Destinations / Vietnam

Mai Chau: Peace in the Valley

Mai Chau was one of the first countryside places I visited upon arriving in Vietnam and a great introduction to the landscapes of northern Vietnam. 

It’s a good 4 hours drive out of Hanoi, in the mountains of Hoa Binh, even if the valley is only 150 km away from the capital city. But the drive is worth it: after a few stops along the way, in local markets hanging from the cliff, a great calm awaits in the valley. I daresay it’s a perfect getaway from the city, including for people living there.

Mai Chau valley
View over Mai Chau valley from a hanging local market.

Mai Chau, the peaceful rice valley

There’s an immensity of rice fields embedded in the mountains, and I know this is going to sound cliché (and it is) but if you want to see workers in the fields wearing the “non”, traditional Vietnamese hats, Mai Chau is your spot. 

All around the valley hotels, you’ll be surrounded by such sights. If you’re a buffalo fan like I am, you’ll be happy too, meeting many of those working with the farmers. Reliable and strong, buffaloes are said to be the Vietnamese farmer’s best friends. 

Mai Chau valley
Mai Chau valley.

Enjoy a premium stay in Mai Chau

What I also liked when I stayed in Mai Chau for the first time was how beautiful some hotels’ gardens were. That’s probably not something all travelers are after, but as a garden lover, I always love watching butterflies and flowers in well-maintained tropical gardens. 

The prettiest garden we saw was that of the Mai Chau Ecolodge. It’s definitely not a cheap stay, but the pool, the bungalows and the restaurant were worth putting a little more money for once. I was traveling with my parents then, and they definitely appreciated the comfort of that hotel – even though some homestays can be almost as comfortable. It’s just easier to rely on premium hotels such as that one for your peace of mind sometimes. 

Mai Chau Ecolodge pool
Mai Chau Ecolodge garden and pool.

Explore the villages around Mai Chau

What to do in Mai Chau valley? There are some hikes possible in the surrounding mountains, and the sportiest travelers will definitely organise their trip around those. But the various times I went there were too short and I didn’t get the chance to be so sporty, so unfortunately, I am unable to recommend any specific one. I do know you can get information from your hosts or even your travel agency if you have organised your trip with one.

Nevertheless, I got the chance to experience several times the most common activity in the immediate surroundings: renting a bicycle, usually available at most hotels or homestays, and exploring the neighbouring villages. Mostly, you will enjoy cycling across rice fields, and quick stops to buy fabrics with traditional Hmong patterns. Here again, some hotels or agencies will help you organise your ride – or you can just go freely. It’s very easy to get your bearings as it’s mostly flat, so I’d recommend that option.

Mai Chau peaceful valley
Cycling in Mai Chau valley.

As you come across some houses and villages, adorable local ladies might really insist on selling you stuff made in factories, while they display their own weaving mill. The truth is, very few people still know how to use the traditional weaver, from what I understood from my Vietnamese friends. If you’re about to buy some souvenirs from the main tourist village though, I’d advise refraining, for you will find the exact same thing for half the price in Hanoi Old Quarter.

Overall, I’d say Mai Chau is an easy destination from the capital if you’re not afraid of the mountain drive. It’s also in the same area as Pu Luong, a bit further in the mountains. A good idea can be to combine with a short trip there if you wish to experience the quietness of the mountains even more. Get ready to empty your mind from any worries while in Mai Chau!

Visit Mai Chau: practical information

How to go?
Mai Chau is about 4 hours away from Hanoi by car. Book transportation in advance with any travel agency or your hotel. Minivans are the most common transport mode. Travel agents usually arrange several groups of travelers going to the same place to be collected in Hanoi Old Quarter and then dropped off at their respective hotels. 

Of course, another possibility is to take the ride by motorbike if you’ve rented one and are not afraid of biking mountain roads. In this case, add another good hour – and drive safely!

When to go?
April-May will be the first rice harvest, so a good time to see golden fields and working farmers. However, I’ve been at various times of the year and it’s always a good idea! Avoid the rainy season if you want to be able to enjoy the outdoors.

How to get around?
A bicycle should be your preferred mode to explore Mai Chau. The valley is flat and easy to ride. It will allow you to make the most of the surrounding countryside and stop whenever you like to take photos.

Where to stay?
I recommend Mai Chau Ecolodge for a premium stay. I’ve enjoyed the bungalows with their private pools and view over the vast rice fields. I love the central pool and most of all, its amazing tropical garden
For a homestay option, you’ll find countless places just by checking on Google Maps or 

Points of interest
– Ban Lac village: A small tourist village where you can easily find refreshments and expensive souvenirs (but still charming)
– Mai Chau market: In the town of Mai Chau, usually in the mornings. Ask your homestay staff for when the market takes place to ensure you don’t miss it.
– Nhot village: The valley around this village is the most cyclable one (also where the Ecolodge is located).
– Hoa Binh river: Many homestays have started developing around the river and although I haven’t visited yet, this seems like a fantastic opportunity to enjoy both the valley and river.

Mai Chau Ecolodge garden
In the garden of Mai Chau Ecolodge.

1 Comment

  • […] the pandemic struck, it had started to welcome travelers in search of an alternative to Sapa or Mai Chau. That’s how I discovered the area. The open views and the calmness of Pu Luong make for an […]


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