Mai Chau is located around 150 km southwest of Hanoi in Vietnam. It is set within an idyllic valley surrounded by mountains. The area is largely agricultural. Most of the land is covered by rice paddy fields, although cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes, and more are also cultivated by locals. Most of the crops are grown by families to support themselves. The crops and produce are also sold in local markets, or are kept to feed their own families and animals.
If you are looking for a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors in an active way, Mai Chau is a great place to start. Mai Chau is the ideal location for easy bicycling and trekking. However, if you want a big workout, head further north in Vietnam to Sapa. Mai Chau provides easy trekking and bicycling opportunities.
Ride bicycles alongside sprawling rice paddy fields
Most accommodations in Mai Chau have bicycles for hire. You may either join a tour through your accommodation or take a bicycle out on your own for an afternoon. The paths are not all fully paved; however, the paths are flat throughout the valley. The ride may be a bit bumpy here and there but it is manageable, even if you have not been on a bike in years. If you chose to explore by yourself, you should not have any trouble with directions. There are not many turnoffs on the paths.
As you ride along the path, you will bike through some small villages. Locals are eager to say “hello” as you bike past. Many of the villages sell traditional woven textiles as scarves, dresses, wallets or purses. You may even see a woman working her loom.
The real highlight of bicycling is seeing the rice paddy fields. Each plot is owned by a different family. Or, perhaps, one family owns a small number of plots. They work the rice paddies year-round. In January, the locals prepare their fields for the next crop of rice to be planted in the spring.
Trek through a lush bamboo jungle
Since Mai Chau is located in a valley, you have to drive up the mountain in order to find hiking trails. You will need to book a private or group tour in order to go hiking. Hiking trails are not named or marked in any way. Your tour will start with a roughly 30-minute drive out of the valley. Similar to the bike ride, the hike is a beginner level hike. The hiking trails lead you through Mai Chau’s sprawling bamboo jungle. Notice that there are many different width bamboo trees. Your guide will tell you that small bamboo trees are used to make chopsticks, and the large bamboo trees are used to build houses. A half-day hiking tour is approximately 7 km long and takes three hours, including the round-trip car rides in and out of the valley.
You’ll pass local homes while trekking or riding a bike
Mai Chau is dotted with little villages and clusters of homes. Some houses even lie by themselves with no one else in sight. If you are on either a group or private tour, it might include a pit stop in a local’s home. This is prearranged, as you will realize when you see your guide slip the owner a few thousand Vietnamese dong upon your exit. However, it is a truly humbling experience.
Houses in Mai Chau are raised on stilts to protect the houses during the rainy season. Before walking up the stairs to enter the house, you will be asked to take your shoes off. Houses have one room with a kitchen nook in them. The kitchen consists of an open fire pit. The bathroom is a squat hole in a small wooden shed close to the house.
Your host will share her tea with you. You may ask your host questions. However, she most likely will not speak English. Your local guide will translate for you. Your host spends her days working the rice paddy fields and the small crop of produce with her husband, and kids if they have any. It’s a simple life, but your host is always smiling.
Spend a minimum of two days and one night in Mai Chau
Whether you ride a bike or hike through the bamboo jungles, you will love your stay at Mai Chau. The valley is gorgeous and so serene. The locals are welcoming to visitors and encourage you to hop off your bike to wander the village streets, instead of just passing through quickly. In order to do a half-day trek and a half-day bicycle ride, you will need to spend two days and one night in Mai Chau. However, you could easily pass more time by spending a full day doing each activity and spending another day with locals in the villages.
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