Updated: Oct 7, 2022
📍Mai Châu Valley
🚐 Hanoi to Mai Châu Valley
🛌 £10-20ish a night
💰 £1 = 28,000 Vietnamese dong (roughly)
Mai Châu Valley
Mai Châu Valley, (pronounced "my-chow") is home to several different ethnic groups. The largest of which being the Thai people, whose ancestors settled in this region long ago. This diverse set of people live in several villages dotted across the valley, where houses are often built on stilts. This intentional feature provides protection from wild animals and rising water levels. The luscious vegetation, glossy rice fields and tree-covered hills make Mai Châu Valley a relaxing escape from the outside world.
Mai Châu Valley - Youtube Vlog
Mai Châu Valley - the journey
Mai Châu Valley, is approximately a 3.5 hour drive from the centre of Hanoi; even quicker if you opt for a motorbike. The journey is scenic, the skyline evolves from flocks of concrete buildings to a calming landscape of fuzzy mountains. This is a great alternative to travelling to tourist hotspot Sapa which takes a whopping 6 hours to get to from Hanoi.
There are various modes of transport you can take to get here bus, car, bike or taxi if you have money.
In Vietnam, online maps always show you directions or journey times for both cars and motorbikes so you can easily weigh up your options.
Although Mai Châu is less talked about than Sapa it does have quite a few homestays in the area. I can imagine in high (tourist) season it could get particularly busy.
Mai Châu Valley - the Rest Stops
We stopped off a few times along the way for a refreshment break. These stops were quite eventful; one lunch spread included grasshoppers which was a first for me. Crunchy! The rest of the meal was tasty too. A lot of restaurants in Vietnam bring you like 10 different big dishes that you share with the people you're travelling with. We had a selection of dishes: fish, meat, salads and my beloved fried rice.
I walked through some villages, passing shops where residents weave handmade cloth goods. This is a good opportunity to get some well-priced souvenirs and contribute to the local economy. One shop sold wooden items that would have you well equipped for war back in the day. I had the opportunity to use a crossbow here, it went horribly as I forgot you need to aim before releasing the arrow.
We also encountered some people smoking tobacco out of a wooden water pipe called Điếu Cày. You'll see people smoking these all over the country; at first, I did think there was something stronger in there. The pipe looked rather unusual but it is just tobacco. People always seemed to offer these pipes to tourists just so they could laugh at the coughing fit that soon followed. So I chose not to participate 😇.
Mai Châu Valley - Rice Fields
In the picture above, you can see instances of rice paddies where the crops have mostly all been harvested. In the far background, however, you can see some tall green sprouts, which are in fact rice.
A paddy field refers to a flooded area of land where crops such as rice are grown.
The remaining paddies were being prepped, farmers poured water onto them as well as fertiliser. These will be left for a while before the workers begin planting again. So if you're looking to see flourishing rice fields, July is probably not the best time to stroll through Mai Châu Valley.
Mai Châu Valley - the homestay
The accommodation was booked through the tour company I used for this part of my journey. We were booked in at an impressive homestay it was a wooden bungalow on stilts, kind of treehouse vibes but not exactly. It had an authentic, rustic feel.
A homestay is a type of lodging run by a local family who often also reside in the same property. You'll commonly find homestays in rural parts of Vietnam as the hotels we're accustomed to are not present in these areas.
The mundane sounds of exhaust pipes and car horns were now a distant memory. I was in a tropical paradise. Literally, the only sounds to be heard at night were the hums of insects. There was a nice swimming pool, delicious restaurant and evening performances for an extra fee.
Mai Châu Valley - Bike Riding
We rented bikes from the homestay for 50,000 dong, equivalent to just under £2. A decent price considering we rode 12.5 km for a couple of hours (or what felt like all of eternity toward the end). I remember it was absolutely baking that day, probably about 35 degrees, so I wasn't sure how fun this would be. Surprisingly once I began peddling I felt the most refreshing breeze, which was a great relief from the stifling humidity.
The scenery on the bike was amazing. I remember just being like "omg wow, I can't believe I'm actually here," every two minutes like such a tourist. We passed rice paddies and rode through villages with the most friendly people. Everyone we saw said hello and started waving. There were a few animals along the way and lots of motorbikes.
"Yay or Nay"
I would definitely recommend a trip to Mai Châu Valley. Firstly, it's a relatively short drive from the capital. It provides you with crisp countryside air and panoramic leafy views. You get the opportunity to see how people outside of the city live and work. The rice fields are also beautiful, allowing you to connect with nature.
I doubt you'll find a tourist office but your homestay will be able to organise activities for you. Our group did hiking, biking, participated in traditional dance and got to try rice wine.
Nearly forgot to add, cans of coke were like 10,000-20,000 dong which is about 35-70p. Winner winner chicken dinner!