All photos by Christian Berg
Mornings are ideal for peaceful walks through Mai Châu. With small hamlets dotting the valley, winding paths and quiet gardens, it’s easy to explore on your own. Keep an eye out for a drink stall where you can savour a cà phê phin (Vietnamese coffee) looking out onto the rice fields as butterflies drift by.
When in Mai Châu, don’t miss the chance to shop beautiful fabrics woven by the White Thai people. Local shops will even have looms out front, where you can watch the locals weaving, or give it a try yourself. For an ethical splurge, check out Hoa Ban+ shop in Lac village, a social enterprise that gives vocational training to women from the White Thai minority.
One of the best ways to experience Mai Châu is by cycling. You can set off on your own or hire a guide to help you explore the many trails through the valley. A guide can also introduce you to a White Thai household. Take a seat in their long stilt houses, where you can sip tea, nibble on lychees and find out more about rural life.
TIP: Your hotel can help you book a cycling tour, or you can find qualified guides at Mai Châu Lodge. If you’re unable to cycle, you can still explore the valley with electric carts.
Mai Châu’s cuisine is as fresh as it comes. Start your meal with cơm lam (bamboo-tube grilled rice). Peel off the bamboo cover and dip the rice in minced peanuts for a delicious treat. Gà đồi (grilled native chicken), thịt lợn xiên nướng (pork skewers) and stir-fried greens are some favourite Mai Châu dishes. If you’re feeling adventurous, try ve sầu chiên, a local delicacy of stuffed and fried cicadas.
Traditional performances are a special part of every visit to Mai Châu. The White Thai musicians are skilled at using natural materials to craft instruments that create mesmerizing rhythms. After dinner, relax and settle in to watch a White Thai performance. These shows feature live folk music and dancers in full ethnic dress.
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If you’ve never tried sleeping in a stilt house, you can in Mai Châu. Wooden stilt house homestays can easily be found in Lac Village and Poom Coọng village. These houses usually have clean and simple accommodation, with shared bathrooms and open-air sleeping quarters. Mai Châu also boasts four-star hotels as well as beautiful lodges with views of the rice fields.
TIP: Expect to pay around 200,000VND for a rustic homestay, 600,000VND for a boutique farm stay, and 1,500,000VND for a four-star hotel.
The countryside surrounding Mai Châu is perfect for nature lovers. You might like to sign up for a morning of kayaking on the Hòa Bình Reservoir, or take a full-day trekking tour in neighbouring Pù Luông Nature Reserve. Many hotels and homestays in Mai Châu offer tours to caves and waterfalls nearby. You can also book package deals for outdoor activities in advance with tour operators in Hanoi.
The journey to Mai Châu from Hanoi takes about three hours. You can arrange a private transfer by car, hop on a shuttle van, take a bus from My Dinh bus station, or drive there by motorbike. The morning is the best time to travel, so you can enjoy stunning views at Thung Khe Mountain Pass and cliff-side panoramas of the Mai Châu Valley.
TIP: The best time to visit Mai Châu is from March to May or during the harvest season from September to November.