Heaven on Earth – Mai Chau

Mai Chau is an absolute gem in the north of Vietnam.  Located 4 hours south west of Hanoi it is a breath of fresh air for those living in the hectic city.  Quite literally.  One of the big downsides to living in the second largest city in Vietnam is the poor air quality.  Lucky for us we are but a few hours away from the countryside.

The trip from Hanoi to Mai Chau is nothing short of comical.  At least 30 people are packed onto the 15-seater bus where seats come of nowhere and in the case of running out, out come the tiny blue stools.  My advice; get to the bus station at least a half hour before departure.  Buses regularly depart from the My Dinh bus station and are ridiculously cheap at 80,000 (€3) a pop.  Don’t worry about finding the right ticket booth, the second a tourist walks through the door a rep will appear ushering them to the bus!
The bus trip itself isn’t anything special until the road gets steeper and the views of the valley below appear.  This is a very popular spot for tours to stop for photo opps.

The bus drops you on the side of the road, just outside the town.  The walk in takes about 15 mins and takes you through the stunning rice fields.

The town is so picturesque with shops full of home-made, traditional, multi-coloured crafts and dress and simplistic food stalls boasting barbecued meats and fish along with sticky rice in  bamboo.

 

 

One of the nicest things about visiting the countryside is the option of homestays.  Whilst they have become rather commercialised, the sentiment is still there; staying in a traditional home with a Vietnamese family.  The price of staying in these homes is very affordable and for €4 in most homestays you will get a home-cooked meal.  We were treated to spring rolls, fresh fish, chicken and mountains of rice.

The best way to see Mai Chau is by bike (push or motor).  You can get push bikes for free and rent motorbikes from most of the homestays for 100,000 to 200,000 dong (€5 to €10) .  Mai Chau sits deep in the valley and it genuinely feels like you’re in another world.  
It is absolutely stunning to explore off the beaten track and although at times it may feel like you have gone slightly too far off track it really is the best place to be lost.  Locals go about their day in the rice fields, animals roam free on the roads and you’re rarely disturbed by traffic.

 


Having visited Mai Chau twice I still was not stuck for places to visit.  The first time four of us got bikes and made our way to the 1,200 steps.  These steps lead up to a huge cave and a viewpoint that overlooks the whole area.
The second time round we took it a lot easier, biking the trails we hadn’t been on previously and making plenty of beer stops!

On both trips we made time to attend the bonfire festival that occurs in Mai Chau every Saturday.  Crowds of young Vietnamese people from Hanoi (and a handful of tourists) looking to escape the hectic city life for a day gather to create one of the most surreal festivals you could experience.  Groups of people light various bonfires in a field and add a touch of personality to each by playing their own music or performing.

There was everything from ballroom dancing to traditional Vietnamese dance to simply just running around the bonfire to the sound of club hits.
Vases of rice wine with bamboo straws (we discovered that was what they were the 2nd time) sit near the fire where children as young as eight are photographed by family drinking from them.
We joined the locals drinking Bia Hanoi and dancing well into the night- a truly bizarre experience.

There is nothing quite like this beautiful, scenic place.  It is full of wonder and charm in it’s simplicity and authenticity.  Possibly my favourite place in Vietnam ❤