A Traveler’s Guide to Mai Chau
Vietnam is a beautiful country with stunning scenery, beautiful backdrops and a long list of must-see places. Right at the top of this list should be Mai Chau, a rural area in the north-west of the country, and around 160 km from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.
This mountainous region of Vietnam is scenic, idyllic and fairly quiet, so if you’re looking for a thriving nightlife, then it’s not the place to visit. However, if you are on a cycling tour, then the villages, tracks and mountains with their large descents make it an ideal place to visit.
A Brief History of Mai Chau
Many of the Mai Chau people have Thai ancestry as a large number of Thai people migrated to the area several hundred years ago. They are divided into the “White Thai” and the “Black Thai” groups and between them they make up the largest ethnic population of Mai Chau. The area was also used as a headquarters for the French in 1953 when they colonised Vietnam, and it was chosen because of its importance on the way to Laos and Cambodia as well as its high ground which gave the French an advantage over the Vietnamese army.
In May 1954 though, following the defeat of the French, the North Vietnamese government provided assistance to the region as Ethnic majority Vietnamese families moved to Mai Chau to improve farming skills, education, and technology.
Things to do in Mai Chau
Check out the Stilt Houses
Nestled among the mountains and the glorious green landscape of Mai Chau are some beautiful places of interest. Most residents live in stilt houses which are built, as the name suggests, on stilts. This is to protect them from water damage and to shelter animals from the elements, and these houses alone are fascinating to see for tourists. In fact, many of the stilt houses offer accommodation to travellers so if you don’t have a place to stay then definitely consider staying in one of these for at least one night. You will be able to experience life in Mai Chau as a local but with modern facilities as well.
Visit Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Photo by Vietnamdiscovery.com
Just a short trip away from Mai Chau is The Pu Luong Nature Reserve which is well worth a visit. This is a newly protected area that serves as home to endangered species such as langurs, leopards, civets and bears but it’s especially good for bird watching. There are also caves and local Tai and Hmong communities to visit.
Explore the Caves
Mo Luong Cave
There are quite a number of caves, or grottoes, in the area which is fascinating to explore. These include Mo Luong Cave, Chieu Cave, Pieng Kem Grotto, Lang Cave and Khau Phuc Cave.
Mo Luong cave, in particular, is a highlight of Mai Chau. There are two entrances to the cave with the main one being in Mai Chau town and the other one along the water current in Chieng Chau. The cave is very vast and inside the ceiling dome averages 10 metres in height with a high point of 30m so unlike many caves it doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.
Take a look at Lac Village
Photo by welcomevietnamtours.com
A favourite community tourist spot, Lac Village is a scenic and peaceful area of Mai Chau. Once considered something of a hidden treasure of Vietnam, the village has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years as it has been explored more frequently. However, it still retains its charm and tranquillity.
Many of the stilt houses here offer affordable accommodation and modern amenities to tourists, and these homestays offer a very welcoming and traditional experience.
Visit the market
The market is a bustling place where most of the locals regularly go to pick up their food for the day. All of the local specialities can be bought there including some of the more common items that tourists are used to such as fruit, vegetables and rice as well as unusual foods such as skinned frogs. Even if you don’t want to try them, they are certainly an eye-opening product to see compared to markets in the western world.