village number 1 is the commercial hub of the two communities. Food and gift shopping are abundant for tourists and locals alike. The markets sell clothing from traditional Tai dress, beautifully adorned scarves, flutes made from bamboo, water buffalo bells, and handmade gongs to name a few of the gifts you can find. The locals are very amicable and love to pose for photographs in their stalls or homes happily offering smiles for the camera.
Lac Village number 2 is the quieter, more tranquil area and is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Immerse yourself in the lush surroundings of the surrounding forest with the locals who spend their days growing rice and weaving. The local Thai ethnic group who have for generations called Lac Village home have fifty homestay accommodation houses furnished with blankets, cushions, and mattresses that are available in both villages.
Poom Coong Village
Nestled on the side of the hills with rice paddies stretching as far as you can see is Poom Coong Village. Poom Coong is a favored destination with many tourists because the village is relatively uncrowded. The fresh water from the nearby river and is used in the washrooms and for cooking and drinking.
Poom Coong village is the preferred place for tourists to sleep in the province due to its peaceful atmosphere and quiet surrounding. Tourists who spend time here can travel the short distance to Lac Village number 1 for the shopping and the food and then return to Poom Coong Village for an evening of traditional Tai dancing and some local wine.
Mo Luong Cave
The distinctive shape of Mai Chau’s mountains comes from the karst limestone bedrock, the same type of geological deposits that formed the Dragons’ Back Islands of Ha Long Bay further to the east.
As the saying goes “Where there is karst there are caves,” and this area of MaiChua does not disappoint. A short two kilometers from Lac Village is Mo Luong Cave which is a favored destination for photographers and adventurers alike. Mo Luong Cave is called Bo Luong by the locals which means “Huge Water Mine.” The cave itself consists of four large caves with a breath-taking array of unique stalagmite and stalactite formations which are a photographers’ delight. At the rear of the cave system, the cold, clean waters of an underground stream flow into a nearby lake. During the Resistance War on the French, this cave system was a Vietnamese Army base and used as a meeting place for soldiers and civilians in the area.
Mo Luong cave belongs to Mai Chau Lodge.
Entrance fee: 40,000VND per person. Free of charge for guests staying in Mai Chau Lodge.
Chieu Cave (Afternoon cave)
Mai Chua town boasts another cave, Chieu Cave, known as Afternoon Cave by the locals because the afternoon sunlight which shines into the cave entrance each day lights up the stalagmites and stalactites. The effect is one that creates a sparkling world inside the cave that has been described as “Heaven on Earth,” by many people. Chieu is a large cave divided into two different chambers, both of which have hundreds of stalagmite and stalactite formations that catch the suns’ rays each afternoon and make for stunning photographs.
The entrance fee to the Afternoon Cave is 10,000VND/per person. You can ride a bike from Lac village to the town, park your bike and walk 1000 steps to the cave to enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of Mai Chau valley.
Go Lao Waterfall
Located fifteen kilometers from Mai Chua Town in the commune of Phuc San is the picturesque Go Lao Waterfall. The waterfall is made up of two small waterfalls that drop fifteen meters into a pool surrounded by a large area that is an ideal spot for a picnic. In warmer weather swimming and bathing is enjoyed in the pool at the base of the waterfall.
To find the waterfall you will drive from Mai Chua Town to the T-junction of Tong Dau and turn left towards Son La. You will then come to another T-junction to Dong Bang, turn right here and follow this road for seven kilometers until you reach Phuc San Health Station. You will have to leave your car here and complete the rest of the journey on foot. Parking your car at Mr. Tuan House will require you to pay a 10,000VND fee, which is for the upkeep of the paths and tracks. Turn right and follow a small trail for sixty or seventy meters and you will reach the track-way that leads down to Go Lao Waterfall.
Be extremely careful and watch your footing. If it is raining or has rained recently as the paths to the waterfall are very slippery.
Ba Khan, in the valley at the foot of Thung Khe Pass, sits on the banks of the HoaBinh Reservoir. Ba Khan is known as the “forgotten paradise,” because tourists and sightseers often miss this spectacular location because they gravitate towards the more tourist orientated Mai Chau and Moc Chau townships. Ba Khan sits on Halong Bay where the mountain peaks are two hundred meters below sea level. You have the choice of hiring kayaks, boats or going on a sightseeing junk boat trip. The spectacular limestone islands that tower out of the lake covered on top with thick, lush rainforest appropriately named for their shapes, like Dog Island or Tea Pot Island. There are hundreds of caves to explore that are only accessible by boat or kayak. Swimming, scuba diving, and rock climbing are other pastimes that you can enjoy in this spectacular location.
Tip: If the weather is rainy or foggy you will not see the stunning scenery.
How to find HoaBinh Reservoir? Return to the main road from Go Lao and turn right. Continue on this route for three kilometers, and you will arrive at the reservoir.
What in eat in Mai Chau – Mai Chau Specialties
When talking about the Mai Chau village in Vietnam, it is important not to forget mentioning its extremely special and popular food culture. Most of the dishes have been handed down from ancient Thai culture. The Com Lam (a sticky rice dish wrapped in banana leaves and then cooked inside a bamboo-pipe), Nep Nuong (a dish made of sticky rice harvested in terraced rice field), grilled stream (fresh-water) fish, bitter-tasting bamboo shoot, and more, are just some of the must-try Mai Chau specialties.
Mai Chau’s Com Lam – Sticky rice dish wrapped in banana leaves and then bamboo-pipe cooked
One of the most popular dishes in Mai Chau, is the Com Lam. Its main ingredient is sticky rice and in making this special dish, one will also need banana leaves and a bamboo pipe. Additional or optional ingredients are coconut milk and coconut pulp.
The sticky rice is first prepared by washing and letting steep for two to three hours before being placed in the bamboo pipe – a straight and small bamboo is needed.
It takes skills and patience to make this dish and Thai women are known for being experts in making good and delicious Com Lam. The secret, they say, is in ensuring careful and proper rotation during the grilling process. Failure may result in pulpous and low-quality dish.
When the rice is cooked, the bamboo’s singed skin is removed and only the thin cover is left – which will be peeled off anyway before you take a bite. Com Lam is a combination of taste and aroma that would surely make anyone fall in love with the dish. Just imagine the special aromatic blend of banana leaves, fresh bamboo and sticky rice combined with a fusion of great flavors of coconut, sesame, rice and bamboo. A serving of Com Lam is best enjoyed with the local straw or rice wine (ruou can) and grilled meat.
Ga Doi – The Chicken that is Let Loose to have a Free Run on the hill
The Ga Doi is a chicken that is not raised the normal or industrial way. It is a free-run kind of chicken, meaning they are raised in big scale and let loose on the hill to hunt for their own food. Since these chickens are not fed like regular farm-raised chicken, they are small in size and lighter in weight. Their meat though is very fragrant, tough and has a really nice flavor. The Ga Doi chicken can cost between $15 and $25.
Once the chicken has been dressed and cleaned, marinating it in mac ken is the next process. Mac ken is a type of seasoning that enhances the meat flavor. The chicken is usually steamed along lime leaf or cooked over smokeless charcoal.
Grilled Stream (Fresh-water) Fish
This stream fish is small in size and similar to go by. When you are in Mai Chau and someone offered you this kind of fish, you must grab the chance as it is not always available in the market. Aside from grilled, you can also have the fish deep-fried.
Skewered Organic Pig
In the villages, they raise their pigs the natural or organic way – fed only with vegetables and food with no stimulants. That is why the skewered roasted pork is really delicious. To prepare the pig for grilling, it is first marinated with turmeric, seasonings and lemon grass. The secret to best skewered pork is to not over grill it. It should be slow grilling, until the skin of the pork turns to a nice golden brown.
Terraced-Rice Paddy Sticky Rice
One of the most common substitutes for ordinary rice is the sticky rice or glutinous rice. If you are visiting Mai Chau, you are surely going to encounter a serving of steamed sticky rice. This kind of rice is planted, grown and harvested on traditional terraced rice paddies.
To prepare, the rice is steeped for a few hours – to soften – before steaming. Thai women use wooden steamers instead of cooking pots when cooking this rice meal. The process can be a bit complicated though and it really takes some effort. Once the fragrant smell is out, the rice is then taken out of the steamer and then placed in a basket made of bamboo. This is done before the rice gets really cooked. The rice is then turned up before being placed back into the steamer to finish cooking. This sticky rice is best served with barbecued meals like fish, pork or chicken.
Bitter Bamboo Shoots
Bitter bamboo shoots are also popular in Mai Chau. It is a specialty in the village and available in most kitchens. The shoots are gathered from the forest and then either steeped in rice vinegar or just dried for eating. Most visitors love bamboo shoots and they even call it a dish-of-love. It could be a bit bitter in the first bite, but you will get to experience the sweet taste once you swallow it.
Where to eat in Mai Chau – Mai Chau restaurant
High-end restaurant : Bo Luong restaurant belongs to Mai Chau Lodge near Mai Chau town and Mai Chau Eco Lodge’s restaurant in Na Thia village
Rate : $15 per person for a set menu restaurant
Cheap and good homecook local food : Ume Mai Chau restaurant
Address : No 2, Lac 2 village, Chieng Chau commune, Mai Chau Dist, Hoa Binh
Mobile : +84 974313104
Entertainment in Mai Chau
If you are looking for a café in Lac village, there are a few homestays offering coffee and drink at Lac Village number 1. For a western style coffee, go to Mai Chau Sunset Bar where they sell a variety of western style coffees.
Mai Chau town which is 1.5 kilometers from Lac village has a broader range of coffee houses and is well worth the trip if good coffee is your thing.
Karaoke – Go to Mai Chau town, and there’s karaoke services available in a few hotels such as Ngoc Bach and Khoa Thanh.
Massage – There are two local massage shops in Lac Village number 1. One is on the main road from Lac 2 to Lac 1 village and another is in Lac 1 village proper. Tip: If you go to the massage shop located within Lac Village number 1, ask for the older lady who does a better job than the younger one. Don’t expect professional services like Hanoi.There are also massage shops in Mai Chau and at a few of the hotels such as Khoa Thanh and Ngoc Bach.
Swimming – For those who like swimming, Mai Chau lodge and Sol Bungalow offer $5 ticket for non-guests at the motel, included in room price if you are a guest. However, Sol Bungalow is better in term of scale.
Bars -There is only one bar located adjacent to Mai Chau Hostel, and it is found in Lac Village number one, this hostel’s primary guests are usually backpackers.
ATM in Mai Chau
There’s only one ATM available in Mai Chau, and that is at the Agribank branch. The maximum that you can withdraw per transaction is 2,000,000VND. So, remember to bring cash to Mai Chau to cover your expenses.
Convenience Stores in Mai Chau
There are small convenience stores in Lac Village number 1. However, these stores are very tourist orientated and do not have a large variety of goods. If you are looking for good convenience store, then go to Mai Chau town which offers a lot more choices.
There are a few pharmacies located in Mai Chau town only.
Hospitals and Clinics
There’s only one hospital located in Mai Chau district and it can be reached at mobile number + 84 218 3867 397, with address at Zone 4, Mai Chau Dist, HoaBinh province. There is also the Mai Chau Methadone Clinic and the Mai Chau District Preventive Health Center (Zone 4, Mai Chau Town, Mai Chau District, HoaBinh Province with mobile number +84 (0)218 3868858).
We hope this Mai Chau travel guide provide you with useful information to plan a wonderful trip to Mai Chau. If you are looking for a Mai Chau tours , please contact Hanoi Eco Tours via email at firstname.lastname@example.org