I still vividly remember how excited my classmates and I felt when we planned to go to Mai Chau back when we were in high school. However, our trip did not go ahead. It was not until ten years later that I had the opportunity to travel to Mai Chau. On the way to Mai Chau, I wondered whether I would still feel the excitement and the sense of awe that I anticipated when I was younger? I was intrigued to see what Mai Chau had to offer, would it be all that I had envisaged after many years?
You will have undoubtedly heard of Mai Chau. Aside from being a widely popular tourist attraction for high school students, it is a place that invites people to recharge their batteries and realign their values and goals. As the crow ﬂies, Hanoi is about 140km, so approximately three to four hours driving. Mai Chau is an idyllic small town in the west of Hoa Binh Province that shares its borders with Moc Chau District in Son La Province and Quan Hoa District in Thanh Hoa Province.
A far cry from other bustling industrial cities, Mai Chau is renowned for bright ﬂowers, verdant vegetation, rolling lush paddy fields dotted with thatched cottages, and a peaceful ambiance. Home to intriguing mysteries, Mai Chau exudes a beauty that is both familiar and strange.
THE MOMENT THE VALLEY WAS STILL ASLEEP
It was nearly 5 am when I got to Mai Chau, I felt lucky to be able to open the car window and deeply inhale the fresh air of the small valley. “Wow! Mai Chau is so peaceful”, I said with excitement. It felt as if everything around me was still asleep, lethargically awakening from a restful slumber. There was an awe-inspiring cacophony of village sounds in the distance: chickens crowing, birds chirping, and even the distant murmurings of haggling at the morning markets.
Many people say that a trip to Mai Chau would not be complete without soaking up the majestic natural spectacle of Thung Khe Pass. Therefore, it was the first destination on my itinerary. Thung Khe is well-known for its spectacular silver-white rocky mountains, but it was not until we hit the road that I realized how overwhelmingly stunning this region was. Thung Khe is like somewhere straight out of a mystical fairytale.
Like the vast expanse of nature shrouded in early morning mist slowly arose, the landscape revealed a scene that looked like you had picked it straight from the snowy Nordic mountains. I stood still on Thung Khe Pass for a long time admiring the marvelous beauty of nature dappled by the blue of the sky, the lush green of the plants, the bright white limestone, and the mahogany brown of small houses in the distance. It was such a magical amalgamation that I could not find the words to express my admiration.
After leaving the majestic timelessness of Thung Khe, I visited the tranquil Ba Khan Lake. Located at the foot of Thung Khe Pass, the lake is dubbed ‘Ha Long Bay of the mountainous region’ with an amazing variety of undulating islets. In the morning, Ba Khan is beautifully serene but somewhat mysterious as it is often cloaked in dense mist. The increasing popularity of Thung Khe Pass, Mai Chau and Moc Chau in recent years has perhaps left Ba Khan to become a forgotten paradise. However, it was a blessing as I had the chance to enjoy the charmingly peaceful landscape without any crowds.
GET LOST IN THE RHYTHM OF LIFE IN THE MOUNTAINS
Over the course of the weekend in Mai Chau, I visited many other must-visit tourist attractions in the locality, for instance, Lac Village, Pom Coong Village, Go Lao Waterfall and Mo Luong Cave. Every moment on the road made me fall head over heels for this place as it boasts such a picturesque splendour, magnificence and tranquillity unique to mountainous regions. I also had a realisation that Vietnam is just as beautiful and easily comparable to other famous destinations around the globe.
My most cherished moments were those spent experiencing the daily life of the locals in Mai Chau. On the trip, we spent one day staying in a traditional stilted house of the Thai ethnic minority. The house has an extremely distinctive design, complete with thatched roof, bamboo ﬂoor and minimalistic, comfortable interior. As a curious and adventurous traveller, I opted to wear traditional Thai costume and then explored the villages. Initially, Mai Chau impressed me with its great richness of nature and pristine beauty, but the rhythm of local life will truly linger in my memory forever.
Along the way, I heard the villagers laughing and telling jokes and funny stories; admired several shops that spread their colourful brocade items out on the ground in the stilted houses and even women hand-weaving towels. There is no need for anything ﬂashy and lavish, their lives just pass by quietly and smoothly with such ease. This is truly a rare and precious notion that I am always looking for in modern-day society.
After a leisurely ride along a small dirt road, I felt tired and sat down to rest. Suddenly, I could hear a beautiful voice singing a traditional melody typical to the Northwest mountains mixed with a cheerful Cheraw dance. As a result, I forgot how tired I felt and quickly ran to join in. The performers danced gracefully to the rhythmic beats whilst their traditional costumes brightened up the surroundings, mesmerising me and many other travellers with the rhythm of the traditional dance of Mai Chau.
After the trip, I have to say that Mai Chau made a strong impression on me thanks to a collection of peaceful, rustic, simple and poetic moments. The alluring valley makes me realise the precious values of life: “No need for anything expensive or luxurious, the happiest moments arise when we truly connect with nature and appreciate a simpler and slower pace of life”. It is believed that Mai Chau will definitely earn a reputation as a popular destination in the future, the town will become more and more dynamic and the living conditions will also improve dramatically. Nonetheless, I still wish, wistfully, for Mai Chau to retain its rustic charm and peaceful ambience.
There are two distinct seasons in Mai Chau. The rainy season begins from May to October and the dry season lasts from November to April. If you do not want to experience intermittent rains or the possibility of landslides, the dry season is probably the best time to visit. What’s more, Mai Chau is famous for the plum blossoms and cherry blossoms in January and February.
Mai Chau is in close proximity to Hanoi, so you are spoilt for choice with many means of transportation to reach Mai Chau. You can travel by motorbike or private car and drive along the Hoa Lac – Hoa Binh route and NH6. When reaching the Tong Dau T-junction, you will see directions to Mai Chau.
Travelling to Mai Chau, you should not miss out on a reasonably priced overnight stay in a traditional stilted house in Lac and Poom Coong villages. Additionally, Mai Chau is home to a vast array of local homestays and luxury resorts located in nature-inspired settings.
Mai Chau cuisine is typical of traditional dishes of the Thai ethnic minority such as grilled chicken, sticky rice cooked in bamboo shoots, grilled fish, smoked buﬀalo and marinated meat. With stunning gourmet ﬂavours, these dishes can definitely match many people’s taste.